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) With LeBron out, Davis tweaks ankle, Lakers get enough from 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.