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Three Things to Know: Kyrie Irving returns home, drops 50, stumbles on game winner

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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) Emotional Kyrie Irving returns home, drops 50, but stumbles on the game winner. Kyrie Irving got what he wanted, and it’s easy to tell he is happy to be back in the place he considers home, New York.

You could see it in the way he got emotional speaking to the fans before the game.

You could also see it in the way he played in the season opener — his 50 points were the most ever by a player in his debut with a new team. (Your trivia answer, it had been Kiki Vandeweghe with 47 points for the Trail Blazers back in 1984.)

Irving was comfortable and aggressive, shooting threes if he got any space at all (and hitting 7-of-14 from deep) plus finishing when he got to the rim (8-of-11). The crowd was in his corner, roaring approval with every shot. Irving took what the defense gave him and also had seven assists (and eight rebounds).

The question about this year’s Nets has never been “can Irving get them buckets?” Of course he can. The question has been, “can the rest of the team rise up to his level?” There, the answer was spotty on Wednesday night. The best evidence of this, Caris LeVert had 20 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there and he had five turnovers.

Brooklyn took the lead with and 11-4 run late — a rainbow three from Irving with 1:16 left had them up 115-112 — but as he had done all night Karl-Anthony Towns took charge for the Timberwolves. KAT finished the night with 36 points and 14 rebounds.

The game went to overtime, where it went back-and-forth until the Nets got the ball with 11 seconds left down one. It was time for a storybook ending for Irving, the Nets went 1-4 flat and let Irving iso for the win…

And he slipped.

Irving still got off a surprisingly good look, it just did not fall. Notice that Irving’s team ran over to pick him up.

It’s still the kind of game the Nets can be optimistic about. The team is still coming together around Irving, the role players will have better nights, and they were in it to the end against a good team.

For a Minnesota team with playoff aspirations in a stacked West, this is the kind of road win they need. Towns was all-world, and he has to do that all season. But it was more than that. Treveon Graham started and made some impressive hustle plays, Josh Okogie was gritty, Robert Covington played well. And as for Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves were simply better when he sat most of the night, but when he attacked took things happened and he did that a couple of times in overtime. It’s a good start to the season for Ryan Saunders and company.

2) Bradley Beal was ejected, and the league should rescind this. Luka Doncic was on fire — 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting on the night, 4-of-9 from three, plus he had 9 boards. If Washington was going to have any chance of coming back in the fourth quarter and beating Dallas, it had to slow down Doncic.

Bradley Beal took on the challenge. He was physical, he was aggressive, he was competitive, and he was ejected on a poor couple of calls. First, there was an unnecessary double-technical, and when Beal waved his arm at the referee — not in a threatening way, they were 20 feet apart at least, this was more dismissive — the official was thin-skinned and tossed Beal.

Come on now. It’s late in a chippy game, but there was zero need for the first double technical, and the ejection — with just a minute to go in the game — was a pointless exercise in power.

Doncic gave Beal a hug before he left the court — Doncic got this was just two guys competing.

All Beal’s defensive efforts didn’t work, Dallas picked up a quality 108-100 win to start the season. Kristaps Porzingis played well with 23 points on 16 shots, and his alley-oop sealed the game.

3) Markelle Fultz looked pretty good for Orlando. It’s one game against a team lacking any rim protection to speak of, but for Markelle Fultz this was a good night.

Fultz finished with 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, plus six assists. His three wasn’t falling, but it didn’t matter because he was aggressive attacking the rim and the smaller Cavaliers had no answer. He had three nice drives out of the right corner, but this ended up being his best play of the night.

It’s just one game, but that was as good a start for Fultz as Orlando could have hoped. By the way, the Magic beat the Cavaliers 94-85.

Celtics’ Kemba Walker flips over-shoulder pass to Jaylen Brown, who finishes with spinning dunk

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The Lakers aren’t Showtime 2.

Are the Celtics?

Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown ran one flashy fastbreak last night.

NBC Sports Boston:

Though Walker scored 44 points, Boston fell to the Pacers, 122-117.

Watch Bogdan Bogdanovic hit game-winning 3-pointer for Kings vs. Thunder (video)

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Another game, another Kings game-winning 3-pointer.

After Nemanja Bjelica hit a buzzer-beater against the Rockets on Monday, Bogdan Bogdanovic sunk the go-ahead 3-pointer against the Thunder last night. That stood as the game-winner once Richaun Holmes successfully defended Chris Paul on the other end, clinching Sacramento’s 94-93 victory.

The Kings have won three straight – over the Mavericks, Rockets and Thunder. The schedule softens over the next week and a half, giving Sacramento a real chance to rise in the Western Conference standings.

And if he keeps playing like this, Bogdanovic might find his way into a starting lineup.

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard got his ring then destroyed his old team

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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) Kawhi Leonard got his ring then destroyed his old team. Board man got his ring.

The Toronto Raptors and their fans handled the return of Kawhi Leonard with nothing but class. The video tribute was spot on, and having the court light up to retrace his “shot heard around the World” was brilliant. Having the guys Leonard played with out to greet him at center court was a great touch, having Kyle Lowry present him the ring was perfect, and the crowd responded with an extended standing ovation (a few did boo Paul George, as if Leonard leaving was his fault). Doc Rivers said after the game he’s not seen any team do it better and he’s right.

Leonard then repaid that love by showing what he and his new teammates can do, crushing the Raptors with relative ease.

Lenard had 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, but credit OG Anunoby for making him work for those buckets. Leonard has struggled at points this season — he shot 2-of-11 against Toronto at Staples Center last month — and part of that was his knee was bothering him. Scouts talked about him not looking as explosive or comfortable, but that has changed of late, he is moving well and getting tho his spots.

