Three things to know: Is Brooklyn going to win the whole thing?


LOS ANGELES — 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) Is Brooklyn going to win the whole thing?

Count me among the skeptics when Brooklyn traded key role players and seemingly every pick for the next century to land James Harden. It didn’t seem necessary — Brooklyn already had elite offensive players in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, what it seemed they needed was better defenders. And how were those three superstars used to having the ball in their hands going to share the rock?

After seeing the Nets in person Sunday, seeing how Harden has comfortably slid into a facilitator role, seeing how their defense improving, and ultimately watching them beat the Clippers to complete a 5-0 road trip through the West — a swing that included besting both Los Angeles teams while without Kevin Durant (hamstring) — it begs the question:

Is Brooklyn the team to beat in the East? In the NBA?

They looked like it Sunday in Los Angeles.

The Nets are now 12-1 against teams over .500 — when they are focused, they get results. Granted, the Laker team they beat was without Anthony Davis, and all these teams will look different in four months when we are deep into the playoffs, but the Nets are becoming scary.

Their defense was their Achilles heel before and just after the trade; they struggled to get stops and only won in shootouts. However, after a loss to Detroit where Brooklyn couldn’t stop one of the worst offenses in the league, the team committed themselves to change.

In the past seven games, the Nets defense is 15th in the league — average. With Brooklyn’s offensive firepower, average may be enough. The Nets are switching almost everything, communicating better about those switches and recovery, but most importantly they are just much more active and engaged on that end now. The effort is there, and that’s how the Nets held the Clippers’ second-best offense in the league to a net rating four points below their season average.

On offense, Harden is playing facilitator and moving the ball in a way he simply did not (and probably should have) in Houston in recent years. And he’s still getting buckets when he needs to.

Yes, the Nets were aided by a Harden flop drawing the offensive foul on Kawhi Leonard late, but they had led comfortably through most of the second half up to that point. They had looked the better team in this game.

Brooklyn has its big three and they are starting to mesh, starting to find how Joe Harris, Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, and the rest of the role players fit around them. The East is deeper this year and both Philadelphia and Milwaukee will have a say about who is headed to the finals (maybe Boston and Miami will have a say, too, if they get their acts together).

But Brooklyn looks like a team that could win the whole thing.

2) Ryan Saunders fired as Timberwolves coach… And Chris Finch was waiting in the wings

What turned heads around the NBA Sunday night was not that Ryan Saunders was fired as the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves — the team is 7-24 and had stagnated in development. This was coming for a while.

What stunned people is how quickly Chris Finch was reported as the next head coach — he’s not coming in as an interim coach; he’s getting a multi-year deal, according to reports.

Finch is a top assistant in Toronto, and right now front offices around the league are rightfully enamored with the job Nick Nurse and staff have done there getting the team to play smart on offense and use a variety of defenses. Toronto teams have been flexible, which makes them more dangerous in the playoffs — it won them a title — and other franchises want that. Finch has interviewed for several jobs around the league in the past year.

Also, Rosas and Finch are friends, going back to when Rosas was the GM of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G-League and Finch was the coach.

However, what spun heads around the NBA was the Timberwolves hired Finch without a search and without interviewing any candidates of color — starting with David Vanterpool, another top assistant on the “should get a job” list who has interviewed with multiple teams and was on Saunders’ staff in Minnesota.

Why race to sign Finch now? Why not give the job to Vanterpool with an interim tag, see how he does through the rest of the season, then make a call on the next permanent head coach next offseason?

Finch has the gig, and the league will have questions to answer about Black head coaches’ opportunities. There are currently seven Black head coaches in the NBA (plus James Borrego in Charlotte is Latino, and Erik Spoelstra in Miami is Filipino). That number has shrunk in recent years.

3) Boston blows 24-point lead to New Orleans, loses, and faces more questions

On the one hand, it’s hard to tell just how good this Celtics’ team really is because we have not seen it fully functional yet: The foursome of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart have played just 28 minutes together this season. And that’s not changing anytime soon with Smart out until after the All-Star break.

