Three things to know: Antetokounmpo says no panic despite fourth straight loss

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks
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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) Giannis Antetokounmpo says no panic mode despite fourth straight loss

We’re used to the Milwaukee Bucks dominating the regular season. Best record, best defense, best net rating in the league for two years running, led by the two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The problem was then the Bucks would flame out in the playoffs.

This season, it is not the same team. The Bucks have the ninth-best record, third-best net rating, their defense isn’t in the top 10 in the league, and if the vote were taken today Antetokounmpo would not be in the top five of MVP ballots for most voters.

Tuesday night, Toronto went into Milwaukee — where the Bucks have played better this year — and won easily, 124-113, behind 33 points from a red-hot Fred VanVleet. It was another game this season where the Bucks were outplayed in the fourth quarter, including being outscored 12-4 in the final five minutes.

That’s four straight losses for the Bucks — this team just doesn’t look the same. Nothing like the dominant force of the past two seasons. The Milwaukee defense is 8.1 points per 100 possessions worse than a season ago. It’s concerning, but Antetokounmpo said postgame Bucks fans should not be reaching for the panic button, via Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“I kind of have a feeling that everybody is in a panic mode, which should not be the case,” said Antetokounmpo, who had 34 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals in defeat. “We should keep improving, we should keep playing good basketball, we should watch the film, and at the end of the day, we’ve got to go out there and compete. When you come here, nothing can be easy.”

He’s right.

Part of the reasons for Milwaukee’s struggles this season is they are finally doing some in-season experimentation and working on things they will need in the postseason (rather than playing one way all season then not being able to change or adapt come the playoffs). The Bucks are switching more on defense, which is rough for Brook Lopez and not always looking smooth, but a tool the team will need later. The Bucks are running more pick-and-roll, particularly with Antetokounmpo setting the screen and rolling, using his gravity to open things up (it works for Utah with Rudy Gobert). Those plays are not as efficient as Milwaukee’s offense in transition, but in the playoffs those transition buckets dry up and Milwaukee needs a diversified offense.

The Bucks also just don’t have the same depth that powered them in previous regular seasons, having given up a chunk of that to bring in Jrue Holiday, who runs those pick-and-rolls (as does Khris Middleton) and is a better playoff fit than Eric Bledsoe at the point.

All of which is to say: Antetokounmpo is right. Don’t panic. The Bucks are struggling more in the regular season, and while that is of some concern, the reasons they are struggling could be good in the long-run, and in the playoffs. The Bucks starting five — Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, and Lopez — is still outscoring opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions, and that group will get heavy run come the postseason.

Are these Bucks better positioned to win the East than the season’s past? This is a deeper, better East than the previous couple of years, with Brooklyn now added to the mix. These Bucks may well be a better playoff team, but whether that is enough is another question.

2) Phoenix was up by 24, but James Harden’s Nets owned the fourth quarter, got win

James Harden may have come to Brooklyn because he could share more of the offensive load, but with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in street clothes Tuesday night it was time for some vintage James Harden.

He delivered, scoring 38 points and dishing out 11 assists.

Phoenix looked in control of this one, leading by 24 just before halftime and seemingly in control during the third quarter. But with Harden on the bench, the Brooklyn reserves made plays — Jeff Green had 11 points in the fourth quarter, and Joe Harris, who had 22 on the night, was knocking down shots. The role players got it close, and then Harden came in and closed it all down.

Don’t look at this as a turning point for Brooklyn, their defense was still dreadful and it’s going to haunt them in the playoffs if it is not fixed.

But the Nets — and Harden — know how to put on a show. It is a shootout nightly, and Brooklyn has plenty of weapons. The Nets are must-watch basketball right now.

3) Bismack Biyombo is doing more important things than basketball

And I don’t mean mentoring LaMelo Ball.

Biyombo spoke with me about his foundation and quest to build schools and refurbish hospitals and clinics in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo. He knows the nation needs big changes, but also knows the way to do that and make it last is to change young minds and plant seeds—one at a time.

“We want to be able to impact life on a daily basis, but also it’s far beyond that,” Biyombo told NBC Sports. “I’ve seen a country that I lived in for years, every year it’s taken advantage of. Kids are not educated. The country is worth over $24 trillion [in natural resources] but is one of the poorest countries. Every day is a fight for these kids, you know…

“The goal is we want to give these kids opportunities I didn’t have,” Biyombo said. “Most of the kids want a way out; I want to give them a reason to stay. All the kids want a way out of the Congo, to me, it’s about [the nation’s oppressive] poverty. It’s hard, all this. I want to give them a reason to stay.

