Three things to know: Bulls, Warriors handed first losses of season

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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.

Bulls are Back? While they lose game, they look legit in first real test

Last season, we learned the Knicks are back — and they are better this season, with a deeper roster and honest-to-god 3-point shooters to fear.

This season, the Bulls are back… maybe.

Chicago still has a lot to prove, but Thursday night was a step in the right direction. In the Bulls’ first real test, New York came into the United Center and outplayed Chicago much of the night in front of Joakim Noah (he was honored at the game). The Knicks led the majority of the second half comfortably — the Bulls shot 7-of-24 (29.2%) in the third quarter —.and New York took a 104-91 lead on a Julius Randle bunny with just under three minutes left in the game.

Then came the furious comeback, a 12-0 late run that gave Chicago a chance to steal a win on a DeMar DeRozan midrange jumper at the buzzer. Which hit nothing. (Watch the play, it was clearly designed for Zach LaVine to inbound the ball to DeRozan then get the ball back on a dribble hand-off, except DeRozan kept it and drove, but with Nikola Vucevic in that strong-side corner the Knicks had plenty of defenders to contest DeRozan’s shot.)

New York held on for the 104-103 win, and the Bulls got handed their first loss of the season. Both teams are now 4-1.

Zach LaVine finished with 25 points on 7-of-17 shooting in his first game playing with a thumb injury on his non-shooting hand, saying after the game, “It wasn’t pleasant, but it’s doable.” Vucevic added an efficient 22 points and DeRozan had 20. The Knicks’ size and physicality were a challenge for Chicago, which struggled to get to the rim much of the night. Also, Patrick Williams went out with a sprained wrist. Still, the Bulls did not go away, a good sign.

One of the highlights of the night: Bulls fans showed their love for their own, with MVP chants for Derrick Rose (who had a dozen points off the bench).

Chicago lost but looked like they belonged in the end, a good sign for a team trying to show they are back and one of the top teams in the East. Exactly where they stand in the conference is something we will have a better sense of in a couple of weeks as they work through a gauntlet of an upcoming schedule: undefeated Utah, Boston, two against Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Dallas, then a West Coast road trip.

2) Play-in history repeats itself: Memphis goes into Golden State, wins in OT

We’ve seen this movie before.

It felt like a remake of last season’s play-in game, because some things were different, but it ended the same way, with an up-and-coming Grizzlies team going into the Warriors building and beating Stephen Curry and company in overtime, 104-101. It was Golden State’s first loss of the season.

The Warriors go as Curry goes, and through three quarters he racked up 36 points and was his usual walking highlight show (scroll down to the Highlight of the Night for his best shot).

But Curry went scoreless in the fourth quarter and overtime, shooting 0-of-6 from 3 in that stretch.

These Grizzlies are feisty. On the second night of a road back-to-back, they got 30 points in 42 minutes out of Ja Morant (who had a key bucket in overtime), plus they played some of their best defense of the season down the stretch. Desmond Bane added 19 points and was 5-of-11 from beyond the arc.

That defense had the Warriors playing more isolation and simple basketball in the second half, getting away from the player and ball movement that have been back with them this season (and has them looking more like the championship Golden State teams). These are not the peak Warriors in the sense they don’t have the personnel or the margin for error to get away from that ball movement, and when they did the Grizzlies took advantage and handed the Warriors a loss.

Just don’t expect a lot of cold Curry fourth quarters this season.

3) The Wizards are 4-1 and can thank the Russell Westbrook trade for that

It’s far too early to judge the Russell Westbrook trade accurately — he and the Lakers are still finding their fit, but if/when he does next to LeBron James that team will be a contender.

However, so far, that trade has worked out for the Wizards. Thursday night Montrezl Harrell had a monster game off the bench — 25 points, 13 rebounds — and sparked a 122-111 win over a good Hawks team. Washington is now 4-1.

Certainly, all things Washington start with Bradley Beal, and he had 27 points in the win and had the play of the night dunking all over John Collins.

But it’s the three key players the Wizards added in the Westbrook trade — Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Harrell — who made the difference in this game and Washington’s season. Those three had 66 points against Atlanta, and for the season average 45.4 points a game. The trio also provides depth and versatility that Washington has lacked in previous years.

Don’t leave Spencer Dinwiddie off the list of big changes in Washington — he’s been exceptional, averaging 19.8 points and 4.5 assists a game — but it’s what came back in the Westbrook trade that has set the stage for a potentially impressive season in the nation’s capital.

Highlights of the night:

Come on Curry. This isn’t even fair. A one-legged running three?

The reactions to the shot are the best.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 110, Detroit 102
Washington 122, Atlanta 111
New York 103 Chicago 103
Utah 122, Houston 91
Dallas 104, San Antonio 99
Memphis 104, Golden State 101 (OT)

Wizards’ Kispert likely to miss start of season due to sprained ankle

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The Washington Wizards made fewer 3-pointers than any other team in the league last season. They didn’t take a lot (second fewest) and didn’t make the ones they took (fifth lowest percentage). One goal for Wes Unlseld Jr. this season was to change that dynamic, and second-year player Corey Kispert was a big part of that plan.

Now Kispert is out through at least the start of the season, sidelined 4-6 weeks by a sprained ankle, the team announced Wednesday.

The injury happened on a fluke play in Japan against the Warriors, but Kispert shouldn’t miss much time once the real games start. The Wizards are a little short on the wing right now with Kispert joining Deni Avdija (groin injury) in the training room.

Kispert took 62% of his shots from beyond the arc last season and hit 35% of them, both solid numbers but ones Wizards hoped would improve for the 6’6″ wing this season.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.