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

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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 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.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.