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Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic makes game look easy in return, Dallas wins

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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 Doncic makes the game look easy in return, Dallas wins. The best athletes make the game look easy. Roger Federer is graceful and makes tennis look effortless. Lionel Messi makes goal scoring look like something anyone can do, same with Mike Trout hitting a baseball 450 feet.

Luka Doncic returned from missing four games with a sprained ankle on Thursday night and looked rusty at points, winded late in the game, but also had moments where he reminded you just how easy the game can be for him.

Doncic finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists leading Dallas to a 102-98 win against San Antonio Thursday night. It wasn’t just him terrorizing guys like LaMarcus Aldridge on the pick-and-roll (which Doncic did a few times), it’s how he moves and understands spacing and when to make cuts that opens up the floor — and makes Seth Curry look like Pete Maravich.

The other key to this game? Dallas was 16-of-40 from three (40 percent). When Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. are hitting from deep (both hit three from beyond the arc in this game) the Mavs are hard to beat.

The Mavericks stayed afloat going 2-2 in the four games Doncic missed. Dallas will be battling Houston (and maybe Utah) the rest of the way for the four seed and home court in the first round, so easing back into a win against the slow-footed Spurs was good for Doncic. Now the Mavs head out to the West Coast for a Warriors then Lakers back-to-back. We’ll see if the game still looks easy against the length of the Lakers.

2) Brooklyn has historically bad shooting night, Spencer Dinwiddie blames “too much eggnog.” Every team has games they just need to flush and move on from over the course of 82; there are just those nights where nothing works.

Brooklyn took that to a new level Thursday night — the Nets were “laughably bad” in the words of point guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Consider the stats:

• The Nets 82 points were a new season low.

• Brooklyn shot 26.9 percent for the game (21-for-78), the worst any team has shot the ball in nearly eight years (January 2012)

• The Nets shot 13-of-50 from three, 26 percent.

• It was worse from two.

You got that right, Brooklyn made the fewest two pointers in a game in the shot clock era. And all that against a Knicks defense that has been bottom 10 in the league all season.

So Dinwiddie, how would you describe the night? Via Malika Andrews of ESPN:

“We were really, really bad. Like laughably bad. We shot really bad… Let’s go with too much eggnog. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

He was joking people, lighten up.

The Knicks took advantage behind 30 points from Julius Randle and cruised to a win.

3) It wasn’t pretty. At all. It was downright ugly at the end. But Minnesota finally won, snapping an 11-game losing streak. While in New York one team was being historically bad, the end of the game between the Kings and Timberwolves had both teams just playing terribly.

In the last 15 minutes of this game — the final five minutes of regulation plus the two overtimes — the Timberwolves and Kings combined to shoot 14-of-50 (28 percent) overall and 3-of-21 (14.3 percent) from three. And there were plays like this.

Eventually, Minnesota got a few buckets and held on for a 105-104 victory — the Timberwolves’ first win in December. Gorgui Dieng scored 21 points and Andrew Wiggins had 18 for Minnesota (playing without Karl-Anthony Towns due to a sprained left knee). It’s a win; they will take it.

But it wasn’t pretty.

Pistons buy out Markieff Morris, who’s reportedly most likely to join Lakers

Potential Lakers target and former Pistons forward Markieff Morris
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The Pistons are dismantling.

They traded Andre Drummond and bought out Reggie Jackson. Now, they’ve bought out Markieff Morris.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons and Markieff Morris have reached an agreement to buy out the veteran forward’s contract. The Pistons have requested waivers on Morris.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Morris was owed $940,113 beyond the waiver period and had a $3.36 million player option for next season. It’ll be interesting to see whether he declined the option as part of his exit or will receive some of that money.

Morris wouldn’t really move the needle for the Lakers. They already have more big forwards than they know what to do with – LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. There’s no obvious fit for Los Angeles’ open roster spot, and Morris is talented. But it’s hard to see him making much of a difference there.

Heat retiring Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 in weekend-long celebration

Dwyane Wade
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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade says that whenever he would hear the national anthem play before Miami home games, he would take a moment and look to the rafters.

“I always imagined my jersey being up there,” Wade said.

