Three things to know: Zion Williamson, Pelicans making strides, have long way to go


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) Zion Williamson, Pelicans making strides, have long way to go

The things Zion Williamson does he does as well he does VERY well.

Just ask two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who had the task of guarding Williams for large chunks of Utah’s win over New Orleans Tuesday. Zion is as strong and explosive as anyone who has ever played the game, and when Gobert would play back daring Zion to shoot from the outside, he would use that on a runway, get rolling downhill, get his body into Gobert and get a bucket. Poor Derrick Favors didn’t stand a chance.

It’s how Zion ended up with 32 points against Gobert and the Jazz.

Zion is efficient at his shots, going 14-of-19 against Utah. The man is putting up historic stats.

Part of what works for Zion is Stan Van Gundy putting him in positions to succeed. For example, Zion as a point forward bringing the ball up, which drags opposing bigs out into space, then Zion blows right by them. Zion also is moving better off the ball this season.

It was not near enough against Utah, who were in control most of the game and won 118-102.

Against the Jazz Tuesday, and in other games this season, Zion and the Pelicans fade and get away from what works. As the game goes on, there is less off-the-ball movement and more isolation.

Van Gundy is also limited in the things he can do with Zion because of his game’s limitations right now.

That starts with shooting — Zion made a jump hook in the third quarter of this game that was his first made basket outside the paint this season, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN. This season, 71.3% of Zion’s shots come at the rim and 96.6% are within 10 feet of the basket.

David Griffin and Pelicans management put players such as Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe around Zion this year, which does not create a lot of spacing. The bigger issue is Pelicans don’t take threes — third-fewest a game in the league — and don’t make them 32.7% shooting as a team. The result is the Pelicans trade their twos for opponent threes, and that math does not add up. The Jazz made 15 more threes than the Pelicans Tuesday. Good luck making up those 45 points and getting a win.

More than just spacing, on Tuesday New Orleans settling for Brandon Ingram or Zion or other players going at the Jazz in isolation rather than having player movement. The longer the game went on, the more isolation there was.

Then there’s defense — Zion has a long way to go on that end still. He has the athletic gifts to be a good defender, but he’s still figuring out how to use them at the NBA level. Utah exploited Zion for chunks of the game by putting him in motion and making him read and move on defense.

Utah has won six straight, is healthy, and playing well right now. Donovan Mitchell had 28 and some fantastic kick-out assists back to the top of the key, Gobert added 13 points and 18 rebounds, while Jordan Clarkson (18 points) and Joe Ingles (15) provided a spark off the bench.

New Orleans is making strides this season, they are getting better, but Tuesday night showed just how far they and Zion have to go to become one of the better teams in the West.

2) Another night, another impressive Nikola Jokic performance

Al Horford was out for the night for Oklahoma City, which meant they threw their long-and-athletic but young and inexperienced big men such as Isaiah Roby out to defend Nikola Jokic.

That went about as well as you think it did. Jokic finished the night with 27 points on 21 shots, 12 rebounds, and six assists in a 119-101 Denver win.

Jokic is averaging a triple-double this season: 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10 assists a game, with a ridiculously efficient 65.8 true shooting percentage. He is in the MVP conversation early this season (although his defense could hold him back in that race). He has been among the best players in the league so far this season.

By the way, there was a Bol Bol sighting in this game, with him going coast-to-coast for the slam.

3) Ray Allen talks about his passion for golf, social justice

Hall of Famer Ray Allen is as detail-oriented, and as process-driven a shooter as the league has ever seen. He practiced everything. We all remember Allen for his step-back three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals, forcing overtime against the Spurs and changing that series. That backpedaling three was no accident — Allen had practiced it.

Now he practices golf.

He talked about it with pro golfers Will Lowery and Doug Smith on the first episode of NBC’s new “Beyond the Fairway” podcast. Allen described the shot, back around 1998, that changed how he perceived golf.

“I was in Mexico, I was standing over — I don’t remember what course I was playing — but I was standing over, I was about 100 yards in, and there was nothing. It was a pretty forgivable fairway, so I couldn’t really hit it in the desert, it was just a matter of how close I was going to get it to the pin,” Allen said.

