Three things to know: Curry drops 62-point response to critics, then evokes Jordan meme

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The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Stephen Curry has some words for his haters/doubters… 62 of them

Stephen Curry heard the criticism: He’s great with a bunch of All-Star teammates, but he can’t really lead a team. He’s overrated. He’s a shooter, nothing more. Some foolish fans seemed willing to toss out two MVP seasons and three rings (with five straight Finals trips) because of a slow start with a completely new (and less talented) roster. Even Channing Frye got in on the act (without knowing much about Warriors history).

Curry came out and exploded for a career-high 62 points Sunday night, carrying the Warriors to a win over the Trail Blazers and silencing critics everywhere.

After the game, Curry called on the legend of Jordan to silence his critics, “You know the Jordan meme, right? I take all that personally.”

Then he took to Instagram.

Curry was looking to attack from the opening tip Sunday, particularly going right at a quality defender in Robert Covington (who switched onto Curry off Draymond Green picks) and getting to the rim early. The Warriors also started screening for Curry with whichever big man was on the floor to force a switch and let Curry go at Jusuf Nurkic or the overmatched-on-defense Enes Kanter, both of whom struggled to slow Curry in space.

Curry scored 31 in the first half and for the game shot 18-of-31, including 8-of-16 from three. He made a statement, and the rest of the NBA noticed (and had his back).

Curry had some help in this game, particularly Green playing fantastic defense and playing quarterback on that end, getting Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. in the right spots. Plays that had worked for Portland two nights earlier were blown up.

Curry may not be able to do this as often as he could five years ago, but he still can have games like this. He still has the gravity to draw defenders, he still makes plays. The Warriors aren’t winning because the talent around him is not the same as those championship years, the guys around him don’t know how to properly utilize the space he creates, but if you’re using that to criticize Curry you’re not much of a student of the game.

And Curry himself has 62 words for you.

2) Brooklyn has dropped 4-of-5 after loss to Washington. What happened to the early contenders?

Two games into the season, when the Nets crushed Boston on Christmas Day, a few of us were quick to anoint them contenders in the East. Kevin Durant was moving and shooting like he was never injured, Kyrie Irving was knocking down threes and showing off his elite handles, and the Nets had quality depth and role players.

That may have been premature. Brooklyn has lost 4-of-5 since, their defense has been dreadful, and it culminated on Sunday in a loss to a struggling Washington team where Irving and Durant missed clutch shots late.

What has happened to Brooklyn? Their defense has caught up with them. In the Nets’ last five games they have a defensive rating of 113.2 (points per 100 possessions), ranking 26th in the league. (Stats via Cleaning the Glass.)

That’s not the only issue in Brooklyn. The Nets have been weak on the glass, allowing opposing teams to get the offensive rebound on 30.7% of missed shots (third-worst in the league), leading to giving up 20.3 second-chance points a game. The Nets are also top 10 in the league at committing turnovers (or one of the 10 worst, if you want to look at it that way). Brooklyn had 20 turnovers in Sunday’s loss to Washington.

Their stars are putting up numbers — Irving had 30 points and 10 assists Sunday, Durant had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists — but it is not translating to wins. After the game, coach Steve Nash said this about the recent struggles (via Nets Daily).

“It’s early. We can’t lose our minds over it. We can’t get overly frustrated and can’t feel too much tension. There are a lot of good teams still trying to find themselves and we are new. We got a first-time head coach, a new staff, a bunch of guys that haven’t played together. With a short training camp, that made it difficult and here we are in a little struggle but it’s good for us. It’s good to get some tension, some uncomfortable, and got to get comfortable so here we are feeling a little uncomfortable and it can help us grow.”

The Nets are 1-3 on their current homestand, and it doesn’t get any easier with Utah and Philadelphia coming to town next.

3) Jayson Tatum hits game-winner for Boston in win over Detroit

Boston needed that. The Celtics had not looked like world-beaters out of the gate and were in danger of dropping a second game in a row to what had been a winless Pistons squad before Boston came to town.

But Tatum bailed then out when he pulled up from 16 feet and nailed a jumper with 2.9 seconds left Sunday, giving Boston a 122-120 win.

https://twitter.com/NBCSCeltics/status/1345860609104080904

Jaylen Brown led Boston with 31 points — he shot 13-of-16 for the game — and hit a critical three late that set up the Tatum game-winner. It was redemption for Brown following a rough outing Friday in Boston’s loss to Detroit, including a late miss that sealed the loss.

The Celtics knew they needed that win.

“We haven’t been good, especially down the stretch, executing-wise,” Marcus Smart said postgame (he had 17 points on the night). “We got to our spots, we got the ball where we wanted it, and those two players made great shots and great reads. They won us the game.”

Now can Boston build on that in good road tests against Toronto and Miami coming up?

 

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37, Scoot Henderson 28, as both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.