Three Things to Know: Warriors go small to earn first win of young season

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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) Warriors go small to earn first win of young season. For the past five years, whenever the Warriors felt their backs were against the wall, coach Steve Kerr would go small: Move Draymond Green to center, then trust Stephen Curry and friends could shoot their way out of any problem.

After two ugly losses to start the season — both by double digits, having given up 261 points total in those games — Steve Kerr decided to go small, put Draymond Green at center, and trust Stephen Curry and friends could shoot their way out of this slow start.

It worked.

The Warriors raced out early and never looked back on Monday night against New Orleans. While the defense is still an issue, Curry had 26 points and hit four threes, Green had a triple-double, D’Angelo Russell had 24 points, and Damion Lee added 23 off the bench as the Warriors outscored the Pelicans 134-123 to pick up their first win of the season.

The threes fell for the Warriors — 14-of-35 (40 percent) — which was a big change from their earlier games. New Orleans also didn’t have anyone who could make the Warriors pay for having Green at the five. The result was a blowout where the Warriors led by 30 at one point.

The win helps the pain stop for a day — maybe the Warriors don’t suck quite that much — but the Warriors aren’t suddenly good.

“We’re still not a very good team,” Green said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “We have a lot of room for improvement. Just because we won one game doesn’t mean that we don’t suck. We still have a lot of improvement.”

“There’s a level of intensity we got to, a level of energy that we hadn’t seen in the first two games,” Kerr added. “I thought it was more confusion on our young guys kind of trying to figure out where to be rather than lack of effort. When you’re thinking too much, it’s tough to just let it go and play. Tonight, I felt like we just played. Our guys didn’t think too much.”

The Pelicans drop to 0-4 with the loss, and their defense has been dreadful (116 net rating so far this young season, second-worst in the league). Granted, no Jrue Holiday for this game, and Jahlil Okafor is the starting center, but this team simply has not been able to get a stop. The return of Zion Williamson (likely not until around Christmas) is not going to change that.

2) Chris Paul returns to Houston, where it’s quickly evident why Rockets traded him for Russell Westbrook. While this was a homecoming of sorts — Chris Paul did play for the Rockets for a couple of years — this game didn’t really feel emotional that way. It certainly didn’t pack the emotional punch of what will come Jan. 9 when Russell Westbrook has to return to Oklahoma City, where he played for 11 years. That’s a homecoming game.

This one had Chris Paul saying he still talks with P.J. Tucker every day, and Russell Westbrook giving Billy Donovan a big hug and slapping him on the but before the game, but it didn’t feel that intense (some reporters said it felt more so when Westbrook went into the OKC locker room after the game to see friends).

What this game turned out to be is a reminder of why the Rockets traded Paul for Westbrook.

Westbrook had 21 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists, impacting the game with his aggressiveness and willingness to push the ball. CP3 finished with a respectable 15-5-4 line, but the impact is just not the same.

James Harden put up 40 points and got to the line all night. Together, Westbrook and Harden were too much for OKC and the Rockets won 116-112.

Credit the scrappy Thunder for keeping it close. Houston put up 39 in the third to take an 11 point lead, but Oklahoma City fought back and kept it close down to the end. It took a Tucker three and some clutch free throws from Harden to keep the Thunder at bay. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder each had 22 for OKC, while Danilo Gallinari added 17.

Houston is simply not consistent defensively and that is going to catch up with them at some points this season (and in the postseason). However, most nights, the combination of Harden and Westbrook can cover that up with energy and scoring. That will be put to a better test as they head out for 6-of-7 on the road coming up.

3) 76ers length eventually swallows up Trae Young, Atlanta, and Philadelphia remains undefeated. This was simply one of the more interesting Xs and Os matchups of the night: How would the length and defensive intensity of Philadelphia handle a red-hot Trae Young averaging 38.5 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from three in his first two games?

Early on, it looked like Young might have his way. He had 13 first-quarter points on 4-of-7 shooting with a couple made threes, and the Hawks as a team put up 40 points and shot 57.7 percent.

It didn’t last. Philadelphia threw a steady diet of Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle at Young, being aggressive with denying him the ball — even doubling him in the backcourt — and being physical with him when he had the ball. The 76ers didn’t give him room to breathe.

It worked. Young wore down. He shot 3-of-13 the rest of the way for 12 points. It’s dangerous to focus that much attention on Young because he’s such a good passer, but the length and aggressiveness of the Philly defense behind those doubles made it all work — the rest of the Hawks shot just 18-of-45 (40 percent) in the final three quarters and hit just three shots from beyond the arc in that whole time.

