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


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) 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

Three things to Know: Win over Clippers shows Thunder future may be now


Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Win over Clippers shows Thunder’s future may be now

If the playoffs started today, the Oklahoma City Thunder would be the No.7 seed in the West, only needing to win one of two play-in games — at home — to advance to the playoffs. They are only half a game back of the defending champion Golden State Warriors for the No.6 seed and not having to worry about the play-in.

The basketball world has talked about anything but the Thunder: When will those Warriors flip the switch? What happens when Dallas gets Luka Dončić back (or if the Mavs defend a little)? What will the Timberwolves look like when whole? When will LeBron James return and how big a threat are the Lakers?

Meanwhile, the Thunder quietly have been winning — 8-of-10 after beating the Clippers on Tuesday night 101-100, behind 31 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Thunder have been solid all season — top half of the league in offense and defense, and the 10th-best net rating in the league — despite Chet Holmgren missing the year. SGA playing at an All-NBA level is a huge part of it, but Josh Giddey has developed into an impressive secondary shot creator averaging 16.2 points a night, Jalen Williams will be first-team All-Rookie because of his play, guys like Isaiah Joe and Tre Mann have stopped up, and Lu Dort is doing things like locking down Kawhi Leonard on the final play of the game to preserve the win.

OKC’s one-point win over the Clippers was aided by Kawhi Leonard getting a tight technical called on him, and when Terrence Mann complained about that call he got him ejected. Leonard said after the game the referee admitted he missed the foul call on the play where the technicals were handed out.

However, far more frightening for the Clippers than the loss was the injury to Paul George in the final minutes, a fluke collision with Dort that sent George to the ground and having to be helped back to the locker room. There are no details, but it didn’t look good.

It’s all more questions and injuries for the Clippers.

Meanwhile, the Thunder just keep on rolling and look every bit a playoff team ahead of schedule — and with a lot of draft picks coming in the next few years to stockpile that roster.

2) Knicks legend, Hall of Fame Willis Reed dies

Willis Reed is associated with one of the most iconic moments in NBA history — his dramatic entrance in Madison Square Garden minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. He scored only four points and was clearly in pain and hobbled, but playing even a little sparked the Knicks to blow out the Lakers and win the franchise’s first title.

Reed passed away at the age of 80.

“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s. He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports.

“As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus. We send our deepest condolences to Willis’ wife, Gale, his family, and many friends and fans.”

Reed won a second ring with the Knicks in 1973 and was a two-time Finals MVP and seven-time All-Star.

Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds a season over the course of his career, and he had his No.19 retired by the Knicks. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.

3) Celtics get Robert Williams back, look like Celtics in win over Kings

Robert Williams was back on the court for the Celtics Tuesday night and the Celtics held the Kings and their best offense in the league to an offensive rating almost seven points below their league average. That is not a coincidence.

With Williams back, the Celtics were back to switching everything, which slowed the motion and passing of the Kings’ offense enough to earn the 132-109 Boston win. The 36 points from Jayson Tatum helped with that.

For the Kings, it was their fifth game in seven nights in four different time zones and it showed. Still, that loss dropped the Kings 1.5 back of the Grizzlies for the two seed in the West (and the Grizzlies may get Ja Morant back Wednesday).

Boston went 4-2 on their recent road trip. While they have slumped in recent weeks, they looked like their contending selves again with Williams back, who had missed the last eight games with a hamstring issue. He played 21 minutes off the bench.

Nobody should have written Boston off after this recent slide, even if those losses did make their path through the East rougher.

Bonus thing to know: Donovan Mitchell threw down a Dunk of the Year candidate in the Cavaliers’ win.

Paul George has to be helped off court after fourth quarter leg injury


Hopefully this is not serious, not something that changes the playoff picture in the West.

The Clippers’ Paul George went down with 4:38 left in the game Tuesday night after a collision with Lu Dort going for a rebound.

George had to be helped back to the locker room and struggled to put any weight on his leg.

After the game, Tyronn Lue said George was still being evaluated and had no update on his status. George was seen exiting the arena on the back of a cart with his right leg extended, according to the AP.

George had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists before exiting the game. On the season he is playing at an All-NBA level averaging 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game, and the Clippers are 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

The Thunder went on to win 101-100 in a game filled with drama, including a technical foul for Kawhi Leonard, an ejection of Terrence Mann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 31 points, and Lou Dort locking up Leonard in the final seconds.


Grizzlies Ja Morant: ‘My job now is… to be more responsible’


While his coach said he anticipates Ja Morant will return to the court Wednesday for the Grizzlies, Morant downplayed expectations and said things are “still in the air.”

Whether the official return is Wednesday or a few days later, Morant is back practicing with teammates and spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension. He once again was apologetic.

“I’m completely sorry for that,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”

Morant was suspended eight games by the NBA after flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.” Morant used that time to go into counseling at a facility in Florida but added he “never had an alcohol problem.”.

“I went there to counseling to learn how to manage stress,” Morant said. “Cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”

Morant said that his treatment is an “ongoing process,” adding that he was getting off social media and letting his actions speak for him.

Morant and his associates had incidents before that caught the attention of people around the league — including a run-in with Indiana Pacers security — however, this incident in a Colorado club was the first one that hit him in the wallet. The suspension cost him $668,659 in game pay, plus one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness.

The biggest hit is Morant possibly missing out on an All-NBA guard spot. Morant could make $39 million more over the five-year extension that kicks in next season if he makes one of the three All-NBA teams. However, the guard spot is especially crowded with deserving players this season and this incident and the missed games do not help his cause.

Hart will be free agent this summer seeking new contract, ‘would love for it to be New York’


Josh Hart‘s play since coming to the Knicks has made him a lot of money.

Already a darling of many front offices, Hart has been a seamless fit in New York, averaging 11.1 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Tom Thibodeau, playing quality defense, and being the kind of plug-and-play wing every team can use. He’s quickly become a fan favorite in New York, but the Knicks will have to pay up to keep him. Hart has a player option for $12.9 million next season that he is widely expected to decline — there’s a lot more money and years available to him on the open market.

Hart told Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape he wants to find a home, and he hopes that it is in New York.

“I want bigger things for my wife and myself,” Hart said. “Just find a home somewhere where we are valued and really like living there. And I think that can be New York. I would love for it to be New York and hopefully the organization feels the same way. Coming up, this contract is hopefully my biggest one, one where I’m making sure my family’s fully taken care of. So, I’ve also got to take that into account, too.”

That is the polite way of saying, “I like it here but you’re not getting a discount.”

While Hart will have made a tidy $33 million in his career when this season ends, his next four-year contract will be worth more than double that amount — this is the deal that sets up generational wealth for Hart’s family. This is a business and he has to make the decision best for him, as much as he may love the Knicks.

Expect the Knicks to pay up, especially as long as Thibodeau is around. This is a deal that should come together.

But first, Hart and the Knicks are headed to the playoffs, and Madison Square Garden will be rocking. It’s going to be the kind of experience that makes a guy want to stay with a team.