The Phoenix Suns are 9-13 since Devin Booker went out with a left groin strain (which counts a few games before, but does not include, his attempted Christmas Day comeback, which lasted all of four minutes in a Suns loss). While they have bounced back lately as Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson returned, Phoenix still slid down to eighth in the standings.
The Suns need Booker to return — and they may get it next week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, sidelined the past five weeks because of a left groin strain, could return as soon as Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN… Booker has been ramping up his on-court work, and is expected to join the Suns at the start of a five-game road trip that begins Friday in Boston and continues Saturday at Detroit.
Booker should be named an All-Star reserve Tuesday, despite all the time missed — he has been that good. Booker is averaging 27.1 points a game shooting 37% from 3 (a good 58.5 true shooting percentage) and is dishing out 5.1 assists per night. The bottom line, the Suns have outscored opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season and been outscored by 2.5 per 100 when he is out.
He returns to a team that needs a jolt and could get a couple — both the return of Booker to the rotation and a trade at the deadline to bring in depth. The Suns are likely to trade Jae Crowder at the deadline — the Bucks are considered the frontrunners but the Heat and Hawks are reportedly in the mix — which may not bring back what James Jones once hoped, but should give the team a little more depth.
If the Suns can get back to the team that started the season 15-6 they could make some noise in the West, but there is a lot for the Suns to clean up to get back to those days.
It’s one of the craziest weeks in the NBA — the week before the trade deadline is always insane — yet that is maybe the third biggest story in the league right now.
First, in this edition of the PBT Podcast, we dive into LeBron James chasing history and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record — what does that say about LeBron and his legacy? And his conditioning to be doing this 20 years into his NBA career.
From there, Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself dive into the biggest move in the basketball world this week — Breanna Stewart shaking up the WNBA and choosing the New York Liberty in free agency. She formed a superteam in New York, and there is another one in Las Vegas, and this is an opportunity for the WNBA to grow – and get charter flights for their players. From there, it’s Corey’s Jukebox and time to talk some Damian Lillard.
Then we into trade rumors from around the league and everyone waiting on the Raptors to open up the market.
You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.
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) Breanna Stewart is headed to New York, WNBA must seize moment
The biggest free agent in WNBA history has chosen to form a super team in league history — and that’s a real opportunity for everyone.
Former league MVP and two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart has chosen to leave Seattle and play for the New York Liberty.
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) February 1, 2023
Just a few weeks ago, the Liberty traded for 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to pair with Sabrina Ionescu, forming one of the best pick-and-roll threats in the league. Now add Stewart and her playmaking to a roster filled with quality players — Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards, Joceyln Willoughby, Kayla Thornton — and this is a team that’s a legitimate threat to win the WNBA title next season. This is a superteam.
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) February 1, 2023
New York’s move comes just days after two-time former MVP and WNBA champ Candace Parker chose to join the defending WBNA champion Las Vegas Aces with reigning MVP A’ja Wilson and quality players around her such as Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray. This is also a superteam.
It’s not a coincidence Stewart and Parker chose to go to teams with newish WNBA owners willing to spend to win, Joe Tsai in New York (also the owner of the NBA’s Nets) and Mark Davis in Las Vegas (owner of the NFL’s Raiders). Two owners who came into the WNBA wanting to spend to pay players but also improve their experience — a new practice facility in Las Vegas, for example — and grow the sport that way. Owners with the vision to know they must spend money to make money — grow the league and its popularity and franchise values will skyrocket.
Stewart in her free agency pushed charter flights for players to the top of the list of ways to improve the league. Right now, the WNBA CBA requires teams to fly commercial. It’s part of a penny-pinching mindset from some quarters that sometimes feels like it will choke off the growing league. Charter flights for every team to every game — something common in professional sports and high-level college sports, including women’s college basketball — would cost about $30 million for the league.
Been there – done that & played at the highest levels. Today’s @NBA players never had to deal with the effects of commercial travel on their bodies. I’m all for @WNBA players getting equal rights. Congrats Breanna for raising this issue. https://t.co/FPQrSVrHxa
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) January 26, 2023
“We gotta get something done, and I’m with them no matter how much it costs per se. I think we could all collectively come together and make something very doable happen.”
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 26, 2023
There’s a divide among WNBA owners, not all want to pay that added charter flight cost out of their pocket, but the league has to find a way. As Corey Robinson of NBC Sports noted in the video above, this feels a lot like when his father — Hall of Famer David Robinson — wrote an open letter in 1991 to then San Antonio Spurs owner Red McCombs asking to fly charter to games because of the competitive advantage (McCombs agreed after the public pressure, now charter flights are just expected in the NBA).
