Three Things to Know: This is the confident Markelle Fultz we’ve been waiting for

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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) That’s the confident Markelle Fultz we’ve been waiting for, he has 21-point triple-double to lead Magic past Lakers. When Philadelphia threw in the towel on Markelle Fultz and the nerve issue that wrecked his jump shot, they did the former No. 1 pick a favor and sent him to Orlando. A favor because they got him out of the bright spotlight of Philadelphia — a big market and a team with big expectations — and to a franchise that has developed players, an out of the way place on the NBA map where he could play, make mistakes, and not have his every jumper over-analyzed.

Coach Steve Clifford has been bringing Fultz along slowly, building his confidence game-by-game, making him a starter, giving him rope, and not just yanking him after every mistake.

Wednesday night we saw how well that has worked — this is now a confident Fultz who will body up LeBron James, move him out of the way, and get a bucket.

Fultz had a triple-double — 21 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists — and was the heart of Orlando’s upset win against the Anthony Davis-less Lakers on Wednesday, 119-118. That ended the Lakers’ nine-game win streak. It was Fultz’s best game of the season as he took over late and played fearlessly.

Fultz still has a ways to go to live up to the potential that made him a No. 1 pick — he was 0-of-4 in this game on shots outside the paint and is nowhere near a threat from three yet with his work-in-progress jumper — but he’s playing with confidence now. The Magic have a real player at the point.

Orlando also has a real player in Aaron Gordon, and he had a couple of monster dunks against the Lakers.

Damn.

2) Kyrie Irving after Nets loss: “We need one more piece or two more pieces” to go with him and Kevin Durant. After missing 26 games Kyrie Irving is back and, well, be careful what you wish for Brooklyn.

The Nets got their star player back a few games ago, but after Wednesday’s loss to Philadelphia — where the Sixers had another gear and dominated the fourth quarter 31-16 — Irving did not exactly give the Saint Crispin’s Day speech to fire up the troops for battle:

Irving was 6-of-21 shooting for the night and 1-of-7 in the fourth quarter, looking like a guy with some tired legs playing his first back-to-back since his return. He sounded frustrated and spoke his mind.

Do the Nets need more “pieces” to compete with the Bucks at the top of the East? Maybe. Probably. But it’s tough to judge with Irving just returned from injury, Kevin Durant likely out for the season, Caris LeVert also just back from injury, Garrett Temple out, and all the new faces still adjusting to playing next to each other. This season was always a placeholder until the Nets got healthy next season. Maybe Brooklyn can add some quality role players over the summer, but it feels early to call out the organization like that.

The Nets brought in Sean Marks as GM, hired Kenny Atkinson as coach, and built a Spursian “team first, lunchpail work ethic” squad that ground its way to the playoffs last season without “stars,” then went 13-13 without Irving (and Durant) to get back in the playoff mix this season. The Nets have an identity. With Irving now, and Durant over the summer, the Nets will add elite talent but big egos to that mix, guys used to winning by doing things their way. It’s an interesting chemistry experiment, one where we already seem to be getting a reaction.

3) Nuggets star point guard Jamal Murray leaves game with a sprained ankle, he’s going to miss some time. This is a blow to a Nuggets team sitting second in the West — their second-best player is going to miss some time.

Jamal Murray pushed out to contest a three-pointer by Terry Rozier and appeared to land on Rozier’s foot. You can see Murray’s ankle roll in the video. He instantly grabbed at it, and he was eventually helped off the floor by teammates.

This quote from Nuggets coach Mike Malone postgame did not sound positive.

Murray is averaging 17.6 points and 4.6 assists a game for Denver. Expect to see Monte Morris get some more run with Murray out, but this is a setback for a Nuggets team in the middle of a tight race in the West.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

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Three Things 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) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?

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.