Three things to know: Damian Lillard continues to struggle, as does Portland

Portland Trail Blazers v Philadelphia 76ers
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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.

1) Damian Lillard‘s struggles continue but he embraces challenge

Coming off an Olympics where he won gold playing through injury, Damian Lillard entered this season excited to play for new coach Chauncey Billups and help the Trail Blazers reach a new level.

Instead, October proved to be a horror movie for Lillard and the Trail Blazers. That continued into November on Monday night, when Lillard shot 7-of-20 overall, 2-of-9 from 3, and the Trail Blazers fell to a 76ers squad without Ben Simmons (mental health), Joel Embiid (rest) and Tobias Harris (health and safety protocols), 113-103.

Lillard is shooting 34.9% to start the season and 23.1% from beyond the arc (he is a career 37.3% from 3). Combine his struggles with a still bottom-10 Trail Blazers defense — I guess it wasn’t all the coach, Neil Olshey — and Portland has stumbled out of the gate with a 3-4 record.

After the loss Monday, Lillard admitted his struggles but said he saw it as an opportunity. Here are his postgame quotes, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“I always look at struggles as an opportunity to show my true character…

“When things go great there’s a lot of praise that goes along with that. A lot of people give you a lot of credit. They speak highly of you on social media, TV. ‘Oh Dame had 60, Dame had 50.’ They speak really highly of you. But I think it says more when you’re going through something and s*** is kind of hitting the fan and you’re struggling and everybody’s got something to say and to me the real ones, they can keep on trucking and keep on going and still find a way to get the job done…

“So, personally, I embrace that. It’s not fun. It’s not easy but it’s part of my DNA. That’s how I got to this position. I’m not angry about it. I’m frustrated with it. I do see it as a challenge and it’s one I accept and I know I’ll come out on top like I always do.”

You have to love that competitive fire. It’s why Lillard is one of the elite guards in the game.

Seven games into the season is far too early to dismiss Lillard or the Trail Blazers, who are adjusting to life under Billups. That transition from the Terry Stotts era may be part of the challenge, but this is also a Trail Blazers roster with almost no margin for error in a deep West. Lillard struggling hits them hard. So does a defense that continued to fall apart Monday night, giving up 23 to Seth Curry on a night all his misses came from 3 but he got the shots he wanted inside the arc, while George Niang added 21 off the bench.

The trade rumors will continue to swirl around Portland until Lillard finds his groove and the defense isn’t Swiss cheese.

Along those lines: You’ve got to hand it to Philadelphia fans, who tried to recruit Lillard by cheering him before the game and breaking out “we want Lillard” chants during the game.

There is no video evidence Daryl Morey led that chant.

Lillard was having none of it, saying after the game he heard the chants and “I know what it is and I know what it’s about. But I’m a Trail Blazer. I appreciate the love. I appreciate the respect that they showed and the desire or whatever but I’m 10 toes in Rip City.”

2) Come-from-ahead loss to Bulls has Marcus Smart, Celtics frustrated

Boston appeared to be in control Monday night, up 19 with just a couple of minutes left in the third quarter at home against Chicago. Then Zach LaVine got hot, the Bulls won the fourth quarter 39-11 shooting 13-of-16, and they picked up a quality road win 128-114. DeMar DeRozan continues to fit well in Chicago and scored 37, LaVine finished with 26, and Chicago is 6-1 with wins over Utah and Boston. The start of the season could not be going much better for the Bulls.

It’s the opposite for the Celtics, who are 2-5 after Monday’s ugly loss.

Marcus Smart was frustrated and said the “Jays” — Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — have to pass more and get teammates involved (Brown and Tatum dominated the ball late and were a combined 1-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter Monday).

“Every team knows we’re trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen. Every team is programmed and studied to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball…

“That’s something that they’re going to learn. They’re still learning. We’re proud of the progress they’re making, but they’re going to have to make another step and find ways to create for themselves and others on this team to open up the court for them later down in the game… It’s something we’ve been asking them to do and they’re learning.”

Smart has a point. Some of that falls on new coach Ime Udoka, but it was the same before under Brad Stevens. When the Celtics get to crunch time in games, they bring the ball up slowly, try to force a mismatch for Tatum or Brown, then run isolation plays. It’s slow and predictable.

It’s also just one of the problems in Boston, where the defense is ranked 27th in the league to start the season. A lot of the issues in Boston can improve — the ball can move more on offense, the defense should be better — but it’s also clear that in a deeper East Boston needs more talent on the roster to compete with the best teams. More help up front, and shot creation in particular (you know, guys like Evan Fournier or Gordon Hayward or Kemba Walker, all of whom are having quality seasons for other teams right now).

Brad Stevens has made some good moves in the big chair upstairs — Al Horford has been the Celtics’ third-best player this season, and that ranking may actually be too low — but he’s got a lot more to do to get the Celtics back up to the top half of the East.

3) Toronto, New York celebrate 75th anniversary of the NBA’s first game (and Raptors get a win)

What was the first game in NBA history?

On  Nov. 1, 1946, the New York Knickerbockers traveled north of the border to play the then Toronto Huskies at the Maple Leaf Gardens. It was the first game of the Basketball Association of America, which three years later combined with another league to become the National Basketball Association.

The Knicks got the win that night, 68-66.

Seventy-five years later, the NBA got New York and Toronto together again — this time in Madison Square Garden — to celebrate that inaugural game. The Knicks broke out the history for the night.

This time around, the Raptors got the 113-104 win behind 36 points from OG Anunoby. Julius Randle had 22 points and nine rebounds for the Knicks.

There is no chance that on that November night in 1946 the organizers could have had any idea what the NBA would become — a national and global sports powerhouse with some of the world’s best athletes getting paid millions and millions (courtside seats at that first game were $2.50). The NBA has evolved into something worth celebrating over the past 75 years.

Highlights of the night:

Did anyone know Orlando rookie Franz Wagner had this in him? That is dunk of the year material.

Last night’s scores:

Cleveland 113, Charlotte 110
Indiana 131, San Antonio 118
Philadelphia 113, Portland 103
Atlanta 118, Washington 111
Chicago 128, Boston 114
Toronto 113, New York 104
Memphis 106, Denver 97
Orlando 115, Minnesota 97
L.A. Clippers 99, Oklahoma City 94

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.