Three things to know: Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry make their MVP case

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The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Dame Time comes to New Orleans: Lillard wins game, makes MVP stand

When it came time to send in an All-Star starters ballot, my West starting backcourt was Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry (with Luka Doncic just half-a-step behind).

However, those two are having more than All-Star seasons, even more than All-NBA seasons — they both are having “you better mention me in your MVP talk” kind of season. Right now, neither Lillard nor Curry is challenging LeBron James and Joel Embiid at the top of the MVP ladder, but they need to be mentioned in the next tier as part of the conversation.

Lillard has to be mentioned not just because he’s averaging 29.8 points a game — third in the NBA — with 7.7 assists a night (10th in that stat). Nor is it that Portland is 13.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor. Or that Lillard has carried a Trail Blazers team without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, both injured, to an 18-10 record and the four seed in the West.

Lillard’s case is he is the most clutch player in the league. Wednesday night, it was Dame Time in New Orleans.

That play had been set up all game. Lillard had 43 points on the night and had been shredding the Pelicans’ pick-and-roll defense. On the go-ahead bucket Robert Covington comes up on the right to set the screen, but as he gets near Lillard goes hard to his left — the threat of the screen was enough to create some space, which Lillard used to get the old-school and-1.

Lillard has been carrying the load nightly for Portland, which has won six straight (through a largely soft part of the schedule, but so what — still have to beat who is in front of you). If Portland can hang in the top four in the West, Lillard’s case gets stronger.

2) Stephen Curry owns second half in making his MVP statement

Stephen Curry’s case is similar to Lillard’s: putting up massive numbers — 30 points and six assists a night, shooting 42.5% from three, and the Golden State offense is +8.4 per 100 possessions with him on the court — while carrying a heavy load for a roster devastated by injuries. Curry has been a more active and better defender this season than Lillard (but that end of the court keeps him from the LeBron/Embiid level).

And Curry is clutch as well. He took over in the second half and overtime against Miami to help the Warriors from 19 points down to come back and get the win in overtime.

Curry’s confidence is imprinted on this game — he missed 15 threes. The record for missed threes in a game is just one more at 16 (James Harden). It didn’t shake him, Curry made two key threes in overtime.

What Curry and Lillard both bring is they are must-watch. That factors in, too, the “I can take my eyes off of them” test. Curry and Lillard may be tied for the league lead in that intangible.

3) Watch Trae Young drop 40 on Celtics in Hawks’ win

That most watchable list with Curry and Lillard? Better throw Trae Young on that list.

Young dropped 40 on the Celtics in the Garden to get the Hawks the win.

Atlanta spent a lot of money on free agents in the offseason to fix a key problem from last season: Atlanta’s offense fell apart when Young was not on the court, -14.1 per 100 possessions. This season? It’s still -13.9. All those expensive free agents are not staying healthy and on the court, making it the Trae Young show in the ATL.

But that’s a fun show to watch.

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.

Reprots: Luka Doncic day-to-day with “mild” ankle sprain

Washington Wizards v Dallas Mavericks
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While there are grades of ankle sprains, ask anyone trying to walk around on one if there is a “mild” version.

Yet that’s what Mavericks sources say about Luka Doncic’s ankle sprain suffered against the Suns on Thursday night. He is “day-to-day” with the injury, a story first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (and since confirmed by others).

Doncic has been playing through ankle soreness in recent weeks and it’s fair to expect the Mavericks to give him a few games off. However, it can’t be too many for a team fighting for a playoff spot, the Mavs are 0-5 in games Doncic has rested this season and have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions this season when he sits (although they did beat the Suns largely without him Thursday). Doncic is an All-Star starter averaging 33.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game.

Dallas plays next on Saturday against the Jazz. It would be a surprise to see Doncic suit up for that game.

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