Three things to know: Harden fined, Rockets/Thunder postponed, we’re not in the bubble anymore

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The NBA season has returned, and so has the NBC Sports daily NBA roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed, every key moment from the night before in the Association in one place. Three Things will be right here every weekday during the season… although we are taking the rest of this week off to celebrate the holidays with our families.

1) Number of days without an NBA game postponement: 1 0

Russell Westbrook’s complaints about a lack of accountability in the Rockets’ organization seem almost prophetic now.

How bad were things for the Houston Rockets Wednesday? James Harden — in the middle of an increasingly ugly attempt to force a trade out of Houston — was fined $50,000 by the NBA for violating league coronavirus protocols by going to a party without a mask (Harden says it was not at a strip club).

And that was not the worst thing that happened to Houston on Wednesday.

The Rockets opening night game against the Thunder had to be postponed because four Rockets reportedly went to an area apartment to get haircuts together.

Kenyon Martin Jr., one of those who went, tested positive for the coronavirus and is officially listed on the Houston injury report as “Not With Team — Self Isolating.” The other three who reportedly went for a haircut — John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jae’Sean Tate — were sent home due to contract tracing. Throw in Ben McLemore having already tested positive, Harden not being allowed to play following his party adventure, another unnamed player being held out due to an inconclusive test, and one player actually being injured (Chris Clemons), and the Rockets didn’t have the minimum eight available players to play a game.

Their first game. The season opener. The league went an entire one day without a postponed game.

This is what the NBA signed up for not heading back into a bubble to play this season. The league and players union made a calculation and chose to play in largely empty arenas with travel between cities. Postponed games are part of the price. The league expected postponements — and a group getting a haircut together is how this virus will spread through a team. A simple, seemingly harmless, even team-bonding event can cancel an NBA game. Welcome to 2020.

This is just the first game postponed. There will be more.

As for Harden, he will not change his ways at this point — especially not while trying to force his way out of Houston. He reportedly tested negative every day this week, and he already had the disease during the offseason. As for that $50,000 fine, it sounds like a lot but amounts to about .001% of his salary. That’s not changing his behavior. Harden is not being suspended for his actions, so he’s not going to miss a game’s worth of his paycheck ($284,000 under the CBA fine system). Maybe that would have got his attention, but maybe not.

It’s been a wild season in Houston and they haven’t even played a game yet.

2) Jayson Tatum for Boston, Buddy Hield for Sacramento make game-winning plays, and we have videos

There were a couple of dramatic endings in the NBA on Wednesday night.

It’s a make or miss league, and Boston made the big ones on Wednesday while Milwaukee didn’t. Celtics’ star Jayson Tatum drained game-winning, I’m-sure-he-called-glass three over Giannis Antetokounmpo that proved to be the game-winner. Tatum loves the step-back to the left shot, it’s a go-to move, but from three over the arm of Antetokounmpo is not a high-percentage look. Tatum got it to fall.

After a foul by Tristan Thompson on the other end, Antetokounmpo got the chance to tie the game with two free throws. He’s a career 72% free throw shooter, but he missed the second one. Boston won 122-121. Play that ending out 100 times and Tatum either misses that three or Antetokounmpo makes that free throw at least 75% of the time. But on Wednesday night, Boston was the one making the shots.

In Denver, the Nuggets had the game in hand. Denver was up two with 12 seconds left in overtime and they had the ball — the Nuggets win percentage was 93.9%. All they had to do was run out the clock, but Will Barton decided to go for the game-sealing layup rather than dribble it out and force the Kings to foul. Sacramento’s De'Aaron Fox made a game-saving block, Harrison Barnes got the ball going the other way and drove to the rim to tie the game.

The Nuggets still had a chance to win, they tried to get the ball to Nikola Jokic, but Barnes stole the ball and drove to hit his own game-winning layup, but Barton came flying in to block that shot — and there was Buddy Hield for the game-winning tip-in.

Rough way to start the season for a Nuggets team with lofty goals this season.

3) Karl-Anthony Towns speaks emotionally about his mother, basketball after opening night win

The NBA’s official record will show Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead his Minnesota team to a season-opening win over Detroit Wednesday.

That will not begin to tell the real story. Towns lost his mother to COVID-19 in April and after Wednesday’s game talked openly about the emotion of that and returning to play, via Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic.

“You know what, I don’t even recognize most of my other games and years I’ve played and how I felt those days. If I can be honest with ya’ll for a second, I mean, I don’t really recall or really care. I only understand what happened from April 13th on. Because you may see me smiling and stuff, but that Karl died on April 13. He’s never coming back I don’t remember that man. You’re talking to the physical me, but my soul has been killed off a long ago.…

“I’m very fortunate, like I said on TV. I’ve got my kids my niece and nephew who are back in the house waiting for me. My sister, who has been with me and always been my mom’s favorite. She says she wasn’t, it was me. I think it’s her. That’s just brother and sister.

