Three things to know: How much should we read into this NBA regular season?


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 pivotal moment from the night before in one place.

1) How much should we read into this regular season?

Wednesday night, the Lakers got pushed to overtime for the third straight game (but they have won all three). Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 47 but didn’t get enough help to beat the Suns. Are we sleeping on Phoenix? Brooklyn had a good defensive game, holding the Pacers to a 100 offensive rating.

In a traditional season, we’d look at those outcomes, look for patterns and changes from previous games, and then project forward. Are the Lakers actually struggling, or do they only care for about a quarter a game (and maybe overtime)? Did the Nets do something that made their defense better? Is it still Antetokounmpo against the world in Milwaukee?

This is not a traditional season. Not even close.

This means making any serious takeaways from this regular season is next to impossible.

How can anyone get a genuine read on teams when the coronavirus has upended players’ usual routines, players are constantly in and out of the lineup, the was a shortened training camp and fewer practices even than usual, and everyone — including coaches and players — are still feeling the stress and confinement of the pandemic and the league’s protocols?

Here’s what we know for sure: The Lakers, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, are going to be incredibly good and are the team to beat.

After that, every other potential contender has questions, but we can’t come close to answering them in a season played in the upside-down. Will Brooklyn be able to defend well enough in the second round of the playoffs and beyond (and how well do they have to defend with that offense)? It’s hard to run a half-court offense through a team’s center in the playoffs, so where does that leave the 76ers (is Tobias Harris enough)? Where does that leave Denver? Milwaukee got an upgrade at the point in Jrue Holiday, but do they have enough depth beyond the four players they can really trust? Is Utah for real? Will Boston’s bigs be good enough in the playoffs, and do they need one more player on the wing off the bench? Can someone run the Clippers’ offense in the fourth quarter and get them buckets outside of a Leonard/George isolation?

There is no way to watch this regular season, with all its irregularities, and draw any serious conclusions.

All of this makes the NBA regular season feel more random than ever this year.

It also means the playoffs will be fascinating because all those questions will be answered in the brightest of spotlights.

2) Trae Young was livid, but it doesn’t change fact Doncic, Mavs get win

What we should be talking about is how Luka Doncic, after a slow start to the season, has rounded into form lately. Every time Doncic plays Trae Young, there’s a little bit of “what if” in the air because these two will forever be linked back to the draft, and this game was a reminder of all the people that missed the Doncic train with his all-around performance of 28 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.

But that’s not what we’re talking about.

Down one with 4.7 seconds left, Atlanta was bringing the ball in and had a chance for a game-winner. The play design had Young setting a screen for John Collins rolling to the rim, and then Young was supposed to… we don’t know for sure what he was supposed to do because he got knocked to the ground by Willie Cauley-Stein. The ball ended up going to Danilo Gallinari, who tried to create something but couldn’t get the shot to go down. The buzzer sounded and Young sprinted over to the official to yell at him.

First, complete overreaction by Young.

I’m with Jeff Van Gundy here; that was not a foul. Nobody is getting that call. We’ll see what the NBA Last Two Minute Report says tomorrow, but I doubt the league calls it a foul either.

There’s also the voice of my high school coach in my head: You don’t lose the game on one play. The Hawks led by five within the last seven minutes of the game but couldn’t hold on, they put themselves in position to have to hit a game-winner in the final seconds. That’s always a tough spot to be in.

3) Karl-Anthony Towns is back on the court, but Kawhi Leonard spoils his return

COVID-19 has hit Karl-Anthony Towns so hard. He lost his mother and multiple other family members to the disease, then he himself got it and has been sidelined for the past several weeks.

Wednesday night he was back on the court, and that itself was a win for him and the NBA. He’s healthy enough to play again, and that is what matters. It’s also good to have one of the games’ best young players out there, and despite being rusty and needing to get his conditioning back up (he looked very winded in the fourth), he still put up a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. But for him, it’s far more than the numbers.

The Clippers spoiled Towns return, getting the 119-112 win. A couple of things led to the Los Angeles victory. Tyrone Lue made the adjustment to play back off Josh Okogie and give him the full Rajon Rondo/Ben Simmons treatment and dare him to shoot from the outside. That proved an issue for the Timberwolves.

The other was Kawhi Leonard going off for 36. He and Lou Williams took over when it mattered in this one.

