Three things to know: Thibodeau benches Knicks starters, “We’ve gotta figure it out”

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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) Thibodeau benches Knicks starters, says “We’ve gotta figure it out”

The Knicks “preferred” starting five have been dreadful.

Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, R.J. Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson have played 205 minutes together this season, and they have a net rating of -15.6, with a horrific defensive rating of 121.7 (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time). They cost the Knicks wins, putting them in a hole out of the gate almost nightly.

Against the defending champion Bucks Thursday, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau had seen enough and benched his starters for the fourth quarter. It was a dramatic step, but it was also the right move. That starting five includes a couple of new players to the Knicks, so Thibodeau was asked if they just need more time to develop chemistry. Thibs answer, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“You know what they say: When it’s 10 games, they say you need 20,” Thibodeau said. “When you say 20, they say you need 30; at 30, you say 40. And before you know it, the season is over. So that’s a bunch of bulls***.”

Against the Bucks, none of the Knicks starters was better than -15 (Mitchell Robinson). Meanwhile, the bench unit of Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Obi Toppin was getting it done — and almost completed a comeback. Milwaukee led by 24 in the third quarter when the Knicks starters were in, but the bench got the game all the way back to a tie in the fourth, before Giannis Antetokounmpo and company made some threes and big shots down the stretch. Pat Connaughton led the Buks with 23 points off the bench (7-of-13 from 3), and Jrue Holiday added 18 points and six assists.

What that Bucks’ second unit with Quickley, Rose and Toppin has is chemistry through continuity — they played together as a unit much of last season. It shows.

Thibodeau said he is “searching” for lineups that will work. Maybe more time together helps the Knicks starters, but how much do they need? That fivesome has played more minutes than any other five-man unit in the league this season. We have a pretty good idea of what they are. Thibodeau needs to experiment with some new starting lineups, the Knicks (7-5 now) can’t keep digging out of holes every game.

“Yeah, just they didn’t play well,” Thibodeau said of his decision to sit the starters… “That’s it. We’ve gotta figure it out. And right now we’re playing well on the road and we’re not playing well at home, which is unusual. So we’ve gotta get that straightened out.”

It’s a long season, but the time spent figuring out issues can cost teams seeding in a deeper East. Thibodeau can only be so patient.

2) Lakers win another overtime game without LeBron.  They’ll take it.

“Good teams don’t win a lot of close games. Good teams aren’t in close games.”

That’s a cliche around the league for a reason, lucky bounces in close games tend to even out over time. Lakers are 3-0 in overtime this season in just a dozen games. Overall, they have a -0.5 net rating (-2 if you take out garbage time), with a 21st-ranked offense and 12th-ranked defense. The Lakers are 7-5 right now despite those pedestrian numbers because they have won close games.

We can debate what that says about this team long-term, but the Lakers will take the W. Especially with LeBron James still sidelined.

Russell Westbrook got downhill to the rim a few times against a usually stingy Heat defense, hit some 3s and key midrangers when he had to (he was 6-of-13 on shots outside the paint, the shots the Heat want him to take), and despite not doing much in overtime had a triple-double of 25 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds. Westbrook was at the heart of a 120-117 overtime win.

Malik Monk added 27 off the bench with blistering 10-of-13 shooting. Anthony Davis added 24 and 13.

Miami lost Jimmy Butler to a sprained ankle in the first half. After the game there were still not a lot of details, with Erik Spoelstra saying they have to wait and see. It sounds unlikely that he will play against the Clippers on Thursday night, in an L.A. back-to-back for the Heat.

The Heat have started 0-2 n this road trip and now face a Clippers team that has won five in a row.

3) Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green squared off

No. 1 vs. No. 2. Cade Cunningman vs. Jalen Green.

That showdown got two of the worst teams in the NBA facing off in a nationally televised game, and the two men put up numbers but were not efficient. As rookies tend to go.

Green scored 23, and his shot chart looked as if Daryl Morey were still running the Rockets — he took eight shots within four feet of the rim (4-of-8) and 11 3-pointers (3-of-11), and just one midranger. He ended the night 8-of-20.

Cunningham, 20 points, had a better night from 3 (4-of-10) but was less efficient in the paint (4-of-9, with a couple of missed floaters)

Both rookies showed the potential that got them drafted that high, and showed how far they have to go to reach that potential. It’s a work in progress.

If anyone cares, the Pistons beat the Rockets 112-104 behind 35 points from Jerami Grant.

Highlights of the Night: Andrew Wiggins gets up for Timberwolves

Andrew Wiggins breaks out a “this is what I’m fully capable of” game once every few weeks, just to tease and frustrate fans of his squad. He saved one of those games for going against his old team Wednesday, the Minnesota Timberwolves, reminding them what they are missing out on… occasionally. He had 35 points to lead the Warriors to a win, and he had this monster dunk over Karl-Anthony Towns.

Then later, Wiggins added a put-back dunk over Towns, just for emphasis.

Also in that game, Minnesota’s future Anthony Edwards broke out with a career-best 48. He’s going to be special.

Last night’s scores:

Washington 97, Cleveland 94
Brooklyn 123, Orlando 90
Boston 104, Toronto 88
Milwaukee 112, New York 100
Pistons 112, Rockets 104
Chicago 117, Dallas 107
Charlotte 118, Memphis 108
Oklahoma City 108, New Orleans 100
San Antonio 136, Sacramento 117
Denver 101, Indiana 98
Phoenix 119, Portland 109
Golden State 123, Minnesota 100
LA Lakers 120, Miami 117

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.