Three Things to Know: Durant is still very good at basketball, for Nets that’s not enough

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LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Kevin Durant is still very good at basketball, for Nets that’s not enough to win

Kevin Durant has a reputation for impressive returns from injury. The man tore his Achilles, missed a year, yet in the first 12 games of his return he averaged 31.3 points a game. He did the same thing last season, missing a couple of months then coming back scoring more than 26 points a game and shooting better than 50% from 3 in his first dozen games.

Friday night, his first game back after missing 21 games with a sprained knee, Durant dropped 31 on the fifth-best defense in the league. There was a little rust, Durant was 2-of-7 from 3, but not much. Durant walked back in the door ready to lead this Nets team.

For these shorthanded Nets, that’s not enough.

Not against the East-leading Heat, who have the balance to both defend the Nets and exploit Brooklyn’s defense. The Nets focused on taking away Heat 3-pointers — Miami took six fewer than its average — but that gave Bam Adebayo space to operate inside and he finished with a team-high 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting, plus pulling down 11 boards.

Tyler Herro added 27 for the Heat, who were on the second night of a back-to-back following a heartbreaking loss to the Bucks.

Maybe the big turning point was when Erik Spoelstra leaned into using a zone defense — Brooklyn could not consistently solve it. The Heat don’t zone a lot, but they played it well and the Nets did not have an answer.

This was no playoff preview — no Jimmy Butler for Miami, no Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons for the Nets. These teams could meet in the first round — Miami as the No. 1 or 2 seed, Brooklyn as No. 7 or 8 — and they both will look very different.

Part of that is Durant will have found his groove by then. The question is will he have enough help — the Nets’ potential has been discussed by everyone all season, but can they ever get near it?

2) Give the Clippers their due after they sweep season series from Lakers

“They’re a better team.”

That was LeBron James‘ frank and accurate assessment of the Clippers after they throttled LeBron and his Lakers 132-111, led by Reggie Jackson going off for 36. With that win, the Clippers swept the season series with the Lakers 4-0.

It was another dispiriting loss for a broken Lakers team. However, we’re not going to write yet another story about what’s wrong with the Lakers and whether to blame Pelinka/Vogel/LeBron/Westbrook/’Melo/Buss/Kareem/West/Mikan or whoever. Instead, we’ll let Flea sum up the mood of Lakers fans.

We need to spend a minute praising the Los Angeles team that respects the game — the Clippers.

No Kawhi Leonard or Paul George or Norman Powell. Yet, when Clippers are faced with adversity — like when the Lakers closed out the first half with a 14-0 run — the team digs down and responds. The Clippers answered the Lakers by opening the third on a 19-2 run that grew into a 32-6 sprint, and by the end the Clippers had dropped a 40-spot on the Lakers that quarter. That was the ballgame.

This was Reggie Jackson’s game as he scored 36 and was clowning Russell Westbrook as part of their long-standing feud and rivalry. The point guard has become the Clippers’ clutch player this season and the guy they lean on to spark them, he did that in the third.

What did Tyronn Lue say at halftime that fired the team for that third quarter run?

“T-Lue just kind of comes in calm, smiles and he’s like, ‘Hey, we’re in a great place,'” Jackson said. “‘If we stop turning the ball over, we’re in a great place.'”

Lue will not win Coach of the Year with his eighth-seeded team in a season deep with impressive candidates for the award, but he deserves mention. Through all the absences and setbacks the team has faced, he has the Clippers focused and prepared every night, has them executing, has them buying into roles, and the Clippers are respecting the game and playing hard. That’s no small thing. The Clippers could have folded this season at more than a few points; instead, they have won five in a row, are three games over .500 and 5.5 games up on that team down the hall.

It’s a real contrast with what we see from the more storied and star-studded team in L.A.

3) Luka Doncic drops 41, hunts Curry to rub it in during Mavs win

Luka Doncic loves to go right at the other team’s star late in games. A few nights ago he intentionally hunted LeBron in the fourth when the Mavs beat the Lakers.

Thursday it was Stephen Curry‘s turn.

Doncic hunted Curry like a Cavs/Warriors Finals game from last decade. Doncic finished with 41 points and was one assist shy of a triple-double in the Mavericks 122-113 win.

The Warriors miss the secondary playmaking and defense of Draymond Green badly — they are not threatening the Suns and contending for a ring without him at 100%. Dallas focused on not letting Curry beat them — he didn’t even have a shot from the field in the fourth — and nobody else stepped up. Green was not there to set them up.

Dallas is going to be a problem in the playoffs the way Doncic is playing

Highlight of the Night: Ja Morant is just ridiculous

I’ve been saying it all season and I will double down now: Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the NBA right now.

Yesterday’s scores:

Atlanta 130, Chicago 124
Boston 120, Memphis 107
Miami 113, Brooklyn 107
Detroit 108, Toronto 106
Dallas 122, Golden State113
Sacramento 115, San Antonio 112
LA Clippers 132, LA Lakers 111