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) This is the Paul George the Clippers need in the playoffs, his 33 sparks win
If the Clippers are going to be more than a paper tiger, a few things need to come together for them in the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard has to be healthy and playing like his Finals MVP self (the most likely of all these things to happen). Rajon Rondo needs to be Playoff Rondo (not Atlanta Rondo from earlier this season) and give them someone to organize the offense better in the clutch. The Clippers’ threes need to keep falling at a high rate (41.6% as a team for the season, best in the league). Los Angeles needs its defense to show up nightly.
And they need this Paul George.
The one who scored 36 against Portland on Tuesday and came back Thursday with 33 points — hitting 7-of-9 from three, plus grabbing 7 rebounds — to lead the Clippers past the Suns.
“Pandemic P” took a lot of heat from fans as he struggled in the bubble last year — both on and off the court — but the Clippers view that as a one-off past from an unprecedented situation. They signed George to a max contract extension in the offseason, and he said with that he owed them a trophy. He started off the season hot before COVID-19 protocols and injuries slowed his season down at points.
George has looked like a player finding his groove the past couple of games, and Los Angeles will need that version of George going forward. The inconsistent Clippers need a lot of things to come together over the final month of the season, but this is still a team with a roster capable of winning it all. Beating Phoenix Thursday was a quality win, even if the Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back — this was a chippy game with a bit of a playoff feel where George and company looked comfortable.
It was a game that also had a dunk-of-the-year candidate from Kawhi Leonard.
Felt this one. 🤯
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) April 9, 2021
It also was a game that saw a couple of Clippers ejected. Patrick Beverley was tossed first for a shot at Chris Paul to stop a fast break. Upon review, the officials determined it wasn’t so much the shoulder check but the extended elbow that was unnecessary and excessive.
In the fourth quarter, Marcus Morris picked up a quick pair of technicals and was ejected as well.
The ejections ended up not mattering, not when George is playing at this level (it helped Leonard pitched in 27).
2) Jimmy Butler too much for shorthanded Lakers
Give the Lakers role players their credit: The team has gone 4-6 without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and even in the losses they have generally put up a fight. The team is still sliding down the standings in an unforgiving West — and the schedule is brutal going forward, including against the Nets on Saturday — but the Lakers are putting up a fight.
They did Thursday against a Miami team that has played elite defense of late but with inconsistent shooting and offense. However, that end of the floor looks a lot better when Jimmy Butler is going off for 28 and finding switching matchups he liked — he told the Lakers to stop switching Andre Drummond onto him.
Butler led the Heat to a 110-104 win where the Heat got balance behind Victor Oladipo scoring 18 on 5-of-8 shooting and his attacking the rim. Oladipo also had to leave the game with a knee injury, X-rays were negative but an MRI on Friday will tell more.
One other note from this game: Markieff Morris didn’t want his brother Marcus to have all the fun — Markieff was ejected from his game, too. (Markieff started the fun, he was ejected hours before his brother.)
3) Hall of Fame executive Rick Welts stepping down as Warriors president
Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber brought in trusted NBA executive Rick Welts and gave him a critical project: Get the Chase Center built.
Mission accomplished, and fans are about to return to the building that is a cash cow and will keep the Warriors as one of the higher revenue teams in the NBA for years.
With that, the 68-year-old Welts — a Hall of Famer with more than four decades working on the business side for teams as well as the NBA league office — has announced he will step down after this season.
“This has been the ride of a lifetime,” Welts told the Associated Press. “To have had a front-row seat to the growth of the NBA from where it was in the late 1960s to its place today as one of the most respected and successful leagues in sports on a global stage has been an incredible privilege.”
Welts is the first openly gay executive, not just in the NBA and but in major men’s professional sports, a true trailblazer. He began his life around basketball as a ball boy for the Seattle SuperSonics back in the day but eventually became a front office force around the league working for the Suns and Warriors.
The Warriors are expected to name a replacement before the end of the season.