Three Things to Know: Kneeling, LeBron game-winner, it’s good to have the NBA back

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The NBA is back, but with all the news coming out of the bubble there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out into the afternoon — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) The games started with players kneeling during the anthem…

NBA players went to Orlando saying they would not let the return of games become a distraction to the Black Lives Matter and social justice movements. They would keep the message in front of people.

They did that on opening night, kneeling during the national anthem before both games. Before the first game, Jazz and Pelicans players, wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, locked arms and took a knee. It was a powerful moment.

The Lakers and Clippers did the same thing before their opening night game.

The team coaches and referees also kneeled.

“[We] played for something. We stood up for something. We kneeled for something,” the Clippers Paul George said after the game. “This league is all about unity. Can’t say it enough. I love being a part of it because of the brotherhood of this league. At the same time, we know that we can change things as well.”

“There’s been progress, but in the past when we’ve seen progress we’ve let our foot off the gas a little bit,” LeBron James said of social justice movements around the NBA (after hitting the game-winner against the Clippers). “We can’t do that. We want to continue to keep our foot on the gas, push forward, continue to spread love throughout America. We’re dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality, not only in my neighborhoods, not only with Black people, but with people of color. It’s something we want to continue to have people’s ears open to. And we have ears now.”

More than just words, players are taking concrete steps big and small to further that cause. The NBA and players union are helping with that. It was a good look for everyone.

2) … Then the first game ended with everyone asking, “where is Zion?”

The Utah Jazz are a good team trying to find a rhythm, but the New Orleans Pelicans needed this game — they are the ones in a sprint to make the play-in game against Memphis. New Orleans simply cannot afford to lose winnable games, yet the Pelicans — who led 96-89 with 7:00 left — did just that. They blew another fourth-quarter lead, a season-long trend. This come-from-ahead loss was a punch to the gut.

In what had been a sloppy-at-times back-and-forth game, Rudy Gobert sank two free throws — giving him 14 points on the night — to put the Jazz up 106-104 with 6.9 seconds left. New Orleans had one last shot to force overtime, or maybe even get the win.

New Orleans needed its closer and, rookie or not, Zion Williamson is that guy. He had 13 points on the night in 15 minutes of action, seemed an obvious substitution here — New Orleans needed a bucket and the rookie gets buckets.

However, Zion reached his minutes limit (one coach Alvin Gentry refused to discuss pregame but owned up to after), and he wouldn’t put his rookie star in for that last play. For seven seconds.

Should Zion have been on the court?

Yes, for the final shot he should have been. Having Derrick Favors on the court instead allowed the Jazz to switch out and stop the original plan for the Pelicans’ final shot, a red-hot J.J. Redick coming off a triple pin down (although it was open enough, Ingram didn’t try to get him the ball). The backup plan was Brandon Ingram in isolation. He didn’t get off a bad shot, it just missed.

But the gravity of Zion in that setting might well have opened up something better. We’ll never know.

Overall this was a game where two teams played unimpressive defense. Both teams need to tighten up on that end if they are going to make any noise in Orlando.

Despite missing the game-winner, Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 23 points, but another impressive night from him caught the eye of Kevin Durant.

Utah got 23 points off the bench from Jordan Clarkson, plus 20 each from Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell.

Gobert scored the NBA’s first points in its return and had the game-winner at the end.

“Life works in mysterious ways,” Gobert said after the game.

3) Would the NBA be back without a LeBron James game-winner?

It just seemed scripted.

Paul George had tied the game with a three, and things were poised to go to overtime.

LeBron James just knows how to make plays when it matters — he missed his first attempt but followed up his own shot and his second attempt proved to be the game-winner in a dramatic 103-101 win. LeBron wasn’t done, made a great read and switch on the other end — the Clippers tried to run something similar to what got George a three, but LeBron read it and jumped out to blow it up — to preserve the win.

It was a perfect end for Lakers’ nation — and just NBA fans looking for drama. The league brought that opening night.

