Three things to know: Ja Morant rolls ankle and NBA just got a little less fun

Memphis Grizzlies v Brooklyn Nets
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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.

1) Ja Morant sprains ankle, and it looks ugly, but X-rays showed no fracture

The NBA is an entertainment business, and Ja Morant is must-watch broadcasting. The lanky point guard in Memphis is just fun to watch — he can drive into the paint and contort his body to make plays, he has the passing-vision gene, and he can drain a three in a defender’s face. Even if he was playing against your team, you had to step back and admire him.

Which is why the NBA felt darker and a little less fun on Monday night.

Ja Morant rolled his left ankle severely against Brooklyn. When the team’s franchise player has to be taken back to the locker room in a wheelchair, things get dark. The MRI with the answers is coming today, but the good news is that the X-rays were negative, reports Malika Andrews of ESPN. By the end of the game, Morant was back on the Grizzlies bench, but in a boot.

Morant contested a Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot mid-range jumper just before halftime, but Morant’s left foot landed awkwardly on top of Luwawu-Cabarrot’s foot — video shows Morant’s ankle rolling 90 degrees. Morant immediately hopped on one foot behind the basket and went to the ground. Medical staff treated him there, but Morant could not put any weight on his ankle, and the Grizzlies had to bring out a wheelchair to take him to the locker room.

Morant — the reigning Rookie of the Year — looked like he had taken a step forward from the bubble. He scored 44 points in the Memphis season opener against San Antonio, then dropped 28 in a loss to Atlanta. The Grizzlies are already without Jaren Jackson Jr. (recovering from left knee surgery).

Without Morant, the NBA is less fun — his dynamic playmaking skills are must-watch. Memphis has its franchise cornerstone with him; hopefully, Morant will not miss too much time.

On the bright side, Memphis showed some grit with their star out and held on to beat a shorthanded Brooklyn team.

The Nets rested both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and they are going to be without Spencer Dinwiddie for the season with a partially torn ACL. That meant Brooklyn was the Caris LeVert show Monday night, and he put up 28 points but needed 29 shots to get there. Luwawu-Cabarrot added 21 points but on 7-of-17 shooting. The Nets were not efficient.

The Grizzlies were just efficient enough. Kyle Anderson scored 28 points, Dillon Brooks added 24 on 9-of-19 shooting, and Brandon Clarke looked the best he has all season — he has really struggled early on — with 16 points, including a tip-in during overtime that put the Grizzlies up for good. Without Morant, Memphis kept attacking — in overtime all the Grizzlies’ buckets came either in the paint or at the free throw line (Anderson had some key ones) to secure the win.

After dominating the first two games of the season, Brooklyn has lost their last two while resting Durant (and Irving on Monday). Steve Nash is looking at the long haul.

2) Donovan Mitchell hits driving game-winner, Utah wins in return to OKC

The last time the Jazz were in Utah, officials in suits came running onto the floor minutes before tip-off because Rudy Gobert had just become the NBA’s first player to test positive for the coronavirus. The game was canceled, and that was the first domino in a chain that put the NBA on hold for six months and sent the league to the Orlando bubble.

Utah will have better memories of this stop. Donovan Mitchell hit a running bank shot in the paint with seven seconds left that proved to be the game-winner, giving the Jazz their first victory in Oklahoma City since Halloween night, 2010 — more than a decade ago.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already has one game-winner to his name this season, and he had a chance at another but his contested driving shot in the lane just missed. Gilgeous-Alexander still finished with 23 points and seven assists, while Luguentz Dort led the Thunder with a career-high 26 points.

Oklahoma City isn’t going to win a lot of games this season, but they are going to be feisty. With Gilgeous-Alexander, Al Horford, George Hill, the improving Dort, this team has some talent and will not be a pushover every night. They have shown some fight this season.

Bogan Bogdanovic scored 23 points, while Mike Conley came one dime short of his first triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists for the Jazz.

3) Lethargic Lakers fall to Trail Blazers

Maybe there’s just something about being the home team at Staples Center this week.

One day after a Clippers team that was mentally checked out got routed in historic fashion by the Mavericks, it was the Lakers turn on Monday. Los Angeles had LeBron James and Anthony Davis in the lineup, and they didn’t get blown out, but Los Angeles lost a winnable game at home because it didn’t bring its “A” game.

Damian Lillard always does — he had 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting, including 5-of-10 from three. CJ McCollum added 20. However, Portland’s bench was the difference in this game, with Gary Trent Jr. adding 28 points and Enes Kanter a dozen.

The Lakers have fallen now to 2-2 on the young season. Portland is good, but this is a winnable home game for the Lakers that got away. The Lakers’ offense has been elite through four games, but the defense — which carried them to the title last season — has started out pedestrian this season. L.A. has work to do on that end.

Los Angeles was without Alex Caruso Monday night due to COVID-19 protocols. That doesn’t mean he has the disease, and no other Lakers players or staff had to miss time due to contact tracing (and Caruso had played for L.A. in Sunday’s win over the Timberwolves). We should know more about how much time he may miss, if any, soon, but right now there are few details.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
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RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.

 

Lonzo Ball undergoes successful knee surgery, out ‘at least a few months’

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Lonzo Ball underwent another arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Wednesday, and the doctors finally had some positive news.

They believe that they’ve “addressed the issue”, and there is “confidence” that he’ll be able to play this season. He’s still expected to miss “at least a few months”, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Charania added that both sides will monitor his progress over

After his first surgery in January, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well at all, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. During media day this week, Ball said that he couldn’t run or jump, so he couldn’t play basketball. Billy Donovan said that they had to think of Ball’s injury as potentially season-ending. So an update that says that he should play this season is considered good news at this point.