“I stood over that shot [and thought], I don’t know where this ball is going to go. I had a flash, a moment of brilliance, where I said, ‘this is just like basketball — if I don’t practice, I don’t know where this is going to go.’…

“I said, ‘this is the shot I need to practice all the time.’ After that, I went to the range a lot on worked on every club, every two clubs, so I knew what that club was going to do.”

That’s vintage Ray Allen.

Check out the podcast, where Allen also discusses social justice, his mindset as a player, and much more.

LeBron scores 19 off bench in return, Bulls spoil party with 118-108 win


LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 points off the bench in his return from a monthlong injury absence, but Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 118-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan added 17 points for the Bulls, who easily overcame James’ return for their seventh win in nine games. LaVine hit 11 of his first 14 shots to lead an offensive effort that snapped the Lakers’ three-game winning streak despite the return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

James sat out 13 games with right foot soreness, missing four weeks during the Lakers’ run at a playoff berth. The team provided few updates on his recovery, and his return came with little advance warning.

“I felt confident in the workouts that I had this week,” James said. “And the day after the workouts, when I woke up, stepped out down off the bed, I could possibly play today. And after my workout early before the game today, I knew I could play.”

For only the second time in his 20-year, 1,958-game NBA career, James wasn’t a starter. He came in as a reserve midway through the first quarter, doing his standard pregame chalk toss while receiving a standing ovation from Lakers fans. James got a field goal in every quarter, and he finished with eight rebounds, three assists and five turnovers in 30 minutes.

“You could see him getting his rhythm, his timing, his finishes, all of that,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He’s a savvy veteran, one of the greatest ever to do it, so it’s not going to take all that much.”

Chicago largely controlled play despite James’ return, streaking to a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Los Angeles briefly got the lead down to single digits down the stretch, but got no closer.

“There are going to be swings, and that was the encouraging part,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m seeing a response back competitively.”

Patrick Beverley had 10 points and five assists in his first game against the Lakers since they traded him last month. Beverley has been outspoken about his desire to hurt the Lakers’ playoff hopes during this home-and-home series between the teams, but Davis and the other Lakers just smiled at his provocative talk.

When Beverley made a little hook shot with 1:12 left to boost Chicago’s lead back to double digits, Beverley slapped the floor and made the dismissive “too small” gesture sometimes used by NBA players to taunt their opponents, in this case James.

“I was just playing basketball,” Beverley said. “Obviously it’s good to see some old teammates, old coaching staff.”

Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley scored 18 points apiece, but Anthony Davis managed just 15 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers (37-38) failed to get above .500 for the first time since Jan. 9, 2022.

The Lakers were without D’Angelo Russell, who missed his second straight game with a right hip injury. Los Angeles went 8-5 in James’ absence, but his return will force an adjustment of the chemistry built by his teammates in his absence.

“We came out a little flat, turned the ball over early, just weren’t aggressive enough, physical enough,” Ham said.

The Bulls largely controlled Davis even after Nikola Vucevic was ejected in the second quarter with two quick technical fouls when he argued what appeared to be a good call against him. Donovan jokingly wondered how Vucevic could be ejected when he was arguing in his native Serbian.

“Obviously it was a bad decision by me to react the way I did,” Vucevic said. “My mistake. I’m just glad my teammates came through for us. I obviously overreacted, for sure.”

Watch Dončić pick up 16th technical, will result in one-game suspension


Luka Dončić barks at the referees more than any player in the league, and with that he does not get the benefit of the doubt when he’s flirting with the edge of a technical foul.

That caught up with Dončić on Sunday, when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper, said something to the nearby official, and racked up his 16th technical this season. That will mean an automatic one-game suspension unless it is rescinded (which is unlikely in this case).

Dončić likely will have to sit out Monday when the Mavericks play the Pacers on the second game of a back-to-back.

This suspension comes on the heels of Dončić being fined $35,000 — but not being given a technical foul at the time — for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after another recent Mavericks loss.

