Three things to know: This is the Paul George the Clippers need in the playoffs

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The NBA season is into its second half, 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) This is the Paul George the Clippers need in the playoffs, his 33 sparks win

If the Clippers are going to be more than a paper tiger, a few things need to come together for them in the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard has to be healthy and playing like his Finals MVP self (the most likely of all these things to happen). Rajon Rondo needs to be Playoff Rondo (not Atlanta Rondo from earlier this season) and give them someone to organize the offense better in the clutch. The Clippers’ threes need to keep falling at a high rate (41.6% as a team for the season, best in the league). Los Angeles needs its defense to show up nightly.

And they need this Paul George.

The one who scored 36 against Portland on Tuesday and came back Thursday with 33 points — hitting 7-of-9 from three, plus grabbing 7 rebounds — to lead the Clippers past the Suns.

“Pandemic P” took a lot of heat from fans as he struggled in the bubble last year — both on and off the court — but the Clippers view that as a one-off past from an unprecedented situation. They signed George to a max contract extension in the offseason, and he said with that he owed them a trophy. He started off the season hot before COVID-19 protocols and injuries slowed his season down at points.

George has looked like a player finding his groove the past couple of games, and Los Angeles will need that version of George going forward. The inconsistent Clippers need a lot of things to come together over the final month of the season, but this is still a team with a roster capable of winning it all. Beating Phoenix Thursday was a quality win, even if the Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back — this was a chippy game with a bit of a playoff feel where George and company looked comfortable.

It was a game that also had a dunk-of-the-year candidate from Kawhi Leonard.

It also was a game that saw a couple of Clippers ejected. Patrick Beverley was tossed first for a shot at Chris Paul to stop a fast break. Upon review, the officials determined it wasn’t so much the shoulder check but the extended elbow that was unnecessary and excessive.

In the fourth quarter, Marcus Morris picked up a quick pair of technicals and was ejected as well.

The ejections ended up not mattering, not when George is playing at this level (it helped Leonard pitched in 27).

2) Jimmy Butler too much for shorthanded Lakers

Give the Lakers role players their credit: The team has gone 4-6 without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and even in the losses they have generally put up a fight. The team is still sliding down the standings in an unforgiving West — and the schedule is brutal going forward, including against the Nets on Saturday — but the Lakers are putting up a fight.

They did Thursday against a Miami team that has played elite defense of late but with inconsistent shooting and offense. However, that end of the floor looks a lot better when Jimmy Butler is going off for 28 and finding switching matchups he liked — he told the Lakers to stop switching Andre Drummond onto him.

Butler led the Heat to a 110-104 win where the Heat got balance behind Victor Oladipo scoring 18 on 5-of-8 shooting and his attacking the rim. Oladipo also had to leave the game with a knee injury, X-rays were negative but an MRI on Friday will tell more.

One other note from this game: Markieff Morris didn’t want his brother Marcus to have all the fun — Markieff was ejected from his game, too. (Markieff started the fun, he was ejected hours before his brother.)

3) Hall of Fame executive Rick Welts stepping down as Warriors president

Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber brought in trusted NBA executive Rick Welts and gave him a critical project: Get the Chase Center built.

Mission accomplished, and fans are about to return to the building that is a cash cow and will keep the Warriors as one of the higher revenue teams in the NBA for years.

With that, the 68-year-old Welts — a Hall of Famer with more than four decades working on the business side for teams as well as the NBA league office — has announced he will step down after this season.

“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” Welts told the Associated Press. “To have had a front-row seat to the growth of the NBA from where it was in the late 1960s to its place today as one of the most respected and successful leagues in sports on a global stage has been an incredible privilege.”

Welts is the first openly gay executive, not just in the NBA and but in major men’s professional sports, a true trailblazer. He began his life around basketball as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics back in the day but eventually became a front office force around the league working for the Suns and Warriors.

The Warriors are expected to name a replacement before the end of the season.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

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Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.

NBA owners, players union agree to push back CBA opt-out date. Again.

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The NBA and players union are progressing toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Just not very fast progress. In December, they pushed the opt-out date for both sides — when either the owners or players could opt out and end the CBA on June 30 of this year — to Feb. 8.

They aren’t going to hit that deadline either so the two sides have agreed to push the new opt-out date back to March 31, they announced.

“The NBA and NBPA have mutually agreed to extend the deadline to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from Feb. 8, 2023, to March 31, 2023, as the two sides continue negotiations to reach a new agreement,” the sides said in a joint release. “If either party exercises the opt-out, the CBA’s term will conclude on June 30, 2023.”

There is one bit of good news in the talks, the owners have backed off the “upper spending limit” idea, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. At least some owners — troubled by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — pushed for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams, which the players saw as a hard cap and a deal breaker.

As the sides pursue an early labor deal, a significant part of what has allowed discussions to progress has been the NBA’s willingness to soften from its original push for an upper spending limit on team payrolls — a de facto hard cap, sources said.

Still, expect changes to the luxury tax system to attempt to rein in the spending of some owners. There are a lot of economic concerns that will push toward a deal getting done, including this interesting note:

There are broader economic concerns looming for the league that are motivating factors in reaching a new labor deal in the coming weeks and months — including the potential bankruptcy of the Sinclair/Diamond Sports Regional Sports Networks, which is responsible for broadcasting 16 of the league’s teams on local deals. The longer labor talks linger, the more moderate positions among ownership can harden on financial issues and risk deeper difficulties on reaching a new labor deal.

