Three things to know: Brooklyn’s defense is bad but may be good enough


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) Three takeaways from Nets win over Clippers: Brooklyn’s defense is bad but may be good enough

It’s dangerous to read too much into one January game, even if it’s a well-played contest that could be a Finals preview. Still, Brooklyn’s 124-120 win against the Clippers — behind 39 points from Kyrie Irving and a big night from the Nets’ big three — provided some insight into those teams.

Here are my three big takeaways from Tuesday night’s game:

• Brooklyn’s defense is terrible but it may be just good enough. Using the eye test, Brooklyn’s defense looked better tonight — there was genuine effort on that end from the Nets. Maybe most encouraging was Kevin Durant wanting the assignment and defending Kawhi Leonard as well as could be hoped down the stretch. Irving and James Harden were willing and active defenders. That’s all you can ask.

Brooklyn’s defense also still was terrible — the Nets had a rating of 120 for the game. That would be worse than Brooklyn’s defense over the past eight games and would be the worst in the league for the season. The Clippers got to their spots, scored, and put up plenty of points.

Both realities can be true: Brooklyn’s defense is terrible but it may be just good enough.

Brooklyn may need only a few stops at key moments to get wins because their offense is so overwhelmingly good. Los Angeles is a solid defensive team (middle of the pack in the NBA this season) with flashes of being very impressive because they have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (and they could have used Patrick Beverley in this loss, he remains out with a sore right knee). It didn’t matter. Irving dropped 39 on them, and the big three combined for 90 points.

The Nets will make some roster tweaks the rest of the way to get more defense, but they may not need that much.

• Brooklyn should play more small ball. DeAndre Jordan is on this team as a center, but the Nets look better and much more fluid when he sits and they play small (as much as a lineup with Kevin Durant is really small). There has been a lot of trade buzz around the league about Brooklyn looking to go after a center — Joel Embiid and the Sixers still loom as a potential playoff opponent — but against the Clippers, the Nets needed more wing/perimeter defense. Frankly, the Nets should go after bigs and wings, but as a matter of priority wings may ultimately matter more.

• The Clippers still need a point guard. It was an issue against Denver in the bubble playoffs: Late in games, the Clippers became a team that stood around and watched Kawhi Leonard or Paul George go isolation and did not get into running their sets, in part because they don’t have a traditional point guard. That exact same thing played out Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

Los Angeles is active on the trade market looking at point guards — Lonzo Ball, for example — and they need to find one. This team has Patrick Beverley when he’s healthy, but he brings defense and energy more than being a floor general. Reggie Jackson is getting a lot of run, but he creates for himself and does not always make the wisest decisions.

Los Angeles needs a more traditional, pass-first point guard who can get them into sets and have them run some offense late in games, not just stand around and admire how good Leonard is at getting to his spots on the floor (and he is amazing at that). It bit them in the bubble, and as a reminder of the work to do it bit them on Tuesday in Brooklyn.

2) Fred VanVleet was unstoppable, dropped 54 on Orlando

Now that is a performance for the record books.

Toronto’s VanVleet set a franchise record Tuesday for points scored in a game with 54, passing DeMar DeRozan’s old record.

That 54 — while shooting 11-of-14 from three — is also the most points ever scored in an NBA game by an undrafted player. My favorite part of all of this was the reaction of VanVleet’s teammates.

Toronto also got the win, 123-108, an important one in a game between two teams off to slower-than-expected starts trying to claw their way back into the East playoff race.

3) Stephen Curry put on a show with 38 points but Celtics team too much in win

This is the one-sentence answer on Stephen Curry as an MVP candidate: He’s putting up numbers, but the Warriors are hanging around .500 and looking more like a play-in team, which is not going to get it done.

All of that bore out on Tuesday night. Curry was impressive as always with 38 points — hitting 7-of-15 from three — and became only the second Warriors’ player in history to score 17,000 points. Steve Kerr called him the greatest Warrior ever, and that’s not even up for debate anymore.

And it still wasn’t enough. Jayson Tatum scored 27 points and had nine boards, Kemba Walker had 19 points, Jaylen Brown 18, and Grant Williams came off the bench with a critical 15. All that was too much, and Boston got the 111-107 win.

This was the first game of a five-game road swing out West for the Celtics, with some tough tests against the Clippers and Jazz ahead.

Three things to Know: Win over Clippers shows Thunder future may be now


Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Win over Clippers shows Thunder’s future may be now

If the playoffs started today, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the No.7 seed in the West, only needing to win one of two play-in games — at home — to advance to the playoffs. They are only half a game back of the defending champion Golden State Warriors for the No.6 seed and not having to worry about the play-in.

The basketball world has talked about anything but the Thunder: When will those Warriors flip the switch? What happens when Dallas gets Luka Dončić back (or if the Mavs defend a little)? What will the Timberwolves look like when whole? When will LeBron James return and how big a threat are the Lakers?

Meanwhile, the Thunder quietly have been winning — 8-of-10 after beating the Clippers on Tuesday night 101-100, behind 31 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Thunder have been solid all season — top half of the league in offense and defense, and the 10th-best net rating in the league — despite Chet Holmgren missing the year. SGA playing at an All-NBA level is a huge part of it, but Josh Giddey has developed into an impressive secondary shot creator averaging 16.2 points a night, Jalen Williams will be first-team All-Rookie because of his play, guys like Isaiah Joe and Tre Mann have stopped up, and Lu Dort is doing things like locking down Kawhi Leonard on the final play of the game to preserve the win.

OKC’s one-point win over the Clippers was aided by Kawhi Leonard getting a tight technical called on him, and when Terrence Mann complained about that call he got him ejected. Leonard said after the game the referee admitted he missed the foul call on the play where the technicals were handed out.

