Three things to know: Embiid makes his MVP case (Harden must be considered, too)


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) Joel Embiid makes his MVP case with 40 points against Jazz

LeBron James is mid-season MVP frontrunner: He has the narrative that carried over from last playoffs, he has the “best player on the planet” tag, and he certainly has impressive statistics and leads a Lakers team that is the bar every other team has to clear to be considered a contender (a team that has stumbled of late without Anthony Davis, but that doesn’t tarnish LeBron much).

Joel Embiid has been better this season.

The 76ers big man made his MVP case on national television Wednesday night, going right at the mid-season Defensive Player of the Year leader (and two-time winner before) Rudy Gobert and putting up 40 points, grabbing 19 rebounds, playing strong defense, hitting the three that forced overtime, and generally looking dominant in a 76ers overtime win over the Jazz, 131-123.

In a battle of the No. 1 seeds in each conference, Philadelphia won because it had the best player on the floor — Embiid. That is the definition of an MVP statement.

Embiid has better statistics across the board than LeBron: more points per game (30.2), more rebounds (11.6 per game), and the advanced stats love Embiid, who has a higher true shooting percentage, higher usage rate, better PER, more win shares and better win shares per 48 minutes (and we could go on and on, but you get the point). LeBron’s role with the Lakers is different, he is asked to do far more playmaking for everyone in a point guard role (and he has far more assists to match that), but raw numbers favor Embiid. LeBron’s case is more based on the narrative and where he has positioned the Lakers as the benchmark for title talk in the NBA. (Nikola Jokic has made his MVP case as well and should be in this conversation, although his defense may leave him third.)

Embiid is his best when he plays with a chip on his shoulder, and he had one Wednesday night — Gobert made third-team All-NBA as a center last season and Embiid believed he deserved that honor. Plus, Utah has been everyone’s darling the first half of the season with their ensemble play and winning streaks.

Embiid went right at Gobert at points (although Philly did a good job forcing Gobert off Embiid on switches), powering through the French big man on occasion and drawing fouls all night long (Donovan Mitchell went off on the officiating, scroll down to No. 3 of Three Things for more on that). On defense, Embiid had a couple of blocks but altered far more and showed his mobility — he showed out on Donovan Mitchell and other guards then recovered to protect the rim. He was a defensive force.

Philadelphia’s win was a reminder it is a contender at the top of the East, and it is there in large part because Embiid has found another level of his game under Doc Rivers. He is the best player on the No. 1 seed in the East — another definition of MVP.

There is half a season to go before votes are cast for this award, and to beat LeBron for MVP this season someone is going to have to be clear-and-away better because there seems to be a sentiment it’s LeBron’s turn, that he has lost out on chances in the past and deserves to be a five-time winner. That’s not wrong. LeBron James has been unquestionably great.

Embiid is just making the case he is better.

2) James Harden keeps playing like an MVP in his return to Houston

James Harden is not going to win the NBA’s most valuable player award. The entire season counts and that includes his ugly exit from Houston, where he showed up late to training camp, was out of shape, yelled at teammates and threw a ball at one, and sabotaged the Rockets’ season to force his way out. All that matters.

But since getting to Brooklyn, Harden has played like an MVP. He deserves down-ballot consideration.

He looked ever bit the MVP in his return to Houston, putting up a triple-double of 29 points (on 10-of-15 shooting, 4-of-8 from three), 10 rebounds, 13 assists, with three steals, and leading the Nets to a comfortable 132-114 win over the Rockets (that’s 13 straight losses for Houston). That’s eight triple-doubles for Harden since the trade.

Harden was greeted with a mix of boos and cheers in his return, and it felt a little like a bad breakup in Houston — fans were both mad at him for leaving and were remembering all the good times they had with him. Feelings were mixed, and that’s natural.

The game was also a reminder of how far apart these two teams are — and why Harden felt he needed out to get to a contender. The Rockets tried — John Wall had36 points and Victor Oladipo added 33, both season highs for the players — and it just didn’t matter. The Rockets miss Christian Wood so very much.

Harden is not beating out LeBron/Embiid/Jokic to win MVP, but he may be the Net who ends up in the top five of the voting. (Kevin Durant has played well enough to be in that mix, but he has missed too many games now to win it.) Harden is back to being James Harden the perennial MVP candidate, which makes Brooklyn that much tougher to stop.