“I want to answer your question, but that man you’re talking about from April 13 or before. I don’t know him. I don’t recall any part of him.”

Towns is still clearly grieving. I’m not about to play armchair psychologist from 2000 miles away, if playing is his therapy, then all we can do is hope it helps him. But if Towns doesn’t want to play right now, he shouldn’t feel obligated to do so, he should be given the space to grieve in the way that best suits him. Whatever that way is, Towns should know he has a lot of support. There is a nation of basketball fans who want nothing but the best for him.

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).

Donovan Mitchell is not looking back on summer, says now is happiest he’s been in league

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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The New York Knicks chose not to go all-in last summer and bring Donovan Mitchell home. The kid who played his AAU games in Manhattan and grew up a Knicks fan watching games at the Garden was open to it, but the Knicks lowballed the offer and Koby Altman and the Cavaliers swooped in.

Mitchell returned to New York Sunday, but he wasn’t looking back — he’s happy where he is now in Cleveland, on one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“What’s done is done, and I’m happy as hell to be where I’m at,” he said. “At the end of the day, this decision was made and I don’t think I’ve been happier since I’ve been in the league. But I think for me it’s always going to be motivation to come back and play well in my hometown, but you could say that about anybody. But with what happened this summer, it’s over with, it happened and I’m happy to be with the Cavaliers.”

Whether Rose holding back picks — concerned about having enough ammunition to bring in the next star to New York to go with Mitchell — was a mistake will play out over time. It depends on what bold move Rose makes next with the roster. Whatever decision he makes will be compared to the “what if” of Mitchell, fair or not.

Mitchell has been better than expected in Cleveland — averaging 28.4 points a game shooting 42.1% on 3-pointers — and has fit beautifully in the backcourt with Darius Garland, as well as with the front line of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Together those four form the cornerstone of a team that could contend for a title in the coming years. Mitchell is loving every minute of it.

That group (minus Allen, who remains out with a lower back contusion) wasn’t enough on Sunday against a desperate Knicks team. New York got the 92-81 win behind 23 from Jalen Brunson (Mitchell also had 23).

 

Three things to know: Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham’s vision

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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) Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham‘s vision

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham before NBA training camps opened. 

This is what Darvin Ham envisioned.

In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 35.6 points on 66.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He has been dominant — and his 55-point game leading the Lakers to a win over the Wizards on Sunday put him in historic company.

What Ham envisioned was more than just Davis playing the five and going back to an All-NBA — if you ask Patrick Beverley or Kristaps Porzingis after the game, MVP — level, it’s that the rest of the team would follow.

So far it has. In its last 11 games, the Lakers are 8-3 with the third-best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense over that stretch, with a +7.2 net rating. What’s more, the shooting woes that dragged them down early in the season have also righted themselves.

This hot streak started against a soft part of the schedule, but road wins over the Bucks and Wizards show it isn’t a fluke. This is a team gaining confidence, and while it likely will not sustain this level of success for the remaining five months of the season, it’s a sign of what this team is capable of when clicking.

Los Angeles also still has a lot of work to do. Even with this recent run they are 10-12 and sit 12th in the West — they have to keep this going long enough to get into the playoff mix. Then we can discuss what kind of postseason threat they are.

Two Wizards notes out of their loss to the Lakers Sunday.

First, Bradley Beal left the game in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He did not return and after the game there wasn’t much of an update on whether he will miss time, and if so how much. It’s not a good sign for a Wizards team without much margin for error.

Also, Daniel Gafford had maybe the dunk of the year. This is insane.

2) Damian Lillard returns to court and Trail Blazers

With Damian Lillard sidelined by a strained calf, the Trail Blazers dropped 7-of-8 and fell to .500 on the season (11-11). They were not the same team.

Sunday he returned — looking unbothered by any calf issue — and suddenly the ball was moving again, and the offense clicking in a win over the Pacers. Lillard was 5-of-10 from 3 on his way to 21 points, but just his presence opened up the offense so Jerami Grant could score 28. Anfernee Simons, coming off his insane 45-point night, added 22.

Lillard doesn’t have to carry Portland, he doesn’t have to drop 40 every night to have a chance to win (see Doncic, Luka). Grant and Simons can help carry the scoring load. But this is also a team without much margin for error, so they struggle without the threat of Lillard, the floor shrinks and the ball doesn’t move the same way.