However, far more frightening for the Clippers than the loss was the injury to Paul George in the final minutes, a fluke collision with Dort that sent George to the ground and having to be helped back to the locker room. There are no details, but it didn’t look good.

It’s all more questions and injuries for the Clippers.

Meanwhile, the Thunder just keep on rolling and look every bit a playoff team ahead of schedule — and with a lot of draft picks coming in the next few years to stockpile that roster.

2) Knicks legend, Hall of Fame Willis Reed dies

Willis Reed is associated with one of the most iconic moments in NBA history — his dramatic entrance in Madison Square Garden minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. He scored only four points and was clearly in pain and hobbled, but playing even a little sparked the Knicks to blow out the Lakers and win the franchise’s first title.

Reed passed away at the age of 80.

“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s. He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports.

“As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus. We send our deepest condolences to Willis’ wife, Gale, his family, and many friends and fans.”

Reed won a second ring with the Knicks in 1973 and was a two-time Finals MVP and seven-time All-Star.

Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds a season over the course of his career, and he had his No.19 retired by the Knicks. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.

3) Celtics get Robert Williams back, look like Celtics in win over Kings

Robert Williams was back on the court for the Celtics Tuesday night and the Celtics held the Kings and their best offense in the league to an offensive rating almost seven points below their league average. That is not a coincidence.

With Williams back, the Celtics were back to switching everything, which slowed the motion and passing of the Kings’ offense enough to earn the 132-109 Boston win. The 36 points from Jayson Tatum helped with that.

For the Kings, it was their fifth game in seven nights in four different time zones and it showed. Still, that loss dropped the Kings 1.5 back of the Grizzlies for the two seed in the West (and the Grizzlies may get Ja Morant back Wednesday).

Boston went 4-2 on their recent road trip. While they have slumped in recent weeks, they looked like their contending selves again with Williams back, who had missed the last eight games with a hamstring issue. He played 21 minutes off the bench.

Nobody should have written Boston off after this recent slide, even if those losses did make their path through the East rougher.

Bonus thing to know: Donovan Mitchell threw down a Dunk of the Year candidate in the Cavaliers’ win.

Paul George has to be helped off court after fourth quarter leg injury


Hopefully this is not serious, not something that changes the playoff picture in the West.

The Clippers’ Paul George went down with 4:38 left in the game Tuesday night after a collision with Lu Dort going for a rebound.

George had to be helped back to the locker room and struggled to put any weight on his leg.

After the game, Tyronn Lue said George was still being evaluated and had no update on his status. George was seen exiting the arena on the back of a cart with his right leg extended, according to the AP.

George had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists before exiting the game. On the season he is playing at an All-NBA level averaging 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game, and the Clippers are 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

The Thunder went on to win 101-100 in a game filled with drama, including a technical foul for Kawhi Leonard, an ejection of Terrence Mann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 31 points, and Lou Dort locking up Leonard in the final seconds.


Grizzlies Ja Morant: ‘My job now is… to be more responsible’


While his coach said he anticipates Ja Morant will return to the court Wednesday for the Grizzlies, Morant downplayed expectations and said things are “still in the air.”

Whether the official return is Wednesday or a few days later, Morant is back practicing with teammates and spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension. He once again was apologetic.

“I’m completely sorry for that,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”

Morant was suspended eight games by the NBA after flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.” Morant used that time to go into counseling at a facility in Florida but added he “never had an alcohol problem.”.

“I went there to counseling to learn how to manage stress,” Morant said. “Cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”

Morant said that his treatment is an “ongoing process,” adding that he was getting off social media and letting his actions speak for him.

Morant and his associates had incidents before that caught the attention of people around the league — including a run-in with Indiana Pacers security — however, this incident in a Colorado club was the first one that hit him in the wallet. The suspension cost him $668,659 in game pay, plus one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness.

The biggest hit is Morant possibly missing out on an All-NBA guard spot. Morant could make $39 million more over the five-year extension that kicks in next season if he makes one of the three All-NBA teams. However, the guard spot is especially crowded with deserving players this season and this incident and the missed games do not help his cause.

Hart will be free agent this summer seeking new contract, ‘would love for it to be New York’


Josh Hart‘s play since coming to the Knicks has made him a lot of money.

Already a darling of many front offices, Hart has been a seamless fit in New York, averaging 11.1 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Tom Thibodeau, playing quality defense, and being the kind of plug-and-play wing every team can use. He’s quickly become a fan favorite in New York, but the Knicks will have to pay up to keep him. Hart has a player option for $12.9 million next season that he is widely expected to decline — there’s a lot more money and years available to him on the open market.

Hart told Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape he wants to find a home, and he hopes that it is in New York.

“I want bigger things for my wife and myself,” Hart said. “Just find a home somewhere where we are valued and really like living there. And I think that can be New York. I would love for it to be New York and hopefully the organization feels the same way. Coming up, this contract is hopefully my biggest one, one where I’m making sure my family’s fully taken care of. So, I’ve also got to take that into account, too.”

That is the polite way of saying, “I like it here but you’re not getting a discount.”

While Hart will have made a tidy $33 million in his career when this season ends, his next four-year contract will be worth more than double that amount — this is the deal that sets up generational wealth for Hart’s family. This is a business and he has to make the decision best for him, as much as he may love the Knicks.

Expect the Knicks to pay up, especially as long as Thibodeau is around. This is a deal that should come together.

But first, Hart and the Knicks are headed to the playoffs, and Madison Square Garden will be rocking. It’s going to be the kind of experience that makes a guy want to stay with a team.