Three things to know: Kevin Durant had a good Sunday, scores 33, wins an Oscar

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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.

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.

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.

Winning an Oscar follows Kobe Bryant’s footsteps, he won an Oscar for his short animated film “Dear Basketball.”

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.

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.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.