The Clippers get the “W” but having Towns healthy and playing again is the bigger win for everybody.

Denver keeps executing under pressure, Gordon and Brown spark win to take command of series


MIAMI — The Nuggets just kept executing.

Nikola Jokić gets sent to the bench with five fouls — after Bam Adebayo earned an Oscar nomination drawing it — and it feels like the game was about to turn with the crowd rocking and the Nuggets lead down to 10. Jokić returned after 5:16 of game time and the Nuggets are still up nine. Without the two-time MVP, the Nuggets just kept executing their offense.

The Heat played their most physical, intense defense of the Finals, selling out to slow Jamal Murray in particular and not letting him score 30+ again. The Nuggets just executed their offense, and Murray finished with 12 assists without one turnover while others stepped up — led by Aaron Gordon with a game-high 27 and Bruce Brown with 21 points off the bench, including a critical step-back 3 in the fourth.

“When he did a step-back three, I wanted to punch him, but when he made it, I was so happy,” Jokić said.

It was like that all game long. Whenever Miami would make a run — the kind of stretch that became an avalanche and overwhelmed Boston and Milwaukee — Denver would just get the ball to Jokić, or Murray would draw the defense and kick to an open shooter, and the Nuggets executed their offense and got a bucket. They calmed things down, they didn’t contribute to their own demise.

It was championship-level execution from the Nuggets as they closed the game on a 17-7 run. The Nuggets were doing to the Heat in Miami what the Heat had done to every other team they faced this postseason.

Denver won Game 4 108-92, sweeping the two games in Miami (both by double digits), and now have a commanding 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

Game 5 is Monday night in Denver and it may feel more like a coronation than a basketball game.

Miami played hard. The Heat came out with their plan, they attacked the rim and did get 46 points in the paint. They outscored the Nuggets in the paint.

But facing Denver’s elite offense, Miami needs more points and the path to that is knocking down their 3s — Miami was 8-of-25, 32%. Denver was 14-of-28 (50%) from beyond the arc.

Early on this felt like it could be a Heat night. The game was a rock fight from the opening tip, with both teams playing intense defense and missing shots they have hit much of the series. However, Denver appeared comfortable in that style and pushed their lead out to seven. Then Jimmy Butler scored seven points in a 10-2 Heat run to end the quarter and it was 21-20 Miami after one.

The start of the second quarter would prove to be foreshadowing of the critical stretch of the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets were +1 in non-Jokić minutes to start the second thanks to eight points from Gordon in that stretch. Gordon stretched that out to 16 in the quarter and helped the Nuggets lead by four at the half — 55-51 — in a game that continued to be played in the Heat’s preferred style. Jokić had 16 points at the half but just two assists.

Denver started the third playing maybe their best basketball of the series and looking to blow the game open, getting the lead up to 13. But then came a stretch of sloppy basketball that let the Heat get the lead down to six and hang around the game. Things were getting intense…

Then came a several-minute break to check a bent rim and backboard that were at an angle. They were pulled there by a Bam Adebayo missed dunk (he missed a lot of bunnies this game), a problem noticed by Kyle Lowry. Jokić tried to hang on the rim to fix it, but it took a guy in a suit going up a ladder with a level and some tools.

Soon after Jokić to the bench with 9:24 left in the game and it felt like the entire Finals were going to turn.

The Nuggets just kept executing. Nothing changed.

“Every time we felt like we got it to six or eight, they were able to push it to 12,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the night. “That was certainly a frustrating part of the game. Brown was a big part of — some of his random drives and plays in the middle of the paint when you’re expecting it to be Murray or somebody else.”

Those plays have the Nuggets one win away from the franchise’s first NBA title.

Nuggets reportedly trade draft picks with Thunder to help keep title window open


The Denver Nuggets are just two wins from the franchise’s first NBA championship.

While Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray are trying to pick-and-roll their way to those wins, the Nuggets front office has made a trade to try and keep their title window open. The Nuggets are trading their 2029 first-round pick (protected) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the No. 37 pick in this June’s NBA Draft and the worst of the Thunder’s 2024-first round picks, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Nuggets now control the No. 37 and 40 picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, plus this additional 2024 pick. The Nuggets will try to use this 2024 first-round pick to move into the first round of this year’s draft, reports Mike Singer of the Denver Post. (Denver’s first-round pick at No. 27 belongs to Charlotte through a series of trades.)