On the other hand, something is not right with this team, especially late in games. Boston has a net rating of +1 for the season, but it has a -7.8 net rating in the fourth quarter of games (second-worst in the league). In clutch time — last five minutes of a game within five points — Boston’s net rating is -33.2.

During its comeback on Sunday, the Pelicans blitzed Tatum to get the ball out of his hands and the Celtics couldn’t make them pay for it. Walker shot 5-of-21, Brown 7-of-23. Boston is still trying to figure out how to make it all work. Brown put it this way postgame:

“We’ve just got to mature and grow up. That’s one of the things that I’ve been trying to do, to look to get other guys involved. I think that’s better for our team, but definitely gotta come out and find ways to win.”

The Celtics have time, and they need to get healthy, but if the end-of-game execution both doesn’t get more creative and just cleaner, Boston is not getting past teams like Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

One other note out of the Boston/New Orleans game — there is no way this was worthy of an ejection.

J.J. Redick had picked up a technical foul about 20 seconds earlier for language directed at a referee. Next trip down the court, Redick drew a foul, rolled the ball back to crew chief Josh Tiven — and instantly was hit with a second technical. How often does a player get tossed after the call goes his way?

Come on now. Check the ego and save the ejections for grand gestures and plays that could cause injury. I know refs have a hard job, they have players and coaches from both teams in their ears all game, but that’s part of the gig. Players do cross the line, and the referees deserve more respect, but tossing a player on something like this does not help that cause.

Three things to Know: ‘Light the Beam’ — Kings secure first playoff berth since 2006


Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out 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) Light the Beam: Kings secure first playoff berth since 2006

“Light the beam! Light the beam!”

The chant was ringing across the beam-less Moda Center in Portland Wednesday night from a healthy-sized group of Kings fans who drove (or flew) up from Sacramento to watch the Kings secure their first playoff berth since 2006. They got their wish, watching a 120-80 thrashing of the Blazers — and they made themselves heard.

Back in Sacramento, the fans gravitated to the Golden 1 Center downtown to see the beam get lit, chanting and waving flags the whole way.

The Kings have been the best story in the NBA this season, and the most entertaining team to watch with an up-tempo, high-efficiency offense (and a defense that had them winning fun-to-watch shootouts). They took a risk trading away a fan favorite in Tyrese Haliburton (who has lived up to the hype with an All-NBA-level season in Indiana), but that got them Domantas Sabonis, who became a lynchpin at the center (and very possibly an All-NBA player himself this season). Moving Haliburton also unleashed De'Aaron Fox at the point, he has been brilliant and is the frontrunner to win the NBA’s first Clutch Player of the Year award.

Then there’s Keegan Murray, who stood out at Summer League as the most NBA-ready player in this class, and he has responded by making more 3-pointers than any other rookie in NBA history.

Veteran coach Mike Brown brought it all together — a defense-first coach overseeing one of the best offenses the game has ever seen — and he likely will be rewarded with the Coach of the Year award.

This is why sport. A fan base that has suffered through an ownership group that tried to sell the team and move them out of town, that has suffered through losing season after losing season, fans that have not bought tickets to a playoff game since there was a Bush in the White House have been rewarded. The Kings are in — and not just squeaking into the postseason, they are the Pacific Division champions and the No.3 seed in the West.

This is something a story and a franchise worth celebrating. Savor this moment Kings fans, you deserve it.

2) Jalen Williams tip-in helps Thunder stay in the postseason at bottom of West

A lot of action impacting the crowded bottom of the West playoff chase. Here’s a quick breakdown.

• Jalen Williams’ putback game-winner saved the Thunder on a night they almost dropped one to the Pistons.

• The Thunder’s win combined with the Mavericks’ loss to the 76ers has Oklahoma City a full game up on Dallas for the final play-in spot, but that is really two games because OKC also owns the tiebreaker. (Dallas is also two games back in the loss column from No. 9 seed New Orleans.) Nothing is set, but the Thunder control their own destiny in making the postseason, and Luka Dončić and the Mavericks could be on the outside looking in.

Anthony Davis went off for the Lakers and they beat the Bulls in Chicago.

