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

Portland Trail Blazers v Philadelphia 76ers
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

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) 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

Butler scores 35, Heat beat Mavericks in battle of desperate teams


MIAMI (AP) — Miami was desperate. So was Dallas.

Jimmy Butler and the Heat had just enough to help their playoff position – while dealing the Mavericks a big blow.

Butler had 35 points and 12 assists, Cody Zeller added 20 points and the Heat held off the Mavericks 129-122 on Saturday night to snap a three-game losing streak.

Max Strus and Kevin Love each scored 18 and Tyler Herro added 15 for the Heat. Miami won despite allowing Dallas to shoot a season-best 61%.

“I wouldn’t necessarily have drawn it up this way,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Luka Doncic was brilliant again for Dallas, finishing with 42 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. had 31 points and Kyrie Irving added 23 points and eight assists for the Mavericks.

“A win is a win,” Butler said. “I don’t like the fact that they shot 61%. But I do like the fact that we finally won a game.”

The Mavs had been 7-0 this season when shooting at least 54%, and fell to 30-2 all-time, including playoffs, in games where they shot at least 60%.

“Our defense was nonexistent,” Dallas coach Jason Kidd said. “Couldn’t get stops.”

Both clubs went to the conference finals last season; the Heat are trying to get out of the play-in round, and the Mavericks are trying to just have a shot at the playoffs.

The win moves Miami (41-37) closer to securing no worse than the No. 7 seed and most advantageous spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The Heat are now 2 1/2 games ahead of both No. 8 Atlanta (38-39) and No. 9 Toronto (also 38-39).

Miami moved within 1 1/2 games of No. 6 Brooklyn (42-35). Even if the Heat win out and finish with 45 wins, the Nets – who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker – would only need to go 3-2 in their final five games to ensure they would finish ahead of Miami.

Meanwhile, it’s a big blow to Dallas (37-41).

The Mavs fell a full game back of No. 10 Oklahoma City (38-40) in the race for the last Western Conference play-in spot, and worse, the Thunder own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Dallas is now two games back of No. 9 Minnesota (39-39) and just a half-game ahead of No. 12 Utah (36-41).

“Just got to play hard, play with desperation and anything can happen,” Hardaway said. “Anything can happen.”

Miami changed its starting lineup, partly out of necessity. Center Bam Adebayo didn’t play because of a right hip contusion, so Zeller – starting a game for the first time since May 15, 2021, for Charlotte – took his spot and Strus took the forward starting spot that had been held by Love since he joined the Heat in February.

The moves paid immediate dividends. Strus was 3 for 3, all 3-pointers, in his first shift. Love was 3 for 3 from the field and 6 for 6 from the line for 13 points in his first 8 minutes off the bench, and Zeller had 12 points by halftime.

“K-Love is always, always has been about winning,” Butler said. “As long as we win, he’s not going to complain.”

It all helped add up to the third highest-scoring first half in Heat history: Miami led 76-64 at the break, stretched the lead to 18 in the second half – then had to hang on in the final moments anyway.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo suspended one game for headbutting Blake Griffin

Utah Jazz v Boston Celtics
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics thought it was funny — Jaylen Brown jokingly offered Blake Griffin his mask after the Bucks’ Thanasis Antetokounmpo headbutted the Celtic forward.

The NBA didn’t find it as amusing and suspended Antetokounmpo for one game for the incident.

Griffin was given a Flagrant 1 foul at the time, but mostly the Celtics had a good laugh.

It’s easier to laugh when you are blowing out your opponent, and the Celtics made a statement with a 41-point win over the Bucks.

The Celtics are 1.5 games back of the Bucks for the No.1 seed in the East (and NBA), and they are two games back in the loss column. While Boston has the tiebreaker, it will need some help from Milwaukee to catch them. The Bucks play the 76ers in a key game on Sunday, but will do so without Thanasis Antetokounmpo.


It’s official: Popovich, Wade headline international class (Gasol, Nowitzki, Parker) into Hall of Fame

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics
Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

In an incredibly deep Hall of Fame class, the man who garners the most respect — legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich — is the man who feels least like he belongs in these hallowed halls.

“In all honesty, I always felt the Hall of Fame is like for Red Holzman, Red Auerbach and Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. … I’ve never felt like I really belonged, to be honest with you,” Popovich told the Associated Press, and it’s not a gimmick. “I’m not trying to be ‘Mr. Humble’ or anything. I’m a Division III guy. I’m not a Hall of Fame guy.”

Popovich is a Hall of Fame guy. While it has been expected for a while, it became official on Saturday with an announcement in Houston during the NCAA Final Four.

Popovich is part of one of the great Hall of Fame classes ever: Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Becky Hammon are the headliners.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer that all of these guys are first-ballot guys,” Heat president Pat Riley told the Associated Press. “Look at the records. Look at the longevity that they’ve had in this league. Look what they’ve done for the league, and how much the league calls them back – because they’re ambassadors of this great league and they have a great voice and a great message. Dwyane being a first-ballot was a no-brainer.”

