The NBA season has less than a month to go, 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) Kevin Durant returns, scores effortless 33, Nets pull away from Suns
Kevin Durant returned and the Brooklyn Nets looked like a team that could hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy this July.
That’s not a coincidence. When he has been healthy and on the court this season, Durant has played at an MVP level. He once again returned from injury — this time a thigh contusion that cost him three games — and in 28 minutes off the bench shot 12-of-21 on his way to 33 points.
Add in a red-hot Kyrie Irving — 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting, 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, 12 assists — and the Brooklyn offense overwhelmed the Phoenix defense. The game was pretty close much of the way, but the Nets started the fourth on a 16-5 run to pull away and never looked back.
Durant takes the Brooklyn offense to another level because he can score so many different ways — in isolation with the ball in his hands (either driving to the rim or on a pull-up from the midrange), working off the ball on a catch-and-shoot, he can score from three or make moves around the rim. That versatility lets him fit in wherever and however the points are needed. He is unstoppable.
Sunday the Nets wrapped that Durant versatility around Irving’s shot creation and handles, and that was all they needed.
Got it done. Let’s get healthy.
— Joe Tsai (@joetsai1999) April 24, 2021
Two-thirds of the Nets stars are healthy and playing now, but James Harden had a setback with his hamstring and likely will not be available until close to — or after the start of — the playoffs. That has led to questions about how all this fits together, but so far Harden has passed the chemistry test — Irving handed playmaking duties over to Harden without a fight, and that filled in the pecking order. In the short term, everyone is good with their roles, and chemistry may not be as big a concern in the playoffs for this team as some fear. (Long term… I don’t know how Irving will feel being the third option halfway through next season, but we’ll see what that looks like next February.)
The Suns have the second-best record in the NBA, and the Nets comfortably handled them on Sunday. That is the sign of a contender.
That’s what Kevin Durant does for Brooklyn.
2) Then Durant and Mike Conley became Oscar winners
Kevin Durant and Mike Conley, along with Durant’s business partner/manager Rich Kleiman, are the heart of Thirty Five Ventures, an investment company that puts money behind media projects, invested in Therabody (the makers of the Theragun massager), the Philadelphia Union MLS team, and much more.
One of those investments was in the short film “Two Distant Strangers,” where Durant and Conley are executive producers — and that film won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film Sunday night.
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) April 26, 2021
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) April 26, 2021
You can stream the film right now on Netflix. “Two Distant Strangers” is the story of a Black man, played by rapper Joey Bada$$, who is in a time loop repeating a deadly encounter with a white police officer.
3) Ja Morant says the Grizzlies deserve more respect. He’s right.
Since the start of April, the Grizzlies are 9-5 with a +6.9 net rating, and they have the second-best offense in the league during the month with a 121.1 net rating (stat via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time). Memphis sits right now as the eighth seed in the West, and they just got Jaren Jackson Jr. back from injury, making their offense that much more dangerous.
After the Grizzlies knocked off the Trail Blazers Sunday — Memphis gook both games from a two-game set, tying the teams in the loss column and leaving Memphis just half-a-game back of Portland and the seven seed — Ja Morant said the Grizzlies don’t get the respect they have earned this season.
Ja Morant said he feels like they are gaining respect but said, "the respect that we deserve is not there yet."
Ja said they know the job is not finished yet and they have to continue to get wins…but said they will soon have the respect that they deserve.
— Meghan Triplett (@Meghan_Triplett) April 25, 2021
He’s not wrong.
The Grizzlies are three games above .500 and playing some of their best basketball of the season, they are getting healthy, and only two guys in their rotation are older than age 25. This is a young team on the rise. We all tend to focus on the teams around Memphis — such as Portland, or Dallas, or Golden State — and look right past the Grizzlies, but this is a good team that may be peaking at the right time.
The Grizzlies need to make a push in the playoffs to earn some of that respect, but this is a team that can do just that.
On the other side, Portland has lost five straight, and Blazers fans are asking, “what do we need to do to get this team to contend during Damian Lillard‘s prime?” There is no easy answer to that question.