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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.

Seven names popping up as the next coach of the New York Knicks

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David Fizdale is out. Mike Miller is in, temporarily (unless he can work miracles with this roster over 60 games).

The big question now: Who will coach the Knicks next season?

The answer to that question starts with the answer to a different question: Who is the team president of the Knicks next season? Current head honcho Steve Mills is on the hot seat. Does he hold on to his job and get to pick the new coach? If Mills is let go, whoever becomes the new POBO should be allowed to hire his own coach. (Letting Mills hire a coach then forcing that hire on a new president would be a mistake, but not outside the realm of possibility.)

Just because we don’t know who will be making the choice has not slowed the speculation about who is next. Here are seven names being bounced around the league (just know this is far from a complete list):

Mark Jackson: This is a trip down memory lane for the franchise, one that would be a hit with casual fans and certainly would be a marketing success. Jackson’s backers talk about how he built the foundation of the Warriors (and Steve Kerr long credited Jackson for making the peak Warriors a defensive team). However, he was fired in Golden State for good reasons: His offense was old school and heavy on isolation, he was challenging to work with for the front office (Jackson created an “us” vs. “them” mentality in the locker room where them included the front office), he clashed with assistant coaches and asked them to do a lot (he refused to let Mike Malone be an associate head coach), he has a history of distracting personal life dramas (do that in New York and the headlines are much bigger), and the list goes on. There were enough red flags in Golden State that he hasn’t gotten a job since, do the Knicks want to break that trend?

Jeff Van Gundy: Another blast from the past — he was the last coach to get the Knicks to the Finals — and he whet his coaching chops again coaching Team USA’s G-League squads that qualified USA Basketball for the World Cup. He has coached under James Dolan before, he knows what he is getting into. Does he want to leave that cushy ESPN job to be in Madison Square Garden again? Is he a coach for the modern game?

Jason Kidd: Notice how there are a lot of former Knicks on the top of this list? Here’s another. He is currently on the Lakers’ bench, and if the Knicks goal is to once again get a coach respected by players they think can help recruit superstars to Madison Square Garden, Kidd becomes a viable option. Giannis Antetokounmpo credits Kidd for understanding how to be a pro. The knock against him? The performance of his teams in Milwaukee and Brooklyn on the court. He was let go in those places for good reasons.

Tyrone Lue: Another coach whose name comes up for every job, and he has a ring from Cleveland with LeBron James (where he was LeBron’s hand-picked guy). He’s well respected by players around the league and, unlike his reputation among some fans, was a solid tactician. However, when LeBron left and the Cleveland job became a development project, Lue was gone fast — and the Knicks are a development job. Lue is currently sitting next to Doc Rivers on the Clippers’ bench.

Darvin Ham: If the Mills/Perry front office remains, this becomes a name to watch closely. Ham has a championship ring from his playing days (the 2004 Pistons), Perry worked for the Pistons’ front office during that time, and the two have remained friends. Ham has been working at the right hand of Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee (insert your “we can lure Antetokounmpo” conspiracy theory here) and has been one of the assistant coaches at the front of the line for a head coaching job, having been inconsideration in Cleveland, Minnesota, and Atlanta.

Ettore Messina: If James Dolan can lure Masai Ujiri away from Toronto (a very big if), then Messina becomes more likely. After years on the bench next to Gregg Popovich learning the NBA game, Messina decided to head back to Europe and is the head coach of Olimpia Milano in Italy. Messina is very well respected in coaching circles and it wouldn’t be a shock if he got a call.

Becky Hammon: Her name comes up a lot for this job around the league. The six-year Spurs assistant (and the woman most likely right now to get a head coaching job in the NBA) has New York ties as she played for the Liberty in the WNBA. San Antonio has been a factory of head coaches and Hammon has had several interviews with other teams. She would be the first woman to coach in the NBA, and that headline and marketing potential may appeal to the Knicks (if they decide to go with a first-time coach).

Other names to watch: Kenny Smith, Craig Robinson, Sam Mitchell, Mike Brown, and Nate Tibbetts.

Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling becomes first mother to officiate an NBA game

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CHICAGO (AP) — Referee Lauren Holtkamp-Sterling made NBA history Friday night when she became the first mother to officiate a league game.

Holtkamp-Sterling worked the Bulls-Warriors game in Chicago.

The game was the first for Holtkamp-Sterling since she gave birth to daughter Stoan this year. She missed last season with a knee injury that required surgery and the start of her 2019-20 season was delayed by abdominal surgery.

Her husband, Jonathan Sterling, worked the Los Angeles Clippers-Bucks game in Milwaukee on Friday night. The couple met at a college basketball referees event before they became the first married couple to officiate in league history.

