Three Things to Know: Despite ugly loss to Magic, too early to panic for Thunder

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Oklahoma City had some ugly losses this season, but Wednesday to Orlando is a new low… and it’s still not time to panic. Every time you think “this is as ugly as the Thunder’s start to the season can get” they find a way to dig the hole just a little deeper. The Thunder had their shovels out Wednesday.

The Orlando Magic had dropped nine in a row when the Thunder came calling, but it didn’t matter. A resurgent Aaron Gordon dropped 40 points on OKC’s vaunted defense, and a 13-0 Orlando run late in the third, followed by another 13-0 one to start the fourth, made Russell Westbrook’s 20 points in the fourth quarter moot. Orlando got the win 121-108, handing Oklahoma City its third straight loss and seventh in a row on the road.

A team with this much talent as OKC should not be 8-12 and be looking up in the standings at a Rudy Gobert-less Jazz team. Coach Billy Donovan is frustrated — you know he has drawn up plays to use some combination of Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony to force defenses into difficult decisions, but they don’t run/execute them at all, and just play isolation ball.

And it’s still not time to panic.

The Thunder have lost close games and had ugly fourth quarters on both ends, but they still have the point differential of a team that should be 13-7. They are playing better than their record indicates, and most importantly the Thunder still have the third-best defense in the NBA. Those fundamentals point to the Thunder turning things around, likely sooner rather than later.

On offense, the Thunder are still trying to put the puzzle pieces together. They lead the league in isolation sets, and those have too often ended with a long midrange jumper or a contested shot closer to the basket. They don’t leverage all that star power to play off one another and get better looks.

I have written/said before (and I am far from alone) that this Thunder team looks like the 2010-11 Miami Heat when LeBron James first joined that team — those stars played next to each other, not with each other. “You take a turn, then I’ll take a turn.” It took them a long time (really until the middle of the following season) to learn to make the sacrifices needed to win. That team got off to a slow start over 20 games, 12-8, looked sloppy, and had tongues wagging about what was wrong.

That Heat team finished with 58 wins and made the NBA Finals.

I’m not saying these Thunder are destined for those heights (the Warriors are still in the way in the West), but there are 62 games left and plenty of time for the Thunder to find its groove, start moving the ball, use their stars together in plays that leave defenses without good options, and for the players to make sacrifices to win. The Thunder defense is already there, the offense will improve, and this team will rack up plenty of wins. No need to panic yet.

2) Anthony Davis ejected for first time in his career. If you’re going to get ejected and fined by the league office, be sure to get your money’s worth. Anthony Davis did just that.

Davis was frustrated by the lack of a call on his shot from the post (going against Karl-Anthony Towns), and he got his first technical arguing the lack of a call. Then when he was called for a foul on an attempted blocked shot on the other end, Davis lost it, and he got run.

Davis is going to get a healthy fine for this from the league, but he at least he got his money’s worth.

3) Hack-a-rookie: Wizards send Ben Simmons to free throw line NBA record 24 times in one quarter. And it almost worked. Down 24 points to the Sixers, Wizards coach Scott Brooks decided to make the desperation play — hack-a-Simmons. The Wizards started intentionally fouling Simmons every time down, and he went to the line an NBA record 24 times in the fourth quarter, hitting 12.

Here’s the thing — the strategy almost worked. The Wizards cut the 76er lead down to 3 and had a chance to steal a win, but couldn’t close it out.

When Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan/Andre Drummond (can’t do it to him anymore) were hacked in recent years, they usually were pulled by their coach because the strategy often worked. Philly coach Brett Brown said he left Simmons in for the learning experience, which is interesting. The way to stop “hack-a” is to make your foul shots, and that’s not something that has to be learned in game (as opposed to, say, properly defending a pick-and-roll at full speed). And as long as the Sixers held on for the win, Brown can say it was a learning experience and get away with it.

But hac-a-Simmons worked, so you can bet the Sixers will see it again.

Thunder rookie Holmgren trying to focus on learning NBA during rehab

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren is experiencing the rehab process for the first time.

The No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft suffered a right foot injury during a pro-am game in August while defending as LeBron James drove to the basket on a fast break. He had surgery, and the Thunder declared him out for the season.