• The Lakers were helped out Wednesday by the return of Kevin Durant to the Suns, who helped them beat the Timberwolves 107-100. The Lakers are the No.8 seed in the West, tied with the Pelicans for No.9 but also just half a game back of the Timberwolves at No.7 (the Lakers. Timberwolves and Pelicans are all tied in the loss column at 38).

• The Clippers had the most improbable win of the night: No Kawhi Leonard, no Paul George, going up against a Memphis team that had won seven in a row. But the Clippers got a vintage Russell Westbrook performance and that was enough. They continue to sit as the No.5 seed in the West, and they could see Durant and the Suns in what would be a very interesting first-round series.

3) Knicks get win, but lost Julius Randle to sprained ankle

The Knicks picked up a win at home against the Heat, a quality win that has New York even more locked in as the No.5 seed in the East (and may have destined Miami for No.7), but that’s not what anyone is talking about.

Julius Randle sprained his ankle leaping for a rebound and landing on Bam Adebayo‘s foot in the second quarter, and he left the game not to return. As is often the case with ankle sprains, it will be later today — once the swelling has gone down and maybe an MRI is done — that they will have a true picture of the severity and how long Randle could be out.

Randle has not missed a game yet this season, but that will change. Randle is averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, playing at an All-NBA level again this season in New York. The Knicks will not be the same team without him.

The Knicks have five games remaining in the season and are almost locked in as the No.5 seed. The season ends April 9 but the Knicks would not start the playoffs (likely in Cleveland) until April 15 or 16. That’s more than two weeks to get Randle right.

Silver hopeful new CBA agreed to by Friday at midnight deadline


The sides have pushed the deadline back twice, but no more: Friday night at midnight the NBA (on behalf of the owners) and the league’s players’ union will have agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), or either side can opt-out and trigger the first steps toward a summer lockout.

“I certainly can foresee [a CBA] getting done and I hope we do get one done,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday at a press conference following a Board of Governor’s meeting.

However, he added if a new CBA is not in place, the owners planned to opt out of the current one, which would then expire June 30 (and that would become the new, hard deadline to get a new deal in place and avoid a lockout).

NBPA Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio said the players do not plan to opt-out.

“The March 31st deadline is an important benchmark, and we are doing everything in our power to reach an agreement with the league,” Tremaglio said in a statement. “If we don’t have a deal and the league decides to opt-out, it will be disappointing considering all the work both sides have put into the negotiations, and the fair nature of our requests. As far as our fans are concerned, it will be business as usual. Games will continue uninterrupted.”

The sides agreed early not to negotiate through the media, which has kept talk about roadblocks and what is on the table relatively quiet. However, the configuration of the luxury tax (with a focus on limiting higher-spending teams), new veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards, and allowing high schoolers to jump straight to the NBA are among the topics known to be up for discussion are on the table. The sides have been in talks for more than a year on a new deal, but it is a complex negotiation as the CBA covers literally every aspect of the NBA’s business.

“Still a lot to go in the next few days,” Silver said. “There’s just something about collective bargaining where deadlines are necessary and seemingly sides tend to hold their best positions until the very end. My sense is this will go down to the very end.”

The last CBA was signed in 2017 and has largely served both sides well as league profits — and with that player salaries — grew. That CBA included the early opt-outs this year and the early deadlines, hoping to avoid a potential work stoppage of any kind. Both sides are hoping to avoid that worst-case scenario.

They have until Friday to meet that first deadline.

Durant relatively quiet in return but still scores 16, helps Suns top Timberwolves


PHOENIX (AP) — Kevin Durant‘s a 13-time All-Star, a two-time NBA champion, a four-time league leader in scoring and has done just about everything else a player can do in the game of basketball.

But even he can get a little nervous on a night like Wednesday.

Devin Booker scored 29 points, Durant had 16 points and eight rebounds in his home debut and the Phoenix Suns won their third straight game, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-100.

After a huge ovation from the sellout crowd – which waited more than a month to see him play a game in Phoenix after his trade from Brooklyn – Durant missed his first six shots and finished 5 of 18 from the field, though he did hit a couple important 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.

