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NBA Notebook: As Durant era begins in Phoenix, expect Suns to shine

Kevin Durant is making his much-anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Lakers could be finished and it looks like the NBA could be heading towards continued labour peace.

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the Association right now.

How the Suns might best utilize Durant

Durant will suit up as a member of the Suns for the first time since he was stunningly traded from the Brooklyn Nets during the wee hours of the trade deadline Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets on Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW.

Durant can do just about everything on a basketball court, on both ends of the floor, but what has always made him truly great is how malleable he’s been throughout his career.

Dating back to his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and especially with the Golden State Warriors, Durant has been able to fit in and flourish with other exceptional talents around him because he almost always makes the right decision while out on the floor.

Hence, any hand-wringing over whether he’ll be able to get his game off while playing with another surefire hall-of-famer in Chris Paul as well as superstar guard Devin Booker is foolish. Durant’s game is built off of efficiency and smart decision-making.

As such, it’s in coach Monty Williams and his staff’s best interest to utilize this trait to its fullest and not look to force many sweeping changes in what the Suns already do best.

Durant will adapt to the circumstances and find a way to thrive.

With the way Phoenix’s offence is structured with two mid-range assassins in Paul and Booker, adding a third one in Durant shouldn’t change much. It should open up even more opportunities for Paul and Booker to attack because Durant will be the main focal point of opposing defences.

So the best thing Phoenix can do for Durant, really, is just stay out of his way. He’ll figure it out.

LeBron’s injury couldn’t come at a worse time

LeBron James is expected to miss at least two weeks with a right foot injury, with likely more missed time to come.

The timing of this injury couldn’t be worse for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Not only is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer enjoying yet another fabulous season in Year 20 — averaging 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game — the Lakers made moves at the trade deadline to keep the competitive window open for this season.

The Lakers are currently just one game back of 10th in the Western Conference, for the final play-in spot, and only three games back of the No. 6 seed, where they’d avoid the anxiety of the play-in tournament altogether. But with only 20 games left, they’re quickly running out of time to make a move up the standings.

Those moves the Lakers made to bring in the likes of D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Mo Bamba at the deadline to help James out don’t mean a whole lot if James isn’t there to lead the charge.

Given the reported timeline, at minimum, James will miss seven games — contests that could very well determine Los Angeles’ post-season fate.

And while it’s true that Anthony Davis is among the very best in the NBA, he isn’t James and doesn’t have the kind of track record that James has had in the past of making magic happen in tight situations like the Lakers find themselves in right now.

A new CBA looks like it’s on the way

Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that the NBA and NBPA “are progressing in talks on reaching a new collective bargaining agreement.”

According to Charania, the two sides have a March 31 deadline to reach a new agreement.

This is great news for NBA fans.

Of the topics being discussed, a major focus has been new luxury-tax tiers. Both sides are negotiating a means to increase the lower tier, incentivizing teams to spend more into the tax.

The sides also are talking about once again lowering the age of NBA draft eligibility to 18, opening up the old preps-to-the-pros path.

Additionally, of interest to Toronto Raptors fans, loosening contract extension limits is being tabled as well. The sides have reportedly discussed increasing a player’s salary by 140-150 per cent in the first new year of an extension, up from the current 120-per-cent limit.

O.G. Anunoby could be impacted by this increase as extension talks with him will likely be a talking point this summer and into next season. Anunoby can become a free agent in the summer of 2024.

Dame’s 71-point masterpiece may have been the greatest scoring performance in NBA history

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard notched the second 71-point performance in the NBA this season on Sunday, continuing a trend of supernova scoring seen across the league.

Many adjectives can be used to describe Lillard’s performance, but the best one is probably “historic.”

This is because of the 13 NBA performances that saw a player score 70 points or more, none were as efficient as Lillard’s.

Sure, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game — a record that feels like it will stand the test of time — but he took 63 field-goal attempts and 32 free-throw attempts to make it happen.

Kobe Bryant went for 81 against the Raptors, but needed 46 field-goal attempts and 20 free-throw attempts to get there, while getting uncommonly hot from three-point range, going 7-for-13 from deep.

These are the two highest scoring performances of all time, but there’s an argument to be made that what Lillard did was even more impressive.

He took just 38 shots on his way to 71, taking only 14 free-throws and needing just 39 minutes of work to get the job done. By contrast, Chamberlain played 48 minutes and Bryant 42.

Most recently, Cleveland Cavaliers star Donovan Mitchell exploded for 71 but while he attempted fewer shots than Lillard (34), he needed 25 free-throw attempts, 50 minutes of floor time and an overtime to make it happen.

Thanks to his sharpshooting from three-point range, going 13-for-22 from distance, Lillard accomplished something that was nearly impossible by putting up 70-plus in less than 40 minutes.

At the very least, that should warrant what Lillard did as at least one of the greatest scoring performances of all time.


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