Three things to know: Mavericks execute winning game plan vs. Jazz

Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith and Jazz center Rudy Gobert
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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) Mavericks beat Jazz, show Western Conference pecking order isn’t completely settled

The Jazz and Mavericks looked like similar-caliber teams entering the season.

Instead, Utah has been the NBA’s best team throughout the year. Dallas had been one of the biggest disappointments.

How wide is the gap actually now? The Jazz remain the better team, but the Mavericks are coming around – and made Utah look just a little vulnerable.

Luka Doncic (31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) led Dallas to a 111-103 victory over the Jazz yesterday. Even without Kristaps Porzingis (sprained right wrist), the Mavericks won their fifth straight game.

Utah center Rudy Gobert nominally defended Dallas forward Dorian Finney-Smith so Gobert – a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate – could protect the paint. But Finney-Smith capitalized on his open perimeter looks, scoring 23 points on 5-of-12 3-point shooting.

Finney-Smith finding his long-range stroke after a cold start has helped key the Mavericks’ turnaround. When the unreliable but capable shooter is hitting, Dallas’ floor-spacing and scoring are that much better.

Maybe the Jazz will just live with that risk. They shot just 27% to the Mavericks’ 47% on 3-pointers and lost by only eight. Make-or-miss league, etc.

But to make a deep playoff run, Utah will inevitably run into a team with even better shooters. How will Gobert defend then? He’s more capable of guarding on the perimeter than his detractors say. Still, that’s not playing to his strengths.

Don’t overreact to a single regular-season game. The Jazz have been biding their time to answer those postseason questions for a while. Utah had also just won nine straight entering the night.

But it seemed Finney-Smith, Doncic and Gobert cared about this game when they got into a tussle:

2) Nets star James Harden hurt again, but Kyrie Irving steps up against Knicks

At some point, it’d be nice if the Nets get their big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie on the floor together again to develop chemistry before the playoffs. Especially now that Brooklyn has added LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffinoffensive-oriented former stars accustomed to big roles.

But Harden reinjured his hamstring in the Nets’ 114-112 win over the Knicks yesterday. So, even if Durant returns soon, Harden is back on the shelf.

Still, it’s tough to fret when Kyrie Irving (40 points and seven assists) is putting on this dazzling performance of shot-making:

Imagine if Brooklyn had more than one star against the Knicks’ big five.

3) Raptors’ Gary Trent Jr. hits game-winning buzzer-beating 3-pointer

Does it bode well for the Raptors’ playoff hopes that they were trailing the lowly Wizards in the final seconds? No.

But results matter, and Toronto got what could prove to be a critical win with this awesome Gary Trent Jr. game-winner:

After losing 13 of 14, Toronto has demolished the Warriors and beaten the Wizards in a thriller. Maybe that’ll help chemistry.

The upcoming schedule is soft enough for the Raptors make a run – if they stop getting in their own way.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.


Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans


Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37, Scoot Henderson 28, as both make case to go No.1


The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?