Three things to know: Preseason title favorites Nets, Lakers continue to stumble


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) NBA’s new foul-hunting rules are exactly what fans, the league needed

It’s not just James Harden — free throw attempts are down around the NBA. So far this season, the average NBA game has seen 40 free throws a game. That is down 2.6 attempts a game from a season ago and 6.2 attempts a game from both the bubble 2019-20 season and the pre-COVID 2018-19 season.

The reason is referees got a new set of orders to no longer call fouls on players making non-basketball moves — “abnormal, abrupt, or overt movements” that are not part of a natural basketball play — and the result is foul hunting is not drawing whistles anymore.

Harden was the master of this and is struggling to adjust.

Harden is not alone; here is Patrick Beverley (and he owns it, raising his hands after the play).

Those are just two of multiple plays we could show from last night, and it has been like that every night so far as players are still trying to adjust to their new reality.

This is precisely what the NBA needed. Foul hunting had taken over the game as shooters at the arc made awkward leaps forward into defenders, players driving the lane leaped sideways into properly-positioned defenders, shooters kicked out their legs to create contact, and elite defenders going against Harden (and, sometimes, others) had to play with their hands behind their backs to show officials they were not fouling.

The flow of the game is better — basketball looks better when its athletes are allowed to play basketball.

The next step for the NBA? Ban the Euro foul — or transition take foul, officially — where a defender grabs a player with the ball at halfcourt or in the backcourt to prevent a fast break opportunity. The use of that foul to take away outnumbered scoring attacks appears to be on the rise — using the eye test — and it is robbing fans of one of the best parts of the game. (I am far from the only person complaining about this, Zach Lowe and Tim Bontemps of ESPN did on a podcast, as did Nate Duncan and John Hollinger on their pod.)

Again, the NBA is at its best when its athletes are allowed to play basketball — and transition plays are the most exciting in the game. It’s statistically wise to commit a take-foul (teams score at a much higher rate in transition than in the half-court), so smart players are more and more leaning on it to stop transition plays a few times a game. It’s blocking the most exciting play because there is no real penalty.

You didn’t see Euro fouls at the Olympics because in international basketball, that kind of foul leads to two free throws and teams keep the ball. In the G-League, it’s one free throw and the team gets the ball out of bounds. It’s the same idea, players stop making the foul because it no longer helps the team.

The NBA needs to bring that G-League take foul rule up to the NBA — let the players play. That is what we want to see, not referees blowing their whistle because a smart player has figured out how to game the system.

2) Ugly second half sees Lakers fall to Thunder; Westbrook ejected

Five games into a marathon of an NBA season is far too early to panic — we knew it would take time for the Lakers to gel. Bettors have not come off Los Angeles, the Lakers remain the second favorite to win the NBA title at +450 over at our partner Points Bet.

But the warning signs are flashing around the Lakers, who were without LeBron James for the second straight game but still blew a 26-point lead to a winless Thunder team —and completely lost their composure in the process.

The Lakers have two clear weaknesses to start the season, and both were on full display Wednesday night.

The first: this is not a good or consistent jump-shooting team. The Lakers’ win against the Grizzlies came in part because they were 16-of-30 from beyond the arc, but in this loss they started 6-of-10 on 3-pointers and then went 5-of-25 the rest of the way. To drive that point home, you can watch Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony airball game-tying threes in the final seconds.

Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook decided to become jump shooters in the second half, and it didn’t work out.

In the first half, Davis shot 6-of-8, and no shot was farther than 15 feet away from the rim (at the elbow).

Davis took 13 shots in the second half, four near the rim and nine were jumpers (he shot 3-of-9 on those). Westbrook took four shots at the rim in the second half (making two) and was 3-of-10 on jumpers. That’s a combined 6-of-19 on jump shots in the second half from the Lakers two stars, guys not the least bit consistent from distance.

The other issue is that the Lakers are not a good defensive team: They have a 111.5 defensive rating this season, 23rd in the NBA. Against the young Thunder the Lakers had a 115.2 defensive rating for the game, and it was north of 130 for the second half (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Davis has played at a Defensive Player of the Year level to start the season — his 12 blocked shots are third in the NBA — but he can only clean up so many mistakes of perimeter defenders who let their men get wherever they want.

Then there is the composure issue — without the steadying hand of LeBron the Lakers could not right the ship. Then Russell Westbrook got tossed because Darius Bazley decided to put an exclamation point on the Thunder win.

