Three things to know: Time to take Wizards, Cavaliers seriously

Milwaukee Bucks v Washington Wizards
Scott Taetsch/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) It’s more than just the Westbrook trade, the Wizards are 7-3 after beating Bucks

We’re far enough into the season — around 10 games for teams — that, while the sample size is still small, we can start to draw some conclusions. We begin to get a sense of which teams are, and which teams (that have been healthy) are not for real.

The Washington Wizards are for real.

The Wizards are 7-3 to start the season after beating the Bucks on Sunday. That’s the same record as the Nets and Jazz, and they have done it with the sixth-best defense in the NBA and a lot more depth on the roster thanks to the Russell Westbrook trade. Washington has the seventh-best point differential in the league so far at +4.3, and while maybe that comes back to earth a little, they have done it against a demanding schedule. This looks sustainable.

The Wizards are also off to this start despite Bradley Beal being good — 24.2 points per game — but not his All-NBA, near the league lead in scoring self. Beal is shooting just 25.4% on 3-pointers this season.

The Wizards have been a good defense in part because they defend the arc better than anyone — just 32.8% of opponent shots have come from 3, the lowest percentage in the league. Washington also has been lucky, opponents are shooting just 29.2% on the 3s they do take, a number that will climb over time. The Wizards also have protected the rim will, only 18.9% of opponent shots are come from there, again the lowest in the league. Washington is forcing teams into midrange shots.

That defense held the Bucks to a 94.9 offensive rating for the game, well below a point per possession (via Cleaning the Glass).

The offense comes from everywhere now, although against the Bucks it was Beal breaking out with 30 points (and he hit 2-of-3 from beyond the arc).

Then there are the guys from the Westbrook trade. Montrezl Harrell had 15 points off the bench against the Bucks and is playing like his Sixth Man of the Year self again, averaging 17.7 points a game on 63.6% shooting and adding 9.1 boards a game. Kyle Kuzma added 15 against Milwaukee and has been a solid wing for Washington. The Westbrook trade also allowed Washington to sign-and-trade for Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging 15.9 points a game and is efficiently running the offense.

To be fair, this wasn’t peak Bucks, who are still without Brook Lopez (back) and Khris Middleton (health and safety protocols). The Bucks are not themselves right now, as evidenced by the fact they got a technical for six men on the court Sunday.

That doesn’t take anything away from the Wizards. Washington is a legit playoff team and the East is going to have to adjust.

2) Cleveland has won four straight, including beating the Knicks Sunday

The Cavaliers are good. Not great, but good.

That alone is a bit of a surprise; this was not a team many were high on before the season. However, there is no denying the Cavs have a 7-4 record, a +1.1 net rating, and they have won four straight, including beating the Knicks at Madison Square Garden Sunday 126-109 behind a career-high 37 from the scoring machine that is… Ricky Rubio? He was Sunday, hitting 8-of-9 from 3.

The Cavaliers’ roster construction is odd, starting three bigs in Jarrett Allen, rookie Evan Mobley, and Lauri Markkanen (who is out right now due to health and safety protocols). They start two smaller guards in Darius Garland (who has looked solid scoring and efficient 15.4 points per game) and Collin Sexton (who averages an inefficient 16 points a game and has struggled to find his offensive groove in a different role this season). Off the bench comes Rubio and, when he’s healthy, Kevin Love.

The Cavaliers appear to have something special in Mobley, who is averaging 14.9 points and eight rebounds a game, and showing incredible defensive versatility — he has been one of the most impressive rookies this season (in what has been a deep class). Paired with Garland (who the Cavaliers are very high on), we could be looking at the core of the future in Cleveland.

It will be interesting to see what players will be around them in two years. Sexton comes up in a lot of trade rumors and is a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Allen has fit in well, but if Mobley is ultimately a five do they keep a higher-priced, more traditional center on the roster? Love and Rubio are not long-term answers. Markkanen is, well, Markkanen. Isaac Okoro has not found his groove yet.

With all the questions, this was a Cavaliers team few expected to be in the play-in mix, and right now they are firmly looking like that. Staying in the top six all season seems optimistic, but this is still a young Cleveland team taking a step forward this season. They are good. And they are for real.

3) Portland expands, extends investigation into Olshey, which is bad news for the GM

As a general rule of thumb, when the investigator in any case wants to broaden the scope of the investigation and give themselves more time to dig into what they are finding, it’s a bad sign for whoever is being investigated.

