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Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic sticks dagger in reeling Blazers, gets Mavericks win

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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) Luka Doncic sticks the dagger in reeling Blazers, gets Mavericks win. Deandre Ayton is filling up the box score. Jaren Jackson Jr. is impressing everyone on both ends of the court and looks like he may be the best player out of this draft class in three years.

But if the vote were today, Dallas’ Luka Doncic would be Rookie of the Year. He is the best offensive player on a 12-10 Mavericks team that is in the middle of the West playoff hunt (they are the 7 seed as you read this in the brutally tight conference).

Or, just ask Portland, because Doncic stuck the dagger in them Tuesday night.

Doncic bullied the Blazers down low when they put a smaller player like Nik Stauskas on him, shooting 4-of-7 in the paint, and Doncic was also 2-of-4 from three. He finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds on the night.

Portland, meanwhile, has hit a real slump losing 5-of-6 and with a net rating of -8.2 in those games. The offense has been just okay during this stretch, which has not been good enough to cover up a putrid defense surrendering 117.2 per 100 possessions in those six games. The team has eaten into that cushion of wins it had early in the season and finds itself right in the middle of that brutal and tight Western Conference playoff chase.

2) Markelle Fultz has a diagnosis, but there is still a long way to go before this saga ends. Markelle Fultz spent a week seeing specialists, 10 of them according to reports, but in the end a doctor diagnosed him with something that could certainly have impacted his shot: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). The Sixers say he will be away from the team indefinitely, although reports (certainly out of the Fultz camp) say he could miss just 3-6 weeks.

Markelle Fultz’s agent and camp are feeling vindicated, they have preached this was physical and not mental throughout. Even though clearly it was part mental. Now Fultz goes into rehab and we will see what he and his jump shot look like on the other side.

TOS is something seen in baseball players but rarely if ever in basketball players. Rather than me trying to play doctor, here is the Mayo Clinic’s description:

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers. Common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include… repetitive injuries from job- or sports-related activities.

Here’s the important thing: If Fultz believes this treatment will help him, it will. Get him physically right and, hopefully, the mental part of his game clicks back in and he returns to being something like the consensus No. 1 pick. That’s the hope.

What does not change is that Fultz and the Sixers still need to part ways. The Sixers have moved into a win-now mode with the Jimmy Bulter trade and there is just too much baggage. When Fultz returns there may be trade interest around him at the deadline, and it would be best for both sides to just get on without each other.

Which is to say, the Markelle Fultz saga in Philadelphia is not over.

3) Kyle Korver returns to Salt Lake City, Jazz knock down a record 20 threes in win. Since the Utah Jazz acquired Kyle Korver from the Cavaliers, they are 3-1 and a team that had struggled from deep all season has shot 43.3 percent from deep. (Ignore the fact it’s been against a soft part of the schedule.)

That continued Tuesday night in Korver’s return to Salt Lake City — he was 3-of-4 from three on his way to 15 points, and the Jazz set a franchise record with 20 threes made in the game (on just 33 attempts), leading them to a 139-105 rout of the suddenly defenseless Spurs (San Antonio’s ugly defense the past couple of weeks is another story).

The Utah Jazz needed this, a game where their shots just seemed to fall like rain. Donovan Mitchell was 4-of-6 from three, and Joe Ingles was 3-of-6. They led the way for a team that just could not seem to miss.

Have the Jazz found their footing? Two of the next three games for them are against the Rockets and Thunder, that should be a good measuring stick. So far, that Korver trade has looked like a real spark.

Despite rough start, Celtics’ Jaylen Brown is convinced he’s an NBA starter

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Last April and May, Jaylen Brown was a breakout starter on a Boston team that made the Eastern Conference Finals, where he dropped 30 points one night and averaged 18 points a game, getting 14.8 shot attempts per game, and he had the ball in his hands a lot in the postseason. He had a playoff PER of 16, above the league average.

This regular season Brown and the Celtics have not been the same. With the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward Brown’s role shrunk, he’s playing five fewer minutes a game, his scoring is down to 12.5 points per game, he’s shooting less than 30 percent from three (when he was close to 40 percent a year ago), his PER is down to 11.1 (well below the league average), and the Celtics’ offense is 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court. Brown has been pushed back to a bench role, with Marcus Smart starting.

