Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Ryan Saunders gets win for “Flip,” is 1-0 as Timberwolves coach

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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) Ryan Saunders gets the win for “Flip,” is 1-0 as Timberwolves coach after victory over Thunder. Minnesota needed that. After the firing of Tom Thibodeau as coach and GM, the Timberwolves came out in their first game under coach Ryan Saunders — the son of legendary coach Flip Saunders, and Ryan wore a “Flip” pin on his lapel through the game — and played like the Timberwolves fans had hoped they would see all season.

Andrew Wiggins stepped up with a difference-making — not just stat stuffing — 40 points and 10 rebounds, he took over the offense with Karl-Anthony Towns battling foul trouble. Wiggins was aggressive, hit his free throws, and played one of those (all too rare) games from him where he looks like a max player.

After the win, the Timberwolves celebrated like a young team finding some joy in the game again.

I’m not sure that there is a run in the Timberwolves (especially with Robert Covington and Derrick Rose out injured), but for a night things looked better and this team is just two games out of the playoffs.

That was not the biggest news out of this game.

Oklahoma City’s Nerlens Noel took an unintentional elbow to the face from Wiggins then had a nasty fall and had to be stretchered off the court.

We don’t know much. Noel was held overnight at the hospital for evaluation. Our thoughts are with him and the Thunder.

2) Good night for the Warriors: Klay Thompson drops 43 in a win, DeMarcus Cousins target return date set. While we continue to watch a disinterested Warriors team coast through the regular season, there are nights we’re reminded how much talent this team has and why most expect them to just flip the switch sometime after the All-Star Game and dominate again.

Tuesday night it was Klay Thompson’s turn, he dropped 43 on the Knicks on 18-of-29 shooting, including 7-of-16 from three.

Klay Thompson is back: In his last five games he’s shooting 55.1 percent overall and 51.3 percent from three.

The other bit of good news for the Warriors: The target dates for DeMarcus Cousins’ return has been set, on the road in Los Angeles either Jan 18 (Clippers) or Jan. 21 (Lakers). The Warriors have been lacking at the five spot all season — they miss JaVale McGee far more than they thought they would — and they hope that Cousins can fill that need. (If not, look for them to target Robin Lopez or other centers expected to be available on the buyout market.)

3) Nikola Jokic drains game-winner for Nuggets in Miami. “The floater is kind of my game. I love that shot just because I cannot dunk.”

That was how Nikola Jokic described his game-winner in Miami Tuesday. It was a simple pick-and-roll with Jamal Murray, Jokic rolled, got the ball in the lane, and showed off his floater skills.

The Nuggets defense has not been great of late (although it was better in Miami Tuesday) but an elite offense has kept the Nuggets on top of the West. Plus it helps to have shots like that from Jokic, who should be an All-Star reserve this season.

Stephen Curry is hitting ridiculous shots. Again. Including 3/4 court shot to end quarter.

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Stephen Curry is a show unto himself.

Before the game, Curry was doing this during warmups.

Then at the end of the first quarter came this.

The man is worth the price of admission, even when the Warriors struggle (which they did in the second quarter of this game and the Spurs took a comfortable lead).

Isaiah Thomas gets choked up after tribute video, welcome back from Boston fans

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Isaiah Thomas is still loved in Boston.

He’s the undersized hero who played like an MVP, led the Celtics to the playoffs, all while playing through hip pain and the death of his sister. He embodied what Celtics fans want to see in their stars.

Monday night he returned — in a Denver Nuggets uniform — and IT became emotional during the tribute video and reception from the fans in Boston.

There was more love when Thomas checked into the game.

Next season hopefully Thomas is fully healthy for an entire season and lands in a place where he can truly showcase his talents.

Isaiah Thomas not happy to be benched in Denver, still working to find way back

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Isaiah Thomas is frustrated and nobody can blame him.