Westbrook had a quadruple-double: 20 points, 13 assists, 14 rebounds and 10 turnovers. It’s that last stat that hurt the Lakers most. Also, if you don’t want guys dunking on you at the end of your loss, play better. This wasn’t a 40-point blowout, it was a competitive game, and Bazeley has the right to dunk that every time he wants.

Give the Thunder some credit. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 27 points and may have been the best player on the court. Rookie Josh Giddey had 18 points, 10 assists and continues to show real potential early this season.

But this is still a game the Lakers should have won, even without LeBron. It is too early to panic, but that road to where the Lakers want to be in June is a lot longer and more treacherous than many expected.

3) Heat handle Nets 106-93, Brooklyn’s offense is an issue

The Brooklyn Nets have Kevin Durant (playing like an MVP), James Harden, one of the best sharpshooters in the game in Joe Harris, a Sixth Man candidate in Patty Mills, and a veteran roster loaded with household names and good young players.

The Brooklyn Nets have the 29th ranked offense in the NBA (that improves to 23rd if you filter out garbage time, but still).

The Miami Heat have the best defense in the NBA to open the season and put the clamps on the Nets offense Wednesday — Brooklyn had an offensive rating of 89.3 in this game. Harden continues to struggle and shot 4-of-12, Harris was 5-of-15, Mills 1-of-9, and you get the idea.

After the game, Durant said it’s just a matter of the team knocking down shots they know they can hit… and yes, Kyrie Irving would help matters.

Much like with the Lakers, it is far too early to reach for a panic button — I’d argue Brooklyn is more likely to fix its problems than Los Angeles (although both likely will). The Nets offense will come around. Harden has been slowed more by trying to come back from his hamstring issues than the new foul rules (although those play into it, see item No. 1 in this story), and guys like Harris and Mills will hit shots. The Nets offense will come around.

Brooklyn seems to be coasting through the first part of the regular season, with Steve Nash throwing every lineup he can at the wall to see what sticks. So far, not much, but it’s early.

It’s just not very pretty.

Highlights of the night:

Take your pick, two plays earned their way here.

First, Harrison Barnes drained the game-winning three at the buzzer to lift the Kings to a 110-107 win against the Suns (Sacramento is 2-2 through a rough schedule to start the season, and their offense is legit… playoffs?).

Four Timberwolves defenders could not stop Giannis Antetokounmpo from throwing it off the backboard to himself for a dunk. (Minnesota is 3-1 to start the season and playing good defense, and their offense will come around… playoffs?)

Last night’s scores:

Charlotte 120, Orlando 107
Washington 116, Boston 107
Miami 106, Brooklyn 93
Toronto 118, Indiana 100
Atlanta 102, New Orleans 99
Minnesota 113, Milwaukee 108
Oklahoma City 123, L.A. Lakers 115
Sacramento 110, Phoenix 107
Portland 116, Memphis 96
Cleveland 92, L.A. Clippers 79

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.



Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains


While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).


Timberwolves big man Naz Reid out indefinitely with fractured wrist

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

This sucks for a Timberwolves team finding its groove.

Part of that groove was the offensive spark of big man Naz Ried off the bench, but now he will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist, the Timberwolves announced. From the official release:

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken yesterday at Mayo Clinic Square by Dr. Kelechi Okoroha on Reid revealed a left scaphoid fracture. He will be out indefinitely and further updates on his progress will be provided when available.

A scaphoid fracture involves one of the small bones at the base of the hand that connects the wrist and fingers. Reid injured his hand on this dunk attempt against the Suns, he instinctively used his left hand to help break the fall and it took the weight of the landing.

Impressively, and despite being in pain, Reid played through the injury.

Reid developed into the sixth man, spark plug roll for the Timberwolves behind starters Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. In his last five games, Reid averaged 18.8 points on 59.1% shooting (including 45% from 3 on four attempts a night) and grabbed 5.2 rebounds in his 22 minutes.

Reid is a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves want to keep him and have had talks with him, but he will have plenty of suitors.

His loss will be a blow to Minnesota, especially heading into crucial games down the stretch — starting with the Lakers Friday night (a team Reid had some big games against) — and into the postseason. Expect coach Chris Finch to stagger Towns and Gobert a little more, and he can turn to Nate Knight or Luka Garza off the bench, but their role would be limited (especially come the playoffs).