Which is where Portland general manager Neil Olshey finds himself.

Last week, Trail Blazers owner Jody Allen opened an investigation into the workplace environment around the Trail Blazers. The complaints that sparked the investigation complained of bullying tactics and intimidation through things such as “profanity-laced tirades.”

Sunday came word that the investigation had been expanded to include people outside just those currently at the Trail Blazers practice facility, and that the law firm doing the investigation needed more time (via Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports).

Just reading the tea leaves from afar, that is not a good sign for Olshey.

If Olshey’s job as GM is threatened — again, we don’t know that for sure, but it has that appearance — it raises a lot of other questions about the future of team roster construction around Damian Lillard (the superstar other teams are still waiting on to ask for a trade, even though he has repeatedly said he would not). What about CJ McCollum and the rest of the roster? What about the job security of just-hired coach Chauncey Billups? New GMs tend to want their own person in the big chair.

All that is getting way ahead of ourselves. The current investigation will last weeks, and the report out of that will guide Allen in deciding the future of the franchise. But Portland remains a franchise to watch as it stumbles through the first part of the season (5-5 record).

Highlights of the night: Buddy Hield‘s jumper takes four spins around the rim

No shot in the history of the game has been more in before going out than Buddy Hield’s jumper Sunday night.

Hield had shots that went in, too — he had 17 points on the night in the Kings’ loss to the Pacers — including a spinning half-courter to beat the buzzer.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 116, Toronto 103
Cleveland, 126, New York 109
Orlando 107, Utah 100
Washington 101, Milwaukee 94
Indiana 94, Sacramento 91
Oklahoma City 99, San Antonio 94
Golden State 120, Houston 107
LA Clippers 120, Charlotte 106

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.

Watch Jalen Brunson score 48, Knicks top Cavs in possible playoff preview


CLEVELAND (AP) — With All-Star Julius Randle back in New York, the Knicks needed someone to step up.

Jalen Brunson did that, and more.

New York’s point guard scored a career-high 48 points and the Knicks moved closer to a playoff berth while waiting for Randle to get healthy, outrunning the Cleveland Cavaliers 130-116 on Friday night.

“There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s so mentally tough. He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going.”

Brunson credited his Knicks’ teammates and coaches for his big night, which included seven 3-pointers and nine assists. He finished 18 of 32 from the floor.

“They had confidence in me and the ball just went through the hole,” said Brunson, who scored 44 in a loss to Milwaukee on Jan. 9. “I just kept shooting with confidence and that’s just how it went.”

The Knicks reduced their magic number to one in their first game without Randle, who sprained his left ankle Wednesday and will miss the rest of the regular season. New York hopes he’ll be back for the postseason and a potential first-round matchup against the Cavs.

New York won the season series 3-1 and denied Cleveland a chance to lock up home-court advantage in the first round.

“This loss hurts,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led Cleveland with 42 points. “We need to feel it and be ready to use it when the time comes. Obviously, we control our destiny and we’ll probably see these guys in two weeks.

“There is a lot of film to go through. But if we let this affect us, we have no chance in the playoffs.”

Leading by three, the Knicks outscored the Cavs 14-2 to open the fourth and get some breathing room in a game played at a frenetic pace. The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter and 151 in the first half.

The Cavs got within 123-116 before Brunson put the Cavs away with a layup following a timeout and then a 3-pointer. He missed a floater in the final seconds that would have given him 50 points.

Did he want 50?

“Who wouldn’t?” he said. “I was going to hold the ball out, but they doubled and I guess that means keep playing. No disrespect to them. They played to the buzzer. I have the most respect in the world for that coaching staff. You got to keep playing.”

Brunson, who averages 23.6 points, scored 33 in a wild first half without much defense.

The teams combined for 89 points in the first quarter, tying the third most in the first 12 minutes of a game in NBA history. The record of 91 is shared by Utah and Denver (1982), and Miami and Washington (2021).

Also, Cleveland’s 47 points in the first quarter were the most in the franchise’s 53-year history.

The Cavs were without two of their top defenders, center Jarrett Allen (groin) and Isaac Okoro (knee).

The Knicks had a moment of drama.

During a timeout in the third quarter, New York starters RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin got into a shouting match and had to be separated.

Thibodeau downplayed the conflict.