This game started out looking like a preseason game — 21 fouls in the first quarter while the teams combined to shoot 2-of-15 from three. Scott Foster wanted everyone to know he was there in the bubble. Both teams also struggled with turnovers. It wasn’t pretty but it was to be expected on the first real game after four months off.

With two top-five defenses, these Los Angeles showdowns turn into gritty, grinding games.

Davis said afterward he thrives in those kinds of games — and he did again. His 34 points came on 19 shots, but he got to the free-throw line 17 times. He was a beast on the defensive end as well. The Lakers also got 16 points from Kyle Kuzma and 11 on a strong night from Dion Waiters. The Lakers were +17 in the 21 minutes these two shared the court.

The Clippers got 30 points from Paul George, who looked healthy and rested, and 28 from Kawhi Leonard. The problem is the other Clippers shot 14-of-41 (34.2%). The Clippers missed having Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench to spark that unit, and without them the team’s execution was off all night. Doc Rivers can live with that, the Clipper games that matter against the Lakers will not come for more than a month.

Bonus Thing to Know: It’s official: Tom Thibodeau is the coach of the New York Knicks.

We’d known for five days — and, frankly, for a lot longer than that — Tom Thibodeau would be the next coach of the New York Knicks. Thursday, it became official.

And it’s a great story.

The Knicks got their man. Thibodeau is as good a coach as was available, someone capable of building a culture of hard work, player development (even if his record there is uneven), and personal responsibility — top to bottom — that the franchise needs.

But it means Thibodeau needs to make changes from what we have seen before. He has in the past run players into the ground with short rotations and heavy minutes for the few guys he trusts — in his last full season in Minnesota, both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns were in the top 10 in total minutes played, and both played a full 82-games schedule. The Knicks have promising young players in Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett, but they shouldn’t be playing 38 minutes a night.

Beyond that, the Knicks front office needs to draft better, but then Thibodeau needs to trust his young players, let them play through some mistakes, and coach them up. He needs to show patience, something not considered a Thibodeau strength in the back. Thibs needs to hire development-minded assistant coaches and giving them room to operate (sources around the league have told NBC Sports Thibodeau likes to control everything, designing every practice and game plan, down to the writing on the whiteboard before games and more).

This is a good hire. It can work. But if both Thibodeau and the Knicks organization don’t evolve, it will just be more of the same in Madison Square Garden.

Wembanyama encore: 36 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks against Ignite

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Victor Wembanyama is for real.

And I don’t mean real tall, although he is that, too. Check out this image of him next to Rudy Gobert, who is a legit 7’1″.

Wembanyama is for real like a genuine generational talent — in his second game against the G-League Ignite he had 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four blocked shots.

That comes off his 37-point performance in the first meeting where he hit 7-of-11 3-pointers and had five blocks.

To be clear: That is 73 points, 15 rebounds, nine blocks, shooting 9-of-18 from 3 (and 22-of-44 overall) across two games against a good talent level. And he is 18 years old.

Everyone in and around the NBA has been trying to come up with player comps — Kristaps Porzingis, Ralph Sampson, Tim Duncan — but the reality is Wembanyama is one of one.

Scoot Henderson — the G-League guard projected as the No. 2 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft — played just five minutes in this game after bumping his knee while guarding Wembanyama. He was taken out of the game and X-rays found a bone bruise, he did not return. He is officially day-to-day the team announced.

Wembanyama and his Metropolitans 92 got the win in this rematch, 112-106.

Draymond Green not expected to miss any games, Warriors to handle discipline ‘internally’

2022 NBA Summer League - Golden State Warriors v New York Knicks
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Draymond Green is not expected to miss any games for punching teammate Jordan Poole during an altercation during practice, Warriors GM Bob Myers said Thursday.

That’s not to say he is escaping any punishment, it will just be handled internally, Myers said.

Green showed up at Chase Center and apologized to the team and then left, he did not practice with the Warriors, reports Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Draymond apologized to the team this morning, Jordan was there in the room, I was there in room with the team, the coaches, the players and we heard that,” Myers said.

