Three Things to Know: Warriors’ season was already broken, Curry’s hand clarifies new reality

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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 season was already broken before Stephen Curry broke his hand. Now the path forward is clear. Before this latest in a string of unfathomable injuries, Golden State’s season was already broken.

This is a team that already didn’t look near the class of the Clippers, then lost by 28 to a team that traded away Russell Westbrook and Paul George last summer, and had already given up a 30-1 run to upstart Phoenix. The plan of just holding on until Klay Thompson got back already looked doomed — the Warriors weren’t winning, and it’s unlikely Thompson is back anyway.

Then this happened.

A CT scan will determine if Stephen Curry will need surgery, or if he just goes in a cast. Either way, this likely sidelines Curry for at least a couple of months. Think after Christmas, closer to New Year’s Day (and surgery could mean a longer time away).

The basketball gods have unleashed their wrath on the Warriors.

Maybe, however, this is exactly what the Warriors need. It forces an adjustment they were not ready or willing to make.

Golden State is a lottery team now. They already were — based on early season results — but now there is no escaping it. By the time Curry returns, the Warriors will be in a hole they cannot dig out of. Not in a deep West.

Golden State is not going to tank — owner Joe Lacob already pushed back on that idea. Golden State has a new building to sell out. Thing is, they don’t have to try to lose, this is already a team of questionable construction that needed everything to go right to make a playoff push (did you really think Alec Burks, Omari Spellman, and Jordan Poole were going to step up?). Obviously, things have not gone right, going back to the Kevon Looney injury.

The pressure is off the Warriors now, the expectations are gone. Don’t sit Draymond Green if he’s healthy, but make sure he gets and stays healthy (he had an elbow issue suffered against the Suns). Make sure Looney gets right.

Turn D’Angelo Russell loose and let him run the show, watch him rack up numbers, then if teams start calling before the trade deadline next February, listen. See if there is a more natural fit next to Curry and Thompson.

If the losses pile up, so what? Get whatever the lottery ping-pong balls give you — this is not the same situation as the 1996-97 Spurs (the Tim Duncan draft), it’s a very different lottery and league, but you never know. Add a quality young player. Retool for next season when Curry, Thompson, Green, and Looney are healthy and there can be a young core around them that is a little more seasoned and fits better.

These Warriors were already broken. Watching them made that clear. Curry’s broken hand forces them into a new reality, but a path that ultimately should be better for the Warriors long term.

2) Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns throwdown on the court, get ejected, then carry fight to social media. This did not all start Wednesday night, Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns have been taking jabs at each other for years.

Wednesday night, those jabs turned into a fight.

Embiid’s team was winning comfortably, he was home in front of his people, and he lives for this kind of spotlight, so of course he egged the crowd on and then soaked it all in.

Both players were ejected — so they carried the fight over to social media.

And then it was on. Rudy Gobert summed it up for the rest of us:

It turned nasty. Entertaining, but nasty. KAT mocked Embiid for crying after a second-round playoff loss, Embiid noted Towns has never been to the second round, and it went from there. Because someone has to show some restraint, I’ll just say you can check the players out on social media if you want to follow along.

Multi-game suspensions are coming for both Embiid and Towns, and the social media sparring is not exactly going to invite leniency from the league. Maybe Towns gets one more game than Embiid — he appears to be first to escalate this from just a shoving match — but both are going to be out for games. Plural.

There are also questions about whether Ben Simmons will get suspended, or if anyone left the benches, or anything else that could lead to suspensions and fines.

Both teams have been off to a hot start, and both are going to feel the pain from this fight because they will be without their best players for a while.

3) James Harden drops 59 and Rockets still only win by one. This ended up being the third-highest scoring game in NBA history — a history that includes Doug Moe’s Nuggets teams. This was a throwback, defense optional, shootout for the ages.

James Harden’s 59th point came on a free throw with two seconds left that won the game for Houston over Washington, 159-158. Here’s the foul that led to those free throws — it’s vintage Harden in that he creates contact then sells it to make sure the call comes.

Bradley Beal had 46 points on 14-of-20 shooting, and Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura showed out with 23 points (he is off to an impressive start this season, beyond just this game).

Clint Capela had 21 for Houston, Russell Westbrook 17

Harden, however, proved to be too much.

The Rockets are going to be in a lot of games like this during the season — they can score with anyone, but they don’t have a defense to match.

Anunoby hottest name at trade deadline… or would be if Raptors decide to trade him

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
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The Knicks are standing at the front of the line, but if the door opens Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans will be among the teams trying to push their way through the door.

