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Three Things to Know: Warriors’ season was already broken, Curry’s hand clarifies new reality

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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) Warriors season was already broken before Stephen Curry broke his hand. Now the path forward is clear. Before this latest in a string of unfathomable injuries, Golden State’s season was already broken.

This is a team that already didn’t look near the class of the Clippers, then lost by 28 to a team that traded away Russell Westbrook and Paul George last summer, and had already given up a 30-1 run to upstart Phoenix. The plan of just holding on until Klay Thompson got back already looked doomed — the Warriors weren’t winning, and it’s unlikely Thompson is back anyway.

Then this happened.

A CT scan will determine if Stephen Curry will need surgery, or if he just goes in a cast. Either way, this likely sidelines Curry for at least a couple of months. Think after Christmas, closer to New Year’s Day (and surgery could mean a longer time away).

The basketball gods have unleashed their wrath on the Warriors.

Maybe, however, this is exactly what the Warriors need. It forces an adjustment they were not ready or willing to make.

Golden State is a lottery team now. They already were — based on early season results — but now there is no escaping it. By the time Curry returns, the Warriors will be in a hole they cannot dig out of. Not in a deep West.

Golden State is not going to tank — owner Joe Lacob already pushed back on that idea. Golden State has a new building to sell out. Thing is, they don’t have to try to lose, this is already a team of questionable construction that needed everything to go right to make a playoff push (did you really think Alec Burks, Omari Spellman, and Jordan Poole were going to step up?). Obviously, things have not gone right, going back to the Kevon Looney injury.

The pressure is off the Warriors now, the expectations are gone. Don’t sit Draymond Green if he’s healthy, but make sure he gets and stays healthy (he had an elbow issue suffered against the Suns). Make sure Looney gets right.

Turn D’Angelo Russell loose and let him run the show, watch him rack up numbers, then if teams start calling before the trade deadline next February, listen. See if there is a more natural fit next to Curry and Thompson.

If the losses pile up, so what? Get whatever the lottery ping-pong balls give you — this is not the same situation as the 1996-97 Spurs (the Tim Duncan draft), it’s a very different lottery and league, but you never know. Add a quality young player. Retool for next season when Curry, Thompson, Green, and Looney are healthy and there can be a young core around them that is a little more seasoned and fits better.

These Warriors were already broken. Watching them made that clear. Curry’s broken hand forces them into a new reality, but a path that ultimately should be better for the Warriors long term.

2) Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns throwdown on the court, get ejected, then carry fight to social media. This did not all start Wednesday night, Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns have been taking jabs at each other for years.

Wednesday night, those jabs turned into a fight.

Embiid’s team was winning comfortably, he was home in front of his people, and he lives for this kind of spotlight, so of course he egged the crowd on and then soaked it all in.

Both players were ejected — so they carried the fight over to social media.

And then it was on. Rudy Gobert summed it up for the rest of us:

It turned nasty. Entertaining, but nasty. KAT mocked Embiid for crying after a second-round playoff loss, Embiid noted Towns has never been to the second round, and it went from there. Because someone has to show some restraint, I’ll just say you can check the players out on social media if you want to follow along.

Multi-game suspensions are coming for both Embiid and Towns, and the social media sparring is not exactly going to invite leniency from the league. Maybe Towns gets one more game than Embiid — he appears to be first to escalate this from just a shoving match — but both are going to be out for games. Plural.

There are also questions about whether Ben Simmons will get suspended, or if anyone left the benches, or anything else that could lead to suspensions and fines.

Both teams have been off to a hot start, and both are going to feel the pain from this fight because they will be without their best players for a while.

3) James Harden drops 59 and Rockets still only win by one. This ended up being the third-highest scoring game in NBA history — a history that includes Doug Moe’s Nuggets teams. This was a throwback, defense optional, shootout for the ages.

James Harden’s 59th point came on a free throw with two seconds left that won the game for Houston over Washington, 159-158. Here’s the foul that led to those free throws — it’s vintage Harden in that he creates contact then sells it to make sure the call comes.

Bradley Beal had 46 points on 14-of-20 shooting, and Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura showed out with 23 points (he is off to an impressive start this season, beyond just this game).

Clint Capela had 21 for Houston, Russell Westbrook 17

Harden, however, proved to be too much.

The Rockets are going to be in a lot of games like this during the season — they can score with anyone, but they don’t have a defense to match.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.