Dončić went on to have 40 points Sunday but the Mavericks lost again — their second time in a row to the tanking Hornets, their fourth in a row overall and they have now dropped 7-of-9. That has dropped them out of even the play-in to 11th in the West. The Mavericks need to rack up wins over the season’s final two weeks to even make the postseason.

And they must get that next win Monday without Dončić in the lineup.


UPDATE: LeBron “active,” will make return to court Sunday vs. Bulls

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

UPDATE: LeBron James has officially been upgraded to active and will make his return to the team on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.


A couple of days ago, reports said LeBron James hoped to return and play the final few games before the season ended and he said there was no timeline for his return.

In less than 24 hours the Lakers have moved LeBron from “out” last game to “doubtful” and now — as of Sunday morning — questionable for the Lakers game against the Bulls. While nothing is confirmed, these are the steps a team takes before a player returns from injury. LeBron is going to test his foot pregame and make a decision.

LeBron had been pushing to return from a foot tendon injury that had sidelined him for 13 games. The Lakers have gone 8-5 in those games behind the second-best defense in the league over that stretch. What has struggled during those games has been the offense (23rd in the league) and LeBron instantly fixes that. He has averaged 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game this season and the Laker offense has been six points per 100 possessions better when he has been on the court.

The Lakers currently sit tied for the No.7/8 seeds in the West, with an outside shot at climbing into the top six (they are 1.5 games back of the Lakers and Clippers who are tied for sixth, but if those teams go 4-3 the rest of the way the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight just to tie them). The Lakers are also one game ahead of the 11-seed Dallas Mavericks and missing out on the playoffs entirely.

The Lakers need wins the rest of the way to secure a playoff spot, and some time to build chemistry heading into the playoffs. Having LeBron James helps with all of that.

Nets thrash Heat, move back up to No.6 seed in East

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images

MIAMI (AP) — All the Brooklyn Nets needed, coach Jacque Vaughn insisted, was one win.

They got it, and made it look easy.

Mikal Bridges scored 27 points, and the Nets opened the third quarter on a 31-6 run on the way to rolling past Miami 129-100 on Saturday night and leapfrogging the Heat back into the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Cam Johnson added 23 points and Spencer Dinwiddie scored 15 for the Nets (40-34), who snapped a five-game slide. They’re only a half-game up on Miami (40-35) in the race for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth, but swept the Heat 3-0 this season and would also own a head-to-head tiebreaker.

“We had the mindset coming in that this was a playoff game,” Johnson said.

Max Strus scored 23 for the Heat, all of them in the first half. Tyler Herro scored 23, Jimmy Butler had 18 and Bam Adebayo finished with 16 for the Heat. Miami was outscored 64-31 after halftime.

“We have not been defending at a world-class level, the way we’re capable of … and the second half just became an avalanche,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Strus came off the bench and made his first nine shots, one of them putting Miami up 51-37 midway through the second quarter. Over the next 14 minutes, the Nets outscored Miami 54-24 – completely turning the game around, eventually leading by 32 and, for now, putting Brooklyn in position to escape the play-in tournament that’ll decide the final two East playoff berths.

“You see how this March Madness is and you’re one and you’re done,” Vaughn said. “And that’s part of it. I have not discussed any of the standings with this group. Really, we have gone day to day and tried to get a win.”

The Heat could have moved 1 1/2 games up on Brooklyn for sixth with a win.

“There has been nothing easy about this season and that doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a negative thing,” Spoelstra said. “You have to embrace the struggle. You have to figure out ways to stay together … but we just got categorically outplayed tonight.”

It was Brooklyn’s second trip to Miami this season. The first was Jan. 8 – which ended up being the last time Kevin Durant played for the Nets, and the last time Durant and Kyrie Irving played together. Durant left that game with a knee injury, then got traded to Phoenix, and Irving has since been dealt to Dallas, as well.

The Nets were 27-13 after that night, second in the East, just a game behind Boston for the best record in the NBA. They’re 13-21 since, yet still have the Heat looking up at them in the standings – which Vaughn insists he hasn’t discussed with his team.

“You need the momentum, the confidence, the reassurance that you can get it done,” Vaughn said. “So, haven’t tried to complicate it more than that.”