Atlanta still hung around because no Sixers outside of Joel Embiid — 31 points on 16 shots, plus 13 rebounds — was scoring that efficiently, and Embiid continues to struggle some with double teams. But at least Embiid was making plays.

This was a game where the Sixers had to play without Mike Scott in the second half after he was given a Flagrant 2 and ejected for this foul on Atlanta’s Damian Jones late in the first half.

That is not worthy of an ejection. It’s debatable if that is a Flagrant 1 foul, but it’s not close to an ejection-worthy Flagrant 2. The league needs to rescind it.

Back to the game itself…

It took a 15-5 run by Philadelphia in the final five minutes to get the win.

Atlanta had a chance to tie on the final play of the game, but again great ball denial of Young forced it to be Vince Carter who took the running three, and that didn’t work.

Once again, the Sixers defense bailed them out, but their 20th ranked offense has to get better if they are going to be a real threat when the games really matter.

What will happen with Warriors biggest free agent this summer: Bob Myers

2022 Golden State Warriors Victory Parade & Rally
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This summer, the Warriors have on their plate a couple of major decisions that could lead to free agency and change the course of the franchise. One is Draymond Green, who has a $27.6 million player option, didn’t get an extension he wanted with the team last summer (while Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins did), and could be the guy standing without a chair when the music stops. The Warriors can’t pay everyone.

The other free agent: general manager Bob Myers.

His is an even more complex and nuanced situation — will the Warriors make him the highest-paid executive in the league, and does Myers still want the job — that could be the latest sign that the dynastic Curry era in Golden State is coming to an end.

At the Athletic, Anthony Slater, Marcus Thompson II and Sam Amick break down the situation incredibly well in a story Warriors fans should read.

As the clock ticks and extension talks remain flat, many around Myers are wondering whether – and even predicting that – his days with the Warriors are about to run out…

For all the nuance that surrounds the situation, this much is clear: team and league sources, who like all of the sources in this story were granted anonymity so they could speak freely, say Myers believes he should be among the highest-paid front office executives in the league, if not the highest. He’s been the architect of four NBA title teams, was the lead recruiter in the Durant free agency signing, and has been the trusted conduit between players, coaches and ownership. Myers also has served as chief problem solver, the coolant in an ecosystem that periodically overheats…

Part of the equation for Myers, known for his deep conversations and intellectual curiosity, is the contemplation of what’s next. After more than a decade of building a dynasty, and managing it through the intensity of modern scrutiny, and living beneath the relentless pressure of the Warriors’ championship standard, might Myers be interested in a new challenge? Would it be better for him and his family to move on, build up another franchise away from the Golden State fish bowl? He walked away from a successful career as a player agent to become an NBA executive. Is it now time to leave the front office behind and try his hand in another industry?

While there are other layers, it’s always about the money.

The very top NBA executives make north of $10 million a season. While Warriors owner Joe Lacob has said Myers is one of the highest-paid general managers in the league, titles get fuzzy (and somewhat meaningless) around the league — many guys in Myers’ role have a president or VP title attached to their name. His pay relative to title can get bogged down in semantics that miss the basic “pay me” bottom line of this.

There are no straight lines and simple answers here, but if Myers gets paid like Daryl Morey or Masai Ujiri he is far more likely to stay. Even if he gets that money, how badly does Myers want to stay on for the final years of the Stephen Curry era and start rebuilding whatever comes next? Does he want to walk away? Hang around for a few years then take his leave?

More than whatever happens with Green, the Myers situation will signal what comes next for this era of the Warriors and what they may look like going forward. He is the ultimate architect. This is the biggest decision the Warriors have this offseason.

PBT Podcast: Rui Hachimura trade to Lakers and All-Star team

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Rui Hachimura is a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. That is a win for the Lakers front office — “Look! We’re doing something!” — but how much of a win was that for the Lakers? Does it change much of anything for them on the court?

That’s the first topic of this week’s PBT Podcast with Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself. Then we talk about the Orlando Magic and the return of Jonathan Isaac to the floor. Corey’s Jukebox ties together the Magic and the Phantom of the Opera.

From there, we dive into my selections for the NBA All-Star Game, both starters and reserves, and what can be done to liven up that game. Plus, who would you want to star as if you were in a movie?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

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

Kyrie Irving still seeking contract extension, agent says “ball is in Nets” court

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How many guaranteed years are the Nets — or any team — willing to give Kyrie Irving?

It will be one of the questions of this offseason (Irving is in the final year of his current contract). It was a question last offseason, too. Irving and the Nets talked extension last summer — how close they got depends upon who you ask — but after two years of issues the Nets refused to give Irving a long-term deal. They did give him permission to find a sign-and-trade, but after checking out the market, Irving opted into his $36.9 million player option for the season.

