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Three things to know: Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry make their MVP case

Kurt Helin and Corey Robinson discuss what the starting lineup for the NBA All-Star Game should look like, debating James Harden vs. Kyrie Irving, and Damian Lillard vs. Luka Dončić.

The NBA season is in full swing, 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) Dame Time comes to New Orleans: Lillard wins game, makes MVP stand

When it came time to send in an All-Star starters ballot, my West starting backcourt was Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry (with Luka Doncic just half-a-step behind).

However, those two are having more than All-Star seasons, even more than All-NBA seasons — they both are having “you better mention me in your MVP talk” kind of season. Right now, neither Lillard nor Curry is challenging LeBron James and Joel Embiid at the top of the MVP ladder, but they need to be mentioned in the next tier as part of the conversation.

Lillard has to be mentioned not just because he’s averaging 29.8 points a game — third in the NBA — with 7.7 assists a night (10th in that stat). Nor is it that Portland is 13.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor. Or that Lillard has carried a Trail Blazers team without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, both injured, to an 18-10 record and the four seed in the West.

Lillard’s case is he is the most clutch player in the league. Wednesday night, it was Dame Time in New Orleans.

That play had been set up all game. Lillard had 43 points on the night and had been shredding the Pelicans’ pick-and-roll defense. On the go-ahead bucket Robert Covington comes up on the right to set the screen, but as he gets near Lillard goes hard to his left — the threat of the screen was enough to create some space, which Lillard used to get the old-school and-1.

Lillard has been carrying the load nightly for Portland, which has won six straight (through a largely soft part of the schedule, but so what — still have to beat who is in front of you). If Portland can hang in the top four in the West, Lillard’s case gets stronger.

2) Stephen Curry owns second half in making his MVP statement

Stephen Curry’s case is similar to Lillard’s: putting up massive numbers — 30 points and six assists a night, shooting 42.5% from three, and the Golden State offense is +8.4 per 100 possessions with him on the court — while carrying a heavy load for a roster devastated by injuries. Curry has been a more active and better defender this season than Lillard (but that end of the court keeps him from the LeBron/Embiid level).

And Curry is clutch as well. He took over in the second half and overtime against Miami to help the Warriors from 19 points down to come back and get the win in overtime.

Curry’s confidence is imprinted on this game — he missed 15 threes. The record for missed threes in a game is just one more at 16 (James Harden). It didn’t shake him, Curry made two key threes in overtime.

What Curry and Lillard both bring is they are must-watch. That factors in, too, the “I can take my eyes off of them” test. Curry and Lillard may be tied for the league lead in that intangible.

3) Watch Trae Young drop 40 on Celtics in Hawks’ win

That most watchable list with Curry and Lillard? Better throw Trae Young on that list.

Young dropped 40 on the Celtics in the Garden to get the Hawks the win.

Atlanta spent a lot of money on free agents in the offseason to fix a key problem from last season: Atlanta’s offense fell apart when Young was not on the court, -14.1 per 100 possessions. This season? It’s still -13.9. All those expensive free agents are not staying healthy and on the court, making it the Trae Young show in the ATL.

But that’s a fun show to watch.