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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.

PBT mid-season awards: Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and more

Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Ja Morant
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The 2019-20 NBA season reached its midpoint by games played last night. So, we’re naming winners for mid-season awards. Yesterday, we picked Most Valuable Player and All-NBA. Now, we’re onto the other major honors.

Defensive Player of the Year

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

This is the hardest award for me to pick mid-season, but the Jazz put more on the plate of Gobert this season and he has responded amazingly (even if the Jazz’s defense is a little off from its usual highs this season). A lot of other players still in the mix here for me including Joel Embiid (if he plays enough games), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, and Marcus Smart.

Dan Feldman: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Even as reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert doesn’t have the final award sewn up. Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Kawhi Leonard are in the mix. But in a tight race, Gobert gets the benefit of the doubt. Utah’s strong defense is built entirely around Gobert’s rim protection.

Rookie of the Year

Kurt Helin: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

This is a runaway award, but not for the guy we expected to run away with it. Zion Williamson makes his debut next week and maybe he could climb to third in this race, but he’s not winning the award. Morant and his fluid athleticism have turned Grizzlies into must-watch television, and he looks every bit the franchise player. Kendrick Nunn is a clear second in this race.

Dan Feldman: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)

Some rookie point guards put up big numbers. Some rookie point guards produce electric highlights. Some rookie point guards show promising flashes of winning basketball. Few rookie point guards are actually good. Morant is actually good. His athleticism, shooting and overall offensive control form an incredible package for his age. Sure, Morant is sometimes too reckless. He doesn’t completely break the mold of a young point guard. But Memphis has a gem.

Most Improved Player

Kurt Helin: Devonte' Graham (Hornets)

Last season, Graham was an end-of-the-bench guy in Charlotte. This season, he’s averaging 18.7 points a game, hitting 38.7 percent from three and is the team’s best player. Nobody saw that coming and it’s a radical improvement. Also in the mix for this award are Bam Adebayo and Luka Doncic — yes, the MVP candidate, he as made a massive leap this season.

Dan Feldman: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)

It’s a two-man race between Doncic and Devonte’ Graham. As the reigning Rookie of the Year, Doncic will get overlooked. He’s a second-year player. He was supposed to be this good. BS. The leap into superstardom is generally more difficult than the climb from non-rotation player to good starter, which Graham made. For Doncic to get this good this quickly is unprecedented.

Sixth Man of the Year

Kurt Helin: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

Harrell was in the mix for this award last season and came back this season as a better defender and more efficient on offense. He’s a critical element for a contending Clippers team, and closes games for them at the five. However, this is not a decided race by any means, both Derrick Rose and George Hill deserve serious consideration. Also, Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn could be in the mix, but likely starts too many games to qualify.

Dan Feldman: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

I nearly chose Harrell for this award last season. Since, he has improved his offensive skill and defensive effectiveness. His big role in L.A. gives Harrell the edge over another highly productive reserve, the Bucks’ George Hill. Derrick Rose and Harrell’s teammate, Lou Williams, also warrant consideration.

Coach of the Year

Kurt Helin: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)

This is a wide-open race and my spreadsheet goes eight deep with worthy candidates: Nick Nurse has done an impressive job in Toronto, same with Brad Stevens in Boston and Frank Vogel with the Lakers, and the list goes on. Spoelstra, however, leads for me because of a combination of player development — Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, etc. — and smart utilization of the players’ he has. Plus, Spoelstra is getting it all to mesh around Jimmy Butler.

Dan Feldman: Nick Nurse (Raptors)

Nurse kept Toronto humming when Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left. Nurse kept Toronto humming when key players, including breakout star Pascal Siakam, got hurt. Nurse kept Toronto humming when unproven young players had to join the rotation. Nurse’s defenses are particularly exemplary – both his creativity and ability to get everyone up to speed. The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Pacers’ Nate McMillan aren’t far behind.

DeAndre Ayton got the start for Phoenix, put up 26 and 21 (VIDEO)

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Coach Monty Williams changed things up as Phoenix went into Madison Square Garden Thursday:

Deandre Ayton got the start at center and Aron Baynes came off the bench.

The result? Ayton had his first-ever 20/20 game — 26 points and 21 rebounds — as the Suns blew out the Knicks 121-98.

Phoenix also got a big night from Ricky Rubio, 25 points and 13 assists. He kept finding Ayton in places the second-year big man could do damage.

It’s one step in a long road for the Suns’ big man, but it was good to see.

Here’s video of Klay Thompson getting up shots in an empty Chase Center

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“I would love to get out there… But I’m trying to make sure this type of injury never happens to me again. So, I’ll be very patient because I want to play at a high level until I’m in my late-30s.”

That’s how Klay Thompson recently described his recovery, making sure there was no specific timeline mentioned. He’ll be back when the doctors clear him to be back — which could be next season. He will be re-evaluated next month. 

That said, Thompson is getting in work on the court and putting up shots. As you can see from the video above, he’s doing it headband on in the Chase Center pregame.

What does that mean? Nothing. It’s not like Thompson is moving at NBA speeds in this video, and ultimately it’s the people who spent years in medical school who get to make this call. Considering where the Warriors are in the standings, management may decide to give Thompson the entire season off. Even if he wants to return.

For now, just enjoy the video.