“The cameras are everywhere and it probably happens more than people realize,” Thibodeau said. “It was the heat of the moment. Sometimes, there is a difference of opinion, but those guys are fine with each other. These things happen.”

Later, in the locker, Toppin had his arm around a smiling Barrett.

“This is my brother,” Toppin said. “We’re good.”

NBA, players union agree on new seven-year CBA


Labor peace will continue in the NBA through the rest of this decade.

The sides had to push back the deadline twice — then miss the latest deadline by a couple of hours — to get it done, but the NBA owners and the National Basketball Players Association have come to terms on a new seven-year Collective Bargaining Agreement, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by the NBA (at 3 a.m. Eastern).

While votes of both the owners and players need to ratify the new deal, it is expected to pass quickly and without controversy. The NBA continues to grow rapidly (particularly internationally), and is in the midst of negotiating a new national television and streaming deal expected to more than double television revenue flowing into the league (money split between the owners and players). Ultimately, nobody wanted to risk killing the golden goose with a labor stoppage.

Here are some of the reported key points of the new CBA:

• There will be a new mid-season tournament, mostly played before Christmas. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for this, looking to add interest and put more meaning into regular season games.

• Players must take the floor in at least 65 games to be eligible for postseason awards, such as MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and All-NBA. The idea is to motivate players (and teams) to get their best players in more games and limit load management. This rule will not kick in until next season (at the earliest) but if in place this season it would keep Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Ja Morant and others off an All-NBA team.

• The one-and-done rule remains as the NBA is not changing its minimum age requirement to be drafted (one year after a player’s class graduates high school).

• Players will no longer face discipline from the league for marijuana use. It had already been taken out of the league’s drug testing program.

• There are changes to the luxury tax, particularly for the highest-spending teams, something detailed first by ESPN. It will involve adding a second tax apron — 17.5 million over the tax line — and teams above it will no longer have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception. This rule is targeted at the highest-spending teams (the Clippers and Warriors this season, the Nets were on that track before blowing up the roster.

• However, teams in the middle and on the bottom of payroll spending will have expanded opportunities (to spend more) in free agency, or to generate larger trade exceptions for other deals.

• Veteran contract extensions will be able to start at 140% of the last year of the existing contract, up from 120% in the current CBA. That will allow more teams to offer larger extensions and keep key players.

• Teams will gain a third two-way contact slot.



Kevin Durant drops 30, Suns win fourth straight beating shorthanded Nuggets


PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns are starting to string together some wins now that Kevin Durant is healthy.

Even so, they’re far from a well-oiled machine.

Durant scored 30 points, Devin Booker added 27 and the Suns won their fourth straight game by beating the short-handed Denver Nuggets 100-93 on Friday night.

The Suns improved to 5-0 with Durant in the lineup despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead. Phoenix traded for the 13-time All-Star in a deadline deal back in February.

“I like how we played in the first half, but it was a bad second half for us,” Durant said. “We just let our foot off the gas a little and they were playing extremely hard. … We’ve just got to do a better job of sticking with it.”

The Nuggets rested a big chunk of their starting lineup, including reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, guards Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forward Michael Porter Jr. But they still showed fight after trailing 60-40 at halftime.

“I am immensely proud,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You are down 27 points on the road, second half, second night in a row. Every reason just to roll over and play dead and get ready for Sunday at home. Guys just wouldn’t do it.”

The Suns pushed their advantage to 27 midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets pulled to 84-74 heading into the fourth quarter. Denver cut it to 97-93 in the final minute, but Josh Okogie nailed a corner 3 to seal it for the Suns. Okogie had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Chris Paul had 13 assists.

Aaron Gordon had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Nuggets. Bruce Brown scored 16 points and Reggie Jackson had 13. The overmatched but feisty Nuggets got 22 points from the bench.

“It was our energy and our effort,” backup guard Peyton Watson said. “We know we were missing guys but that doesn’t change the culture here. We always want to play hard, get stops.”

Durant shot 11 of 15 from the field in a dominant performance two days after a rough shooting night in his home debut against Minnesota. The 34-year-old star has battled knee and ankle injuries over the past few months, but appears to be getting healthy as the Suns continue to cling to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Suns scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter on Friday, but managed to hang on for the victory.

“We’re trying to find that rhythm and trying to get wins at the same time,” Booker said.