Three things to know: Kyrie Irving takes star turn, Nets knock off Celtics

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The NBA season is into its second half, 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) Kyrie Irving takes star turn, scores 40, Nets knock off Celtics

The defensive strategy against most teams boils down to “cut off the head of the snake.” Against Dallas, slowing Luka Doncic and getting the ball out of his hands becomes the focus. Against Portland, it’s Damian Lillard. Against the Bucks, it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Good luck trying that with Brooklyn. Focus on stopping James Harden and two other elite scorers get more room to dominate.

Thursday night against Boston — and still playing without Kevin Durant — it was Kyrie Irving’s turn to take over for Brooklyn. He dropped 40 on his former team — including scoring eight points in a late 13-3 run that sealed the game — leading the Nets as they pulled away for a 121-109 win.

Irving was cooking, and it’s a joy to watch him play the way he did Thursday night (unless you’re Brad Stevens). He was draining deep threes, hitting impossible to stop little 10-12 foot fadeaways, and when Boston made a defensive mistake (like Kemba Walker going over the screen here, leaving Daniel Theis isolated against Irving), he made them pay.

This is Brooklyn’s 11th win in 12 games, and it followed the pattern of those other wins: elite scorers doing their thing (Harden had 22 and flirted with a triple-double) while Brooklyn played solid, average defense — Boston had an offensive rating of 112.4, right about the league average.

The bigger concern for Boston fans? Brooklyn’s bench was much better than this one. Actual starters vs. starters minutes were fairly even (Irving, even with his 40, was +1 for the game). The benches were the difference. Landry Shamet had a strong night for Brooklyn hitting six threes for 18 points, but everyone on the Nets bench was a positive.

Boston got Marcus Smart back and that will help as he finds his form again, but Grant Williams, Jeff Teague, and Payton Pritchard all struggled. Danny Ainge has work to do on this roster if the Celtics are going to be a threat to teams like Brooklyn come the playoffs. Right now, the Nets are just playing on a higher level.

And soon Brooklyn gets Kevin Durant back.

2) Rockets, P.J. Tucker agree to part ways; team looks for trade

P.J. Tucker has been available via trade since the day after James Harden got his wish to go to Brooklyn. Maybe before.

Yet Tucker is still a Rocket. He was frustrated enough with the situation that he told the Rockets he would not play in Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and he will be away from the team until he is traded (or bought out). Rockets coach Stephen Silas confirmed all this right after the Kings handed the Rockets their 14th straight loss.

There are teams interested in Tucker — the Lakers, Bucks, Heat, Nets, and others — but the Rockets want a quality young player back in a trade, not just more picks (they got plenty of those from Brooklyn). That is what has slowed talks, teams are reticent to give up young players they like.

Houston has been willing to wait it out, feeling the trade deadline’s pressure would get some team to flip and put a player they want in the mix. Tucker isn’t willing to wait any longer. He’s out, and he’s very likely played his last game ever as a Houston Rocket.

3) Tony Snell game-winner? Atlanta will take it, beats Toronto

John Schuhmann of NBA.com noted a telling stat after the game: Tony Snell has shot 58% on catch-and-shoot threes this season. Those things find their way into NBA team scouting reports, specifically so teams don’t do things like leave Snell open for a catch-and-shoot three in a clutch situation.

Toronto forgot that note.

Atlanta was down two with 7.1 seconds left and had the ball for one final shot. The Hawks wisely got the rock to Trae Young to let him create, he drove into the lane, and the entire Raptors defense followed him — all five Toronto defenders sagged below the free throw line.

Snell recognized it. He had been in the weakside corner but relocated to an open space on the wing. Young had the vision to see Snell — he didn’t make the easy relief valve pass out, he found the harder to locate open man — and it led to the shot of the night.

Atlanta got the kind of win it needs more of — against a team above it in the standings — if Nate McMillan and company are going to climb up into the postseason. It was a good way to start the second half of the season.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six
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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

2021 Las Vegas Summer League - Chicago Bulls v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.