3) Donovan Mitchell latest victim of soft ejection, and he sounds off

J.J. Redick was ejected for rolling the ball back to a referee too firmly. Devin Booker got two technical fouls within five seconds from different referees, removing him from the middle of an intense playoff-style midseason game.

Wednesday night, Donovan Mitchell was tossed with :35 seconds left in what became Utah’s loss to Philadelphia. After the game, a frustrated Mitchell went looking for a fine from the NBA — and he’ll get one — ranting about the Jazz not getting calls other teams do.

It’s tough to go out there and see how we fight and compete and to have a game like that taken from us. I’m never, ever wanting to blame a ref, to blame an official. I could say we could have done more. But this is getting out of hand. There have been games like this that we’ve won. There have been games like this that we’ve lost.But this whole refereeing stuff and the way – We’re nice. We don’t complain. We don’t get frustrated. We fight through things. And the fact that we just continually get screwed in a way by this.

We won this game, in my personal opinion. But, like I said, I’m going to give them credit. They won. Whatever. Cool. But this has been a consistent thing. And the question is: “Can we do it? Can we sustain it? Are we for real number one?” Yeah the hell we are, and it’s getting f***** ridiculous … that this is what’s happening.

We have the whole second half of the season to go and get ready for, but I’m sick of it. To be honest, we all are. And I think this is something that just – it eats me. It eats at me, man. You all know what is. We all know what it is. But it’s really getting out of hand. It’s really, really, really getting out of hand. And the league needs to do something about this. Because I want to see the Last Two Minute Report. I want to see it. But it’s getting out of hand.

Most of the night was like that. Mitchell hooked Simmons, there was contact both ways, and the Jazz felt they got the short end. In reality, Simmons is a good defender and Mitchell was seeking contact he couldn’t always get late.

Mitchell’s two technicals came within 30 seconds, both for what the league will describe as “abusive language toward a game official.” Mitchell got his first technical (with :58 seconds left) protesting a foul Embiid drew Gobert (there was a lot of contact on that play, but Embiid was egging the referee on to give Mitchell the technical). The next Jazz possession Mitchell felt he was fouled and didn’t get the call, and he kept talking. That got him a second technical and ejection.

Rudy Gobert did his part to get a fine as well.

Out in Los Angeles, Montrezl Harrell got a technical for yelling “and-one” and vented about it (if yelling “and-one” becomes a technical it will happen on literally every drive all game long).

In the case of Utah, it has hit a rough patch of the season, having lost 3-of-4 on this road trip, and they were frustrated. When things are close, it’s natural to blame the officials, and that’s part of what is going on here.

That said, there have been a lot of quick ejections lately from referees — it’s an emotional game, the players need to be able to vent a little. Referees need not to take it personally (easier said than done when someone is cussing at you), not become emotional about it, and move on. Most of the time they do, but the referees seem to be pushing back on players because they feel disrespected, and in doing so, the officials are hurting the game.

There is not a conversation going on between players and referees. Instead, officials look like the teacher who gave out detention slips like candy in high school to control a classroom. It didn’t work then; it’s not working now.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: It was Dame Time again on Wednesday. Watch Damian Lillard hit the game-winning three, then draw a game-saving charge to help Portland seal a win over Golden State.

PBT Podcast: Kings a playoff threat? Plus some summer free agent talk.


The last time the Sacramento Kings were in the playoffs, there was a Bush in the White House and Pixar released the first “Cars” movie.

They are back with a vengeance this season, going into the playoffs with a top-three seed and an elite offense, but how far can they go once in there? Maybe a long ways if things break right, and Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports get into all of that.

They discuss the passing of Knicks legend Willis Reed, then Corey’s Jukebox compares Jayson Tatum to Eddie VanHalen’s “Eruption.”

Finally, they focus on some possible free agents this summer maybe making their final runs with teams — will Draymond Green be back with the Warriors? What about Kyrie Irving with the Mavericks? The Knicks want Josh Hart back but are not getting a discount, and don’t be surprised if the Heat and Trail Blazers try to make some big moves.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, 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

LeBron James begins on court work, shoots down report of return before season’s end


Lakers fans’ dreams of their retooled roster — one that was impressive for the three games everyone was together just after the trade deadline — getting healthy and making a surprise run through the Western Conference start with one simple premise:

LeBron James getting back on the court.

