Three things to know: No LeBron, Davis tweaks ankle, Westbrook steps up for LA

Los Angeles Lakers  v San Antonio Spurs
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out 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) With LeBron out, Davis tweaks ankle, Lakers get enough from Westbrook

This is why LeBron James and the Lakers wanted Russell Westbrook.

Through three quarters in San Antonio, the Lakers were down 12. LeBron James was out with ankle soreness after the Grizzlies’ Desmond Bane was knocked into LeBron’s leg last game. With all the injuries, coach Frank Vogel was left with odd rotations and was just throwing lineups against a wall hoping that something stuck. He was giving Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook big minutes — on the first night of a back-to-back and just the fourth game of the season — because he had no other good options.

The Lakers could have folded, but instead outscored the Spurs 40-24 in the 4th quarter overtime to win, 125-121. Anthony Davis continued his MVP-level play with 35 points and four blocks — he was the best Laker on both ends of the court, even playing through a tweaked ankle that rolled on a shot attempt in the fourth quarter.

Russell Westbrook stepped up with his best game as a Laker when it mattered, scoring 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter and OT and relentlessly attacking the rim. Westbrook finished with 33 and was the player the Lakers needed in crunch time.

Malik Monk started in place of LeBron, scored 17, and was a team-best +31 in a game the Lakers won by four.

For the Spurs, missed free throws will haunt their nightmares. The Spurs shot 12-of-22 from the stripe overall, and late in the fourth Jakob Poeltl and Devin Vassell combine to miss four straight free throws. Poeltl continues to quietly impress in San Antonio with 27 points and 14 rebounds, plus some strong defense in the paint against Los Angeles. Just ask Davis.

The concerns about the 2-2 Lakers are not going away: Their two wins are against expected borderline playoff teams (the Grizzlies and Spurs) and required big minutes and games from their stars to get there (LeBron played 40 minutes against Memphis, through his ankle issue). It’s just four games, but the Lakers’ offense and defense are in the middle of the pack statistically. They are finding ways to win as they figure things out, but it’s not pretty.

The Lakers just need to stay healthy, and these last couple of games show how fragile that can be in Los Angeles.

2) Nikola Jokic leaves with bruised knee, Utah pulls away to remain undefeated

Don’t forget about the Utah Jazz — they are 3-0 and with the best net rating in the NBA to start the season at +16.4 (that’s once you filter out garbage time, as Cleaning the Glass does). While there is understandably a “sure, but let’s see what they do in the playoffs” attitude about the Jazz from fans and pundits, it doesn’t make them any less of a regular season force — nobody should blink if they have the best record in the regular season.

That record got better Tuesday when they pulled away to beat the Nuggets, 122-110. This game turned on two things.

First was Nikola Jokic going down with a knee injury in the second quarter and not returning to the game.

Jokic had been a force up to that point: 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting with six boards and six assists. The injury was just unlucky. Jokic was guard Rudy Gobert on the block, Gobert faced up and tried to drive baseline, and the two men banged knees. Jokic got the worst of it, and while he can out and tested his leg during second-half warmups, the Nuggets wisely decided to play it safe.

Denver is not the same without the reigning MVP on the court: In his 118 minutes played this season, the Nuggets are +37; in the 74 minutes he is out they are -43. This is still a team without star point guard Jamal Murray, who is recovering from a torn ACL.

The good news is Nuggets coach Michal Malone said after the game Jokic’s knee injury doesn’t appear to be anything serious. He wouldn’t guess at a timeline, but it doesn’t sound structural or something that will sideline Jokic for an extended period. Which is a relief, considering how much pain he was in at the time.

The biggest difference between the Nuggets and Jazz Tuesday was the bench units: Utah dominated those minutes. Every Nuggets bench player — Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers — were negative double digits in +/- for the game, while Jordan Clarkson scored 19 and Joe Ingles 13 off a dominant Utah bench.

Things could look different if a healthy Nuggets team meets the Jazz in the postseason, but that is months away. Right now, the Jazz bring continuity to the table that no other NBA team can match.

3) New York fans chant “where’s Ben Simmons” as Knicks beat 76ers

Knicks fans were loving it — Madison Square Garden was on its feet as New York outscored Philly 39-16 in the second quarter and pulled away for a comfortable 112-99 win.

Knicks fans even rubbed some salt in the wound with some “where’s Ben Simmons” chants.

This was a very Tom Thibodeau win — New York just played harder and with more focus than the 76ers. The Knicks played solid defense and had a balanced offense — Kemba Walker was the high scorer with 19. In addition, Obi Toppin was an energy force off the bench who helped change the dynamic of the game.

The biggest difference with the Knicks this season is they are draining 3-pointers at a Warriors-like rate. New York was 16-of-37 from beyond the arc Tuesday, which gives them 70 3-pointers through four games, tied for the most ever through four games of the season (last year’s Bucks, that stat courtesy ESPN Stats and info).

The threat of Kemba Walker or Evan Fournier shooting a three off the pick-and-roll just opens up the Knicks’ offense in a way it was not last season.

Highlight of the night:

Back to San Antonio, where Russell Westbrook’s slam in overtime fired up the Lakers and reminded us there are no other athletes like Westbrook.

Last night’s scores:

New York 112, Philadelphia 99
Golden State 106, Oklahoma City 98
Dallas 116, Houston 106
L.A. Lakers 125, San Antonio 121 (OT)
Utah 122, Denver 110

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.