“It was hard for me to get sleep today, it was hard for me to stop thinking about the game,” Durant said. “Sometimes you can want it too bad and you come out, start rushing and being uncharacteristic.”

“I’m glad I’m back, I’m glad I’m playing again and being one of the guys. Just building from here.”

Even with the nerves, the Suns are 4-0 with Durant in the lineup. The Timberwolves had a four-game winning streak snapped.

The Suns and Wolves are in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race, fighting to stay in the top six so they don’t fall to the play-in tournament. Every game is crucial at this point – just three wins separated the Nos. 4-11 spots coming into Wednesday.

The Suns took an 81-74 lead into the fourth quarter and held on in the final minutes.

Durant changed his shoes at halftime, hoping for some better mojo.

“I thought he battled on both ends,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I think his cardio has got to get back to the level he wants it. Once he gets that, we’ll see the Kevin that we all know.”

Chris Paul added 19 points and six assists for Phoenix.

Anthony Edwards led Minnesota with 31 points. Karl-Anthony Towns added 25.

Durant played for the first time since March 5. He was warming up for his first home game with the Suns three days later when he sprained his left ankle during pregame preparation. The injury cost him 10 games.

The timing of that ankle injury – less than an hour before his expected home debut – felt like a bad omen for the Suns, who added the 34-year-old Durant in a blockbuster trade-deadline deal that sent Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and draft picks back to the Nets.

But Phoenix managed to tread water in the standings without its newest star. His second attempt at the home debut went much better, even if his shooting touch was off.

The Timberwolves took a 51-48 halftime lead. Towns scored 20 points, hitting four 3-pointers. Booker led the Suns with 12.

The Timberwolves – and particularly center Rudy Gobert – were irritated about a 27-12 advantage in free throw attempts for the Suns.

“It’s really not fair every night,” Gobert said. “I have been in this league for 10 years and I try to always give the benefit of the doubt, but it is hard for me to think that they are not trying to help (the Suns) win tonight.

“It is hard for me to think that they didn’t try to have the Warriors win the other night or the Sacramento Kings the other night. It is just so obvious as a basketball player. I have been in this league for so long and it is disrespectful.”

Watch Jrue Holiday score career-high 51, Antetokounmpo add 38, Bucks beat Pacers


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jrue Holiday scored a career-high 51 points, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points in a triple-double and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Indiana Pacers 149-136 on Wednesday night.

“Obviously, I’m happy about it,” Holiday said. “It took me 14 years to get 50 points. It came in a game that we needed to win, so I couldn’t be happier.”

Antetokounmpo added 17 rebounds and 12 assists to help the Bucks improve to 55-21. The two-time NBA MVP was an assist shy of a triple-double at halftime with 20 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. He returned after sitting out Monday night in a victory at Detroit because of a sore knee.

“It’s hard to come up with the superlatives to describe them,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of his top scorers. “They were phenomenal. Giannis set the tone with his aggressive attacking. Then Jrue for the whole game to have 51, that’s hard to do in an NBA game.”

Holiday had 18 points in the third quarter, when the Bucks scored a season-high 46 points to build a 12-point lead. He was 20 of 30 from the field with three 3-pointers and hit 8 of 10 free throws. His previous best was 40 points in an overtime victory over visiting Boston on Feb. 14.

“Together with Giannis with 38, those two guys were special, they put us on their backs,” Budenholzer said.

The 6-foot-5 Holiday scored 30 points in the paint.

“I felt like Giannis,” Holiday said with a smile. “No dunks though.”

Brook Lopez added 21 points for the Bucks.

Rookie Bennedict Mathurin led Indiana – playing without its top three scorers – with 29 points. Aaron Nesmith had 22 and Jordan Nwora 18. Jalen Smith fouled out early in the fourth with 17. Rookie Andrew Nembhard had 15 points and 15 rebounds.

“It starts with Giannis, one of the best players in the world,” said Nwora, acquired from the Bucks on Feb. 9. “It’s always tough playing a guy like him who is so different. You have to really lock into him. Then other guys get going, Jrue comes in and gets 51. It’s tough to beat them on a night like that.”