Just a couple of seasons back he was fifth in the MVP voting and was lined up for a “back up the Brink’s truck” payday, but he tried to play through a hip injury that eventually required surgery and nobody stepped up with a payday. This season in Denver, on a one-year minimum contract, he was given plenty of time to get his body right, but when he came back he wasn’t helping a team thinking deep playoff run. Thomas averaged 8.6 points a night but is shooting 27.3% from three (where he takes 44% of his shot attempts), and even when he gets to the rim he’s only finishing 50% of his attempts. Coach Mike Malone couldn’t keep Monte Morris — who is a Most Improved Player candidate with his play this year — on the bench while Thomas worked things out, and IT has been moved out of the rotation.

That doesn’t mean he took the news well. From Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

It’s very possible we’ve seen peak Thomas. That doesn’t mean most of the NBA is rooting to be proved wrong on that — I’m among many who want to see him succeed.

Hopefully next season he lands somewhere and really gets that chance. Denver became too good too fast to really be that place for him this season.

 

Celtics, Nuggets look ahead to playoffs, not to past meeting

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — November was a long time ago, so chances are the Boston Celtics have gotten over Jamal Murray‘s antics from the first time they played the Denver Nuggets.

Then again, NBA players have long memories.

Murray scored 48 points in the Nuggets’ 115-107 in Denver on Nov. 5 and jacked up a last-second 3-pointer to try to reach 50. Boston guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t happy and threw the basketball into the stands after the buzzer, drawing a fine.

After the game, Murray acknowledged he got caught up in the moment, and Irving said there would be no hangover.

“What kind of competitor wouldn’t it bother? I was (mad), but we’re not going to make a big thing about it,” he said that night.

Irving can prove there are no hard feelings when the teams meet in Boston on Monday night. In fact, the Celtics might be thanking the Nuggets for helping them in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Denver beat the Indiana Pacers on Saturday night while Boston was taking care of Atlanta, allowing the Celtics to move within a game of the Pacers for the fourth seed.

Boston (43-27) has two more games against Indiana but the Nuggets are the immediate priority. The Celtics have bigger concerns than payback for Murray, too. Center Al Horford left Saturday’s game after he banged his knee but was able to return, while forward Gordon Hayward left in the first half with a strained neck and didn’t return.

Horford appeared fine but Boston is trying to manage his minutes down the stretch. Hayward’s status for Monday is unknown after colliding with Atlanta forward John Collins. Coach Brad Stevens said after the game that Hayward was woozy at halftime.

“You could see right away that it was quite a hit,” Stevens said.

Denver has dealt with injuries all season but is finally fully healthy. Despite that, the Nuggets have struggled the past two-plus weeks, going 4-4 since Feb. 28 and needing late-game heroics to pull out two home wins.

All-Star Nikola Jokic hit a game-winner against Dallas on Thursday, and Saturday it was Paul Millsap saving the day. Denver (46-22) is securely in second place in the West as it starts a four-game trip through the Eastern Conference, thanks in part to a 12-3 record in games decided by three or fewer points.

“It’s great. Those are the moments that make the team,” Millsap said of the close victories. “It shows the type of character we have, it shows the type of team we have. Those situations can make or break a team and we’ve been able to thrive off of it.”

Jokic has been the catalyst, leading the team in scoring (20.3), rebounds (10.7) and assists (7.6). He showed his temper Saturday when he got ejected with 2:56 left and Denver leading by seven. Indiana rallied to tie it only to have Millsap hit the winning layup with seven seconds left.

“(We’re) talking about an All-Star guy who gets knocked around a lot, but through it all he (does) have to keep his composure, fight through it,” Millsap said. “Playoff atmosphere. Plays like that are going to happen, you’re not always going to get the call, you just have to fight through it.”

Monday’s game could be the first Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas plays at TD Garden since he was traded to Cleveland 18 months ago. Thomas led Boston to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals but was dealt for Irving in the offseason, and then to the Los Angeles Lakers during last season.

Hip surgery kept him out until just before the All-Star break. He played in nine games before being out of the rotation the last three heading into Boston.