Mostly, Brown is just frustrated.

Brown opened up about that to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.

Opposing teams have privately used words such as “disjointed” and “detached” to describe him… The question “What’s wrong with Jaylen Brown?” became a leaguewide referendum.

“It’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with so far in my career,” Brown says. “Just coming from a position where you had so much responsibility, and now that responsibility is lessened. Expectations have been raised, but your responsibility goes down, so it’s hard to reach those expectations when you aren’t being asked to do as much.

“It’s been a challenge. It’s going to continue to be a challenge. It’s all about your mindset, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”

Brown said he remains convinced he’s a starter in this league, and on this team, and will prove it.

What Brown is going through is part of what had Boston off to a rough 10-10 start this season — guys were struggling to adjust to new roles. It wasn’t just plug and play with Irving and Hayward like many assumed it would be. And it wasn’t only Brown, Terry Rozier reportedly has been frustrated with his reduced role, while Hayward’s larger role had to be scaled back because he was not physically ready.

Brown’s drop off just seemed the steepest.

The Celtics’ locker room leaders — Irving and Smart — are trying to reach Brown with some tough love, trying to push him and “demand greatness,” but with limited success. Brown continues to struggle, and is doing so in the summer before the Celtics can offer him a new contract (more likely he will be headed to restricted free agency in a couple of years).

Much like the Celtics, it’s not an easy fix for Brown (although Boston has started to find a groove, winning six in a row through the soft part of the schedule). His adjustment is mental as much as physical, he feels he earned the right last season to have more responsibility, not less. That sacrifice is the challenge of playing on a contending team, where everyone needs to take steps for the good of the team that are not always in their best interests. Brown and Boston have been slow to come around on that.

But Brown is trying. And he still believes in himself.

“So here’s my reality: I’m an NBA player on the Boston Celtics, a team that has a chance to compete for the NBA championship. Nothing else really matters.”

PBT Podcast: Zion Williamson and the rest, an early NBA Draft breakdown

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Zion Williamson is a force of nature, an athletic freak that has become must-watch television and silenced the doubters about his game.

Before the season, scouts questioned his shot and fit, but his play for Duke so far has moved him past teammate R.J. Barrett on everybody’s draft board into the consensus No. 1 pick. The shine has really come off Barrett early this season for a guy averaging 24 points a game, Cam Reddish may be the second Blue Devil taken in next June’s draft.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports joins me to talk Duke’s trio of superstars, plus other names to watch in this coming draft, such as Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura, Oregon’s 7’2″ Bol Bol (maybe the most divisive player in the draft), Kevin Porter out of USC and many others.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Gregg Popovich passes Pat Riley, now fourth on the all-time coaching wins list

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Gregg Popovich is one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.

His resume can stack up next to anyone’s: the sustained excellence of 20 seasons of 50+ wins which has given him a .686 win percentage, the five NBA titles, and maybe most impressive of all is small-market San Antonio into an NBA franchise that was feared on the court and modeled off it.

And, of course, there are all the wins — 1,211 of them to be exact after the Spurs knocked off the struggling Suns Tuesday night.

That win moved Popovich past Pat Riley into fourth on the all-time coaching wins list.

Popovich needs just 10 more wins to tie Utah legend Jerry Sloan for third on the list, something that will happen well before the All-Star break.

Will he coach long enough to catch Don Nelson or Lenny Wilkins at the top of the coaching-wins leaderboard (it would take more than 100 additional wins)? Only Popovich knows that, although the speculation around the NBA is probably not (many expect him to retire after the 2019-20 season, although nobody knows for sure).

Whatever happens, Popovich’s place on the all-time wins list just adds to a Hall of Fame legacy.

Three Things to Know: If the Clippers were trying to impress Kawhi Leonard it went poorly

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LOS ANGELES — 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. Today we come straight from Staples Center.

