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?
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
KAT: "People complain about wearing a mask and these frontline workers are in with people dying and you can't wear one? Stop it."
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) February 11, 2021
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.
KAT: "It was kind of great to be out there to have kind of a temporary moment with these guys … and a different energy going through my life."
— Jon Krawczynski (@JonKrawczynski) February 11, 2021
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.