Three things to know: Nets fall to 1-2 as Harden struggles to start season

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets
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LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) James Harden is scuffling to start season, Nets fall to 1-2

The foundation of the belief the Nets would be fine without Kyrie Irvingin fact, that they would still be favorites to win the title without him — is they still had Kevin Durant and James Harden, two of the world’s top five players (depending on your ranking), two guys who can carry the team to wins on their own.

Durant has lived up to his part of the billing through three games, looking like an MVP.

Harden has not. And the Nets are 1-2.

It’s only three games, but Harden is shooting 19-of-49 (38.8%) overall, 9-of-23 (39.1%) on 3-pointers, but with 17 turnovers.

Then there is Harden not drawing fouls: He has attempted nine total free throws through three games. Last season he averaged 7.3 attempts per game. Harden has been one of the game’s true foul hunters the past few seasons, and Nets’ coach Steve Nash said his star has become the poster boy for the new rule interpretation not giving fouls to non-basketball moves. It’s led to Harden not getting calls on actual fouls, Nash said. Harden agrees.

Let’s for a moment bask in the irony of Nash making that claim. Last season, the Brooklyn coach said “that’s not basketball” when Trae Young was making non-basketball moves to draw fouls against the Nets, but now that it’s his guy not getting those calls, Nash thinks it’s not fair.

Back to Harden… he’s not himself. And he owned it, here are his postgame comments, via Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

“I’m just getting my confidence back. I’m a little hesitant. You guys can see it. Just going through a lot of ups & downs last year, then coming into training camp healthy, making sure my conditioning is where it needed to be”

Brooklyn’s early-season issues go beyond just Harden’s slow start (or even Kyrie Irving’s absence, although they could use him). Defensively, Brooklyn seemingly has no rim protection with many lineups, which has led to a bottom 10 defense in the league so far. Yes, it’s early in the season, but defense was a concern for Brooklyn going into the season and the fact Charlotte got both good looks from 3 and got to the rim seemingly at will is a big reason the Nets are 1-2.

Let’s give the Hornets some props; they are 3-0 this young thanks to an elite offense — LaMelo Ball appears to have taken a step forward, the Hornets are both bombing threes and aggressively driving the rim — and enough defense to earn those wins. Charlotte has looked sharp.

Still, this has not been the start to the season the Nets pictured, both on and off the court.

It’s far, far too early in the season to panic in Brooklyn. However, with no Irving, the Nets’ margin for error is gone, and to win they will need MVP-level Harden to return to Brooklyn.

2) Despite the Ja Morant show, Lakers play best game so far, get first win

Confession time: Ja Morant has become my single favorite player to watch in the league. He’s not the best player, but I can’t take my eyes off him — and neither could Lakers fans at Staples Center Sunday night. Morant had them buzzing with his acrobatic plays on his way to scoring 40. Plus, he’s developed a steady 3-ball now (5-of-7 against the Lakers), which makes him impossible to cover.

Those Staples Center fans also got to see the best Lakers performance of the season and the team’s first win, 118-115 over the Grizzlies.

A lot of things looked better. The Lakers played faster, pushing the ball even after makes, and attacking the rim in transition. In the halfcourt, the Lakers didn’t settle and started driving off kick-out passes rather than putting up contested jumpers, and Grizzlies didn’t have the rim protection to stop them — the Lakers got 20 points in the paint in the first quarter.

Then the 3-pointers started to fall. The Lakers hit 16-of-30 from 3 for the game, with LeBron James going 4-of-9 from deep and Carmelo Anthony hitting 6-of-8. With one of those 3s in the third quarter, Anthony passed Moses Malone for ninth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Anthony led the Lakers with 28 points for the night.

The other key offensive move for the Lakers was they finally had Russel Westbrook setting screens for LeBron, a 3-1 pick-and-roll, and Westbrook rolling/cutting to the rim worked because he is dangerous in that role (as opposed to standing at the arc like a jump shooter).

Los Angeles was tighter with their defensive rotations, and Anthony Davis was a wall inside with four blocks — Davis has been everything the Lakers need from him so far. He has been brilliant through three games this season and finished with 22 points. LeBron added 19. The Lakers bench, behind Anthony’s game-high 28 points, outplayed the Grizzlies’ bench.

It took all of that to get the win, and the Lakers are not going to sustain that level of shooting from 3 every night. Still, Vogel found good ways to use Russell Westbook in spots, and the team seems to have found a stride. There’s still a lot of work to do, but things look a lot better for the Lakers for a night.

3) Rockets’ rookie Jalen Green is putting on a show, drops 30

Jalen Green put on a show in Houston, which will likely be the first of many. He tries to end guys every time he attacks the rim, and he put up 30 against Boston on Sunday. Green is just a walking bucket.

Boston still got the win behind 31 from Jayson Tatum, but the Rockets and Green are entertaining to watch.

Highlight of the night:

Thunder fan Conner sinks the half-court shot — with some Kawhi Leonard bouncing on the rim action — to win $20,000.

Last night’s scores:

Charlotte 111, Brooklyn 95
Orlando 110, New York 104
Boston 107, Houston 97
Philadelphia 115, Oklahoma City, 103
Golden State 119, Sacramento 107
L.A. Lakers 118, Memphis 115

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Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.