Three Things to Know: Luka who? Dallas ends Milwaukee’s 18-game win streak

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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) Luka who? Dallas ends Milwaukee’s 18-game win streak despite 48 from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Maybe part of it was Mavericks players rallying for their first game without leading scorer Luka Doncic. Maybe no Doncic meant the Bucks mentally relaxed coming in. Maybe part of it was the Bucks looking ahead to the Lakers coming to town Thursday. Or, maybe it was just one of those games that happens to every team over the course of 82, a game the Bucks need to flush and move on from.

Whatever the reason or reasons, the Dallas Mavericks beat the Bucks Monday and ended the NBA’s longest winning streak at 18.

Giannis Antetokounmpo came to play and dropped 48, but it was not enough against a balanced Dallas attack led by Seth Curry and Kristaps Porzingis, each with 26 points. Dallas raced out to an early lead, held off several Bucks rallies, including one in the final minutes, and won 120-116.

The Greek Freak got little help. Bucks not named Antetokounmpo shot 35.1 percent on the night, with Brook Lopez 1-of-8, Khris Middleton 4-of-12, and Eric Bledsoe sidelined with an injury. As a whole, the Bucks shot 26.8 percent from three.

In contrast, Dallas was making shots from the start (well, not the very start, the Bucks got off to an 8-1 lead) and by the end of the first were up 36-22, a lead that swelled to 16 points in the second quarter.

Then, as was the story of the game, the Bucks came storming back and cut the lead to three at the half. To start the third, Antetokounmpo tried to take over and scored 11 straight, but he couldn’t do it on his own, the Mavericks got hot the rest of the way and stretched their lead out to 11 points and keeping it at double digits most of the fourth quarter… until the Bucks made another rally in the final minutes. Another one that just fell short.

For the Bucks, they need to shrug this game off and move on — the measuring stick game is Thursday when LeBron James and teammates come to town.

For the Mavericks (now 10-2 on the road this season), this is the kind of confidence-boosting win they needed. No Doncic for the next two weeks, through a difficult part of the schedule where little was expected. In a tight Western Conference, one stretch of a couple of bad weeks can bounce a team out of home court in the first round. Dallas got the kind of win it needs help keep them afloat while Doncic’s ankle heals.

Dallas also can look at it this way: The Bucks and Lakers have the two best records in the NBA, they sit on the top of their conferences, and it was the Mavericks that snapped each of their double-digit win streaks and handed them their most recent losses.

2) Night of the comebacks: Rockets rally from 25 down to beat Spurs, Thunder come back from 26 down to beat Bulls. This is the NBA. No lead is safe.

San Antonio got up by 25 on Houston late in the first half, but the Rockets opened the second half on a 15-3 run and it was game on from there. San Antonio’s 22-season playoff streak seems like it’s coming to an end, and the reason is the Spurs poor defense (19th in the league) — they could not slow James Harden (28 points, eight rebounds seven assists) or Russell Westbrook (31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists). Throw in a late corner three from P.J. Tucker and the Rockets win 109-107.

That loss dropped the Spurs two full games back of the Thunder for the eighth seed in the West — because the Thunder rallied from 26 down against the Bulls.

Chicago has made a habit of blowing big leads this season, but they outdid themselves on Monday night. Chicago led by 26 in the second quarter and by around 20 for the first part of the third until a 20-7 Oklahoma City run started to change things. Then Chris Paul took over in the fourth quarter.

The Thunder may be just 12-14, but in a surprisingly soft bottom of the West that has them in the playoffs if they started today. Sources around the league don’t expect that to change Oklahoma City’s mindset heading into the trade deadline — the Thunder are starting a rebuild and they know it — but it may make the price to pry a player away from them just a little higher.

3) G-League players to vote in coming week on forming a union. NBA players have a union, the body that negotiates the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the owners and sets the financial and other terms for the league. Compared to the NFL and other sports, NBA players have a powerful union that has gotten them a lot of advantages.

G-League players want the same thing.

Starting Thursday in Las Vegas is the G-League Showcase, an event where every G-League team comes to the desert for a series of games — a chance for NBA GMs and scouts to see every player in one place and get an idea who they might want to grab on 10-day contracts later this season. (It’s also when all those GMs start talking seriously about trades.)

While in Vegas, the National Basketball Players Association — the NBA players’ union — is going to speak to the G-League players about unionizing. The players will cast ballots at the end of the showcase (Sunday), and it’s expected the players will vote to unionize.

