Three Things to Know: Lakers’ ‘kids’ exploit struggling Thunder defense, pull off upset

Associated Press
1 Comment

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) The kids are alright. Young Lakers exploit struggling Thunder defense to pull off overtime upset. Up until a few days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder had the best defense in the NBA this season (and they are still currently second). Paul George has looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, fighting over picks on the perimeter and being disruptive, while Stephen Adams has owned the paint.

However, the Thunder have hit a slump, losing 5-of-6, and in those six the Thunder have allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions — 16 more per 100 than they did most of the season.

The maligned Laker “kids” — still playing without LeBron James — exploited that defense. The Lakers moved the ball (37 assists on 50 made buckets) and hit 19-of-40 from three.

Kyle Kuzma had 32 points, Lonzo Ball had five of his 18 points in overtime (plus he had 10 assists on the night), and Ivica Zubac owned the paint, coming off the bench to score a career-high 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The Lakers should have won the game in regulation, but the officials blew a call. The Lakers were up 122-119 with 2.9 seconds left but the Thunder had one last chance. Luke Walton gave the instructions to foul before a shot, but Russell Westbrook drove past Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ball switched on to him. Ball fouled before Westbrook started his shooting motion, but the referees whistled it as in the act and awarded him three free throws (which Westbrook hit to force OT).

However, upon review, it was clear Westbrook was not in a shooting motion when Ball fouled him, and the officials owned up to that after the game.

After the game, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said the problem with the Thunder defense in this slump is they are not defending out to the three-point line.

The Thunder are allowing just two more threes per game in this slump (and one more per 100 possessions), but teams are hitting them at a higher rate — 34.9 percent for the season but 43.1 percent in the last six. Some of that is just bad luck for OKC (the Lakers are not that good a three-point shooting team but the shots fell for them Thursday), and some of it is not contesting those shots as well.

Don’t worry about the Thunder long term, they will get their defense turned around. Mid-season slumps happen. But they have slid back into the big group in the middle of the Western Conference and it’s going to be a battle for seeding the rest of the way.

2) With the game on the line, Raptors turn to Pascal Siakam, who drives and hits game-winner for Toronto. Kawhi Leonard sat this one out, but Kyle Lowry — a likely All-Star in the East — was on the floor. So with the game tied against Phoenix in the final seconds, who did Toronto turn to for the game-winner?

Pascal Siakam, of course. On a clear-out.

And he nailed it.

Siakam was destroying the Suns in the first half and was the Raptors best player on the night. He has made huge strides this season and is in the mix for Most Improved Player this season. Shots like that help his cause.

3) Wizards beat Knicks in London on a game-winning goaltending call. The NBA went to London Thursday — distracting a troubled nation from the Brexit disaster by giving them the Wizards vs. the Knicks…. sorry about that — and Londoners got to see the most unusual ending to an NBA game this season.

New York led 100-99 (thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot) but Oklahoma City had one last shot, and everyone in the building knew Bradley Beal would get the rock. Scott Brooks drew up a play that had Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt to get the inbound pass, and he did but the defense rotated to Beal, so he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane wide open. Bryant put up the finger roll and…

The officials got that right, it was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder. Give the Wizards the win.

Washington has won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, and the team is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East. Owner Ted Leonsis said in London the team will not tank, so maybe the rumored trades around the Wizards don’t happen as they make a push for the postseason.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

0 Comments

To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

0 Comments

Three Things 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) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

0 Comments

Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

0 Comments

Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.