There was good news on that front Thursday following his evaluation. The Lakers announced that LeBron started “on-court activity” and a “gradual basketball movement program” to return from a foot tendon issue that has sidelined him for 12 games. However, no official timeline was given for LeBron to return to the court.

At almost the same time that news broke, it was leaked to multiple reporters that LeBron was targeting a return for the final week of the season. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin summed it up well on SportsCenter:

“A league source familiar with LeBron James’ thinking told me that he believes LeBron will push for sometime over the final three games the Lakers play in Los Angeles — April 5 against the Clippers, April 7 against the Suns, April 9 against the Jazz — to target that range so long as there are no setbacks in his rehab to make his comeback. Get back onto the court, get a little bit of a dress rehearsal before either the play-in tournament or a playoff berth for the Lakers.”

Within an hour after the reports of a LeBron return timeline broke, he shot them down on Twitter.

There is zero chance word of LeBron targeting the final week of the season was leaked to at least four well-sourced NBA and Lakers’ reporters randomly or by someone that all of these people did not trust. Choose to read between the lines what you will, or who you think is pressuring whom, but this did not get out on accident. There is unquestionably a desire to get LeBron back on the court in Los Angeles before the end of the season. The Lakers need LeBron for any kind of playoff run and they don’t want to just throw him in the mix for a play-in game.

The Lakers are currently tied for 9/10 in the West with Dallas, just half a game back of the Thunder and Timberwolves for the 7/8 seeds, and 1.5 games back of the Warriors as the No. 6 seed (although they will be difficult to catch, especially with Golden State having now won two in a row on the road — the Lakers would need a record two games better than the Warriors the rest of the way). Los Angeles is also half a game up on the Pelicans and Jazz for falling out of even the play-in. The Lakers need wins.

LeBron would help with that, but he says there still is no timeline for his return.

Jaylen Brown on future with Celtics: ‘I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct’


Jaylen Brown may have one more year on his contract after this one — a fully guaranteed $28.5 million — but in today’s NBA, it’s already time to talk about his next contract.

That next deal will not be a simple extension with the Celtics (unless the extension rules change dramatically under the new CBA being negotiated). Under the current rules, Boston can offer an extension starting at around $36 million a season, however, if he goes to free agency his max contract would start at $44 million. It’s an easy call for Brown.

That means Brown would be a free agent. While Boston could offer larger raises and a fifth year other teams cannot, Brown would have the option of going anywhere he wants. Would he want to stay in Boston, playing with Jayson Tatum? Logan Murdoch of The Ringer asked him, and Brown’s answers raised eyebrows.

“I don’t know. As long as I’m needed. It’s not up to me,” he says. “We’ll see how they feel about me over time and I feel about them over time. Hopefully, whatever it is, it makes sense. But I will stay where I’m wanted. I will stay where I’m needed and treated correct…

“I just enjoy the time that you have now,” he says. “If it’s your whole career, it’s your whole career. If it’s not, it’s not. Some of the greatest players of all time haven’t finished with their organization. Michael Jordan retired a Wizard. As much as we like it here and enjoy being here, you see where life takes you. You see how the process goes. All you do is really focus on what’s in front of you right now, to be honest. But I don’t really know or want to answer that question because that type of stuff makes Celtics fans speculate and go crazy. Especially right now, I’ll just say we’ll get there when we get there.”

Some have tried to spin those comments as “Brown is not fully committed to Boston.” To my eyes, it reads more like a message to the Celtics that if they don’t want to pay him the max another team will. Brown is an All-NBA level player on the court and a smart, independent mind off it — one not bound to convention. He wasn’t going to play the “this is the only place I ever want to play” game that placates fans, even when the players don’t mean it. Brown was honest.

If Brad Steven and the Celtics toy around with trying to get Brown for less than the max, he’s got options. For example, the Hawks are watching the Atlanta area native, a source told Sean Deveney of

“One reason the Hawks are trying to unload (John) Collins is to get that cap space and be in position to add someone, another star, with Trae,” one Eastern Conference executive said. “It is not easy to get free agents to Atlanta but Jaylen Brown would be different—they want to be in position, at least, to make a move if he wants to be there. I think there is not question they are watching the situation with him. Closely.”