“That’s exposing them to the right information, putting in the right infrastructure so that they feel comfortable enough to be home, dreaming at home, living their dreams while their mother, father, family are there with them.”

It’s important work. Biyombo is changing many lives. Check out my full interview with him to see just how the veteran NBA big man is focused on the bigger picture, with a great attitude about life and providing opportunities.

NBA trade deadline tracker: latest news, rumors, deals

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Things are going to get insane in the run-up to the NBA trade deadline, at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. There’s already been a blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to Dallas, which will spawn other deals, and every team is looking for upgrades large or small. Will the Lakers make upgrades? What contenders will deepen their bench, and what teams will pivot toward the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes? We will have all the latest NBA rumors, news, and any deals that get done in one place. It’s going to get wild, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Feb. 10, 1:29 P.M.: Is potential of Durant on the move hurting Anunoby market?

• Interesting note from Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports: While there are a lot of teams still interested in a trade for Raptors wing O.G. Anunoby — the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Knicks, Pacers, Trail Blazers, Lakers, Suns, and Nets are interested — a number of those teams would prioritize Kevin Durant if he puts his trade demand back on the table this summer. With that, said teams don’t want to give up too much for Anunoby now. The market is getting soft, Anunoby is a favorite of GM Masai Ujiri in Toronto, so maybe he stays put at the deadline.

• It’s far more likely the Raptors trade Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. at the deadline. VanVleet has become one of the most talked about names in the last few days. That said, the Raptors are listening to offers, at least.

• What are the Celtics looking to do at the trade deadline? Use their $5.9 million trade exception, reports friend-of-the-site Keith Smith.

• Also from Fischer at Yahoo: Mason Plumlee appears to be the Hornet most likely to be traded.

TRADE: Heat send Dewayne Dedmond to the Spurs

San Antonio receives: Dewayne Dedmon, 2028 Heat second-round pick
Heat receive: Cash

Analysis: This is a salary dump by the Heat, and it cost them a second-round pick. Maimi now has some room under the salary cap and two open roster spots, allowing them to bring in a player — via trade or the buyout market — and convert Orlando Johnson’s two-way contract to full-time, he has played well for them. The Spurs get a second-round pick and a center for depth if they do trade Jakob Poeltl before the deadline.

Feb. 7, 11:55 A.M.: Lakers interested in Conley and Beasley from Jazz

• After striking out on Irving, the Lakers are reportedly engaged in talks to send Russell Westbrook and both of the first-round picks they can trade (2027 and 2029) to Utah for Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN. While the sides undoubtedly talked, that sounds like a rumor from the Jazz camp. The Lakers have hoarded those picks to swing for a home run, and with Conley declining this season at age 35 — and with a guaranteed $24 million on the books for next season eating up the Lakers’ cap space over the summer — this doesn’t sound like a move the Lakers would suddenly pivot and accept. The Jazz have rebuffed all offers for Conley so far, keeping the asking price high and banking on the desperation of buyers.

• The Chicago Bulls are at least listening to offers for defensive guard Alex Caruso, but they are reportedly keeping the price sky-high — two first-round picks. Don’t expect a deal, while Caruso brings value that’s a star-level asking price.

• This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has watched a minute of Brooklyn Nets basketball this season, but ESPN’s Bobby Marks says Ben Simmons has zero trade value right now. Also, the note on Durant being a summer move was something sources told NBC Sports and we wrote about previously.

• If the Miami Heat can’t find a new home for the disappointing Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, this summer they will return their focus to using his salary in a deal for a disgruntled superstar such as Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. That sounds on brand for the Heat.

• Along those lines, the Washington Wizards plan to keep Beal and re-sign Kyle Kuzma.

• Veteran Furkan Korkmaz has been bumped from his regular spot in the 76ers rotation this season and wants to be traded to a place he can get some run. Philly is looking for a new home for him as well as Matisse Thybulle.

• No, LeBron James is not happy the Lakers missed out on Kyrie Irving, but he’s pivoting to what’s going on today.

“I can’t sit here and say I’m not disappointed on not being able to land such a talent, but someone I had great chemistry with and know I got great chemistry with on the floor that can help you win championships. In my mind, in my eyes. But my focus has shifted now my focus has shifted back to where it should be, and that’s with this this club now and what we have in the locker room.”