 

Three Things to Know: Brandon Ingram has earned an All-Star nod and max contract

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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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) Brandon Ingram has earned an All-Star nod and max contract. There were legitimate reasons the Pelicans were hesitant to give Brandon Ingram a contract extension last summer.

He was coming off a blood clot issue that, if it returned, would threaten his career. He wasn’t a guy who took or made a lot of threes. He had most of his offensive success in isolation or as a pick-and-roll ball handler, how would he fit in coach Alvin Gentry’s offensive system that required ball movement and catch-and-shoot skills? How would he fit next to Zion Williamson?

Ingram made a leap this season and blew all those questions out of the water (except the Zion one, that starts to get answered next week).

Ingram is averaging 25.8 points per game and is shooting 40.6 percent from three on 6.2 attempts from deep per game. He has dramatically improved his jump shot, fit in brilliantly with Gentry’s system, and become the Pelicans’ best — and go-to — player. Exactly the guy the Lakers envisioned when they drafted him No. 2 out of Duke in 2016.

That peaked on Thursday night when Ingram dropped a career-high 49 on the Utah Jazz and led the Pelicans to a win that snapped Utah’s 10-game win streak.

This leap would not have happened if the Lakers had not traded Ingram, he was never going to be a comfortable fit next to LeBron James (even if Ingram has improved off-the-ball in Gentry’s system).

“[The Lakers] have such a rich history of winning, a lot of pressure goes on the shoulders of those young guys,” said the Clippers’ Lou Williams, who spent half a season as a teammate of then-rookie Ingram. “Different organizations have more of a patience to develop more guys. The Lakers want to win right away. So some of the pressure was deserved because [Ingram and Lonzo Ball] was high picks, and they should be good quality basketball players, but at the same time they’re young guys trying to figure it out.”

Ingram figured it out, but things might have been different, he might not have made this leap if Zion had stayed healthy. The Pelicans offense would have been different with the No. 1 pick (also out of Duke).

Forget the “what ifs” however — Brandon Ingram has made the leap and now the rewards should be flowing. NBA coaches should select him as a reserve for the All-Star Game in Chicago. He’s earned it.

Next summer, Ingram will get a max contract — almost certainly from the Pelicans. While New Orleans has not seen Ingram next to Williamson in a meaningful way (the preseason doesn’t count), it can’t afford to lose the restricted free agent and other teams will undoubtedly be lined up with max offers.

Ingram is about to get PAID. That comes with the respect he’s earned.

Ingram was also at the heart of the wild ending in New Orleans Thursday night. The Pelicans thought they had won the game in regulation on Ingram’s off-balance jumper with 0.2 seconds left.

Utah had just 0.2 left to make a play, which by NBA rule means it had to be a tip. The Pelicans packed the paint, but rookie Jaxson Hayes was called for holding Rudy Gobert as the Utah center attempted to free himself for the desperation tip-in (the Last Two Minute report in this game is going to be fascinating, but because there was a little hold — not enough to get called in this situation, but it was there — expect the report to back the refs).

The holding call was upheld after video review.

That gave Gobert a chance to win it by making two foul shots, but he split them, tied the game, and sent it to overtime. In the extra frame, Gobert fouled out on an Ingram drive (another very questionable call) and behind a final five points from Ingram — plus seven from Derrick Favors — the Pelicans got the home win.

2) We have a trade Hawks/Timberwolves trade… that sets up other trades. If one were to grade this trade as a stand-alone move, The Timberwolves would fail the test.

The first trade of the deadline season sees Minnesota sending Jeff Teague and Treveon Graham to Atlanta, and getting Allen Crabbe in return.

For Atlanta, they get a much needed backup point guard behind Trae Young (it’s a short-term fix, but they told a frustrated Young they would get him help). When Young is running the show and bombing deep threes, the Hawks have a respectable offense. However, when Young sits, the Atlanta offense scores far less than a point per possession (90.7 offensive rating) and those stretches end up costing the team games. Teague is a solid point guard who can organize the Hawks offense and keep things from dropping off a cliff while Young rests.

For Minnesota, this trade only makes sense if it’s seen as the precursor to a second trade (maybe involving Crabbe, who makes $18.5 million this season). It clears out a roster spot, something the Timberwolves needed to do to go big game hunting. They are still interested in Golden State’s D’Angelo Russell (to play with his good friend Karl-Anthony Towns) and but lose some flexibility in how to make that trade happen. Whether they should trade for Russell is another question — Wolves GM Gersson Rosas said he wants a playmaking point guard, not a scoring one, except that’s not Russell — but the Timberwolves are moving to try and make that a reality. It’s hard to judge this trade for the Timberwolves until we see what other shoes drop.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks remind everyone they are beasts of the East with a win against the Celtics. Boston has joined the long list of teams — pretty much 29 of them — that have no good answer to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Greek Freak scored 32 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, and that plus Khris Middleton’s 23 was enough for Milwaukee to knock off the Celtics 128-123 on Thursday night. The Bucks have now won five in a row and remain on pace for a 70-win season (even if their GM says they will not chase a record number of wins).

Kemba Walker scored 40 points to lead Boston. The bigger concern for the Celtics is Jaylen Brown, who suffered a sprained right thumb against Detroit and sat this game out, plus he could miss more time.