With Lillard back, the Trail Blazers are a threat every night. In a tight West — the Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers and Warriors for the sixth seed — they can’t afford any more slumps like the recent one. And they can’t afford to be without Lillard for an extended stretch.

3) Does he have a puncher’s chance? Floyd Mayweather wants to buy NBA team

The instinct is to bet against Floyd Mayweather ever owning an NBA team for a couple of reasons, but when you’re talking about a boxer with a 50-0 career record, bet against him at your own risk.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

There are two key questions about Mayweather’s being able to purchase an NBA team.

The first is, does he really have the money? Mayweather says he does, and last year said his net worth was above $1.2 billion. Whether that is true, and whether that money is liquid or if it’s tied up in speculative investments, is not something we know (it’s not like Mayweather has to make his financial situation public). However, you can be sure it’s something the NBA would have its accountants look into — Mayweather would have to open his books to them to get into the club.

The second issue is Mayweather’s history of controversies — including homophobic comments and pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. The NBA vets its owners looking to avoid public relations blowback, and you can be sure a Mayweather ownership would lead to a lot of hard questions for a league that paints itself as progressive.

Even if he has the $2 billion and the league approves him, Mayweather will need partners in this process. The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that may be double the $2 billion number Mayweather threw out. As for potential expansion teams (probably headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources (think the second half of this decade), and the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jose Alvarado put up a 38-spot for the Pelicans and had the New Orleans fans singing his name.

Jose Alvarado had Pelicans’ fans singing his name after 38-point game

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jose Alvarado brought fans to their feet repeatedly, and they gleefully sang his name.

Alvarado highlighted a career-high 38-point performance with a career-best eight 3-pointers, and the Pelicans won their fourth straight game by beating the Denver Nuggets 121-106 on Sunday.

“I’m happy he had a big night,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s fun. This is why you watch the game. This is why guys go out and compete and work hard, to have moments like this.”

Alvarado, a 6-foot guard whose production has far exceeded expectations since he went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021, came off the bench with the Pelicans trailing by 14 in the first quarter and immediately scored eight points during an 11-1 run.

“Jose, in that moment, he felt his number was called and he he had to make a play – do something. He did that and more,” said Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson, who added 25 points in his typically forceful way around the basket. “The shots he made were huge.”

It wasn’t long before fans began serenading Alvarado with a soccer-crowd-style chant replacing “Ole,” with “Jose.”

“Jose was the guy tonight,” Nuggets forward Bruce Brown said. “He killed us.”

Denver coach Mike Malone said his team “never adjusted” when it became apparent Alvarado was going to be a premier scorer in the game.

“Give him credit,” Malone said, “but we did a poor job, obviously, of guarding him.”

Alvarado hit 12 of 19 shots and missed just three of his 11 3-point attempts. He also scored on explosive driving floaters over significantly taller defenders in the lane.

“I’m not a big scorer,” said Alvarado, whose game-high in college was 29 points.

He couldn’t recall scoring as many as 38 at any level, adding with a smile, “This is the one I’m going to remember.”

When he checked out of the game, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly. Teammates hugged Alvarado as he came to the bench, and some playfully poured water over his head after the game ended.

“This team is special,” Alvarado said. “It’s more than just teammates to us. We’re all brothers and we all want to see each other win. When someone’s hot, they’re going to give you the ball and that’s what they did.”

Because Alvarado lacks the “physical attributes a prototypical NBA player would have,” Williamson said, the reserve guard represents the type of “underdog story” people love.

“He’s making an impact. He’s the X-factor for us,” Williamson said. “So, when people see that, and he’s telling them to stand up and get hyped, it’s infectious energy. You can’t help but want to be a part of that.”

Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points for New Orleans despite being limited to less than 14 minutes by foul trouble. Willy Hernangomez, who played nearly 20 minutes in place of Valanciunas, responded with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Trey Murphy scored 12 points, including a pair of driving dunks and a 3-pointer from 27 feet away. That helped the Pelicans, who were without Brandon Ingram for a fourth straight game, win for the ninth time in 11 games.

Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, who’ve lost two straight on the heels of four straight victories. Aaron Gordon scored 19 points and Jamal Murray 18 for Denver.

But Denver committed 19 turnovers, which led to 18 Pelicans points.

“When you play better teams on the road, you can’t beat yourself,” Malone said. “Unfortunately, tonight was another example of us doing that.”

Jokic had 13 points in the first nine minutes. His end-to-end layup as he was fouled and two free throws shortly after gave Denver an early 30-16 lead.

But about the time Jokic checked out, Alvarado checked in and hit two 3s and a driving layup to help the Pelicans close it to 31-27 by the end of the opening quarter.

Jokic had 21 points and Alvarado 19 by halftime, when Denver led 60-59.