O.G. Anunoby trade rumors are maybe the hottest topic around the league in the run-up to the trade deadline, something sources have told NBC Sports but is not breaking news at this point, recent reporting by both Zach Lowe of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have detailed exactly that. Lowe said on his podcast that the “entire league” is interested in the young wing. Teams are calling Massai Ujiri about Anunoby, but the Raptors have yet to tip their hand about whether they will be sellers at the deadline, stand pat, or become buyers.

Anunoby has not publicly or privately asked for a trade, but would “embrace a change of scenery” Haynes said on the podcast (it should be noted there are similar rumblings about a number of dispirited Raptors this season, the losing has worn on them). Haynes added that part of the motivation for the Grizzlies and Pelicans in this case is to keep the other team from landing him.

The Knicks are reportedly offering three first-round picks for Anunoby, and while it’s up for debate which of the seven first-round picks they control are in the mix — and how protected they are — that is now the floor for an offer to interest the Raptors. Lowe said Anunoby could draw a Donovan Mitchellsized trade package.

There are obvious reasons the league is calling, Anunoby is an All-Defensive Team level wing averaging 16.9 points per game, can finish at the rim and hit threes. It doesn’t hurt that he is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million.

Everybody wants to talk about Anunoby, but it’s all moot until Ujiri and the Raptors do.

Devin Booker reportedly could return to Suns next week

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns are 9-13 since Devin Booker went out with a left groin strain (which counts a few games before, but does not include, his attempted Christmas Day comeback, which lasted all of four minutes in a Suns loss). While they have bounced back lately as Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson returned, Phoenix still slid down to eighth in the standings.

The Suns need Booker to return — and they may get it next week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker, sidelined the past five weeks because of a left groin strain, could return as soon as Tuesday against the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN… Booker has been ramping up his on-court work, and is expected to join the Suns at the start of a five-game road trip that begins Friday in Boston and continues Saturday at Detroit.

Booker should be named an All-Star reserve Tuesday, despite all the time missed — he has been that good. Booker is averaging 27.1 points a game shooting 37% from 3 (a good 58.5 true shooting percentage) and is dishing out 5.1 assists per night. The bottom line, the Suns have outscored opponents by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season and been outscored by 2.5 per 100 when he is out.

He returns to a team that needs a jolt and could get a couple — both the return of Booker to the rotation and a trade at the deadline to bring in depth. The Suns are likely to trade Jae Crowder at the deadline — the Bucks are considered the frontrunners but the Heat and Hawks are reportedly in the mix — which may not bring back what James Jones once hoped, but should give the team a little more depth.

If the Suns can get back to the team that started the season 15-6 they could make some noise in the West, but there is a lot for the Suns to clean up to get back to those days.

PBT Podcast: LeBron chases history, WNBA superteam and trade talk

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It’s one of the craziest weeks in the NBA — the week before the trade deadline is always insane — yet that is maybe the third biggest story in the league right now.

First, in this edition of the PBT Podcast, we dive into LeBron James chasing history and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time scoring record — what does that say about LeBron and his legacy? And his conditioning to be doing this 20 years into his NBA career.

From there, Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself dive into the biggest move in the basketball world this week — Breanna Stewart shaking up the WNBA and choosing the New York Liberty in free agency. She formed a superteam in New York, and there is another one in Las Vegas, and this is an opportunity for the WNBA to grow – and get charter flights for their players. From there, it’s Corey’s Jukebox and time to talk some Damian Lillard.

Then we into trade rumors from around the league and everyone waiting on the Raptors to open up the market.

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.

Three things to Know: Breanna Stewart is headed to New York, WNBA must seize moment

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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) Breanna Stewart is headed to New York, WNBA must seize moment

The biggest free agent in WNBA history has chosen to form a super team in league history — and that’s a real opportunity for everyone.

Former league MVP and two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart has chosen to leave Seattle and play for the New York Liberty.

Just a few weeks ago, the Liberty traded for 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to pair with Sabrina Ionescu, forming one of the best pick-and-roll threats in the league. Now add Stewart and her playmaking to a roster filled with quality players —  Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards, Joceyln Willoughby, Kayla Thornton — and this is a team that’s a legitimate threat to win the WNBA title next season. This is a superteam.

New York’s move comes just days after two-time former MVP and WNBA champ Candace Parker chose to join the defending WBNA champion Las Vegas Aces with reigning MVP A’ja Wilson and quality players around her such as Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray. This is also a superteam.