What do the players want? More money, of course (the base salary for a G-League player is $35,000 for the season, although players on two-way contracts get more, and players who went to team training camps also usually get a buyout bump for signing with that team’s G-League affiliate). But the players also want some freedom of movement and other perks (more money for travel or housing).

The league is not getting in the way of this. From Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“We support the players’ right to unionize,” G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim told The Athletic. “We view this as a positive thing and are looking to continue to grow our league for the players to develop and accomplish their dreams.”

This is going to happen — and at a time minor league baseball is at risk of contraction and is fighting with the major leagues, this is a good sign for the NBA.

G-League salaries are not going to see a serious increase unless, in the next CBA, a little of that NBA money starts flowing to G-League players. That’s down the line. For now it’s about the small gains. That’s a start.

Report: Mavericks looking for another star at trade deadline. Good luck with that.

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Two things are true. First, the painted-over mural was right, the Dallas Mavericks desperately need a second star to go next to Luka Dončić. Second, they have backed themselves into a corner without the trade assets or cap space to easily make that happen.

It may be a longshot, but the Mavericks are open to trading anyone but Dončić to find that second star at the deadline, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reminds us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Dallas is open to this, of course they are.

The challenges start with, what star is available? The best player maybe on the market right now is John Collins or Bojan Bogdanovic, and while both would help the Mavericks neither is changing the team’s fortunes the way they would hope.

If Toronto decides to become sellers things get interesting. However, as of the latest reports, they are on the fence and telling teams they are waiting to decide what they will do at the deadline (sell, stand pat, or become buyers). Fred VanVleet could be available, and would essentially be a Jalen Brunson replacement, certainly a step up from where the Mavericks are currently. However, the Clippers and others could drive up the asking price, plus the Mavericks would have to step up and pay him this summer, VanVleet is expected to opt out of his $22.8 million contract. O.G. Anunoby would be a great fit next to Dončić, but he is not a star, he is more of a high-level role player.

Pascal Siakam could be that second star next to Dončić, a 6’8″ wing who can finish at the rim, shoot 3s, and would be a great secondary shot creator. It’s a good fit. Siakam is not an elite defender — Dallas would want some 3&D guys added to the roster — but he would be the kind of addition Dallas needs.

Dallas can offer its three first-round picks starting in 2024, but is some combination of those picks and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith going to entice the Raptors? They will look for a massive package for Siakam and likely see better offers than Dallas can construct.

It may not be easy to pull off, and likely will wait until the offseason (at the earliest), but know the Mavericks are serious about a second star.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
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The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.

Report: Bucks have been given permission to talk to Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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Jae Crowder may be the most likely player to be traded at the deadline. The Suns need a shake-up (and to get Devin Booker back), and they are sitting on a $10.2 million player that is not helping them on the court and has yet to bring back any trade value they want.

We may have movement on that front, based on reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In a new development, the Suns have given permission to the Bucks to meet with Crowder and they met over the weekend, league sources tell The Athletic. The Bucks are believed to be the only team that has received permission to visit one-on-one with Crowder, those sources have also indicated…

Both the Suns and Bucks have engaged in serious trade talks for months, with current proposals surrounding Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and second-round draft compensation to Phoenix for Crowder, according to sources. The Bucks and Suns have searched for a third team to provide Phoenix with a forward – so what outcome will emerge between now and next Thursday?

Those talks between the Bucks and Crowder likely focused on his role on the team this season (backup four) and possibly re-signing him after this season (he will be a free agent).

Crowder has sat out the season after asking for a trade but is still a Sun because Phoenix head of basketball operations James Jones had a very specific ask in the trade — a forward with a similar skill set to Crowder. It’s tough to trade like-for-like in the league, so nothing has happened. It’s also why that offer from the Bucks doesn’t seem the fit the Suns want. Nwora is a forward but a fringe rotation player, Hill can help with some backup point guard minutes, but nothing really moves the needle for Phoenix. The problem is the Suns have waited so long to get a trade done that Crowder’s value has gone down — by the time he is traded, works his way back into game shape, then steps on the court for his new team he’ll be lucky to play 30 games in the regular season. Teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental.

The report states the Heat also are interested, which is not a shock they want a P.J. Tucker-like player at the four and Crowder fits the bill, but putting together a trade that works for both sides is difficult (unless the Suns suddenly fell in love with Duncan Robinson, which would be a bigger trade). The Hawks come up, but there is a growing sense around the league that the new Landry Fields-led front office is less inclined to trade John Collins, and they may ride with him at the four.

It’s likely Crowder gets traded somewhere at the deadline and the Bucks maybe make the most sense, but this deal could have been done long ago if the sides wanted to.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

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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.