Three Things to Know: Too much Kyle Kuzma, Lakers end Rockets streak

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) Lakers’ star rookie — Kyle Kuzma, who did you think we were talking about? — drops 38, Lakers end Rockets win streak at 14. Houston had won 14 games in a row due to the lethal combination of James Harden, Chris Paul, and a surprisingly good defense. Those three things have Houston on top of the Western Conference.

Only one of those three was there at the end against the Lakers. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate, dropping 51 points on just 27 shots, plus dishing out nine assists. The Beard was brilliant.

However, Chris Paul left the game early in the fourth with what was later called a strained left adductor, which is part of the groin muscle family (this is not related to his former knee injury and he is day-to-day now, but expect him to miss at least a game or two, those can be easy to re-injure if not fully healed). The Rockets’ defense missed Clint Capela inside (he has a bruised calf, according to the team, or a sore heel, according to beat writers). Houston came into the game with the seventh-best defense in the league, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions this season, but the “D” took the night off, allowing Los Angeles to score 117.4 per 100.

A lot of that was Kyle Kuzma. The rookie dropped a career-high 38 on Houston, leading the Lakers to the 122-116 win.

Kuzma was 7-of-10 from three, leading a Lakers team that shot 32.8 percent from three before Wednesday (dead last in NBA) to hit 42.9 percent on the night. The Lakers also got a big game from Corey Brewer, as the veteran had 21 points off the bench and made big plays in the fourth.

The Lakers are playing hard — they took the Warriors to OT the other night, they were feisty against the Cavaliers the game before that, they took the Knicks to overtime the game before that. This time they held on to the lead. Lonzo Ball‘s decision making is improving, the game is clearly slowing down for him, and his shot is improving (slowly, but improving). Brandon Ingram is becoming a more aggressive scorer. The Lakers are defending better than expected (tied with the Rockets at 103 per 100 for the season). This team is showing improvement, which is what Lakers fans should have hoped to see this season.

For the Rockets, losses happen, they just need to get CP3 back soon.

2) The Kelly Olynyk revenge game — he drops career-high 32 on Celtics, leads Heat to win.
Don’t make Kelly Olynyk angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The usually reserved big man was chirping at the Boston bench on his way to dropping 32 on the best defense in the land, hitting 6-of-8 from three, and in a close game he scored the Heat’s final eight points, holding off a late charge from the Celtics (who were down 11 with 2:40 left) to get the 90-89 win.

Marcus Smart was blunt after the game, “Kelly kicked our ass.” Still, Boston fought back and almost pulled it off, Kyrie Irving got a clean look at a leaning game-winner near the elbow and just missed it. The Celtics are now 3-3 in their last six. Jayson Taytum dislocated his pinky in this game but said he expects to play Thursday.

Miami is in a fight for one of the final playoff slots in the East (they are currently the nine seed, half a game back of New York), and this is a quality win in that chase.

3) Thunder win handily, are over .500 for the first time since Halloween. The Utah Jazz, without Rudy Gobert (again) and on Thursday without standout rookie Donovan Mitchell, look like a demoralized team. They have lost three in a row (and 7-of-8 overall) as they go through the toughest stretch of their schedule this season shorthanded.

For a Thunder team trying to find an offensive groove, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Oklahoma City cruised to a 107-79 win over the Jazz behind 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists from Russell Westbrook. OKC was sharing the ball, making the extra pass to the open man, and basically playing like Billy Donovan has wanted the team to all season. We’ll see if it lasts as the schedule gets tougher (Houston on Christmas Day, for example), but this is what the Thunder needed.

Oklahoma City is 16-15, over .500 for the first time since Halloween, and if the playoffs started today they would be the six seed, 2.5 games clear of the nine-seed Jazz. The Thunder are on pace for a 49-win season (according to Ben Falk’s stat site Cleaning The Glass), which may have been a little short of lofty preseason expectations but likely would be the four seed in the West and having home court for the first round, and that’s better than the start of the season had this team looking.

Report: Celtics reach out to former assistant Larranaga about joining Mazzulla’s staff

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The Boston Celtics are reportedly looking for a veteran assistant to put on the bench next to 34-year-old Joe Mazzulla, the man thrust into the head coach’s chair for a title contender in the wake of Ime Udoka’s suspension.

Who better than a guy who spent nine years on the Celtics’ bench? Boston reached out to Jay Larranaga, currently on the Clippers bench, about returning to the East Coast, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Clippers had no turnover on Tyronn Lue’s staff heading into this season. Mazzulla has become a trusted member of the Clippers staff, working a lot with the big me on the roster. However, if the Celtics back up the Brink’s Truck, the Clippers will not stand in his way if he wants to leave. It’s a question of comfort level, lifestyle, and of course money for Larranaga.

The Celtics made Mazzulla their interim head coach after an investigation found a “volume of violations” of team policy by Udoka, who had an improper relationship with a team staff member. So far the Celtics and Udoka have been able to keep the details of what happened under wraps, but league sources described the situation to NBC Sports as “ugly” and “messy,” especially if/when those details do find their way to the public.

For Celtics players, just getting back on the court, practicing Tuesday and focusing on basketball — not the turmoil around the franchise — was a good thing.

“Once we got out on the court, it was just nice to get back out the court and review our defense and to talk about offense and doing what we do,” Al Horford told the Associated Press. “It’s a good thing to just play basketball. That’s what we’re here for. It’s important to just start this thing back up again.”

Getting another coach on the bench will be important for the Celtics as well.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.