“That’s amazing. They probably have a good nanny, I’m guessing. That cannot be easy raising a child with two NBA refs as parents. It’s a pretty incredible story. I’m happy for Lauren that she’s back on the court,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

In 2014, Holtkamp-Sterling became the third full-time female referee in league history.

 

Pelicans to ease Zion Williamson into NBA action, no backs-to-backs at first

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If you didn’t see this coming, you probably donated money to help out that poor Nigerian prince, too.

Zion Williamson is six weeks out from his knee surgery and has yet to start on-court work towards his return, signaling he likely will not make the original 6-8 week timeframe to get back on the court. Williamson is putting in the work and improving, but the fact the Pelicans were going to be “overly cautious” — to use coach Alvin Gentry’s words — with Williamson should not be a surprise, this is the franchise that let him play just one half of one game at Summer League.

Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin went on the Pelicans in-game broadcast recently to talk about the return of Williamson and the team. There he said Williamson is progressing and added the obvious — that there will be some load management of Williamson upon his return. As there should be.

“Yes, he very likely will not be asked to take the pounding of back-to-backs initially,” Griffin said on the team’s television broadcast. “There will be a sort of ramp-up for him to getting back to where you would call him full strength, but he’s certainly going to be playing, and we’re trying to win basketball games. And quite frankly, we’ve done a horrible job of that.”

The Pelicans are 6-16 with a bottom-five defense holding them back this season.

“Where we may be failing in terms of the short term, I’m very confident that we’re succeeding over the breadth of what we’re trying to do, which is build a sustainable winner,” Griffin said. “And we’re well on our way to that, despite the current record.”

Nobody should have expected instant success with this Pelicans roster, despite having Jrue Holiday, and the additions of J.J. Redick and Brandon Ingram. This was going to take time, even if Williamson had remained healthy. Projections of this as a playoff team were wildly optimistic to begin with.

It’s going to take time with Williamson, too. He should not be rushed, he is a physically unique player and must be treated as such.

Griffin is spot on — rebuilding this franchise is a long process and the Pelicans cannot skip steps. Do that and you’re the Knicks. New Orleans has stumbled out of the gate, but what will they look like at the end of the season and if the team has taken steps forward matters a lot more than what they look like now.

Ease your franchise player back into the fold, don’t force things, and the Pelicans will be just fine.

 

Knicks’ president Steve Mills reportedly on hot seat, too

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David Fizdale is out as coach of the New York Knicks.

He also was just a part of the problem with the Knicks. Fizdale did a poor job as chef trying to cook up a decent meal, but he was also given a list of ingredients — the roster built by the front office — that would make a “Chopped” contestant wince.

It looks like the people responsible for putting that roster together — specifically the long-entrenched Steve Mills, who is currently the team president — are in trouble, too. Mills is on the hot seat, too, according to Frank Isola of The Athletic.

“[The Knicks 18 losses this season] go on Fizdale’s permanent record but the failed Fizdale experiment belongs to Steve Mills, whose days as a Teflon executive under Dolan are about to end.

Mills hired Fizdale over Mike Budenholzer, and [Phil] Jackson and without even considering [Jeff] Van Gundy. Mills looked at Fizdale as the hip young coach with connections to today’s young stars. The Knicks were all in on the free-agent class of 2019 and Fizdale was going to be the guy to get their foot in the door.

We all know how that went — the Knicks didn’t even get a meeting.

These last two seasons fall directly on Mills, who, according to sources, will either be reassigned or simply removed from the building. His expiration date is long overdue. The Athletic reported last month that Dolan will try again to pry Raptors President Masai Ujiri from Toronto. If that doesn’t work, maybe NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will point Dolan toward R.C. Buford, Sam Presti, Neil Olshey and Daryl Morey. The Knicks are in the early stages of another massive overhaul that will only work if Dolan gives his next executive savior full autonomy.

What happens to Mills is a bellwether to watch.

Not simply is he removed as team president (and before he can make trades to try to save his job at the deadline), but is he re-assigned to a new position with the Knicks — so owner James Dolan keeps his man in the building — or is he shown the door? It matters. A lot. As Isola notes, when Phil Jackson was hired he was told he would have full autonomy over the front office, but he wasn’t allowed to remove Mills or other entrenched figures (and when Jackson was let go Mills was promoted to his spot). Sources told me that other people considered for team president have asked for the power to clean out the front office and bring in their own guys, only to have that shot down.

This is the real test for Dolan. If he going to spend the money to hire Ugiri or some other big name, will he give that person the complete autonomy to overhaul basketball operations, like New Orleans did last summer with David Griffin? Then, is Dolan willing to be patient enough to wait years for it to all come together? The Knicks do not need another quick fix, another shortcut to getting back in the playoffs. They need to build a culture, a foundation that can succeed for years. That takes time. And the right guy steering the ship.

We’ll see if Dolan makes that step, or if the Knicks continue business as usual.