Three things to Know: Do the Celtics have the Bucks number?


Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Do the Boston Celtics have the Milwaukee Bucks number?

I am often the Drum Major leading the “don’t read too much into the regular season game” parade. The marathon grind of 82 games and the circumstances surrounding any single night makes it very difficult to draw conclusions that apply to a playoff series.

Take last night’s showdown of the top two teams in the East, which saw the Celtics blow out the Bucks 140-99. Jayson Tatum scored 40 while Jaylen Brown added 30. Both Celtics’ stars sat the fourth quarter because this one was decided.

There are reasons for the Bucks’ off night. Milwaukee was on the second night of a back-to-back (they dominated the Pacers on Wednesday) and this was the first game back from a four-game road trip (those first games home are notorious letdowns). In the Celtics’ previous game, they got crushed by a struggling Wizards team.

Yet, it isn’t just this one 41-point game that has me thinking Boston is just a bad matchup and better than Milwaukee.

The two teams faced off in a Christmas Day showcase game and the Celtics won handily, 139-118. The Bucks won the rematch on Valentine’s Day in overtime (131-125), but the Celtics sat Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford — four starters — for that game.

None of those games matter if these teams meet in the second half of May, when the Eastern Conference Finals tip-off. The No. 2 seed Celtics are lined up for a harder road through the playoffs (they could face the Heat and then the 76ers). Could that take a toll on them physically before matching up with the Bucks?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. It looks like Boston has Milwaukee’s number this year.

2) Julius Randle out until start of playoffs. At least.

The No.5 seed New York Knicks appear headed for a first-round showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks have a puncher’s chance to win that series.

But only if Julius Randle plays.

The Knicks’ All-Star forward and leading scorer will be re-evaluated in two weeks due to a sprained ankle, the team announced. That timeline has him being re-evaluated just a couple of days before the Knicks tip-off in the playoffs (either April 15 or 16).

Randle rolled his ankle going for a rebound and landing on Bam Adebayo‘s foot in the second quarter Wednesday night, and he left the game not to return. Tonight’s game against the aforementioned Cavaliers (in Cleveland) will be the first game Randle has missed all season.

Randle is playing at an All-NBA level again this season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game.

3) Cancel your plans: Must-watch NBA schedule Friday night

We’re approaching the season’s end and the schedule makers lined up some games with some weight for Friday night. It’s not like you had plans you can’t cancel. Here are the games worth watching (times Eastern).

• Knicks at Cavaliers (7:30, League Pass).
This a first-round playoff matchup preview, except the Knicks will be without Julius Randle (hopefully he will be back in a couple of weeks for the games between these teams that really matter).

• Clippers at Grizzlies (8, League Pass). Russell Westbrook vs. Dillon Brooks, round two. These also are two of the top five teams in the West, and maybe the two teams in the conference playing the best ball recently (Memphis is 8-2 in their last 10, the Clippers 7-3). While Paul George is out with a sprained knee and Kawhi Leonard is questionable (personal reasons), both of them sat out for the first game in this two-game set Wednesday night and the Clippers won anyway behind a big Westbrook outing. The Grizzlies were without Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones in that first game, all are expected back tonight (the Grizzlies’ defense without Jackson was awful).

• Lakers at Timberwolves (8, NBA TV). Game of the night. Two teams in the middle of that moras at the bottom of the West (both teams are 39-38, but Minnesota has the tiebreaker coming in so is the eighth seed over the Lakers ninth), and both teams desperately need wins. The Timberwolves have been playing their best basketball of late (at least until the loss to the Suns), but will they have an answer for slowing LeBron James, and especially Anthony Davis (who remains the lynchpin to any Lakers’ success)? Matchup within the game to watch: Jarred Vanderbilt trying to slow Anthony Edwards is going to be fun.

• Nuggets at Suns (10:30, NBA TV). This lines up to be a second-round playoff preview (if both teams advance, which in this West is no lock). Does Denver have any answer for Kevin Durant? (Does anyone?) The Nuggets are on the second night of a back-to-back, but Nikola Jokić sat out the first game (a loss to the Pelicans) and is expected to play in this one. Can Deandre Ayton slow the two-time MVP?

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Brandon Ingram went off for a triple-double to lead the Pelicans past the Nuggets last night, scoring 31.