Three things to know: James Harden, Nets brings ‘Scary Hours’ to Bucks, East

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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) James Harden, Nets brings “Scary Hours” to Bucks, East

What is the mood in Brooklyn?

It should be after a dramatic win in a showdown atop the East on Monday, one hoop fans can only hope becomes a playoff series if this is what it’s going to look like.

Brooklyn — still without one-third of its big three (Kyrie Irving missed his seventh straight game) — announced its presence with authority in a showdown of teams atop the East Monday. James Harden and Kevin Durant both had 30 or more points, ran their pick-and-roll to continue to confound defenses, and when it came time to stick the dagger in the Bucks Harden made the hustle play, found Durant, and he buried it.

Brooklyn’s offense with Durant and Harden is nearly impossible to stop — it put up a 120.1 offensive rating in this game against a top-10 defense in Milwaukee (the Bucks defense has improved after a rough start to the season). Brooklyn’s passing and ball movement have jumped to an elite level. Harden finished with 34 points and 12 assists — he’s the first player in NBA history with 30+ points and 10+ assists in his first two games with a new team — while Durant had 30 and nine. The role players also stepped up big: Joe Harris had 20 points and a clutch three late, and DeAndre Jordan shot 6-for-6 on his way to 12 points, 12 rebounds, and he was strong on the defensive end.

The Nets were merciless in hunting mismatches all game (and the Bucks switching more on defense this season made that job easier). When Jrue Holiday got a rest in the fourth, Harden and Durant hunted Pat Connaughton and Dante DiVincenzo and pushed their lead up to eight until Holiday returned. Add another brilliant isolation player in Irving to the mix and the Nets will be unguardable.

It’s just one early-season game, but doubters about these Nets will now have to admit this team has a real shot to come out of the East.

So do the Bucks, who got 34 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, 25 from Khris Middleton, who took over down the stretch, and watched Jrue Holiday show why he will make this a more dangerous playoff team. Their offensive tweaks this season — playing someone in the dunker spot more, giving Antetokounmpo more passing options if teams form a wall in front of him — make this team more dangerous.

The questions are there still for both sides. Will Brooklyn’s offense keep the ball moving and continue to be this selfless when Kyrie Irving is added to the mix, and once the honeymoon of this superstar trio wears off? More than that, the Nets defense continues to be an issue — they won their two games with Harden by putting up incredible offensive numbers, not by getting a lot of stops, and that could be a real problem come the playoffs.

On the other end, the Bucks are still very reliant on the three, and when it goes missing — Milwaukee was 11-for-37 (29.7%) from deep in this game — they are vulnerable. And it goes missing too much in big games. Milwaukee’s depth and newfound defensive strategies are both still being tested. Ultimately, the Bucks and their coach’s real questions are about performing under pressure in a playoff series, questions that cannot be answered until the second round of the playoffs and beyond — we know the Bucks are good in the regular season.

This showdown saw 20 lead changes, 10 in the fourth quarter, and might be the early leader for the most entertaining game of the season.

If that’s a playoff preview, sign me up for seven games.

2) Curry, Warriors will not go quietly into that good night (at least against L.A. teams)

This edition of the Warriors may not be contenders in the West this season, but this team still fights like a champion. And, it still has a weapon — the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll — that was the heart of a couple of titles and remains nearly indefensible.

Golden State leaned on that Curry/Green play in the fourth quarter as the Warriors came from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat the Lakers 115-113.

The Warriors trailed the Clippers by 22 in the third quarter 10 days before and came back to win. There’s something about the water in L.A. that Golden State likes.

“It was similar to the Clippers game. We’ve done it twice now, but want to get leads early,” Curry said postgame.

For the Lakers, this is a one-off loss where they got complacent up early. It happens over the course of 72.

Golden State is not a contender this season; it’s more about getting James Wiseman experience, finding where Andrew Wiggins fits, and building up a foundation that can contend next season when Klay Thompson returns.