Most likely, the Celtics will re-sign Brown out in the summer of 2024 and this is all moot. But if the Celtics have a couple of rough playoffs, things could feel different. Whatever happens, Brown is open to it.

Three things to Know: Towns hits game-winning free throws in night of stars returning


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) Karl-Anthony Towns returns and hits game-winning free throws

Karl-Anthony Towns could not have been happier.

“This is what movies is made of,” Towns said postgame (via Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic). “You come back, 51 games missing, sellout crowd, Target Center and you get the ball with seven seconds left, no timeouts. You’ve got to make it. I mean, it doesn’t get better than that. It doesn’t get better than that.”

Towns did make it, well the free throws, anyway. The Hawks’ John Collins fouled Towns on his final shot — something upheld by a review — then KAT sank both free throws to give Minnesota the 125-124 win.

Towns finished with 22 points and showed a little rust shooting 8-of-18 (but hitting 2-of-3 from beyond the arc), which is to be expected after being out since Nov. 28 with a calf strain. The Timberwolves got a needed win in the tight West playoff chase, and did it without Anthony Edwards (still out with a sprained ankle).

The Hawks got hosed on what would have been their chance on game-winning free throws.

There were 3.6 seconds left on the clock after Towns’ free throws and the Hawks called time out to set up an inbounds play. That ended up being a Collins 3-pointer that did not hit the rim, but Atlanta’s Saddiq Bey was in position for the offensive board and appeared to be fouled by Taurean Prince. After the game, referee crew chief Ben Taylor told a pool reporter his crew missed the call.

“On postgame review we see it. It appears that Prince moves back into Bey’s space, and we should have assessed a foul on the play.”

Trey Young finished with 29 points and eight assists to lead Atlanta. The Hawks remain the No.8 seed in the East, one game up on Raptors (they are now three back in the loss column from the No.7 seed Heat, who will be next to impossible to catch).

2) Ja Morant comes off bench in return from suspension, scores 17

Ja Morant was welcomed back with a standing ovation and a roar from the Grizzlies faithful Wednesday night.

“Obviously, I’m thankful and grateful for everybody who has been supporting me during this time,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “It definitely helped me a lot. Definitely made me feel a little better. Eased everything that’s been going on. Felt good to be back. Super excited and glad we were able to get the win.”

Morant had missed nine games (eight due to a league suspension) following an incident where he flashed a gun in a club and broadcast it on social media. Morant took time away and got counseling in Florida on how to better manage the stress in his life.

He didn’t play hoop or workout much during that time, so he came off the bench and had a minutes limit in his return while he plays himself back into shape. Time away or not, the explosive hops are still there.

Morant finished with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting in a 130-125 Grizzlies win over the Rockets. Jaren Jackson Jr. continued his hot play with 37 to lead Memphis.

The win put the Grizzlies two full games up on the Kings for the No.2 seed in the West.

3) Luka Dončić scores 30 in return, it’s not enough to beat Warriors

Luka Dončić returned after missing five games with a left thigh strain and it didn’t look like he missed a day — 30 points,17 rebounds, and a couple of ridiculously good assists.

It just wasn’t enough, not with Kyrie Irving out (foot soreness).

In a defense-free game — the losing Mavericks had a 127.6 offensive rating— Stephen Curry and the Warriors had a couple more buckets and picked up the 127-125 win. Curry finished with 20 points, while Jonathan Kuminga led the Warriors with 22.

That’s not what anyone is talking about out of this game. Instead, it’s the bizarre inbounds play that gave the Warriors two easy points.

Toward the end of the third quarter, Golden State’s Anthony Lamb missed a straight-on 3-pointer and the rebound caromed out of bounds. The baseline referee points it would remain the Warriors’ ball, but then instantly transitions into pointing the other direction to call a Mavericks timeout. That confused the Mavericks, who thought he signaled their ball. After the timeout came the inbounds play.

The Mavericks thought it was their ball (although why nobody came down to take the ball out is confusing), and after the game owner Mark Cuban sent out this angry Tweet and said he would file a protest over the game.

Referee crew chief Sean Wright explained the call postgame.

Initially on the floor the original signal was in fact Golden State ball as this can be seen on video. There is a second signal but that signal is for a mandatory timeout that was due to the Mavs.

The Mavericks’ loss drops them a game below .500 and tied with the Lakers for the 9/10 seeds in the West play-in. The Warriors remain the No.6 seed.