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) Tobias Harris’ game-winner to beat Lakers shows what is right with 76ers
Alex Caruso, for all his grit, didn’t stand a chance.
He gives up four inches and some athleticism to Tobias Harris, plus Harris is a veteran bucket getter playing the best basketball of his career — Caruso couldn’t keep Harris from getting to his spot and nailing the game-winner to lift the 76ers past the Lakers 107-106.
That final play sums up what is different about this Philadelphia team and why they might be the class of the East: When the option to inbound the ball into Joel Embiid in the post wasn’t there, it was sharpshooter Seth Curry who popped out top off Embiid, not Ben Simmons (who was in the dunker’s spot). Doc Rivers has that option now and it matters: When Harris sets the pick for Curry, LeBron James has to switch off Harris onto Curry because Curry is a pure shooter that LeBron has to respect at the arc — Philly didn’t have that last season. That forced Caruso to switch onto Harris, and as noted before, Caruso will always give the effort but he wasn’t going to stop Harris.
Beating the Lakers in January does not make the Sixers title contenders, but there were plenty of good signs:
• The fact the 76ers controlled the game and led most of the way, including by double digits through much of the fourth quarter is a positive. However, they have work to do on closing games — Philadelphia started watching the clock and trying to run it out too early, rather than keeping its foot on the gas, and it almost cost them. We know the Lakers know how to close out games – they went on a 13-0 run — and they almost came back to win this.
• The fact that Ben Simmons put up a triple-double — 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists — and was aggressive early driving into and attacking the space LeBron gave him is a good sign. Doc Rivers praised Simmons’ defense after the game, although one can only do so much against LeBron, who scored 34 and continues to play at an MVP level.
“The numbers will say the offense, but the defense and all these other little things he did was unbelievable…” Rivers said, via NBC Sports Philadelphia. “The stuff he does for us, the winning things he does, it’s hard to put into numbers, and unfortunately we’re in this numbers generation where everything’s numbers. His brilliance sometimes is missed by a lot of people.”
• Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP-level to start the season and has grown, which is critical to the 76ers chances. Last season, Marc Gasol (then with Toronto) took Embiid out of his rhythm and forced him into an 0-of-11 shooting, scoreless night. Not this Embiid, who frustrated Gasol enough that the Laker big picked up a technical complaining about a call. Embiid faced up and went at Gasol, and the eventual double teams didn’t bother him. Embiid finished the night with 28 points and got to the foul line 13 times.
There are no statement games in January; we are months away from the East’s biggest tests. But Philadelphia at 13-6 sits atop the conference, has a top-five defense, and needs to be mentioned with Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and any other team people try to put on top of the East. This team looks different with shooting on the roster and Doc Rivers pulling the strings — players have accepted their roles, and the team is playing in concert.
Philadelphia looks like a legit contender. Beating the defending champs certainly doesn’t hurt the resume.
2) Can we get a Hawks vs. Nets matchup in the first round? Please?
When Brooklyn and Atlanta match up, it is just entertaining — two athletic, shot-making offenses, and neither team can be trusted to get a stop. It’s an old-fashioned shootout that Doug Moe would love, where the losing team has an offensive rating of 129.8.
On Wednesday these two teams went to overtime, where the Nets put up 16 to get the 132-128 win.
We need seven games of this in the postseason. Basketball gods, are you listening?
Brooklyn’s big three combined for 89 points, 24 assists, and 17 rebounds, with James Harden continuing to look more and more comfortable in the playmaking role, and being aggressive because of that.
Atlanta had a more balanced attack: Trae Young had 28 points (but on 7-of-22 shooting), but five other players were in double digits, including Cam Redish with 24 off the bench, and De’Andre Hunter and John Collins each scoring 21.
For the record, Brooklyn is 3-1 now in games that Durant, Harden, and Irving all play. It’s a long season and there are a lot of questions to answer — defensive issues haunted them again on Wednesday — but the Nets are undoubtedly elite.
3) Bradley Beal, you frustrated after scoring 47 in another loss? “Is the sky blue?”
The sharks — in the form of general managers of other NBA teams — continue to circle Bradley Beal and the Wizards. Waiting.
Wednesday night, Bradley Beal scored 47 points for Washington against New Orleans.
Despite that, New Orleans won 124-106. It wasn’t particularly close. Beal was asked after the game if that kind of night frustrates him.
“Is the sky blue?”
Beal now holds a dubious NBA record: He and the Wizards have lost 10 straight games in which he scored 40 points or more points (hat tip Chase Hughes at NBC Sports Washington).
Beal agreed with teammate Wesley Matthews that the 3-11 Wizards can’t let their early-season struggles — exacerbated by COVID-19 and the injury to Thomas Bryant — define them as a team. He continues to say the right things, play the right way, and be committed to Washington.
But the sharks are circling.
BONUS THING TO KNOW: Stephen Curry, that is just not fair.
Hey LeBron, Curry is also now turning around on corner threes before they splash the net.
Steph turned before it went in 😱 pic.twitter.com/9SWtGTZPos
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 28, 2021
Damn, it’s fun to have Curry back.