Whatever punishment the Warriors are handing down to Green, it will not include missing games, Myers said.

Coach Steve Kerr added, “I expect [Green] to return on Saturday and get back at it.” That implies a couple of days suspension, likely with a hefty fine.

Kerr was also quick to shoot down the rumors of Poole having an “attitude” around camp as he comes up on a massive contract extension. Stephen Curry echoed that, saying those reports are “absolute BS.”

The Warriors have seen their fair share of Draymond Green incidents over the years, and as a locker room and franchise they know how to move on from it. While this made headlines, the Warriors will shrug it off and move on.

Miami, Milwaukee have their eyes on Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
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The Heat and Bucks don’t just have interest in the same player. They’re looking to replace the same player.

Two years ago, P.J. Tucker helped Milwaukee win their first championship in a half-century. Last season, he helped Miami lock up the top seed in the East and make the Conference Finals.

With Tucker in Philadelphia, both the Heat and Bucks are looking to fill the void with a different lockdown enforcer that can stretch the floor.

Jae Crowder and the Suns agreed that he won’t participate in practice as the team looks to accommodate his trade request. In a recent ESPN+ article, Zach Lowe made it clear that both Miami and Milwaukee are interested in pursuing a trade for Crowder.

“The Bucks have internal interest in Crowder as that Tucker replacement after getting into the recent Jerami Grant and Bojan Bogdanovic discussions, sources say. They will search all season for one more piece.

“The Heat have interest in Crowder too, sources say, but finding matching salary is tough until Dewayne Dedmon, Caleb Martin and Victor Oladipo become trade-eligible in the winter. Martin might start, and the Heat are optimistic Oladipo can play a huge role.”

Grant and Bogdanovic were traded to Portland and Detroit, respectively. The Heat may struggle to find a trade that works since Phoenix probably won’t want to take on Duncan Robinson’s contract. Dedmon, Martin and Oladipo will become trade eligible on January 15th.

Crowder has a history with the Heat, as he helped them make the NBA Finals in the bubble. He helped Phoenix make the NBA Finals two seasons ago and then helped them finish with the best record in the NBA last season.

LeBron says Wembanyama is an ‘alien’ and a ‘generational talent’

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There was a time when LeBron James was the “it” kid coming for the NBA — a freakish athlete like nobody in the league had seen. A player the size of Karl Malone with the quickness and skills of an elite point guard.

Now the “it” guy is Victor Wembanyama, the 7’4″ mold-breaking big out of France — and LeBron is impressed.

“Everybody’s been a unicorn over the last few years, well he’s more like an alien,” LeBron said after the Lakers’ preseason loss to the Suns in Las Vegas. “I’ve never seen, no one’s ever seen anyone as tall as he is, but it’s fluid and as graceful as on the floor…

“His ability to put the ball on the floor, shoot step-back jumpers on the post, step-back 3s, catch-and-shoot 3s, block shots. He’s for sure a generational talent. And hopefully he continues to stay healthy, that’s the most important for him personally, and as you could tell he loves the game. He was smiling a lot while playing the game last night. I think it was the two best players in the draft on the floor last night and they both did their thing.”

Wembanyama is projected to be the No.1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, just ahead of point guard Scoot Henerson, who scored 28 points with nine assists of his own leading his G-League Ignite to a win over Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92. Wembanyama scored 37 points in the game, hit 7-of-11 shots from 3, had five blocks and a few other shots changed because of his length (7’11” wingspan) and the threat of his block.

Wembanyama and Henderson face off again tonight in a second game between the Ignite and Metropolitans 92 just outside Las Vegas in Henderson (9:30 p.m. ET on NBATV).

Wembanyama will play, with his agent telling ESPN there are no plans to shut the No.1 pick down to avoid injury and protect his draft status. “He’ll never agree to that. He wants to compete and get better,” Bouna Ndiaye said.

LeBron looked back on his time as the “it” player and said simply, “thank got there wasn’t social media” at the time. It’s a different world now, but game still recognizes game.

And LeBron recognizes it in Wembanyama.