Three things to know: Paul George is making all the plays, Clippers win sixth in a row

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LOS ANGELES — 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) Paul George is making all the plays, Clippers win sixth in a row

There was a moment, with three minutes left in the game and the Clippers up four on a surging Heat team, when Los Angeles needed a bucket. They put the ball in the hands of Paul George who drove the lane, drew in the defense, then kicked out to an open Eric Bledsoe… who missed.

George grabbed the offensive board, dribbled out to the corner, and drained a contested three. Then he got back on defense and in the next Heat possession put his body in front of an attacking Bam Adebayo and drew the charge.

All season long, George has been making plays when his team needs it. Thursday night, with 1:13 left and the Clippers still up by just four, Adebayo was headed to the rim for a dunk to make it a one-possession game, and George shut him down with a block.

“I do it because it’s the right play to make,” George said matter-of-factly about his late-game heroics.

George has played at an All-NBA, fringe MVP level to start the season, and Thursday night he finished with 27 points and five assists as his Clippers held on to beat the Heat 112-109. The Clippers have won six in a row and are now 7-4.

A lot is on George’s plate. With Kawhi Leonard out (likely for the season), George has taken on more of the offense — he has the highest usage rate of his career — and with that his efficiency has dipped a little of late. Still, he’s making the plays he has to make.

Around George, the Clippers have built an entertaining, high IQ, switchable and energized team that clearly enjoys paying with each other. After a slow start to the season, Eric Bledsoe came alive in the second half Thursday and finished with 21 on 9-of-16 shooting (his second straight strong game). Bledsoe appears to be getting comfortable, and coach Tyronn Lue can tell.

“When we can get him to say two words we know he’s getting comfortable,” Lue joked about the naturally quiet Bledsoe.

Reggie Jackson added 22 and played downhill against the Heat.

A key stretch multiple Clippers talked about came in the third quarter. George was tired and coach Tyronn Lue said he had to take him out for rest at the 6:26 mark, with the Clippers up two. George didn’t return until there were :45 seconds left in the quarter — and the Clippers were up seven. That hasn’t always been the case this season, with the Clippers 5.3 points per 100 better when George is on the court.

The Clippers are a good and versatile defensive team (second-best defensive rating in the NBA coming into Thursday), and they know how to play. They look a little better each game. If Leonard can come back late in the season, they become very good.

But for now it’s the Paul George show, and he is thriving.

2) Four ejections for non-fight scuffle? Welcome to Jazz vs. Pacers basketball

This was never a fight — and Rudy Gobert knows it.

Gobert started the incident and was one of four players ejected late in the fourth quarter of the Pacers’ win over the Jazz Thursday. He was joined by Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz, and Myles Turner of the Pacers.

It began when Turner blocked a Gobert shot at the rim. As Gobert went to the ground, he grabbed the shorts of Turner and pulled him down to the ground as well. No call. So when they started to run back up court, Turner took matters into his own hands and gave Gobert a shoulder. Gobert turned around and wrapped up Turner, and they stayed that way until security/coaches arrived to break them up and everyone could look tough again.

After a video review, both Gobert and Turner were given technicals and ejected for participating in an altercation. Joe Ingles was ejected for making contact with a referee, although the officials said postgame that appeared to be unintentional. Donovan Mitchell was ejected for “escalating the situation.”

It will be interesting to see how the league comes down on this: Is it fines for everyone, or could Gobert get a game suspension for starting everything by pulling Turner down?

All of this distracted from Mitchell highlighting the story of Izzy Tichenor, a 10-year-old Black and autistic girl living just outside Salt Lake City in Davis. He committed suicide after being bullied at school. At the same time, officials and teachers ignored the situation (Davis was taken to task by the U.S. Justice Department for ignoring racial harassment in its schools).

3) Could Klay Thompson be playing for Warriors on Christmas Day?

The Golden State Warriors are the biggest surprise and the hottest team of the early season, off to a 10-1 start with the best net rating in the league by a couple of points. Stephen Curry has played like an MVP, but the real secrets have been the league-best defense and putting veterans and shooters around Curry who understand how to take advantage of the space he creates.

Imagine what that could look like with Klay Thompson back in the rotation.

We could see that as soon as Christmas, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on ESPN’s NBA Countdown Wednesday (hat tip Real GM).

“I’m told if he continues on his current course right now in rehab, that a target date for his return will be set probably within the next couple weeks. And it could be… there’s optimism it could be as soon as December 20, December 23.”

There had been optimism for a Christmas return before the season, but sources at the time pushed back on that and suggested January was more likely.

If it were up to Thompson, he’d be playing 35 minutes starting tomorrow. This is the classic case of a team needing to protect the player from himself — Thompson hasn’t played since the June 2019 Finals and is coming off the combination of a torn ACL and a torn Achilles. The Warriors’ priority needs to be making sure he doesn’t re-injure himself by doing too much too soon. Whenever Thompson does return, expect a minutes limit.

But the league needs Klay back on the court.

Highlight of the Night: Fred VanVleet‘s tribute to Sam Cassell

Fred VanVleet was having some fun.

His Raptors were up by one with :25 seconds remaining when VanVleet caught the kick-out pass from OG Anunoby and drained a dagger corner three to essentially beat the 76ers.

Then he celebrated with the “big balls” dance.

That celebration is associated with NBA legend Sam Cassell — now an assistant coach for the 76ers.

By the way, VanVleet will get fined for that. The league is no fan of that dance.

Last night’s scores:

Toronto 115, Philadelphia 109
Pacers 111, Jazz 100
LA Clippers 112, Miami 109

Report: Draymond Green facing potential discipline after fight with Jordan Poole

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Warriors practice got heated on Wednesday and Draymond Green reportedly escalated some chest bumping with Jordan Poole and punches were thrown. The team is now considering internal disciple, according to The Athletic.

When a heated interaction with guard Jordan Poole escalated, Green forcefully struck Poole and needed to be separated swiftly, sources said. Green and Poole came chest-to-chest, with both players pushing and shoving each other prior to Green’s escalation of the physical altercation, those sources said.

The two players had been jawing at each other when it escalated and Green punched Poole, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. There aren’t details of the incident beyond that description (at least so far), although several reporters have confirmed the was a fight and the two had to be broken up. Poole was seen getting up shots after practice when the media was allowed in and reportedly was joking with teammates.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports Tweeted out what feels like the Draymond Green camp spin on the incident.

Warriors elder statesman Andre Iguodala Tweeted out this on the situation, wanting to keep it all in the family, and adding that “it broke my heart… but it fixed my vision.”

There is a history of tension between Green and Poole, including a public flare-up between the duo early last season, but the two talked after and smoothed things over. At least for a while.

What punishment Green will face from the team remains to be seen.

Poole is on the verge of an extension to his rookie contract, one where Tylyer Herro just set the market.

Green had hoped for an extension from the Warriors this offseason but there were limited discussions between the parties. Green can opt out of the final year of his contract at the end of this season and become a free agent.

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.