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Kevin Durant's MVP trophy validates reasons for joining Golden State to win NBA title

Kevin Durant's MVP trophy validates reasons for joining Golden State to win NBA title

The NBA Finals are over and Kevin Durant, who took a moment to give a shout out to his hometown of Washington D.C. after winning his first championship, took the MVP trophy with him. 

The Golden State Warriors routed the Cleveland Cavaliers, taking them down in five games of a 129-120 victory on Monday.

Durant had 39 points in the series clincher but because he went to a team that won 73 games a year ago and already had won a title two years ago, it was assumed that he was just chasing a ring. When he left the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency last summer, he joined the team that had come back to beat him in the conference finals. 

How dare he? The Warriors already had two-time MVP Steph Curry, one the league's best two-way players in Klay Thompson and a defensive player of the year caliber big in Draymond Green.

While the prospects of winning factored into his decision, Durant clearly felt suffocated by the bigger, more dominant personality of Russell Westbrook. Getting away from that was more important than anything and the Warriors are 180 degrees different.

Durant says it -- without directly saying it.

"I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was hopping on bandwagons, that I was letting everybody else do the work," Durant said. "That was far from the truth. I came in and tried to help my team, try to be myself, be aggressive and sacrifice as well. There was some games I might not get as many shots as I'm used to getting. There are some games where Steph is going to go off and hit 13 threes or Klay might hit 60 or Draymond might get a triple-double with no points. But nobody cared. As long as he won. Andre Igoudala, who is right there, continued to preach that every single day. It's all about the group. If your intentions are good then that means as a team that we're moving in the right direction."

This season was all about Westbrook's quest to break Oscar Robertson's triple-double record (he did) and averaging one (and he did). It also turned into a referendum on Durant's departure from Oklahoma City, with Westbrook intent on showing he didn't need him.

With complicity from his teammates, Westbrook chased stats to create the groundswell that he should be the MVP. They boxed out the opposing team at the foul line and allowed Westbrook to swoop in to grab uncontested rebounds to pad those numbers. 

He dominated the ball like no one else in league history. While the talent surrounding him isn't great, Victor Oladipo, Taj Gibson, and Steven Adams are solid role pieces, he doesn't exactly make those players better.

What Westbrook did was special in its own way but it only benefitted the individual. Durant wanted to play in a system that is more about the collective and next to a point guard like Curry who'd gladly sacrifice for him. Durant benefitted the team but when it was time to get his own shot in an isolation in the fourth quarter he did it.

The ultimate irony, of course, is if Westbrook wins the regular-season MVP in a few weeks, Durant will have already one-upped him.

He wasn't a passenger on Golden State's championship team. He was the engine. He had the ball in the fourth quarter. The Warriors might not have won the crown without him. Durant was the antidote for LeBron James, who averaged a triple-double in the Finals.

Who remembers or even cares now that at the rookie combine Durant was ridiculed for not being able to bench press 135 pounds?

He can lift his trophies, and no one for Golden State is going to overshadow him.

MORE NBA: The Warriors didn't blow a 3-1 lead this year

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3 things to watch for Wizards vs. Magic, as Wizards return home

3 things to watch for Wizards vs. Magic, as Wizards return home

John Wall, Bradley Beal, Dwight Howard and the Washington Wizards take on Mo Bamba, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. 

Here are three things to watch...

Back home

After playing eight of their last 10 games on the road, the Wizards finally return to D.C. for an extended homestand. They will play their next five games at Capital One Arena and the first three are against teams with losing records.

So far this season, the Wizards are just 1-3 at home. But in 2017-18 they went 23-18 at home and the year before they went 30-11. This next stretch is an opportunity for them to right the ship.

Quick rematch

The Wizards saw the Magic just two games ago, on Friday, in Orlando. The Magic went up 25 points, yet the Wizards stormed back to cut the lead to one before collapsing late. Seven different Magic players reached double figures, including Mo Bamba, Jerian Grant and Terrence Ross off the bench.

The Wizards have to do a better job rebounding against Orlando and they need to lock down the three-point line. The Magic shot 41.9 percent (13-for-31) from long range. The Wizards also had 18 turnovers, which led to 29 points for Orlando.

Magic are playing well

The win against the Wizards wasn't an outlier for the Magic, who are off to a surprising 6-7 start, a record that currently places them ninth in the East. They have won four of their last five and includes a victory in San Antonio against the Spurs.

Defense remains the Magic's overall strength. They can't score. But they are hitting more threes this season. They rank 16th in the NBA in threes per game (10.6) and are top-10 in attempts.

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How Wizards' rookie Troy Brown Jr. developed a basketball IQ beyond his years

How Wizards' rookie Troy Brown Jr. developed a basketball IQ beyond his years

Many kids dream of becoming NBA players. They emulate stars of the day on Fisher Price hoops in their basements and driveways. 

Few, however, approach those aspirations quite like Troy Brown Jr. The Wizards' 2018 first round pick says he can date watching film to improve his game all the way back to elementary school. 

Early on, Brown Jr. discovered there was a deep and rich archive of NBA video, free and readily available on the internet. All he had to do was log on to YouTube.

Brown Jr. would consume clip after clip with his father, Troy Brown Sr., who played in college at Texas A&M Kingsville. He began by studying the best point guards of that era like Chris Paul. From there, he went further back and found legends of the 1990s like John Stockton and Penny Hardaway.

"It was kind of basic for me to watch regular NBA basketball," Brown Jr. told NBC Sports Washington. "I wanted to see where it started from and see how it developed and evolved."

Brown Jr. became fascinated with the history of the game and the point guard position. That led him to the 1980s and Magic Johnson.

