NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 3: The Phoenix starters came up big on a rare off-night for the heralded reserves

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stoudemire.pngThe Suns’ reserves have been the heart and soul of Phoenix’s extended playoff run. Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, and Louis Amundson have each had their moment in the spotlight, with their collective shooting, energy, savvy, and synergy making all the difference for the Suns in these playoffs.

That wasn’t exactly the case in Game 3. Those same five reserves combined for just 15 points on a horribly ineffective 3-for-21 from the field, and they missed each of their 11 total attempts from three-point range. The spark that made the second and fourth quarters so enjoyable for Suns fans this postseason was extinguished for Game 3, which would seem to be a recipe for disaster given the constitution of this series thus far. Phoenix was having trouble matching L.A.’s offensive output even with some serious help from the bench. Take away that crutch, and the Suns’ return to the US Airways Center would seem destined to end in failure.

That wasn’t exactly the case, either. The Suns’ starters stepped up in a big way, with Amar’e Stoudemire (42 points on 22 shots, 11 rebounds) not just returning to form, but evolving into something of a monster. He still won’t be making the All-Defensive team anytime soon, but Stoudemire played with more focus on the fairer end of the court while completely dominating the offensive end.

Steve Nash (17 points, 15 assists, just one turnover) and Amar’e looked far more comfortable operating in the pick-and-roll than in the two games prior, which made a world of difference for the Western Conference Finals underdogs. Part of that is Nash having the benefit of better screens, but the improved timing and accuracy of his passes and Stoudemire’s newfound assertiveness were crucial to the slight refocusing of the Phoenix offense.

The Suns’ weren’t exactly struggling on the offensive end in this series prior to Sunday night (they scored at a rate of 116.3 and 116.7 points per 100 possessions in Games 1 and 2 respectively), but Game 3 marked Amar’e’s first breakout performance in the series and a nice uptick in team-wide offensive efficiency (120.4 points per 100 possessions).

The subs clearly weren’t the source of that offensive improvement, meaning that on this night, the starters were the team’s rightful saviors. Jason Richardson finished with 19 points on 15 shots, including four threes made in seven attempts. Grant Hill only scored five points, but had nine rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Robin Lopez very nearly stole the show by dropping 20 points on eight of his 10 attempts, but his ability to finish around the rim was a bit dwarfed by Amar’e’s fantastic outing.

This isn’t to neglect the Suns’ improved defense in Game 3, which our own Kurt Helin already addressed in this space. The adjustment from man-to-man coverage to a zone look did exactly what Phoenix needed it to: bogged down L.A.’s offense just enough to secure a win. The Suns honestly don’t need to play terrific defense in order to win games in this series, but they do have to play some defense. The Suns need to work as hard, rotate as quickly, and contest as much as they did in Game 3 if they’re going to take another game in this series, but the starters’ ability to execute in the zone does offer a glimmer of hope.

Goran Dragic may have completely blitzed the Spurs in the second round and Jared Dudley’s hustle has justly received praise throughout the playoffs, but Game 3 serves as a much-needed reminder that the Suns’ starters are the bread-winners. Replacing the useless Jarron Collins with Robin Lopez makes that even more apparent, and though the boost from the reserve unit has been welcome throughout the season, the production of Phoenix’s starting five has always been the foundation for the Suns’ success. Complementary players are nice additions to any team, but at the end of the day they’re still just complementary players.

Against elite competition (and the Lakers are just that), the Suns’ starters will have to perform like they did in Game 3; less as a collection of the team’s most talented players, and more like the cohesive whole they’re capable of being.  

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and a center for depth if they do trade Jakob Poeltl before the deadline.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

Owners approve sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia, deal reportedly expected to close Tuesday

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons
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The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors (the other owners) voted 29-0 Monday to approve the Phoenix Suns and Mercury sale to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

What that will mean for the Suns’ organization — in terms of spending on basketball operations and the roster, as well as the business structure of the franchise — remains to be seen. But the change should be welcomed by Suns fans who dealt with decades of the penny-pinching of Sarver.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 under Tom Izzo — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale. That sale price blows away the previous record for an NBA team of $3.3 billion (what Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center).

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father Jeff founded the business and it has grown to be one of the largest mortgage lenders in the United States, and Ishbia is worth a reported $5.1 billion. Mat is joined by his brother Justin — also a billionaire and part-owner of UWM — as co-owner and alternate governor for the team.

With the sale going through and changes coming, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley chose to step down and leave the team. Rowley had been linked to the toxic work environment that led to former owner Robert Sarver agreeing to sell the team. A league-sponsored investigation into Sarver and how he ran the Suns found a hostile work environment with sexual harassment rampant. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million (the max he could do) and suspended Sarver for a yeara slap on the wrist — but pressure from sponsors and other NBA owners pushed Sarver to sell the team and step away. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million, but now sold his share for an estimated $1.48 billion.

Three things to Know: Cam Thomas takes over in Brooklyn, scores 47

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Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Cam Thomas takes over Brooklyn, scores 44 for shorthanded Nets

The list of players who have scored 40+ points in back-to-back games this season reads like the top seven picks of a fantasy draft: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Damian Lillard.

Now add Cam Thomas to that list.

With Kevin Durant injured and Kyrie Irving now in Dallas, the Brooklyn Nets’ second-year scoring guard has taken over the offense. He scored a career-high 44 against the Wizards on Saturday night, then on Monday topped that with 47 against the Clippers, hitting 7-of-11 from 3.

The Nets needed this. Brooklyn has been Team Drama since Kyrie Irving didn’t get his extension and demanded a trade, which has led to a lot of speculation around the league about Kevin Durant being next out the door (sources told NBC Sports to expect that issue to be resolved over the summer, not in the tight window of the trade deadline).

Thomas has been able to score since he was drafted out of LSU, but that skill was less needed when Irving and Durant were healthy and dominating the ball. His defense, playmaking, efficiency and all-around game improved this season, but the veteran-heavy Nets had guys the coaches trusted more in his role, so Thomas racked up a lot of DNP-CDs this season.

However, when the Nets needed him, he stepped up and put on a show. He is earning his run, even when Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith show up and get on the court, and Durant gets healthy.

Thomas’ career-best night wasn’t enough against the Clippers. A late 9-0 Clippers run changed the game and Los Angeles picked up the win on the road. Paul George led the Clippers with 29 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 24.

The Clippers went an impressive 4-2 on their Grammys road trip (the awards show takes over crypto.com Arena for a couple of weeks) and have moved up to fourth in the West as they head home, showing flashes of a team that could be coming together.

2) With Curry out, Klay Thompson steps up and drops 42

Stephen Curry will be out “weeks” with a leg injury, leaving concerns about where the stumbling Warriors will find enough offense.

The answer was Klay Thompson. At least on Monday night. He knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points leading the Warriors to a comfortable blow-out win over the Thunder.

Jordan Poole Sixth Man of the Year bettors are hosed as he is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, and he impressed with 21 points with 12 assists (a career-best). This was a quality win for the Warriors as the surprising Thunder have pushed themselves into contention for a play-in spot and the Warriors need to keep their head above water until Curry returns some time after the All-Star break.

3) Sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia expected to close Tuesday

The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors — the other owners — voted to approve the sale of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale.

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father founded the business, which is now worth a reported $7 billion, with Ishbia himself worth a reported $5.1 billion.

This brings an end to the Robert Sarver era in Phoenix, which is reason for Suns fans to celebrate. Sarver was a penny-pinching owner who agreed to sell the team after an investigation into his running of the Suns’ franchise had led to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment claims. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million and just sold his share for $1.48 billion.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

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Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.