Three things to know: Embiid, LeBron injuries throw MVP race wide open


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) Embiid, LeBron injuries throw MVP race wide open


There is no edict from the NBA that says how many games a player can miss in a season and still win the Most Valuable Player award, but in practice that number is 10. There are exceptions — Bill Walton missed 24 games before winning back in 1978, and Allen Iverson was out for 11 games when he won in 2001 — but none in the last two decades. Voters (selected media members) rightfully note that part of being valuable to a team is being there and on the court for teammates.

At the All-Star break and midpoint of the season just more than a week ago, Joel Embiid and LeBron James appeared to be this season’s MVP frontrunners.

Embiid missed that game due to injury and has since hyperextended his knee — he has now missed 12 games and counting.

LeBron has now missed two games, the latest one after suffering a high ankle sprain on Saturday against the Pacers. The timeline on returns from that injury are all over the map, but as Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, that number is generally about 10 games. LeBron is legendary in how fast he returns from ankle issues, but if he misses 10 or more games, it will seriously dent his MVP chances.

Those injuries have thrown an already unpredictable MVP race wide open.

Denver’s Nikola Jokic certainly has the offensive numbers — 27.1 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 8.6 assists a game — and the advanced statistics love him. Some pundits already had him on the level of (or even above) Embiid and LeBron. However, concerns about his defense and only being able to lift Denver to the five seed (tied for that spot) hurt his case.

Portland’s Damian Lillard faces the same challenges as Jokic. Lillard has the numbers — 30.3 points and 7.6 assists a game — and he has been the most clutch player in the league this season. He has had to carry Portland while CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic were out (McCollum has returned to the lineup). However, Lillard’s defense is in question (and the Trail Blazers have the 29th ranked defense in the league), and Portland is the team tied with Denver for the five seed.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has come on strong of late — the Bucks have won six in a row and 11-of-12 — and he is averaging 29 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 6.4 assists a game. However, Antetokounmpo faces voter fatigue and doubts after winning the award two years in a row only to have his Bucks flame out in the playoffs (and he had some rough series)

There are other players in the mix, but they have bigger questions. Stephen Curry is carrying the Warriors’ offense and putting up MVP numbers, but Golden State is just a game above .500 and the nine seed. Luka Doncic started slow in Dallas but came on as the season moved on and Dallas has climbed the standings (but is still eighth). James Harden has been a playmaking revelation in Brooklyn, but he started the season by showing up to Houston out of shape, demanding a trade, and torpedoing that franchise’s season. Kawhi Leonard has looked dominant at points, but he and the Clippers have been inconsistent. Kevin Durant played at an MVP level but now has missed 24 games (and counting) this season.

Maybe LeBron returns after only missing five games, doesn’t look like he has missed a beat on the court, and grabs ahold of this race. Or maybe as the Lakers slip, Jokic lifts Denver into the top four in the West, which helps bolster his case. Or…maybe a lot of things.

All we know for sure is that with 30 games remaining, the MVP race is as wide open as it has been in a long, long time.

2) Rookie of the Year frontrunner LaMelo Ball fractures wrist

LaMelo Ball had done something this season we didn’t think possible — he made the Charlotte Hornets must-watch television.

Which is why this news feels like a punch to the gut. LaMelo — who is the clear Rookie of the Year frontrunner — likely is out for the rest of the season due to a fractured wrist suffered against the Clippers Saturday. While the team left the timeline for a return open, other reports suggest we will not see Ball again this season.

Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game this season. He also is helping Charlotte win games — something rare for a rookie. Charlotte sits as the eighth seed in the East and will struggle to hold onto that slot without Ball in the rotation.

The injury happened midway through the second quarter Saturday. LaMelo drove the lane in transition and landed awkwardly on his wrist. He played the rest of the game but heavily favored his left hand.

Charlotte has been mentioned in trade rumors as a potential seller at the deadline, but that dynamic may change after this injury. If the Hornets are serious about making the playoffs, they may need to be buyers.

3) Blake Griffin is back — and dunking

Blake Griffin made his debut as a Brooklyn Net on Sunday.

Since the signing, pundits had been warning Nets fans, “don’t expect Lob City Griffin, he’s not the same player.” Griffin hadn’t even dunked a ball since December of 2019.

So how did he get his first bucket as a Net?

And that wasn’t the only play he was making he simply wasn’t in Detroit.

Griffin played 15 minutes Sunday, had just that one basket, but showed off his playmaking and passing, and generally looked like a guy who could play backup big man minutes. He could be a boost for the Nets at the five, with DeAndre Jordan basically being a matchup-dependent option at this point. That is all the Nets were hoping for. It’s one game, small sample size theater is in play, but the Nets should be happy.

As for the game itself, a feisty Washington team showed up to take on Brooklyn, but 28 points from Kyrie Irving and Harden adding 26 sparked a 113-106 Nets victory.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.

Watch Anthony Davis score 37, spark Lakers to key win against Thunder


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis had 37 points and 14 rebounds, Dennis Schröder added 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers got a vital victory for their playoff hopes, 116-111 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

Lonnie Walker scored 20 points in an impressive return to the rotation for the Lakers, who won their third straight to move even with Minnesota in seventh place in the Western Conference standings despite the injury absences of LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell.

“It was a must-win game for us,” said Davis, who made 15 of his 21 shots. “We had to come out and get this game, and we came out offensive and defensively just playing extremely well. … We’ve got to .500, and now it’s time to get on the other side.”

With Davis leading the way on both ends of the court, Los Angeles (37-37) reached .500 for the first time this year. The Lakers started the season 2-10, but they’re 12-6 since the trade deadline with a rapidly cohering roster and the looming return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

“This team is locked in and connected,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The vibe and the spirit have been great. Guys are really trying to figure out how we can be better. That’s what you want. … Guys are competing because they know what they’re representing. They know the history of the franchise they’re representing.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey scored 27 points apiece for Oklahoma City, which lost for only the fourth time in 12 games down the stretch. The Thunder (36-38) dropped into a tie with Dallas for 10th in the West despite holding the Lakers to only 42 points in the second half after LA put up 41 in the first quarter alone.

“That’s a testament to our ability to scrap and hang in there,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s how you want teams to score against you. All the things they got down the stretch are things we’re willing to live with. It’s hard to slow that down.”

Russell sat out with a sore right hip, joining James on the sideline at an important game for the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Los Angeles still improved to 8-5 during James’ latest injury absence.

Oklahoma City erased all of Los Angeles’ early 17-point lead when Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper tied it at 102-102 with 5:25 to play. Davis responded with three points, and Walker hit a tiebreaking shot with 3:50 left.

Schröder replaced Russell in the starting lineup and had another standout game, including six points in the final 3:18 while the Lakers hung on. Walker got his most significant playing time since early March in Russell’s absence, and the former starter responded with four 3-pointers.

“I’ve just been in the gym, being positive and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish,” Walker said. “I love these guys, and I’m fortunate to play with them.”

Ham said Russell’s hip injury was “not too serious, but serious enough where we need to manage it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander played despite the Thunder being on the back end of consecutive games. The Thunder have been resting him in the second game of recent back-to-backs.