Three Things to Know: Is James Harden’s phantom dunk enough to get game replayed?

Associated Press
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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) Is James Harden’s phantom dunk enough to get the final minutes of the Rockets’ loss replayed? In the end, I expect the Rockets will end up disappointed — and when they do they will have nobody but themselves to blame. This Rockets’ double-overtime loss is not going to get replayed.

Still, Houston has a unique argument, and it starts here: The referees blew the call on this dunk by James Harden with 7:50 left the fourth quarter.

This is why the NBA has replay and a coach’s challenge… except the officials on the court would not let D’Antoni make a challenge.

Goaltending and out of bounds plays can be challenged, but the explanation by the lead official James Capers after the game is D’Antoni took too long to make his challenge.

I’m not buying that, even though the timing issue is likely what the league falls back on to retain the game’s outcome. Capers mentions basket interference, but that was never the call on the court, it was ruled a missed basket. This sounds like Capers trying to cover for his guys. It clearly took time for the referees to figure out what happened and explain their call to D’Antoni, which is when the coach said he made the challenge. The 30-second rule is being used as a cover.

This gets to the interesting questions: What happens if the Rockets protest the game? Will they even have to?

The bad news for the Rockets is we have seen how the league handles blown calls through the Last Two Minute Report: They admit the mistake but change nothing.

There is zero chance the league just puts the points back on the board and gives the Rockets a regulation win. How the game played out late (in terms of strategy and more) would have been different if the Rockets were ahead by two. The league could order the end of the game replayed, but in the past have chosen not to do so even after owning up to a missed call. This is different in that it’s a clear missed call on a basket that took two points off the board, but still this is not how the league has handled situations in the past.

If this goes down as a loss — 135-133 in double overtime — the Rockets shouldn’t blame the officials, they need to blame themselves. And only themselves.

Houston was up 20 with 3:23 left in the third and by 10 with 3:53 left in the fourth but, as has followed a pattern with this team, could not hold the lead. They lost defensive focus. James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 26.5 percent (18-of-68). Whether or not they let the lousy call get in their heads, the Rockets played terribly down the stretch.

Lonnie Walker IV played well and had his best NBA game, keying that Houston comeback. Walker finished with a career-high 28 points and scored 18 of those points in the fourth quarter — including eight straight to close the game and force overtime. DeMar DeRozan added 23 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

2) Anthony Davis plays through flu, scores 25, but it’s his defense late that gets Lakers win in Denver. After the Lakers got their heads handed to them by Luka Doncic and the Mavericks on Sunday, the theme in the L.A. locker room postgame was that the Lakers needed to play a full 48 minutes — not flip the switch in the third quarter — against the better teams. Like the Denver game coming up.

Anthony Davis did just that. Battling the flu that had him in bed all day before the game — then taking IV fluids at halftime just to keep going — Davis had 25 points. However, it was his defensive plays late that earned the Lakers the win: There was a stuff block of Nikola Jokic, but more impressive was when Davis twice got switched onto point guard Jamal Murray late and was able to stay in front of the speedy guard and force him into bad shots.

Jokic has been up-and-down this season and Tuesday night was a down, with Davis (along with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard) holding the Denver big man to 13 points on 12 shots.

LeBron James also added 25 points.

The Nuggets have been one of the best clutch teams in the NBA this season (8-4 in games within five points in the final five minutes), but the Lakers were better and outdueled them down the stretch in this one (L.A. is now 9-1 in those five-in-five clutch games).

For those who doubt the Nuggets as a real threat to the Los Angeles teams in the playoffs, Tuesday was more fuel for the fire.

3) Jimmy Butler’s triple-double leads upstart Heat past Raptors in overtime. In a number of fundamental ways, when Miami plays Toronto it’s like looking in a mirror.

These are two franchises that emphasize culture first. They each have stars that have worked their way up — Jimmy Butler for Miami and Pascal Siakam for Toronto — and were not just anointed top picks. These are two franchises that find guys other teams overlook and turn them into valuable contributors — three undrafted players started in this game, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson for Miami, and Fred VanVleet for Toronto.

Also, both teams are now 15-5 on the season after Miami held on to beat Toronto in overtime, 121-110. The difference was Jimmy Butler, who scored 8 of his 22 points in overtime on his way to a triple-double.

This is what Miami needs from Butler. Some are calling for Butler to score more and lift up the Heat offense that way, but this kind of game — where he distributes and gets others involved, then takes over when he needs to — is exactly what the Heat need out of him. More games like this will mean more wins.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

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Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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The WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are about to get better.

Two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker announced she plans to sign with the Aces when free agency opens on Feb. 1

The WNBA champions just got better — a starting frontcourt of Parker and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (with Kelsey Plum in the backcourt) could make Las Vegas the best defensive team in the league. While Parker may not be the scorer she once was, she can serve as a fulcrum for the offense, get the ball to the other players on the deeply talented Aces, and make them a serious threat to repeat.

Still, a cloud hangs over the Aces organization after what Dearica Hamby alleged after she was traded to the Sparks. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by the Aces front office surrounding her pregnancy and contract. Those are serious allegations, and the WNBPA is looking into the matter.

On the court (if the investigation results don’t weigh them down), the Aces have to be title favorites now. However, when WNBA free agency comes on Wednesday that could shift, depending on what Breanna Stewart chooses to do (along with other key free agents). There has been speculation Stewart could head to New York to team up with Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu on a Liberty team that would instantly be the biggest threat to the Aces (if not the outright favorite).

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting WNBA free agency.

Three things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

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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) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up 50 spot in 30 minutes

Before the ball was even tossed up at center circle Sunday, this looked to be a long night for the Pelicans: No Zion Williamson (strained right hamstring), no Brandon Ingram (toe injury) and no CJ McCollum (sprained right thumb).