A first-round pick and some high second-round picks allows Nuggets GM Calvin Booth to bring in several low-priced rookies who can potentially be part of the roster and rotation, freeing up money to keep an expensive core of Jokic, Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and the rest. The hope is to find another Christian Braun at the back of the first round who can contribute as a rookie.

With Jokić, Murray, Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon all locked in on big deals for the next two seasons after this, the challenge for the Nuggets is keeping quality rotation players around them to help them compete for a title without going deeper into the tax than ownership wants. Jeff Green is a free agent this summer and Bruce Brown has a $6.8 million player option that he will certainly opt out of (he will get an offer for more than $10 million a season). The Nuggets already are $7 million into the luxury tax (via Spotrac) and are looking for a way to keep below the second tax apron, making bringing those key players back a challenge.

Hence the trade, as the Nuggets look for ways to fill out their rotation with quality, but affordable, players. Good drafting — like Braun — is a way.

What does OKC get out of this? They have more first-round draft picks than they can use in the coming few years, this spreads a pick out to 2029, which they can use then or trade, depending on their needs at the time.

Heat’s Tyler Herro remains out for Game 4. Will he play in Finals?


MIAMI — With Tyler Herro not cleared to play in Game 3 of the NBA Finals and Game 4 just 48 hours later, it should be no surprise that we won’t see Herro on Friday night.

Herro is officially listed as out for Game 4. He has been out since April 16 with a severe hand fracture suffered in the first game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Herro went through a brief part of the public practice/shootaround in front of the media Thursday but didn’t speak to the press. Spoelstra said Herro has not yet been cleared for a game.

“This is just part of the process,” Erik Spoelstra said. “You have to go through stages. First part of it was just shooting, then movement, then contact versus coaches, and then the next level of contact in practice. He has not been cleared for a game, and he is still not cleared yet.”

Even if Herro were cleared for later in the series — and the Heat players and coaches say to a man he is putting in the work — how much of a role could he play at this point? While on paper he provides shooting and shot creation Miami needs this series (although he would be a target on defense), he hasn’t played in a game for nearly two months and Spoelstra can’t just throw him into the highest level of basketball in the world mid-series. Maybe he could get in a few non-Jokić minutes off the bench, but it’s a big ask for anything more than that. And maybe it’s too big an ask for even that.

Listening to Spoelstra’s tone, I wouldn’t expect to see Herro in this series.

And this summer, don’t be surprised when Herro’s name comes up in a lot of trade rumors.

Rumor: Suns could make run at James Harden this summer


James Harden is widely expected to opt out of the $35.6 million he is owed for next season because, even if you acknowledge he is not MVP-level Harden anymore, he’s worth more than that in the NBA marketplace. At least $10 million more a season. Harden is reportedly “torn” between returning to Philadelphia or going back home to Houston (the sources NBC Sports talks to around the league have Houston as the frontrunner).

Maybe Phoenix can enter the conversation. There had been talk the Suns might make another big swing this offseason, then came this from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne appearing on ESPNLA Radio (hat tip Hoopshype):

“I want you to keep your eye on James Harden [going to Phoenix]. I don’t want to report anything, but that was in the wind for the past month or so. Everybody thinks it’s Philly or Houston, but I don’t know, there have been discussions in the wind.”

Interesting. The smart money should still be bet on Houston. Phoenix is a crazy longshot because the Suns don’t have the cap space to sign Harden outright at market value.

The only way the Suns could make a direct trade work is to convince Harden to do an opt-in and trade, where he picks up that $35.6 million and the Suns extend him off that, because if he opts out — as expected — then any sign-and-trade hardcaps the Suns. With Harden, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker on the books, a hard-capped Suns team would have to round out the roster with minimum contract guys. They would have no depth.

Also, who are the Suns sending back to Philadelphia in that deal? The 76ers have no interest in Deandre Ayton, Philly is pretty set at center with the MVP. That means getting a third team involved, one that wants Ayton, and will send players back to the 76ers they want. It gets very complicated very fast. Or, can Phoenix pick up Chris Paul‘s $30.8 million for this season and do a Harden for CP3 swap? Good luck selling that.

No doubt the Suns, with aggressive new owner Mat Ishbia, want to make another bold move or two this summer, but pulling off a James Harden deal would be challenging. To put it politely.

And Harden probably wants to go home to Houston anyway.