Three things to know: Westbrook’s ugly debut highlights Lakers’ challenge

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LOS ANGELES — It’s back. NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA has returned with the start of games… and still most of the drama was off the court. Come back to NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before in the NBA, plus some of the rumors, drama, and dunks going on.

1) Westbrook ugly debut a reminder these Lakers have work to do

Never forget: It’s all about LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

For all the flash and glamour, for all veteran names that make up one of the league’s most expensive rosters, the Lakers are a two-man show when it comes to winning. All the dreams of an 18th title banner in L.A. come back to LeBron and AD. They are everything.

And in the first game of the NBA season, that was almost enough — the Lakers’ dynamic duo combined for 67 points on 57.1% shooting, plus they grabbed 22 rebounds. LeBron’s jumper was falling (10-of-16 outside the paint) while Davis was a defensive force, being physical and intimidating shooters. LeBron and AD were the two best players on the court Tuesday night.

But it wasn’t enough. They got no help. No other Laker scored in double digits (Carmelo Anthony had nine points on nine shots) while the Warriors showed real depth around their star Stephen Curry (who said he played like trash despite a triple-double). Golden State got the 121-114 win.

This is where Russell Westbrook enters the story. He’s the third star, the guy LeBron wanted and the Lakers gave up a lot of depth to get, but his Laker debut was ugly. Westbrook finished with eight points on 4-of-13 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, and was a -23.

From the moment the Lakers traded for Westbrook there have been questions about fit. Westbrook is not a threat from the outside (1-of-7 shooting outside the paint Tuesday), not a defender, and not a natural fit next to the other Lakers stars. This was never going to be smooth. It was going to take a lot of work.

Every game is not going to look like Game 1 of the season (the Lakers schedule, once they get past the Suns on Friday, softens up considerably for a few weeks), things are going to get better for the Lakers. And they know it.

“It’s just one game,” LeBron said after the loss. “You want to learn from it, you want to get better, but we don’t want to harp on it too much. We know we’ll get better from it, and [Westbrook will] get better from it.”

The Lakers are the favorites and the team to beat out West, but it will be a process, and not always pretty in the regular season. The Lakers won a title with a roster built to defend, this Lakers’ roster is all about the offense, and not all the pieces fit naturally. It’s going to take time to adjust and adapt.

However, the Lakers will put the pieces together better, and if they can get LeBron and Davis to the playoffs healthy — and they play like they did in this opener — the Lakers will be playing into June. They just aren’t going to be able to coast to get there.

2) About that Brooklyn Nets coronation…

The Milwaukee Bucks would like to have a word.

The defending champs have flown under the radar through the preseason, with all the headlines and drama going to Philadelphia (keep reading to No. 3) and Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving is not playing yet a lot of prognosticators picked the Nets to win the title anyway (*raises hand*).

Tuesday night, the Bucks reminded everyone where the banner hangs and that the road to the 2022 NBA title goes through Milwaukee.

From the opening tip, the Bucks were physically more imposing, they got to their spots on the floor, they moved the ball, and basically did whatever they wanted. Plus, Milwaukee has Giannis Antetokounmpo, who reminded everyone he made a leap during the playoffs last season, he figured things out, and you better not have an MVP conversation without him.

It’s a long season. The Nets will get better and figure things out (with or without Kyrie). But remember where the champions live.

Quick injury update from that game, Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday left the game with what the team called a right heel contusion, but after the game coach Mike Budenholzer said the X-rays were negative and it was nothing serious. Don’t be shocked if Holiday misses a little time, but it doesn’t sound like it will linger.

3) Simmons gets thrown out of 76ers practice, Embiid backs bus up over him

There is nothing Adam Silver likes more on a night where the NBA tries to turn its spotlight to the game itself than to have the headlines grabbed by off-the-court drama.

But on TNT before the tip-off of the NBA season (and on ESPN and other networks all day), the talk was about Ben Simmons and the 76ers.

Simmons has gone from demanding a trade, to holding out, to showing up to training camp and being so disengaged that Doc Rivers threw him out of practice for refusing to jump into some defensive drills (insert your own joke here about how you thought he would only avoid offensive/shooting drills). Quickly, Philadelphia suspended Simmons for one game, the opener Wednesday against

Then Joel Embiid ripped Simmons: “We don’t get paid to come out here and try to babysit somebody.

Here is the big takeaway from a day full of drama and headlines:

Nothing has changed.

Sources familiar with the 76ers thinking said exactly that to NBC Sports. Simmons is trying to force Philly’s hand, but Daryl Morey is not going to suddenly take back 50¢ on the dollar for the All-Star. At some point Morey is going to have to come off the dreams of Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard, but if he waits a month or two into the season, the situation will change for a team or some other superstar will become disgruntled, and the path to a trade that works for Philly will open up.

Until then, the Sixers plan to ignore the tantrums. They’re not paid to be Simmons’ babysitter.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.