1) If the Clippers were trying to impress Kawhi Leonard Tuesday, it went poorly. When the discussion turns to speculation about where Kawhi Leonard could be playing next season, the Los Angeles Clippers are high on the list. He grew up in Southern California and wants to return there, sources say he doesn’t want to play with LeBron on the Lakers, and the Clippers have been surprisingly impressive this season but are a team without a true superstar that is looking to add one (or two, the Clippers reportedly want to add both Leonard and Kevin Durant).

Not that the notoriously media-shy Leonard cares about the speculation.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before his Raptors took on the Clippers Tuesday night without him (due to a tweaked hip). “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

If the Clippers — or any team — is going to impress and entice Leonard, it’s not going to be with a well-crafted marketing plan to grow his brand (the people advising Leonard on the other hand…). Leonard presents the image of being focused only on what happens on the court.

That’s where the Clippers fell short Tuesday.

Actually, “fell short” is putting it kindly. The Clippers got thumped by 24 on their home court, their worst loss of the season. Playing without its superstar, Toronto looked like a team much closer to the NBA’s elite in terms of talent and execution than Los Angeles. The Raptors won 123-99 in a game that was not in doubt from early in the third quarter on.

“I think we just played bad,” Clippers’ guard Tyrone Wallace said, summing it up well. “We just had a rough night, we didn’t play well defensively.”

That was the starkest contrast: While the Clippers looked like a dazed team on the second night of a back-to-back (and without Lou Williams, who will miss a couple of weeks with a tweaked hamstring), the Raptors’ defenders were on a string — they switched, they rotated, they even threw in a zone for a few plays and the Clippers could not adapt fast enough.

Toronto turned the stops into shots in transition and the Clippers were not getting back or handling their scrambling defense well. Serge Ibaka feasted on the Clippers with 25 points.

However, the best news for the Raptors was the “return” of the real Kyle Lowry, who had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting to break out of his slump (he had shot 8-of-42 over his previous five games).

Whatever Leonard decides to do this summer — stay in Toronto, come to Los Angeles, or choose from the 28 other teams that will be knocking on his door — the decision will not be based on the outcome of one December game. However, if the Clippers were trying to show off an impressive young core Leonard could join and elevate, this was not the effort that they needed.

Toronto, on the other hand, looked exactly like a team with an impressive young core. One Leonard is already elevating to the top of the East.

2) The good Rockets show up — especially the bench players — and Houston knocks off Portland. About once every week or so I watch a Rockets game and think, “they can get it together and turn this around.” Not turn around to the level they expected entering the season — they are not going to be a threat to the Warriors with this current roster — but there are nights they look like a playoff team and better than their sub-.500 record.

Tuesday was one of those nights, mostly thanks to hot play off the bench. Houston’s second unit outscored Portland’s 37-13, and they were the group that blew the game open at the end of the third and into the fourth. Danuel House and Gerald Green combined for 25 points, shooing 4-of-7 from three and 64.3 percent overall, and they had nine rebounds. Houston was +22 when they were on the court together.

James Harden had 29 points (which Chris Paul continued to struggle, with 11 points on 12 shots).

While the Rockets looked better, Portland struggled. There was too much isolation, not enough ball movement, and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum took 53 percent of the team’s shots. The Trail Blazers were predictable, and that made the struggling Rockets defense look good.

I’ve seen too many good games followed by bad ones from Houston to suggest the Rockets have turned the corner, so let’s just say the good Rockets showed up for one night. We’ll see who shows up Thursday night against the Lakers.

3) Gregg Popovich passes Pat Riley, moves into fourth on the all-time coaching wins list. When it is all said and done, Gregg Popovich will go down as one of the best coaches in NBA history. The sustained excellence, the five rings, turning small-market San Antonio into an NBA franchise to be feared on the court and modeled off it, all will be part of his legacy.

So will all the wins he’s racked up — 1,211 of them after the Spurs win over the struggling Suns Tuesday night. That moved Popovich past Pat Riley into fourth on the all-time coaching wins list.

Popovich is just 10 wins shy of tying Jerry Sloan for third, something that will happen in the coming months. I don’t know if he’s going to coach long enough to catch Don Nelson or Lenny Wilkins at the top of that leaderboard (it would take more than 100 additional wins), but Popovich’s win total just adds to his legacy and place in history.