Let’s break down the cases for the biggest, NBA tied-names:

• Gregg Popovich led the San Antonio Spurs to five titles and 18 consecutive seasons of 50+ wins. “Pop” also coached USA Basketball to the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, and was active. Popovich will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time, a man who adapted his system to the personnel he had — how the Tim Duncan/David Robinson Spurs won was very different than the 2014 team led by Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard (and still Duncan).

• Dwyane Wade is one of the greatest shooting guards the game has ever seen. He helped the Miami Heat to three NBA titles and was the 2006 Finals MVP, and along the way racked up eight All-NBA teams and 13 trips to the All-Star game. He is the greatest Heat player ever and is an easy Hall of Fame choice.

• Dirk Nowitzki is the greatest Dallas Maverick ever, an NBA champion and Finals MVP, plus he won the regular season MVP in 2007. His resume includes being a 12-time All-NBA player and 14-time All-Star, plus playing 21 seasons all for the same franchise.

• Tony Parker is a four-time NBA champion for Popovich and his San Antonio Spurs, and Parker was the Finals MVP in 2007. His NBA resume includes four All-NBA nods and six All-Star trips, but his international resume secured his place in the Hall of Fame, for example he was the MVP of EuroBasket 2013, which France won.

• Pau Gasol won two NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers (as Kobe Bryant’s co-star), is a four-time All-NBA player and six-time All-Star, plus he was the Rookie of the Year in 2002. Like Parker, it is Gasol’s international resume that cements his spot in the Hall, he led Spain to the FIBA World Championship in 2006 and won three Olympic medals (two silver, one bronze).

• Becky Hammon, who most NBA fans know as the first women’s assistant coach in the NBA and current coach of the WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces, but before that she was a six-time WNBA All-Star.

Also entering the Hall of Fame this year:

• Jim Valvano, who coached North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA Championship, and created The V Foundation for Cancer Research
• Gene Bess, All-time winningest college coach (1,300), 2-time NJCAA Coach of the Year.
• David Hixon, who racked up 826 wins and was a two-time D3 national champion and two-time D3 Coach of the Year.
• Gene Keady, best known for coaching 25 years at Purdue, was a six-time NCAA Coach of the Year and made 17 NCAA Tournament appearances.
• Gary Blair, who coached in the women’s game for 37 years, amassing 852 wins, including winning the 2011 National Championship with Texas A&M.
• The 1976 Women’s USA Olympic Basketball Team – Silver medalists in inaugural appearance for Women’s Olympic Basketball.

Watch Davis score 38, Lakers move up to No.7 seed with win against Timberwolves


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 17 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and had 17 rebounds to lift the Los Angeles Lakers past Minnesota 123-111 and leapfrog the Timberwolves on Friday night in the crowded Western Conference playoff race.

“You’ve got to have that one pivotal force that’s leading the charge, and in our case with this particular team here in the moment it’s AD,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “When he comes out and he’s aggressive and we’re feeding him and he’s not settling and he’s putting pressure on the paint, putting pressure on the rim, we find ourselves having a lot of success.”

LeBron James added 18 points and 10 rebounds and D'Angelo Russell had 12 points and 10 assists against his former team as the Lakers (39-38) won for the fifth time in six games to move into seventh place. They’re even with New Orleans, owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pelicans.

“We’ve made some huge climbs, but we’re not finished,” said Davis, who had 38 points Wednesday in tthe win at Chicago. “We’re hungry to not only make the playoffs but make some noise.”

The Lakers improved to 9-4 since losing at home to the Wolves on March 3.

“We jumped on AD’s back, and he brought us home,” James said.

Mike Conley had 25 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven assists before fouling out, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored 23 points for the Timberwolves (39-39), who tumbled into ninth place. They entered the evening one game behind Golden State and the cut to avoid the play-in tournament, with the Warriors tipping off later at home against San Antonio.

Davis scored 12 straight points for the Lakers over a 3:52 span late in the fourth quarter to seal the steely comeback from a deficit that hit 13 points shortly after halftime. He made five baskets in a row with Wolves center Rudy Gobert on the bench, dominating on the glass, in the post and at the rim.

“He’s playing at a super high level right now,” Wolves coach Chris Finch said.

The Lakers took charge earlier with a 24-2 spurt over a 6:49 stretch of the third quarter with their defense on lockdown mode. Conley’s turn to rest on the bench during that run was ill-timed. Davis rolled his left ankle around the start of the Lakers surge, a breath-holding sequence that only seemed to energize the visitors.

“We started to turn the ball over, and the ball started to stick much more,” Gobert said. “We kind of lost our flow offensively, and it really affected our defense.”

The Wolves, whose bench was shortened without center Naz Reid and his broken wrist, went 2 for 14 from 3-point range in the third quarter and were outscored 35-18 in a discouraging stretch for a fired-up crowd that included local sports superstars Justin Jefferson and Kirill Kaprizov in floor seats.