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.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”