The latest buzz around the league is that with the Nets winning, Irving is likely to re-sign and stay in Brooklyn. Apparently, his agent is ready to talk extension again, as she made public through Chris Haynes at Bleacher Report.

“Around Kyrie and staying with the Nets? I have reached out to the Nets regarding this,” his agent Shetellia Irving told Bleacher Report. “We have had no significant conversations to date. The desire is to make Brooklyn home, with the right type of extension, which means the ball is in the Nets’ court to communicate now if their desire is the same.”

“The right type of extension” sounds like we’re back to talking about years. Brooklyn can offer Irving a four-year, $190+ million max extension (which would align with the extension Kevin Durant signed last summer). The Nets may not want to lock themselves into Irving for that long.

Would another team? The question isn’t money — on the court, Irving is a max player averaging 26.8 points per game and he is likely voted an All-Star starter when those are announced Thursday — but instead how long is a team willing to be locked into paying Irving?

The Nets and Irving can reach an extension up through June 30, Brooklyn management may not be in a rush to get a deal done while the team is still playing. Brooklyn would be wise to want to see how the postseason plays out before talking about next season and beyond with anyone.

Three things to Know: Poole hits game-winner in Warriors new rivalry with Grizzlies

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Three Things To Know 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) Poole hits game-winner in Warriors’ new rivalry with Grizzlies

The NBA’s “Rivalry Week” can feel forced at points, but this game is what a rivalry feels like.

The Warriors — the old guard — held off the upstart Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs, but it may have been the toughest series they had in a title run, and if Ja Morant‘s knee hadn’t been injured in Game 3… who knows.

Wednesday night, they met again and this felt like a rivalry game. Sure, it started out sloppy with a lot of turnovers and the referees apparently in love with the sound of their own whistles, but the ending felt as close to a playoff game as you can get in January.

The Grizzlies led 111-100 with five minutes remaining, but the Warriors closed the game on a 22-9 run, complete with big 3s from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson — and Curry getting ejected for throwing his mouthpiece into the stands (in frustration after Jordan Poole launched an ill-advised 3-pointer early in the clock while Curry asked for the ball).

“He knows he can’t make that mistake,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, via the Associated Press. “To win the game after the Steph ejection was great. I liked the execution down the stretch.”

Poole made up for it by hitting the game-winner on a baseline out-of-bounds play (that Ziaire Williams defended poorly).

The Warriors did not look dominant, but this game is a reminder they do have a switch to flip, one that can take them on another deep playoff run.

This makes four straight losses for the Grizzlies on this five-game road trip. The concerns about the Grizzlies as contenders remain the same:

The concerns about the Grizzlies as a playoff team remain the same: Can they score consistently in the half-court, and can Jaren Jackson Jr. stay out of foul trouble?

Both of those were on display Wednesday. Jackson Jr. fouled out again with 2:33 left, leaving the Grizzlies without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate in the clutch (and the Grizzlies are without Steven Adams for 3-5 weeks with a knee sprain, making them especially shorthanded up front). Then in the half court… yikes.

The Grizzlies’ half-court sets got better when they focused and started hunting Poole (the Warriors did the reverse, hunting Ja Morant in key minutes).

This is a rivalry now, the Grizzlies are coming for the Warriors’ crown and Golden State is not just going to give it up (will GM Bob Myers stick around to see the end of this era?). We need another playoff series between these teams.

2) Damian Lillard drops 60 spot on Jazz

Huge scoring numbers just keep coming in the NBA this season.

The thing is, Damian Lillard was doing this before this was trendy — the 60 points he put up on the Jazz Wednesday was his fourth 60+ point game of his career. The history is pretty staggering: Only two players have more than four 60+-point games — Kobe Bryant (6) and Wilt Chamberlain (32) — and Lillard is now tied with Michael Jordan and James Harden with four.

Lillard did it efficiently shooting 21-of-29 (72.4%) on the night.

Devin Booker was impressed.

Portland led comfortably the entire second half and won 134-124. Lauri Markkanen led seven Jazz players in double figures with 24.

3) Anthony Davis scores 21 in his return to action, Lakers win

The Lakers picked a soft landing spot to bring Anthony Davis back and insert Rui Hachimura into the lineup, playing the tanktasktic Spurs at home.

It worked, Davis scored 21 points and had four blocks coming off the bench — which he is going to do for a week or so coach Darvin Ham said, while he’s on a minutes limit — and the Lakers picked up the win. 113-104.

“He makes the game look so easy and takes the pressure off us,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of Davis.

Hachimura played 21 minutes off the bench as Ham tested out different lineups and combinations all game. Hachimura finished with 12 points, six coming during a fourth-quarter run when the Lakers took control.