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

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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) 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.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.