Except the Warriors don’t see it that way — this team still has weapons and will be a tough out for whoever lands them in a playoff series.

3) Kevin Porter Jr. on his way out in Cleveland after locker room tantrum

There comes a point where the talent is not worth the trouble. Kevin Porter Jr. has reached that point in Cleveland.

Porter showed real promise as a rookie, averaging 10 points a game in a limited role, and he looked like he could be a third part of the long-term backcourt rotation with Collin Sexton and Darius Garland for the Cavs. Porter had been out for the start of this season due to personal reasons and hadn’t been around the team much, but was working his way back (he had been arrested in the offseason on a weapons charge, but it has been dropped).

When Porter showed up Friday, he found his locker had been moved, his old spot given to veteran Taurean Prince, who came over with Jarrett Allen in the four-team James Harden trade. Porter had his locker moved over to the part of the room with younger, end-of-the-bench guys.

Porter lost it and threw a tantrum — and reportedly even threw some food, according to reports.

GM Koby Altman came in the locker room, confronted Porter, and would not back down. Reportedly words were exchanged (and not just food).

Now the Cavaliers are reportedly looking to trade Porter, and if that doesn’t work, they are going to cut him outright. Porter, the No. 30 pick in the 2019 draft, has a guaranteed contract for this season and next, totaling $4.1 million. Cleveland may be willing to eat that to get him out of the locker room.

Getting rid of a talented young player is not something the Cavaliers should do lightly, but there comes a point when the talent isn’t worth the distraction and problems.  If Porter is there for Cleveland — and trying to start the food fight scene from Animal House might cross that line — it’s time to move on.

You can be sure Porter will get another chance with another team. If a franchise has strong veteran locker room leadership, it should consider adding Porter Jr. The talent is there, and talent is too hard to come by in this league.

Curry drains 7 3-pointers, Nets start homestand with win over Blazers

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 31 points, Seth Curry added a season-high 29 off the bench and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-94 on Sunday.

Curry was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers and had his highest point total with the Nets and the most by a Brooklyn reserve this season.

“I’ve always felt like if I get good shots I’m going to make them at a high clip,” Curry said. “Our offense was flowing pretty well. Guys found me open early on to start the game and I felt pretty good, aggressive.”

Kyrie Irving added 22 points for the Nets. Ben Simmons took just three shots but had 12 rebounds and eight assists.

“Ben did a great job of getting downhill,” Curry said. “He’s a great passer (and) he knows how to find me out there on the floor.”

Jerami Grant scored 29 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Anfernee Simons added 15 points and Justice Winslow had 14.

The Nets have won four of their last six games, while the Trail Blazers, who are playing without Damian Lillard, have dropped five of six.

“Tough little stretch that we’re in right now,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It is what it is. Every team goes through it.”

Brooklyn made 52.6% of its shots from the field overall, and 42.9% from 3-point range, in the second matchup between the teams in 10 days.

“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Durant said. “It’s about baskets.”

With the Nets leading by four entering the fourth, Curry scored Brooklyn’s first eight points of the quarter. Royce O'Neale‘s free throw gave the Nets a 93-87 lead and following a Portland turnover, Curry made a 3 that extended the advantage to nine.

Nurkic sandwiched a hook shot and free throw around two free throws by Irving to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 98-90. However, after a timeout, Durant hit a 3 to push the lead to 101-90.

Brooklyn led 58-57 at halftime, and 84-80 after the third quarter.

T.J. Warren targets Dec. 2 for return to court for Brooklyn Nets

2022-2023 Brooklyn Nets Media Day
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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T.J. Warren was a breakout star in the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers.

Warren has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

The Nets signed him this season hoping he could get healthy and provide some depth off the bench at the four. We’re about to find out if that can happen on Dec. 2, with Warren targeting his return then Toronto, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets have not confirmed this timeline. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has recently talked up Warren’s workouts and hinted that a return is getting close.

A healthy Warren could be a big boost for a Nets team looking for more of a spark off the bench.

 

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.