It’s not a coincidence Stewart and Parker chose to go to teams with newish WNBA owners willing to spend to win, Joe Tsai in New York (also the owner of the NBA’s Nets) and Mark Davis in Las Vegas (owner of the NFL’s Raiders). Two owners who came into the WNBA wanting to spend to pay players but also improve their experience — a new practice facility in Las Vegas, for example — and grow the sport that way. Owners with the vision to know they must spend money to make money — grow the league and its popularity and franchise values will skyrocket.

Stewart in her free agency pushed charter flights for players to the top of the list of ways to improve the league. Right now, the WNBA CBA requires teams to fly commercial. It’s part of a penny-pinching mindset from some quarters that sometimes feels like it will choke off the growing league. Charter flights for every team to every game — something common in professional sports and high-level college sports, including women’s college basketball — would cost about $30 million for the league.

There’s a divide among WNBA owners, not all want to pay that added charter flight cost out of their pocket, but the league has to find a way. As Corey Robinson of NBC Sports noted in the video above, this feels a lot like when his father — Hall of Famer David Robinson — wrote an open letter in 1991 to then San Antonio Spurs owner Red McCombs asking to fly charter to games because of the competitive advantage (McCombs agreed after the public pressure, now charter flights are just expected in the NBA).

Beyond just flights, this is an inflection point for the WNBA — it has to intensify its marketing, its outreach, and do whatever else it takes to grow the league.

Stewart, a recognizable face and name to any sports fan in America (even casual ones who only know her Olympics efforts) just formed a superteam in the biggest media market in the nation. They have a natural, high-profile rival in Las Vegas with their own superstars and big names. If you can’t sell this, you’re doing it wrong — this will be great basketball (and that’s not even mentioning Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury, and other good teams out there).

New York vs. Las Vegas could be the 1980s Lakers vs. Celtics moment for the WNBA. Stewart vs. Wilson can be a version of Magic vs. Bird — a rivalry and must-watch matchup that took the NBA off tape-delayed late-night television and vaulted it into prime time, putting it on the course for what it is now. This feels like that moment for the WNBA, but will WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert be able to grab the opportunity the way David Stern did? Can she get her owners to buy in the way Stern did? The WNBA must spend, it must take advantage of this opportunity. Chances and players like this don’t come around very often.

2) Timberwolves outplay Warriors in clutch, pick up quality win

Right now, this Warriors team just does not have the aura of its championship teams of years past. Even last year’s team didn’t enter the playoffs as the favorites in the West (that was the 64-win Suns), but we had seen enough to know they could be a threat to win it all with a couple of breaks. Which they got.

This year’s team… the Warriors had a 13-point lead on the Timberwolves Wednesday night with less than 11 minutes left and then got outplayed the rest of the way. While D'Angelo Russell was draining key 3-pointers, Stephen Curry, Donte DiVincenzo and  Andrew Wiggins were missing theirs, and Jonathan Kuminga was committing illegal screens. The result was the Warriors blowing their lead and the Timberwolves took advantage of it — with some critical plays by Naz Ried.

“I thought we had control of the game and then I thought we just kind of gift-wrapped it,” Kerr said postgame, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “And not to take anything away from Minnesota, I thought they were great. They took advantage of our mistakes and lack of execution. [D’Angelo Russell] got hot and guys made big shots, but we missed box-outs, we threw the ball away, we took really difficult shots.

“So everything we had done to that point to have control of the game, we stopped doing. We got what we deserved.”

This year’s Warriors are 13-14 in the clutch (games within five points in the final five minutes), with a -1.8 net rating. Make that a game within three points in the final three minutes and the Warriors are 10-12 this season.

The Warriors had won 4-of-5 before this and it felt like they may be flipping the switch, but then games like this happen and it gives you pause. These Warriors are not there yet.

3) Celtics put on a show, romp past shorthanded Nets

Boston has cooled off following its hot start to the season, but there are nights when they get focused, turn the burner back on high, get hot and remind everyone why they are the title favorites this season.

The Nets ran into those Celtics on Wednesday — Boston outscored Brooklyn 46-16 in the first quarter, hitting eight straight 3-pointers to open the game.

From there the Celtics romped to a wire-to-wire 139-96 win. Boston stayed hot from deep and hit 48.1% from 3 for the game (26-of-54). Jayson Tatum scored 31 points,  Jaylen Brown added 26, and both got to sit in the fourth quarter and watch.

The Celtics needed a win like this.

The Nets… life is tough sometimes without Kevin Durant. This is a game Brooklyn can flush and move on, even with KD it would not have helped much the way the Celtics were shooting.

ONE BONUS THING TO KNOW (or see): Give Tari Eason credit, he did not give up. That is persistence.