Another former Raptor, Lou Williams, added 18 points. The Clippers bench, as it usually does, had their way and outscored the Raptors bench 44-18. It was a good win for the Clippers after getting thrashed themselves by the Bucks last Friday night. They needed a quality road win.

The Raptors are 1-4 in their last five with losses to Miami, Houston, Philadelphia, and now the Clippers in that stretch. Toronto is 3-8 against teams over .500. It’s concerning, and it will force Masai Ujiri and the Raptors front office to consider their plan to keep this core together through another playoff push — if a team comes calling with a good offer for Marc Gasol, do the Raptors say yes?

Wednesday was a reminder that without Leonard, there is a ceiling on this Toronto team.

2) Cleveland opts not to trap James Harden, he drops 55 and carries Houston to win. For the past couple of weeks, teams have adopted a new, aggressive strategy against Harden — aggressively double team him at midcourt, force him to give up the ball, and dare any other Rocket to beat them. (Zach Lowe breaks it all down beautifully at ESPN.)

The strategy has had mixed results. When good defensive teams do it (the Clippers, for example, tried it) they’ve had some success, especially if they can force Russell Westbrook to take threes. When bad defensive teams do it (say, Atlanta) Harden still carves them up. The Rockets are 5-5 since teams started trying it, but they have the fourth-best offense in the NBA in that stretch (their defense and mental vacations during games are what has let them down).

Cleveland is not a good defensive team, third-worst in the NBA coming into Wednesday night, so the Cavaliers didn’t try to trap The Beard. They went with a more traditional defense, and Harden carved them up for 55 points.

Houston had a comfortable lead in this game but had one of its in-game mental vacations and let Cleveland score 24 in a row to take an 11 point lead. That’s when Harden took over and scored the Rockets’ next 15 points to get them back into the game.

Harden is carrying the Rockets this season (which is why he’s in the thick of the MVP race, again), but if the team can’t tighten up its game and stop having those in-game lapses there is only so much Harden can do.

3) Grizzlies’ rookie Ja Morant may have thrown down the dunk of the year. When we talked about athletic freaks leading up to the last draft, talk instantly turned to Zion Williamson. With good reason.

However, people seemed to sleep on what a good athlete Ja Morant is. If you want proof, why not go as Phoenix’s Aron Baynes about it. Morant flat-out destroyed Baynes on an early contender for Dunk of the Year.

Notice that came on a critical fourth-quarter possession — you’ve got to love the way Morant is willing to attack in that situation.

• Bonus Thing to Know: DeAndre Jordan is going to make sure Jarrett Allen looks good before taking the court.

No Giannis Antetokounmpo, no problem as Bucks win 16th straight

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — No Giannis was no problem for the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out but the Bucks kept on rolling, getting 29 points from Eric Bledsoe and 24 from Khris Middleton in a 127-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans that extended their winning streak to 16 games.

The Bucks (22-3) tied the second-longest winning streak in franchise history and moved closer to the franchise record of 20 set during the team’s 1970-71 championship season.

Antetokounmpo sat out with a right quad tendon injury, missing his first game this season. He has missed time with concerns about overuse injuries in his leg before.

Antetokounmpo did not participate in the team’s shootaround on Wednesday morning and quickly was ruled out.

“I don’t think we know exactly when it happened,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “This morning the soreness was such that he was not able to play tonight. The severity of it, we’re hoping it’s not too serious.

“We’ll take it day by day and we’re always going to err on the side of caution.”

The rest of the Bucks stepped up.

“I think we took a little more ownership of what’s going on out there,” Middleton said. “When Giannis is out there, he draws such a huge crowd that we play through him a lot. Without him tonight, we know we have to do a little bit more.

“It was a great test; they play with a fast pace just like us. I think we did a great job.”

Veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova, starting in place of Antetokounmpo, had a season-high 18 points and nine rebounds. George Hill contributed 13 points off the bench.

Bledsoe drove aggressively and scored 11 points in the third quarter to answer a Pelicans rally, and he finished making a season-high five 3-pointers and going 10 for 13 from the field while adding six assists.

“I try to get in the paint as much as possible,” Bledsoe said. “If I don’t have a shot, I kick it out to my teammates and trust them to make the right play.”

New Orleans (6-19) lost its 10th straight game despite a season-high 31 points from J.J. Redick. Brandon Ingram had 25 points and 10 rebounds and point guard Jrue Holiday added 21 points.

A frustrated Redick spoke up in the locker room at halftime, when New Orleans trailed by 23 points.

“It’s not like this is the first time we’ve had a talk at halftime,” Redick said. “I would say emotionally sometimes you reach a tipping point. That’s the timing of that.”

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said his team needs to communicate better.

“It’s the quietest group I’ve ever been around, even on the plane and in the meal room,” Gentry said. “But we do have to get them talking on the court and have them communicate on the court.

“When we do, we’re pretty solid. I thought we did a good job in the second half of communicating. But when you’re trying to come back from 25 to-28-point deficits, the least little thing is going to have a glaring effect.”

The Bucks hit six of their first eight attempts from 3-point range, including 3 of 3 by Bledsoe, to take a 28-12 lead.

Milwaukee led by 23 points in the opening quarter before New Orleans closed the period on an 8-0 spurt to pull within 35-20.

The Bucks used a 17-0 run to grab a 56-28 lead in the second quarter before settling for a 69-46 halftime margin. Middleton and Bledsoe each had 13 points and Ilyasova and Hill added 11 apiece.

The Pelicans outscored the Bucks 40-36 in the third quarter.

New Orleans pulled within 120-108 with 2:51 remaining but Middleton hit a pair of jumpers to put the Bucks safely ahead.