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Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic returns, scores 33, and basketball is fun again

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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) Luka Doncic returns, doesn’t miss a beat, scores 33 in Dallas win. It’s just fun to watch Luka Doncic play basketball.

Maybe not if you’re the Kings trying to stop him. Luke Walton started the game small — a three-guard lineup with De’Aaron Fox, Cory Joseph, and Bogdan Bogdanovic — and has Joseph on Doncic. That didn’t work. Walton got frustrated watching his team try to defend Doncic and fail all night, but at least he was funny while doing it.

This was the best the Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis pick-and-roll has looked all season and it led Dallas to a 130-111 thrashing of Sacramento. Doncic, back after missing seven games with a sprained ankle, didn’t miss a beat, scoring 33, with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

Porzingis had to be more aggressive offensively with Doncic out and that carried over against the Kings. Also, he was not going against much size all night against the small-ball Kings (they started Nemanja Bjelica at center), so Porzingis just pushed them around and got where he wanted on the court. KP had 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus 13 rebounds.

The other reason it’s good to see Doncic back out there? It means he’s good to go for the All-Star Game Sunday, where he will be a starter.

2) Damian Lillard strains groin, out for All-Star Game. Damian Lillard will be in Chicago, he is performing during the Saturday night festivities as Dame D.O.L.L.A. — he remains the unquestioned best hip hop artist among NBA players. (Shaq is a close second *cough*.)

Lillard, however, will not be knocking down shots in the 3-Point Contest Saturday as planned. Nor will he be in the All-Star Game on Sunday after injuring his groin on Wednesday night.

The timing sucked. With less than four minutes to go before the All-Star break, Lillard drove the lane against the Memphis big man Jonas Valanciunas, landed and was in instant pain, grabbing his groin. He soon fouled to stop play and went straight to the locker room.

He suffered a strained groin, with an MRI coming tomorrow. However, Lillard said he knew instantly he was out of the All-Star Game, where he was set to be a reserve on Team LeBron.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver picks Lillard’s replacement, and traditionally he takes the guy with the next most votes on the coaches’ All-Star reserves ballots (we don’t know who that is, that vote is not public). Lillard said he hopes the spot goes to someone deserving “like Devin Booker.”

3) Toronto’s win streak ends at 15 as the sleepwalk into the break against Brooklyn. NBA players often treat last night before the All-Star break like you treated the last day of school before spring break — they are just watching the clock, waiting for their vacation.

That was the Raptors on Wednesday night. Winners of 15 in a row coming in, they were just sloppy on offense, messing up on their standard plays, setting soft screens, and in general just going through the motions on their way to shooting 37.8 percent on the night.

Do that against another NBA team and you lose, which is what happened, the Nets won 101-91. Caris LeVert had 20 points and looked sharp to lead the Nets.

A clunker of a game was bound to happen for Toronto, and now the streak is over. It doesn’t take away from what an amazing season they are having, and now for Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry it’s on to Chicago for the All-Star Game.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Lakers pick up an impressive road win in Denver behind LeBron James triple-double. Unlike the Raptors, LeBron and the Lakers did not take the night off mentally.

“I was trying to be laser sharp, laser focused as I could,” James said, via the AP. “I know the break was coming, but I wasn’t going to take this opportunity for granted.”

The Lakers went on the road to take on a Nuggets team that had won 6-of-7, and LeBron led the way and had 32 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds.

Throw in 33 points from Anthony Davis and the Lakers picked up a 120-116 overtime win. That is a quality road win for the team on top of the standings in the West.

Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, possible first-rounder, staying in 2020 NBA Draft

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman
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Michigan State power forward Xavier Tillman went No. 23 in the last mock draft by Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster.

That’s the type of confidence in Tillman that has him staying in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Michigan State release:

Michigan State men’s basketball rising senior Xavier Tillman Sr. (Grand Rapids, Mich./GR Christian) announced today that he would remain eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft and plans to hire an agent.

Tillman doesn’t look like a typical first-round pick. He’s an upperclassman, 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and not an elite athlete.

But he just knows how to play.

Tillman is a physical interior defender who’s mobile enough on the perimeter. His basketball intelligence typically outshines his physical limitations.

That also goes for offense, where Tillman is also hamstrung by lackluster outside shooting. But Tillman can screen and finish or pass – a useful combination for a roller in the NBA.

I’m not sure whether Tillman will go in the first round. Teams tend to value higher-upside players, as the draft is often the best opportunity to acquire a star.

But Tillman was darned effective in college and has a reasonable chance of being effective in the NBA. In this draft, that should make him a first-round pick.

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
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Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.