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) Chicago’s 20-point comeback on Portland teaches us something about both teams
For the first quarter Tuesday, this looked like another in the surprisingly long line of blowout NBA games this season. Portland couldn’t miss from deep, draining their first four from beyond the arc on their way to eight in the first quarter. The Trail Blazers led by 20 in the first half.
But the game turned. Chicago went on a 13-0 run in the second quarter to tighten it up, then played with confidence in the fourth quarter, getting buckets at the rim and draining threes. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum was 3-of-9 shooting in the frame, just part of a Trail Blazers team that shot 30.4% and was 3-of-16 from three in fourth. A gutty Bulls team battled its way to a small lead when Zach LaVine — who had 18 points on the night — hit the dagger shot.
Chicago won 111-108, improving the Bulls to 4-4 while dropping the Trail Blazers below .500.
This game taught us something about both teams.
Chicago: LaVine was honest when asked afterward if this was a game the Bulls would have won a year ago.
He added (via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago), “This is a different mentality we have this year. Even with the losses we have had, we’re learning from them. We did a good job of fighting back (Tuesday).”
LaVine was no fan of former coach Jim Boylen, but there is clearly a different energy around this Bulls team this season. When we talk about the differences a new coach will make, it’s often focused on Xs and Os, but often the biggest difference a coach can bring is in mentality, in getting through to players and getting them to focus and execute a gameplan. Billy Donovan can do that, and the Bulls are better for it.
Portland: Their defense is a real issue — particularly their halfcourt defense.
The Trail Blazers have the third-worst defense in the NBA this season overall, and it’s dead last in halfcourt sets (via Cleaning the Glass). Terry Stotts changed up the defensive system, having his bigs play out and be more aggressive rather than sticking with a drop coverage most of the time on the pick-and-roll, plus other tweaks. It hasn’t taken hold yet — in part because Jusuf Nurkic admits he’s not where he needs to be physically — and it’s costing the Blazers games. They had a lead in this one and couldn’t hold it.
It’s too early in the season to write Portland’s new defense off, but in a deep and unforgiving Western Conference it cannot keep dropping games like this for long.
2) Milwaukee Bucks, LeBron James make statements in the wake of no charges filed in Jacob Blake shooting
When Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back at close range by a Kenosha, Wisc., police officer on Aug. 23, it almost ended the NBA restart in Orlando. Players — who had made social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement a cornerstone of the NBA bubble — felt their voices were not being heard, they were not making an impact.
The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team not to play. Their wildcat strike spread to other teams in the bubble, and ultimately to other sports. (Had it not been for a phone call between former president Barack Obama and players such as LeBron James and Chris Paul, the league may not have restarted.)
Tuesday, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced no charges would be filed against the police officers who shot Blake.
In response, the Milwaukee Bucks issued this statement as an organization.
The Bucks organization remains firmly against excessive use of force by law enforcement. This past year shed light on the ongoing racial injustices facing our African American and other marginalized communities. Reoccurring instances of excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging the Black community must stop. We will continue to work to enact policy change so these incidents no longer exist. As an organization, we remain strongly committed to address issues of social injustice and anti-racism and to make meaningful change for African Americans and all marginalized members of our community.
After the Lakers’ win against Memphis Tuesday, LeBron James said this:
“I’m smart enough to know that even though we are playing a game of basketball that there’s so much more going on in the world. So much more that’s even more important than us playing a game. To hear what happened in Kenosha today was a blow to the heart and to the gut, not only to that community, but to us and to every Black person that has been a part of this process, seeing these outcomes for so long.”
“It keeps happening. It’s sad,” the Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard said. “Hopefully, in the future, we can get these guys to stop releasing fire on us. We got to change the people that are in the uniform.”
Blake remains paralyzed below the waist from the incident.
3) Kevin who? Kyrie Irving puts up 29 points, leads Nets to a blowout of Jazz
A lot of the focus on what Brooklyn has done right this season has been on Kevin Durant — and with good reason. The former MVP and two-time champion has looked a lot like his old self in a return from a torn Achilles.
Kyrie Irving’s impressive play this season has been overshadowed a little — and it shouldn’t be; this is some of the best basketball of his career. With Durant sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, Irving took over from the start Tuesday and scored 29 points in Brooklyn’s 130-96 rout of Utah.
Irving is averaging 27.1 points a game, shooting better than 50.4% from the field, but more importantly, he is pushing the pace and getting this team to play faster. Irving is bringing leadership and energy nightly we haven’t always seen from him. Irving is playing maybe the best basketball of his career to start this season, which bodes well for Brooklyn.