Owners approve sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia, deal reportedly expected to close Tuesday

Phoenix Suns v Detroit Pistons
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The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors (the other owners) voted 29-0 Monday to approve the Phoenix Suns and Mercury sale to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

What that will mean for the Suns’ organization — in terms of spending on basketball operations and the roster, as well as the business structure of the franchise — remains to be seen. But the change should be welcomed by Suns fans who dealt with decades of the penny-pinching of Sarver.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 under Tom Izzo — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale. That sale price blows away the previous record for an NBA team of $3.3 billion (what Joe Tsai paid for the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center).

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father Jeff founded the business and it has grown to be one of the largest mortgage lenders in the United States, and Ishbia is worth a reported $5.1 billion. Mat is joined by his brother Justin — also a billionaire and part-owner of UWM — as co-owner and alternate governor for the team.

With the sale going through and changes coming, Suns president and CEO Jason Rowley chose to step down and leave the team. Rowley had been linked to the toxic work environment that led to former owner Robert Sarver agreeing to sell the team. A league-sponsored investigation into Sarver and how he ran the Suns found a hostile work environment with sexual harassment rampant. NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Sarver $10 million (the max he could do) and suspended Sarver for a yeara slap on the wrist — but pressure from sponsors and other NBA owners pushed Sarver to sell the team and step away. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million, but now sold his share for an estimated $1.48 billion.

Three things to Know: Cam Thomas takes over in Brooklyn, scores 47

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com 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) Cam Thomas takes over Brooklyn, scores 44 for shorthanded Nets

The list of players who have scored 40+ points in back-to-back games this season reads like the top seven picks of a fantasy draft: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, and Damian Lillard.

Now add Cam Thomas to that list.

With Kevin Durant injured and Kyrie Irving now in Dallas, the Brooklyn Nets’ second-year scoring guard has taken over the offense. He scored a career-high 44 against the Wizards on Saturday night, then on Monday topped that with 47 against the Clippers, hitting 7-of-11 from 3.

The Nets needed this. Brooklyn has been Team Drama since Kyrie Irving didn’t get his extension and demanded a trade, which has led to a lot of speculation around the league about Kevin Durant being next out the door (sources told NBC Sports to expect that issue to be resolved over the summer, not in the tight window of the trade deadline).

Thomas has been able to score since he was drafted out of LSU, but that skill was less needed when Irving and Durant were healthy and dominating the ball. His defense, playmaking, efficiency and all-around game improved this season, but the veteran-heavy Nets had guys the coaches trusted more in his role, so Thomas racked up a lot of DNP-CDs this season.

However, when the Nets needed him, he stepped up and put on a show. He is earning his run, even when Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith show up and get on the court, and Durant gets healthy.

Thomas’ career-best night wasn’t enough against the Clippers. A late 9-0 Clippers run changed the game and Los Angeles picked up the win on the road. Paul George led the Clippers with 29 points, while Kawhi Leonard added 24.

The Clippers went an impressive 4-2 on their Grammys road trip (the awards show takes over crypto.com Arena for a couple of weeks) and have moved up to fourth in the West as they head home, showing flashes of a team that could be coming together.

2) With Curry out, Klay Thompson steps up and drops 42

Stephen Curry will be out “weeks” with a leg injury, leaving concerns about where the stumbling Warriors will find enough offense.

The answer was Klay Thompson. At least on Monday night. He knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points leading the Warriors to a comfortable blow-out win over the Thunder.

Jordan Poole Sixth Man of the Year bettors are hosed as he is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, and he impressed with 21 points with 12 assists (a career-best). This was a quality win for the Warriors as the surprising Thunder have pushed themselves into contention for a play-in spot and the Warriors need to keep their head above water until Curry returns some time after the All-Star break.

3) Sale of Suns to Mat Ishbia expected to close Tuesday

The Phoenix Suns should have a new owner by the end of the day.

The NBA’s Board of Governors — the other owners — voted to approve the sale of the Phoenix Suns and Mercury to an ownership group led by Mat Ishbia.

Ishbia — a walk-on reserve guard for the Michigan State Spartans that won the national championship in 2000 — will own 57% of the team, valued at a league-record $4 billion for the sale.

Ishbia made his billions as the chairman and CEO of the nation’s largest mortgage lender, United Wholesale Mortgage, formally called UWM Holdings. Mat’s father founded the business, which is now worth a reported $7 billion, with Ishbia himself worth a reported $5.1 billion.

This brings an end to the Robert Sarver era in Phoenix, which is reason for Suns fans to celebrate. Sarver was a penny-pinching owner who agreed to sell the team after an investigation into his running of the Suns’ franchise had led to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment claims. Don’t shed a tear for Sarver, who purchased the Suns in 2004 for a then-record $401 million and just sold his share for $1.48 billion.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

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Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.