He will no longer have to imagine the sight. After this weekend, it’ll be there for good.

Wade will become the fifth Heat player to get his number retired by the team, joining Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Bosh. A three-day celebration of Wade’s time in Miami starts on Friday, a weekend highlighted by his No. 3 formally going to the rafters on Saturday night when the Heat play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wade spent 16 seasons in the NBA, 14+ of those with the Heat. He was one of two players to be part of all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem, whose No. 40 will almost certainly be retired by the team one day, is the other.

It was never a question of whether Wade’s jersey was going to be retired by the Heat, only a question of when. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals and is probably going to keep most, if not all, of those records for a very long time. Consider: He scored 21,556 regular-season points with the Heat, and Alonzo Mourning is second with 9.459.

Earlier this season, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers – like Wade, a Chicago native who went on to play at Marquette – said he believes Wade doesn’t get enough credit for what he did as a player, especially in the NBA Finals.

“He’s been underrated his whole life,” Rivers said. “He didn’t get recruited very highly. Took Marquette to a Final Four. He still didn’t go as high as he should have in the draft and then he took the Miami Heat to NBA championships. That’s just who he is.”

Wade was the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, was selected to 13 All-Star Games in his 16 seasons, was an All-Star MVP in 2010 and won an Olympic gold medal.

“Every time I look up to the rafters and see your (hash)3 hanging there, I’ll think of the impact you had not only on this organization, this city and this league, but on my life,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wrote in an open letter to Wade that will be part of the team’s game-night giveaway program for fans on Saturday.

The weekend also includes a night of tribute speeches on Friday and a showing of a documentary about Wade on Sunday.

Report: NBA executives believe 76ers more likely to trade Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons

76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
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The 76ers have spent years building around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Supporting players come and go. Embiid and Simmons remain, even amid a sometimes-awkward fit.

But chatter has increased about Philadelphia trading one of its top two stars.

So, would Embiid or Simmons be the one to go?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

There is no consensus, but league execs think that if the Sixers do explore a trade, Embiid is more likely to be moved — health being the determining factor in building around Simmons.

When a team is looking to trade one of two players, people frequently predict the less-valuable player will get dealt. It’s not logical. Other teams also know about Embiid’s health concerns. That’ll lower Philadelphia’s return.

I wonder whether these executives know something or are just conveying how they’d handle the situation.

The latter doesn’t mean much. The 76ers have their own view and, less than a year ago, owner Josh Harris called Embiid “our most important player. He’s clearly our future.”

Perhaps, Philadelphia’s stance has changed. Trying to line up trade trade proposals, the 76ers might have tipped their hand.

The mere possibility of that scenario makes this worth watching.

Former John Beilein-coached Michigan player in NBA: Cavaliers players don’t value winning

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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The Cavaliers tuned out John Beilein then tuned their music to songs about thugs.

Beilein lasted less than a season as Cleveland’s coach.

But one of his former players at Michigan is sticking up for him.

Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated:

Even under the cloak of anonymity, that’s a harsh way for an NBA player to talk about fellow NBA players.

Who said it? There are nine suspects:

Whoever he is, that player lacks full context.

None of those players were on a clear NBA track when arriving in Ann Arbor. They all developed under Beilein’s tutelage. Beilein’s message lands differently when you’re already in the NBA – especially when you’re a proven player like Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. As I said when Beilein was hired, there was going to be a race between Beilein convincing his players he could help them and them believing they could walk all over him. He lost the race. In Ann Arbor, in part because of his power over his less-heralded players, Beilein repeatedly earned buy-in first.

None of those players were on Beilein’s first Michigan team, which went 10-22. Beilein has typically come into a new job preaching fundamentals. That sets a foundation for future winning. But in the short term, the lack of focus on games can lead to plenty of losing. Beilein’s first season with the Wolverines was exhausting, and the end was a welcome respite. Everyone returned for year two better prepared, and Michigan took off. But the NBA season is far longer. The Cavs already endured 54 games under Beilein’s first-year approach. Another 28 was asking a lot.

Maybe Cavaliers players would have been better off in the long run if they accepted Beilein’s teaching. But it’s on Beilein to earn their trust, and he never did.