Beyond just flights, this is an inflection point for the WNBA — it has to intensify its marketing, its outreach, and do whatever else it takes to grow the league.
Stewart, a recognizable face and name to any sports fan in America (even casual ones who only know her Olympics efforts) just formed a superteam in the biggest media market in the nation. They have a natural, high-profile rival in Las Vegas with their own superstars and big names. If you can’t sell this, you’re doing it wrong — this will be great basketball (and that’s not even mentioning Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury, and other good teams out there).
New York vs. Las Vegas could be the 1980s Lakers vs. Celtics moment for the WNBA. Stewart vs. Wilson can be a version of Magic vs. Bird — a rivalry and must-watch matchup that took the NBA off tape-delayed late-night television and vaulted it into prime time, putting it on the course for what it is now. This feels like that moment for the WNBA, but will WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert be able to grab the opportunity the way David Stern did? Can she get her owners to buy in the way Stern did? The WNBA must spend, it must take advantage of this opportunity. Chances and players like this don’t come around very often.
2) Timberwolves outplay Warriors in clutch, pick up quality win
Right now, this Warriors team just does not have the aura of its championship teams of years past. Even last year’s team didn’t enter the playoffs as the favorites in the West (that was the 64-win Suns), but we had seen enough to know they could be a threat to win it all with a couple of breaks. Which they got.
This year’s team… the Warriors had a 13-point lead on the Timberwolves Wednesday night with less than 11 minutes left and then got outplayed the rest of the way. While D'Angelo Russell was draining key 3-pointers, Stephen Curry, Donte DiVincenzo and Andrew Wiggins were missing theirs, and Jonathan Kuminga was committing illegal screens. The result was the Warriors blowing their lead and the Timberwolves took advantage of it — with some critical plays by Naz Ried.
“I thought we had control of the game and then I thought we just kind of gift-wrapped it,” Kerr said postgame, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “And not to take anything away from Minnesota, I thought they were great. They took advantage of our mistakes and lack of execution. [D’Angelo Russell] got hot and guys made big shots, but we missed box-outs, we threw the ball away, we took really difficult shots.
“So everything we had done to that point to have control of the game, we stopped doing. We got what we deserved.”
This year’s Warriors are 13-14 in the clutch (games within five points in the final five minutes), with a -1.8 net rating. Make that a game within three points in the final three minutes and the Warriors are 10-12 this season.
The Warriors had won 4-of-5 before this and it felt like they may be flipping the switch, but then games like this happen and it gives you pause. These Warriors are not there yet.
3) Celtics put on a show, romp past shorthanded Nets
Boston has cooled off following its hot start to the season, but there are nights when they get focused, turn the burner back on high, get hot and remind everyone why they are the title favorites this season.
The Nets ran into those Celtics on Wednesday — Boston outscored Brooklyn 46-16 in the first quarter, hitting eight straight 3-pointers to open the game.
WATCH: It was RAINING 3s in the first quarter for the Celtics
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 2, 2023
From there the Celtics romped to a wire-to-wire 139-96 win. Boston stayed hot from deep and hit 48.1% from 3 for the game (26-of-54). Jayson Tatum scored 31 points, Jaylen Brown added 26, and both got to sit in the fourth quarter and watch.
The Celtics needed a win like this.
The Nets… life is tough sometimes without Kevin Durant. This is a game Brooklyn can flush and move on, even with KD it would not have helped much the way the Celtics were shooting.
ONE BONUS THING TO KNOW (or see): Give Tari Eason credit, he did not give up. That is persistence.
— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) February 2, 2023
Denver is comfortably in first place in the West and looking like a contender.
Which is bad news if Nuggets coach Michael Malone purchased any non-refundable plane tickets for the start of the All-Star break, because now he is headed to Salt Lake City.
With Portland beating Memphis on Wednesday, it ensured that the Nuggets will have the best record in the West on Sunday ( two weeks out from the All-Star Game, meaning Malone is now the head coach of Team LeBron.
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone and his staff will coach Team LeBron in the 2023 NBA All-Star Game. pic.twitter.com/FFhLXAoxjZ
— NBA Communications (@NBAPR) February 2, 2023
This is Malone’s second All-Star Game as a coach, but the captains should be familiar to him. In 2019 he coached Team LeBron to a win against Team Giannis 178-164.
The coaches do not know which players they will coach — Malone doesn’t know if he will be coaching Nikola Jokić or not. This year team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will pick their teams live, just before the game. We know the pool of starters the captains will pick from, with the reserves being announced Thursday.