"That was my favorite player for a really long time. When I was younger, him and Larry Bird, I watched them all the time," Brown Jr. said. "I just liked that era of basketball."

Studying became a common theme for Brown Jr.. He went on to make honor roll and take pre-AP classes in high school. And applying that focus to the court helped him develop a basketball IQ beyond his years.

Brown Jr.'s intellect was the first thing many Wizards officials pointed to when he was drafted this past June. Team president Ernie Grunfeld made reference to Brown Jr.'s smarts six different times the night he was drafted. Head coach Scott Brooks mentioned some variation of his IQ and his understanding of the game five times. 

All of that praise from basketball lifers, yet Brown Jr. was only 18 when he was picked.

One Wizards front office executive when asked about Brown Jr., remarked: "have you talked to him?" Those in the organization believe his intelligence will help set him apart as an NBA player.

That potential was demonstrated during the pre-draft interview process when the Wizards gave Brown Jr. a pop quiz. Brooks handed him a whiteboard and tasked him with drawing up a last-second play in front of coaches and front office personnel. Brooks has administered that test many times over the years and Brown Jr. responded as well as anyone he has seen.

To make the NBA, it takes a lot more than being smart, of course. It takes talent, which Brown Jr. was blessed with as the son of two college athletes. And it takes skill, which can only be obtained through years of training and hard work.

Brown Jr.'s on-court basketball journey began in Nevada rec centers and high school gyms, air-conditioned escapes from the desert heat. The stories from his AAU days have become legendary in Las Vegas hoops.

In fourth grade, he started playing for DeDan Thomas, a Las Vegas AAU coach who played college ball at UNLV. While with the Running Rebels, Thomas was coached by legends like Jerry Tarkanian, Rollie Massimino and Jay Wright

UNLV is also where Thomas first met Wizards senior vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard, who served in the sports information office. That connection came in handy when the Wizards assessed Brown Jr.'s character before drafting him.

Thomas coached Brown Jr. with Brown Sr. also on the staff. He first met the family while working as a probation officer with Brown Jr.'s mother, Lynn, in Las Vegas. Both of Troy's parents were correctional officers.

In those early AAU years, they took long road trips to California and Arizona so Brown Jr. and his teammates could face off with the country's best. Back then, that meant going up against guys like Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Deandre Ayton, three of the top seven picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, in the fifth and sixth grade.

When Brown Jr. was in seventh grade, Thomas brought him to a men's league game at Club Sport in Henderson, NV along with his former college teammate who played professionally overseas. Brown Jr. lit up the other team.

"Guys were coming up to Troy after the game and asking how old he was," Thomas said. "Everyone just knew the kid had it."

Brown Jr., now 6-foot-7, grew quickly as a kid and was often the tallest player on his team even though he played a grade up. And despite his size, he mostly played point guard. That gives him a different perspective when playing other positions off the ball. 

It helped having Thomas, a former point guard himself, oversee some of his formative years.

"He was like a sponge, man. Very smart kid," Thomas said.

From eighth grade through high school, Brown Jr. played for the Las Vegas Prospects under coach Anthony Brown. Coach Brown remembers a kid, who like many in the AAU circuit, didn't care for defense when they first met.

But over the years, that changed. Brown takes pride in Brown Jr.'s development on the defensive end and one story stands out above all.

In the summer of 2016, Brown Jr. won a gold medal with Team USA at the FIBA U-17 World Championship. He then flew to Atlanta, GA to join his AAU team for the Peach Jam.

Due to the long flight, Brown told Brown Jr. he could sit out the first game. He initially followed those orders.

But the next morning, as the team met in the hotel lobby at 7:30 a.m., Brown Jr. was the first to arrive. He told coach he wanted to play. The matchup was against future Duke star and current Trail Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr.

"He ends up guarding Gary Trent in this game and puts the handcuffs on him," Brown said. "The kid just refuses to lose... That's who he is as a person. No excuses. Regardless of whether he came from Team USA or not. I came here to take care of business. Check up."

When Brown Jr. was a freshman in high school, he was invited to LeBron James' camp, in his hometown in Las Vegas.

James was in the gym when Brown Jr., on a team with Ayton, faced off with future NBA players Jalen Brunson and Stephen Zimmerman. Brunson, who is three years older than Brown Jr., went on to star for two national championship teams at Villanova and win the national college player of the year award.

"Troy was in awe. He was 14 and he's playing on this big stage," Brown remembers.

"So, they come down and Brunson makes a good move on Troy and then claps in his face. Troy goes for a triple-double in that game. They beat Zimmerman and Brunson. They win the game. It's camp ball, but he gets a triple-double. LeBron James comes over and is watching him. Everyone is standing around like 'who is this kid?'"

Brown, who has coached other NBA players during his 19 years at the AAU level, says Brown Jr. is as impressive a young player and man as he has come across.

"I think I will tell those stories for the rest of my life," Brown said.

Now on a Wizards team that has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, Brown Jr. has to wait his turn for playing time.

It's not quite the same as when he stepped on campus at Oregon University as a McDonald's All-American, but he learned a lesson then about making a first impression as the new guy.

"It was about coming in and proving myself in my first couple practices and letting everyone know that I was here to stay," he said. "I was going to work as hard as I could every day just to prove a point. From there, I kind of gained respect from everybody and that's how I earned my spot."

Brown Jr. is young and playing on a deep Wizards roster that features Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. at the small forward position. Brown Jr. has to pay his dues, as they once did. 

He understands he has to be patient, but is preparing for when the opportunity comes.

"I'm getting here early and putting up shots. I'm putting up shots after practice," he said. "I'm making sure I'm always ready when my name is called."

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