The NBA season has less than a month to go, 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) Jazz players aren’t worried after back-to-back losses to Timberwolves, should they be?
It was not pretty — and it could cost them the No. 1 seed.
The Utah Jazz just dropped two straight games to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team already eliminated from the playoffs and with the second-worst record in the NBA. Monday’s loss was excruciating because two-time — likely soon to be three-time — Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert blew a switch, allowing D'Angelo Russell to have an uncontested layup for the game-winner. “If I don’t f*** up defensively, we win,” is how Gobert put it.
Two straight losses to the Timberwolves, plus one to the LeBron-less Lakers, and the Jazz have dropped 3-of-5 and their lead over the Suns for the best record in the West and homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is down to just one game. The losses lead to many questions: Can the Jazz defend scoring guards well enough to reach the Finals? What happened to the Jordan Clarkson from the first half of the season? What happened to the entire bench? Why won’t Royce O’Neale take a clean-look three, and can he make it if he does?
All of this has Jazz fans worried. Understandably. Utah is an ensemble team, one that can’t have off nights from its third or fifth best players and still beat the Lakers or Clippers of the world. Everything has to be clicking, and the losses to the Timberwolves prove it is not with just three weeks to go in the season.
The Jazz, however, are not worried.
The fantastic Andy Larsen of the Salt Lake Tribune asked Gobert if he had any worries: “None. I would be concerned if we were giving up 140 points. … Every team has some nights like this.”
Quin Snyder gave a much more coach-speak answer to the same question, but it was essentially the same — he’s not worried.
They have a point for one key reason: Donovan Mitchell is out. He’s missed the last five games with a sprained ankle (and likely will miss another week or more).
Mitchell is their best player and the one guy on this team capable of flipping a switch, going into attack mode, putting up 40, and taking over a game. He is the one Jazz player who can decide “we’re not losing to Minnesota again” and just flip a switch and make that happen.
The Jazz are an ensemble, and if it is going to struggle if its third or fifth best player is off, we should expect the same when their best player is out. Utah should be whole come the playoffs, and that’s when the real test comes (not against the Timberwolves).
2) Chris Paul ends Knicks’ win streak, Suns keep on rolling
While the Jazz stumble atop the West, the Suns keep on rising.
Phoenix went 3-2 on a tough five-game East Coast road swing and topped it off Monday night knocking off a Knicks team that had won nine in a row. Devin Booker had 33, Mikal Bridges had an efficient 21 points, but it was Chris Paul taking over late — scoring the Suns’ final seven points and sticking the dagger in them with a “how did he get that off” free throw line jumper — that was the difference.
Phoenix is just one game back of the Jazz for the best record in the West, and while Utah stumbles without Mitchell, the Suns keep finding ways to win.
The Suns have a tougher schedule the rest of the way — starting with the Clippers Wednesday then the Jazz on Friday — but this team has surprised the league all season long. Why can’t it keep on doing it now?
3) John Wall is out for the season with a hamstring strain
The basketball gods have had it in for Houston of late: D.J. Augustin, Eric Gordon, Sterling Brown, Dante Exum, and David Nwaba are all out due to injuries, Christian Wood missed the last game, and rookie Jae’Sean Tate had to go to the locker room during the middle of the last game with a tight back.
Now the Rockets will be without John Wall the rest of the season due to a strained hamstring, the team announced.
Wall started the season on fire and, even after slowing down of late, averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists a game this season. While the efficiency is not there anymore, but his confidence is, Wall sees himself as an All-Star in this league.
With two years and $91.7 million left on his current contract, expect Wall to be back as the face of the Rockets next season (they would have to give up so many sweeteners to move that contract it wouldn’t be worth it).