Three things to know: Lakers, Jazz in very different places right now

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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) The Lakers, Jazz are in very different places right now

Anybody following the league closely — including smart and level-headed Lakers fans — saw this result coming. The Jazz are playing as well as anyone in the league right now. Without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder, the Lakers had lost three in a row and 4-of-5 coming in, and more than that have just looked tired —mentally and physically — for weeks. Like a team in desperate need of the All-Star break (four more away).

The Lakers and Jazz are just in very different places right now, so of course Utah blew the doors off L.A. in a 114-89 win Wednesday.

Where these teams are in February doesn’t matter much. What does matter? Where they are in June. The Lakers get it (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

LeBron James: “You know this won’t define who we will be for the rest of the season and for the long haul. That’s for sure.”

Markieff Morris: “We see the Jazz, we know they beat our ass tonight. But in the playoffs it’s a different story.”

Utah has been the best team in the NBA — top five in both offense and defense — but the questions are can they maintain both their health and this level of ensemble play come the postseason? The challenges that await them were evident in the loss to the Clippers last weekend, when a long and active defense threw off those system baskets, and the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George pairing were able to find spaces in the defense and get buckets (those two thrive in the midrange). Utah can compete with anyone, but everyone understands playoff basketball is different and it looks a lot more like that Clipper game than the Laker one.

The Lakers have work to do to get back to being contenders. Obviously, they have to get and stay healthy (hence the concern about LeBron being third in the league in minutes played, he’s an ironman but still human). More than that, the Lakers still have to develop the level of trust and chemistry we saw in last year’s title team. The Lakers that started the season won a lot of games on the combination of talent and some smart role players, but the process of building good habits is ongoing with this team. Los Angeles has work to do to become the unit that moved as one we saw in the bubble.

The Lakers will get healthy and likely get back to that level. What we see now is some of the adversity any good team has to endure to reach its goals.

The Lakers will look different in June. Utah will be there waiting for them. Then it gets interesting.

2) Oklahoma City has a night, capped off by a Lou Dort game-winner

There was a big shot at the end (we’ll get to that), but what happened earlier is worth noting.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an All-Star level for the Thunder. He didn’t make the cut — the West is deep with elite guards, and Gilgeous-Alexander is going to pay the price for OKC’s record — but he’s playing at that level. Ask the Spurs, SGA dropped 42 on them.

All of that was needed to set up the final play. The Thunder also got a little help from Patty Mills, who wanted to drive in the final seconds but found himself cut off by Al Horford, and in looking to make a play inside ended up double dribbling.

That left Oklahoma City with 3.9 seconds left and a chance to win. Horford got the ball, spun, and drove the lane, Mills made the right rotation cutting off Horford’s drive to an easy game-winner, but that meant Dort got a wide-open, in rhythm three. Ballgame.

That’s a good win for a Thunder team that could use one.

3) NBA schedule is out, and the NBA is packing in games

The NBA dropped its second-half schedule on Wednesday, and if there is one takeaway, it’s this:

They are going to try their best to get to 72 games. For every team. And end the season on May 16 (followed by the play-in games starting May 18).

This means if you’re one of the teams hit hard by COVID-19 in the first half and had a lot of games postponed, well, be ready for the back-to-backs. For example, the Spurs will play 40 games in 68 days during the second half… and you thought the first half of the schedule was compacted.

The second half of the season resumes after the All-Star break on March 10, and not surprisingly with games between the four teams hit hardest by COVID-19 postponements: Washington at Memphis, and San Antonio at Dallas.

We’re not going to break down the full schedule, but know that there will be many more New York Knicks on your television, and the Jazz are landing some marquee games on the big networks.

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

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.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.