“I’ve never had a serious injury in my life, so I didn’t really know, I had nothing to base it off of and compare to,” Holmgren said Thursday. “So when it happened, I had to get it looked at and see how serious it was. I didn’t imagine anything like this.”

Holmgren, a versatile 7-footer who had great moments during summer league, is dealing with being sidelined as the Thunder start training camp this week.

“Definitely something that I really had to put my mind to and spend some time to think on,” he said. “And kind of come to some conclusions on things and really settle my mind so I could kind of stop focusing on what happened and focus in on what’s going to happen, what I’ve got to do to get where I need to be.”

Even without practicing, he has already left an impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great guy,” guard Lu Dort said. “I can already feel a connection with me and the rest of the team. He’s a pretty vocal guy, too. He talks a lot, and that’s good for the team.”

Holmgren said his only workout limitation is that he can’t put weight on the injured foot. So, that forces him to focus on other aspects of the game. Coach Mark Daigneault said Holmgren has been working hard on film study.

“It just comes down to putting my mental energy towards it, learning how to really be a professional in areas off the court,” Holmgren said. “I’ve dedicated so much time to really hustling at my craft on the court. Now, this event is making me step back and kind of rework how how I do things. And one of those ways is to become professional with watching film and speaking with coaches, trying to learn, watching what’s happening and really being engaged, in trying to get better with different avenues.”

Holmgren has spoken with Joel Embiid about his injury. Embiid, the reigning NBA scoring champion, was the No. 3 pick in 2014 before missing his first two seasons with foot issues.

Holmgren hopes he can recover as well as Embiid.

“What I’m trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they’re going to be done going forward,” Holmgren said. “So when I’m ready to get get back in there, I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

Holmgren is expected to be ready for the start of next season. He said he’s trying to keep his thoughts positive.

“It all comes down to keeping a level head because there’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a down. But I’ve got to keep my head level and focus on getting better. And no matter what the circumstances are, that’s the goal.”

Daigneault believes Holmgren’s mindset will net positive results.

“We’d like him to be out here,” Daigneault said. “But since he’s not, we’re certainly going to make a lot of investments, and the thing that makes me the most optimistic about that is the approach that he takes.”

Houston acquires 2025 2nd-round pick in eight-player trade with Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski described this as a “cap-centric deal” since it helped the Thunder get around $10 million below the luxury tax, while Houston added a 2nd-round pick by taking on $1 million in cap space.

The Rockets acquired Derrick Favors, Ty Jerome, Moe Harkless, Theo Maledon and a protected 2025 2nd-round pick from the Hawks and sent David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, Trey Burke and Marquese Chriss to Oklahoma City.

The 2nd-rounder from Atlanta is protected 31-40, and it will become the second best 2026 2nd-round pick between the Mavericks, Thunder, and 76ers if it doesn’t convey in 2025.

A tweet from Jackson Gatlin of Locked On Rockets indicates that Houston will also receive $6.3 million in cash from the Thunder.

Previous reports indicated that Derrick Favors was unlikely to remain with the Thunder this season, while Ty Jerome wasn’t participating in training camp as his representatives worked with the team to find an exit strategy for him. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reported that Houston plans to waive Jerome. Harkless was traded for the third time this summer. He was dealt from Sacramento to Atlanta in July as part of the Kevin Huerter deal, and then was shipped to OKC for Vit Krejci earlier this week. Hopefully he’ll be able to settle in with Houston this season.

As he enters his seventh season, this will be the sixth team that Nwaba has suited up for. The journeyman has had a few solid seasons, including averaging 9.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.0 steals for Houston during the 2020-21 season. Among the players in the deal, he’s the most likely candidate to carve out a role on his new team next season.

Brown, Burke, and Chriss were already traded once this summer as part of the deal that said Christian Wood to Dallas. Now, they’ll be depth pieces in Oklahoma City if the team decides to keep them around.

Daily Thunder’s beat writer Brandon Rahbar pointed out that the trade wouldn’t have been possible without the Disabled Player Exception that the Thunder received because of Chet Holmgren’s injury.

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.