The conventional wisdom has long been there would be no lockout and potential work stoppage because every side was making money again, the trajectory of the league was good, and nobody wanted to slam the breaks on that momentum. But there is always a risk, especially if the owners are fighting among themselves. Which is why a deal getting done sooner rather than later is best for everyone — especially fans.

Focus on body, conditioning has LeBron James on cusp of scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James has prepared for this day since high school.

Maybe he didn’t envision this day exactly — the day he would break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record, something he is just 36 points shy of heading into Tuesday night against the Thunder— but LeBron was preparing for playing at a high level deep into his career. A career that has seen very few injuries (in 20 seasons his only surgeries have been LASIK and oral surgery in the offseason), very little time missed, and a lot of points.

Through all the years, teams and tribulations, LeBron’s focus on preparing his body has never wavered.

“I’ve just learned more about my body and how to prepare my body. But I’ve been taking care of my body since I started playing basketball,” LeBron said earlier this season. “Like, even when I was younger — you can ask any of my best friends growing up — before I went to sleep I would stretch and as soon as I would wake up I would stretch. I was like, 10 years old. In high school, I was one of the few guys that would ice after the game. My rookie year I was icing after the game, as well.

“But, as I got older and older and older, I started to figure out other ways that I could beat Father Time by putting in more time on my game and on my craft. But mostly on my body and my mind. I feel like if my mind can stay as fresh as it possibly can through a grueling up-and-down NBA season — which it is — then my body is going to be able to try and perform at the highest level. So, I’ve always wanted to maximize even the most out of my career and squeeze the most juice I can out of my career.

That level of investment in his body — financially, but more importantly with time and energy — has made his fitness routine a legend around the league. It’s the reason he is still an All-NBA-level player when the rest of his draft class — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Kyle Korver, David West, Steve Blake, Kirk Hinrich — have hung up their sneakers.

“LeBron is taking care of himself so well that he’s been able to play a bundle of games for a lot of years. And that’s what he takes,” said Spurs legend Gregg Popovich. “But he gets credit for taking care of himself and being able to be out there. The way a lot of players don’t even come close to. His commitment to the game and to what he has to do, has allowed him to be in this position.”

LeBron has made fitness and recovery a core part of his daily routine. That commitment to his body means he works out at least five days a week even in the slow weeks of the offseason. Get close to the season and into the grind and it’s seven days a week.

These are not ‘I’m going to jump on the elliptical and get in a little cardio’ workouts, these are specially designed HIIT workouts with his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, that target on different days his core, legs, upper body and other areas, plus mixes in yoga and stretching, and then a recovery program. It is holistic and includes a diet low on refined sugars but with enough carbs to fuel his workout and play.

All that doesn’t even include his pregame stretching and workout routine.

LeBron puts his money into maintaining his conditioning — his business partner and friend Maverick Carter once said LeBron spends about $1.5 million a year on not just trainers and a personal chef, but equipment such as cryotherapy chambers, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec leg boots, and much more.

Does LeBron have a go-to cheat? Wine. But he’s earned it.

Players don’t reach the NBA, or especially, stick around, without an impressive commitment to fitness. Plenty of players enter the league with bad habits that, by season three or four, they figure out they have to dump if they are going to stick around (and get paid). LeBron’s focus, consistency, and relentlessness is on another level, and it is what has him as the best player the league has ever seen in his 20th season, at age 38. Nobody has ever played this well, this long.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

And he put in the work to get there.

On fringe of rotation, Sixers guard Korkmaz reportedly requests trade

NBA: JAN 17 76ers at Clippers
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last season, Furkan Korkmaz was a regular part of the 76ers rotation — he played in 69 games, started 19, and averaged 21 minutes and seven shot attempts a night.

With De'Anthony Melton added to the rotation this season, Korkmaz has played in 25 games (less than half of the team’s games) at 10.2 minutes a night when he does get in, and he averaged 3.1 shots per game. Korkmaz wants to be somewhere he is wanted and used and has requested a trade, reports Keith Pompey at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have said the Turkish player has requested to be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Asked about it, Korkmaz would only say he “would not confirm nor deny it.”

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey didn’t immediately respond to a text message asking if Korkmaz asked to be traded. But sources have said Korkmaz was informed the Sixers will try to package him in a deal.

Korkmaz is not the only 76ers whose name comes up in trade conversations, wing defender Matisse Thybulle also has drawn trade interest. The Sixers are looking for a backup point center for their playoff run.

Korkmaz, 25 and in his sixth NBA season, is a career 35.4% shooter from 3 at the guard spot, but his competent shooting has not made up for limited playmaking and poor defense at the NBA level. The Sixers went out and got an upgrade this offseason in Melton.

Korkmaz makes $5 million this season and has a fully-guaranteed $5.4 million on the books for next season. A fair price if a team believes the Turkish guard can help their guard rotation, but the market for him is likely limited.

Still, it’s another name to watch in Philadelphia as we move toward Thursday’s trade deadline.