Chicago had a 22-13 record with Lonzo last season, but were just 24-23 without him. He averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 3.1 triples per game in his first year with the team.

They have other defenders like Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso, but they don’t have anyone else that can both defend and facilitate the way Lonzo can. They’ll use training camp and the preseason to decide on a starting point guard between Dosunmu, Caruso, and Goran Dragic.

They’re one of the more talented teams in the East, but they may end up playing in the play-in tournament if they’re without Ball for the majority of the season.

 

Five players poised to make first NBA All-Star game this season

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Who is ready to make the leap?

Every season there are players on the cusp of becoming an All-Star — not only has their game improved to be one of the top 24 players in the league, but their stature has risen to the point fans (voting for the starters) or coaches (voting for the reserves) want to see them in the game.

Here are five players on the cusp of making that leap and getting the chance to suit up in Salt Lake City this February for their first All-Star Game.

1. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

He was the centerpiece headed to Indiana in the trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento — and a lot of executives around the league were shocked the Kings gave him up. After the trade, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists a game with a 62.9 true shooting percentage — and this season he’s going to be asked to do even more on a team that is rebuilding (but still has Myles Turner and Buddy Hield on the roster… what exactly is Indiana doing?).

The Pacers will take a step back this season (which doesn’t help his All-Star chances) but Haliburton himself will be unleashed. He will draw the attention of fans and opposing defenses — coaches know and like his game, which is why he stands a good chance to be an East All-Star reserve this season.

2. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

Edwards has made the leap in popularity and stature — he is trash-talking Kermit in Adam Sandler’s Hustle — and he probably should have been an All-Star last season averaging 21.3 points a game.

Edwards has the explosive, highlight-factory game and has the big personality fans love (although his homophobic social media post over the summer does not help his cause). He will be in the spotlight more on an improved Timberwolves team — he will be the outside to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert inside — that should be in the mix for the playoffs in the West. Anthony Edwards has a lot of All-Star Games in his future, this season should be his first.

3. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)

As a rookie, Mobley was already a top-flight defensive big man who averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game — and he came back this season stronger and ready to make a leap on the offensive end. He finished a close second in the Rookie of the Year voting and took that personally, hitting the gym hard and coming out with a chip on his shoulder this season. He flashed potential last season with the ball in his hands, a guy who could beat his man and be a playmaker. Expect to see more of that, more of Mobley out on the perimeter as a creator this season (maybe even grabbing the board and bringing the ball up in transition himself).

He’s going to get noticed on a Cavaliers team with an All-Star backcourt of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, and if he has added to his game this year it’s Mobley’s turn.

4. Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

Maxey got thrust into the starting point guard role last season when Ben Simmons never suited up for the 76ers (and played like the guy the 76ers hoped Markelle Fultz would be). Then he thrived after the trade, working a little more off-ball and being a secondary shot creator off James Harden. Maxey averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 assists a game last season, and he is in a position to have those numbers jump again this season.

Maxey is quick with the ball and can get downhill, with the skill set to finish at the rim or pull up and nail the jumper. He shot 42% from 3 last season, although that may be unsustainable (he can shoot, but over 40% every year may be a big ask). Maxey is adding to that game on the court, but it’s his maturity and decision-making — this is his third year in the league — where the biggest leaps are coming.

The 76ers are going to be in the spotlight a lot and should win a lot of regular season games, and with Maxey shining in that light, the All-Star game is a real possibility.

5. Jalen Brunson (Knicks)

Brunson burst out of Luka Doncic’s shadow last season in Dallas and averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists a game last season — now he’s going to have the ball in his hands every night on the biggest stage in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau will hand Brunson the keys to the Knicks offense, which means the guard’s counting stats should climb — and with that his All-Star chances go up.

There are questions about how the Knicks’ offense will fit together with Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, but Brunson is going to get the chance to prove he can be a No.1 guard. In that spotlight, a trip to Salt Lake City is in the offing.

Steve Nash on Ben Simmons: ‘I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot’

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The last season he played, Ben Simmons took just 9% of his shots from beyond 10 feet — he did not space the floor at all, which meant Joel Embiid had to at times. That lack of a jumper he trusted has always been one of the knocks on Ben Simmons’ game.

Steve Nash doesn’t care. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“That’s why I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s welcome to, but that is not what makes him special and not what we need. He’s a great complement to our team, and he’s an incredible basketball player because of his versatility.”

In an offense with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving setting the table — particularly in the halfcourt — Simmons is going to be asked to play more of a role: Be an elite defender, push the ball in transition, work in some dribble-handoff situations where he can drive the lane as an option, be a cutter off the ball, and be a distributor in the halfcourt. It’s why Simmons’ ideal role with the Nets often gets compared to Draymond Green — it’s a Draymond-lite role. There will be far less of him as lead guard running pick-and-roll.

Will Simmons settle into that role? Also, it should be noted that peak Green (2016 for example) shot better than 30% from 3 and had to be respected out there (last season 29.6% on 1.2 3s per game) — he had to be covered at the arc. Simmons does not. Also, Green did not avoid getting fouled and getting to the line.

Nash has the task of meshing Simmons into the system and figuring out the rotations — can he play Simmons and Nic Claxton together, or is having two non-jump shooters on the floor at once clog the offense? Is Simmons going to play center at points? There is championship-level talent on the Nets roster, but so many questions about fit, defense, and grit.

There’s no question about Simmons taking jumpers, but Nash doesn’t care.