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Kevin Durant “excited” about Kyrie Irving, mix of Nets players (and maybe hints at early return)

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The very vocal Kevin Durant has kept a relatively low profile since going down with a torn Achilles during the NBA Finals, other than social media posts of his rehab, an interview where he said not to blame the Warriors for everything and that he was always eyeing the Nets. Plus he showed up at a Dodger game.

What he had not done a lot of was talk Nets, but he did in a talk with Chris Henderson on YouTube. Here are a couple of highlights of what KD said:

“I’m excited about this group. Obviously, with me not starting off the season and obviously being injured, you’re going to see a lot of guys step up and do some things and go to another level as a player.”

“Caris [LeVert], Joe Harris, Taurean Prince. Even the older guys like Garrett Temple, Kyrie [Irving], DeAndre [Jordan]. I feel like everybody in this environment is going to step up, especially due to circumstances with me not being available. I think everybody’s going to step up and take it to the next level, we got great coaching, great front office, great fanbase that’s excited for something new. This is a fresh start for everybody I feel.”

Let’s get the eye-catching comment out of the way first: Durant saying he is “not starting off the season,” on the court — which would imply he could be back for the end of it.

Considering the timeline for Achilles returns now (10-11 months), a return for the playoffs next season is not off the table. Although in his case maybe it should be. After his Finals experience last year, is Durant going to push hard after an injury to get back on the court for postseason minutes? The Nets certainly are not going to encourage him to race back, but Durant is a competitor and it’s against his nature to sit out an entire season. He will push and want to be back. Where the Nets are in the hierarchy of the East late next season may play into this decision, but it shouldn’t. For Durant, for basketball fans, it’s best if we don’t see him on an NBA court until Oct. 2020, when he is fully healthy, built up muscle in his legs through recovery, and is back close to being his old self.

As for his Nets comments, it’s no accident he put Caris LeVert first — Brooklyn needs him to step up and be their No. 3 if this team is going to seriously contend in a couple of years. Durant and Irving liked Brooklyn in part because of their supporting cast, which is good and deep, but LeVert is the one most capable of being a third offensive option and they need him to be (or the Nets need to go out and get one).

How Kyrie Irving the leader meshes with this young roster, how Kenny Atkinson divides minutes between DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen (notice KD didn’t mention Allen), and how all these pieces fit together when the Nets are not under the radar is going to be interesting to watch this season. The Nets may be a year away from contending, once Durant is back healthy, but they have a lot of foundation building to do this season to set that up.

Marcus Morris after scuffle with Joel Embiid: ‘He’s too big to be flopping. He’s just flopping’ (video)

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Joel Embiid loves to get under opponents’ skin.

Marcus Morris won’t accept any perceived disrespect.

So, of course they’ve butted head before. And of course they did again.

During the 76ers’ win over the Knicks last night, Morris and Embiid got tangled jostling for a rebound. Morris pulled Embiid to the floor then both were separated. The players received a double technical foul, and Morris got a flagrant foul.

SNY:

Morris:

He’s too big to be flopping. He’s just flopping and then grabbing. I’m not the one that’s going to take that. He knows that. He know what I’m about.

Embiid, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

I didn’t have anything with him. I just got thrown on the ground and I literally don’t know why I got a technical foul, being the victim. I didn’t do anything. I feel like it’s starting to get ridiculous with the flagrants. Even the last one — I mean, I make a play and they still call a flagrant. This one, I have nothing to do, and I get thrown on the ground, and I get a technical foul. … It’s just annoying.

Maybe he wasn’t going to charge Morris, but Embiid got up quickly and stepped toward Morris. That made it appear as if Embiid were escalating a confrontation. He probably was, but if he weren’t, he can blame his teammate and coach for getting him a technical foul. Ben Simmons held back Embiid, and Brett Brown came onto the court to separate everyone. That made the incident appear far more significant.

As for Morris, he sure stays on message.

Luka Doncic had more points, rebounds and assists than Warriors in first quarter

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Luka Doncic keeps doing amazing things.

But he really outdid himself in opening quarter of the Mavericks win over the Warriors last night. The box score after the first quarter:

  • Points: Doncic 22, Warriors 16
  • Rebounds: Doncic 5, Warriors 4
  • Assists: Doncic 5, Warriors 4

Outscoring Golden State? OK. Getting more assists? OK. Doing both? That’s just incredible. Doncic was in total control offensively.

The 6-foot-7 wing out-rebounding the Warriors is especially astounding. Though I suppose if 6-foot Allen Iverson out-rebounded an entire team for a quarter, it’s not that crazy Doncic did, too.

To be fair, this achievement deserves a little context. Warriors who played in the first quarter:

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s sloppy first game shows promise

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…

Sloppy.

A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.

Moments later, when the Celtics trapped Leonard, and he found George for three.

For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.

This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:

“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…

“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”

With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.

One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.

All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.

Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.

The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.

This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.

But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.

2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.

Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court.

Doncic scored more points in the first quarter than the Warriors (22-16) and also had more rebounds and assists than the Warriors team. The last guy to do that to any NBA team was Allen Iverson.

Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.

Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.

3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:

Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.

We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.

This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.

This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.

There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic

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It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.

Now Caruso has his own mural in Los Angeles.

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🐐 don’t @ me #lakeshow

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This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.

This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.

It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.