Then Giannis Antetokounmpo went to work early, scored 18 points in the first quarter, 29 in the first half, and went on to have an efficient 50 on 20-of-26 shooting on the night, including hitting 3-of-4 from 3.

The All-Star Game captain is having a “down” season by his insane standards, but he is still averaging 31.3 points and 12 rebounds a game, shooting 64.5% in a season where he has had to take on more offense load because of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday missing time. He’s still one of the best in the game, and if healthy the Bucks are still a postseason threat (even if they could use some depth at the four).

This was eight straight losses for the Pelicans, who are 3-11 in January and have fallen all the way to the No. 8 seed in the West. New Orleans has looked like a dangerous team on the rise when healthy this season, but the injuries have caught up with them and now they are scrapping to stay in the play-in in a crowded middle of the West.

2) Hornets get 31 from Rozier, upset sleepy Heat team

It will be hard for Miami to hold onto the No. 6 seed in the East (and avoid the play-in) if they don’t win the games they are supposed to win.

Miami looked sleepy for the 1 p.m. start in Charlotte, didn’t play good defense down the stretch, and fell to the Hornets. Charlotte got 31 from Terry Rozier, 27 from P.J. Washington, LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and Gordon Hayward was 7-of-7 shooting for 20 points. Charlotte snapped Miami’s three-game win streak with the 122-117 victory.

To be fair to the Heat, sometimes it’s about when you catch teams and the Hornets are playing their best basketball of the season having won 4-of-6. Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Heat, Tyler Herro added 24.

This was the start of a four-game road trip for the Heat and things are about to get tougher with games at the Cavaliers, at the Knicks (a key game in the chase for the No. 6 seed) and at the Bucks.

3) LeBron James, Anthony Davis out in Brooklyn Monday night

The epidemic — and league-wide PR problem — of stars sitting out will continue Monday night as LeBron James and Anthony Davis will rest as the Lakers face the Nets (officially, LeBron has a sore left ankle and they are watching the foot injury that sidelined Davis for 20 games). This is the team’s one trip to Brooklyn this season. It comes a day after Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sat out in Cleveland (the Cavs blew the Clippers out as a result), and the list goes on and on all season long with Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler and other stars seemingly resting more than ever before.

There is no easy answer here. Coaches and team medical staffs tasked with ensuring their players peak for the playoffs are resting guys during the season (and on back-to-backs) to avoid injuries and fatigue. Top players have their personal trainers monitoring them and weighing in on these decisions. The NBA schedule is still too long — but reducing that number is a financial mess — and there is nothing in the upcoming CBA that will change this trend.

But fans are noticing. Keep showing them the regular season doesn’t matter and they will respond in kind.

In LeBron’s case — and he hasn’t missed much time this season — this pushes back the timeline for him to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record to Feb. 7 against the Thunder or Feb. 9 against the Bucks, both games in Los Angeles at the crypto.com Arena. If you want to think that’s a coincidence, go ahead, but I’m a little more cynical than that.

Rozier, Washington, Ball help Hornets rally past Heat 122-117

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Terry Rozier scored 31 points, P.J. Washington had 27 and the Charlotte Hornets stopped Miami’s three-game win streak with a 122-117 victory over the Heat on Sunday.

LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte improved to 7-16 at home. Gordon Hayward was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field for 20 points.

Rozier also had seven assists and six rebounds. He was 11 for 19 from the field, including a 5-for-11 performance from 3-point range. He made two buzzer-beater 3s at the end of quarters.

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Miami, and Tyler Herro had 24.

The Hornets, who have been hampered by injuries all season, have won four of six for the team’s best stretch of the season. Washington believes it’s a reflection of the team getting healthier.

Charlotte’s projected starting five to begin the season is finally back on the floor and appears to be starting to mesh.

“Everybody is back and everybody is healthy – and that is a major difference,” Washington said. “At the end of the day we have to keep going the way we are right now.”

Hayward has struggled with shoulder and hamstring issues, limiting the team’s highest-paid player to just 24 games.

Sunday marked his best game in months.

“He’s playing confident and getting easy baskets and just bullying guys down low,” Washington said. “He’s playing great basketball and I expect that of him every night.”

Whether a now healthy Hornets team can make a playoff push remains to be seen, but coach Steve Clifford remains optimistic.

“Getting ‘Melo and Gordon back, obviously you’re a different team,” Clifford said. “If we can get into playing set groups then we’ll have a good chance to hopefully put some good stretches together. (It helps) when they know who they’re playing with and they know where the shots are coming from.”

The Heat led 62-58 after Rozier banked in a 3 from the midcourt logo to close out the first half.

Miami went on a 10-1 run to start the third quarter. Herro knocked down two 3-pointers to help the Heat open a 13-point lead.

But Charlotte came storming back behind Washington and Rozier, who began knocking down shots from deep.

Charlotte pushed the lead to 12 with 5:54 left on a turnaround jumper by Rozier.

Miami rallied with a 10-0 run. Kyle Lowry found Bam Adebayo inside for a layup to cut the lead to 108-106.

But Charlotte had another burst as Mason Plumlee got the ball after Rozier won a jump ball and drove to the basket for a score. Ball canned an open 3-pointer to put Charlotte back up 114-106 with 1:50 left.

Washington’s rebound and score off his own miss kept Charlotte up by seven and Plumlee dunked off a pass from Washington to put the game away in the final minute.

Charlotte shot 54.2% from the field and scored 25 points in transition. The Hornets also outrebounded Miami 47-36.

“They have had a lot of injuries but when they have been fully healthy, this team can score much different than their numbers may suggest for the season,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not step up defensively, they got a lot of easy run-ups that quickly changed the momentum of the game.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.