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Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo must be in your MVP discussion

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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) Giannis Antetokounmpo must be in your MVP discussion. Just ask Utah. LeBron James is playing his best regular-season basketball since his Miami days. James Harden is putting up historic numbers. Luka Doncic has exploded on the scene in his second year and is racking up numbers we haven’t seen in a 20-year-old since LeBron.

Those guys have dominated the early MVP buzz.

Do not leave Giannis Antetokounmpo out of that talk. Just ask the Utah Jazz and Mike Conley.

“He got to the free throw line. When he started making the long-range shot, that really makes it tough,” Conley said postgame (via the Associated Press).

The Greek Freak and reigning MVP hit 3-of-8 from three Monday night. More importantly, he got to the rim at will — finishing 12-of-16 shots there — on his way to dropping 50 on the Rudy Gobert-less Jazz in a 122-118 Bucks win.

While other guys are making headlines, Antetokounmpo has been making history, too.

Last season Antetokounmpo earned MVP honors, edging out Harden (it was Antetokounmpo’s defense that put him over the top on most voter’s ballots).

This season the Greek Freak is scoring 31.1 points, pulling down 13.9 rebounds and dishing out 6.4 assists a game — all numbers that are up from his MVP season. He remains an elite defensive player on one end and an efficient scorer on the other with a 61.5 true shooting percentage.

And he’s led the Bucks to a 14-3 record that has them on top of the East.

Somehow this all feels expected in a way, which is why the surprise of LeBron’s renaissance or Doncic’s emergence grabs more attention. It shouldn’t. Antetokounmpo is as good or better than anyone. He’s the guy who can best challenge LeBron for the “best player on the planet” title. He remains a force of nature who keeps getting better, seemingly nightly

Just remember to give Antetokounmpo some of that MVP-talk shine, too.

2) Joel Embiid goes scoreless in return to Toronto, where Raptors beat the Sixers. Again. Toronto coach Nick Nurse clearly learned a crucial lesson during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals:

Match Marc Gasol’s minutes up to Joel Embiid’s.

Much like he did in the playoffs last year, Gasol was in the right position, was physical, and kept Embiid in check — Embiid went scoreless for the first time in his career Monday. Zero points. Embiid was 0-of-11 from the floor, opening up room for the door for a 101-96 Toronto win.

That wasn’t all Gasol, Embiid was 0-of-3 at the free throw line, but the Spaniard forced Embiid into more midrange shots, where he was 0-of-6.

This was the Sixers’ fourth game in six nights and it showed, it wasn’t just Embiid’s legs that looked a little tired. Still, the Sixers wanted some revenge for last playoff exit, Kawhi Leonard obviously isn’t in Raptors colors anymore, and Kyle Lowry was out (fractured left thumb). Still, the outcome was the same as last May.

Pascal Siakam continued his impressive play this season and had 25 to lead Toronto.

3) Carmelo Anthony looks more comfortable, especially facing the Bulls “defense,” scores 25 in Portland win. Carmelo Anthony just looked more like his vintage self on the court. He’s more comfortable four games in. The entire Portland team just looked more comfortable Monday night with Damian Lillard back in the lineup and running the show.

The result was a comfortable 117-94 road win in Chicago that snapped Portland’s four-game losing streak.

“It’s starting to get my feel and my flow back,” Anthony told reporters on Monday.

Anthony has given the Blazers a boost in terms of shooting — 16 points a game and hitting 39.1 percent of his threes (which is impressive after starting 0-of-8 from deep) — which has started to open up driving lanes for Lillard and CJ McCollum. More than just that, Anthony has provided Portland with a player the rest of the team can rally around. As was the case in Oklahoma City and Houston, the other players love and respect Anthony. He’s popular, and guys are rooting for him. That emotional boost matters.

Let’s not pretend this is a fairy tale with a happily ever ending. Anthony is still a liability on defense, and he’s got a dreadful 47.7 true shooting percentage overall. Anthony is getting buckets and hitting threes, but he has not been efficient overall.

He has been, however, what Portland needed along their depleted front line.

Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett out at least a week with right ankle sprain

R.J. Barrett
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NEW YORK (AP) New York Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett will miss at least a week with a sprained right ankle.

Barrett was hurt during the Knicks’ loss to Phoenix on Thursday. On Friday, he had X-rays, which were negative.

The Knicks announced afterward that Barrett will be re-evaluated in a week.

The No. 3 pick in the draft from Duke is averaging 14.1 points.

Heat: Justise Winslow out at least two more weeks

Justise Winslow
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MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat say Justise Winslow will miss at least two more weeks while recovering from a back injury.

Winslow has played only once since Dec. 4 and is slated to be out for at least the remainder of January. The team originally called Winslow’s injury a back strain, then updated the diagnosis to a bone bruise.

Winslow played off the bench in Miami’s win at Indiana on Jan. 8. The team said the back problems reappeared after that game. He has not played since.

Friday’s game in Oklahoma City is Miami’s 41st of the season and the 30th that Winslow has missed. He’s averaging 11.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists for the Heat this season.

Kevin Huerter’s 3-pointer gives Hawks first win in San Antonio in his lifetime (video)

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The Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio on Feb. 15, 1997.

The next year, Kevin Huerter was born.

Atlanta’s next win in San Antonio came Friday, when Huerter hit the game-winning 3-pointer in a 121-120 win.

The Hawks’ losing streak in San Antonio spanned Tim Duncan’s entire lengthy career – and continued a few seasons beyond that. The only reprieve came during the lockout-shortened 1999 season, when Atlanta didn’t visit San Antonio. So, the skid lasted 21 games.

Buddy Hield on Kings getting booed at home: ‘That’s how Sacramento fans are’

Kings guard Buddy Hield
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Buddy Hield is quite familiar with frustration amid the Kings’ disappointing season.

Sacramento fans showed theirs Wednesday, booing the Kings during their home loss to the Mavericks.

Buddy Hield, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed…we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield seemingly isn’t looking to pick a fight with fans. He made a point to empathize with their frustration.

But I don’t think he’s being fair, either.

Kings fans are far more loyal than swinging between love and hate depending whether or not a shot falls. They’re fed up after 13 – going on 14 – straight seasons missing the playoffs. This year has been particularly discouraging, as Sacramento has backtracked from fun and fast to sad and slow. Losing to Luka Doncica particular grievance – only adds to the irritation.

The Kings’ problems have spanned multiple owners, executives, coaches and players. So, booing this group isn’t totally fair, either. But this is who’s in front of the fans.

If this Sacramento team plays hard and together, fans will embrace it – and stick with it through thinner times.