Three things to know: LaMelo Ball, Hornets bring Warriors win streak to end

Golden State Warriors v Charlotte Hornets
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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) LaMelo Ball, Hornets bring Warriors win streak to end

Home cooking and a soft schedule had served the Warriors well with their fast start to the season — eight straight games at the Chase Center, which led to a seven-game win streak and the best record in the NBA.

But the Warriors forgot to pack their offense when they went out on the road Sunday.

Golden State shot 9-of-39 (23.1%) from 3 — the Warriors’ bench was 0-of-9 from deep — and scored less than a point per possession against a Charlotte team with a bottom-five defense. It wasn’t that the Hornets were locking the Warriors down; Golden State was just missing clean looks. Also, in crunch time, the Warriors struggled to generate good looks out of their halfcourt offense and shot 6-of-22 in the fourth (those struggles when it started to feel like a playoff game are not the best omen for Warriors fans).

Despite all that, the Warriors still could have walked away with a win, a Draymond Green dunk with :44 left tied the game. But then Miles Bridges got up a little a hook shot to put the Hornets up two, Kevon Looney missed a pair of free throws, and after Green tied up Rozier late and forced a jump ball, it was Rozier who won it, and not long after iced the game with two free throws.

The Hornets got 20 points in the second half from Rozier, Bridges scored 22 including that key bucket in the paint late, and LaMelo Ball did his damage early and finished with 21 points. This is a quality win for a Hornets team that now has its own three-game winning streak and seems to have found a rhythm.

The highlight of the game still belonged to Stephen Curry, who got some help from Jonathan Kuminga’s defense then made the pass of the night to Jordan Poole.

The Warriors are on the road for three more games, and it doesn’t get any easier with Kevin Durant and the Nets coming up on Tuesday.

2) DeMar DeRozan loves playing in L.A., helps Bulls snap Clippers win streak

DeMar DeRozan was born in Compton, played his college ball just down Figueroa Street from the Staples Center at USC, and seems to save his best performances for when he returns home to Los Angeles.

DeRozan had 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first half and finished the night with 35 points on 12-of-16 from the floor, plus he drained a couple of key buckets late. That sparked the Bulls to a 100-90 win over a Clippers team that had won seven straight but looked tired on the second night of a back-to-back.

“Our guys got tired,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said, taking the blame for a team that didn’t have its legs under it after beating the Timberwolves the night before. “I messed up and played them too many minutes. That was on me.”

The other big scorer for the Bulls was Zach LaVine, who dropped 29. However, the most interesting move by coach Billy Donovan was to insert Alex Caruso into the starting five, replacing Javonte Green. Caruso is a quality on-ball defender and drew the task of slowing Paul George, who still had 27 points but shot 7-of-25 for the night. We may see more of Caruso as a starter, even once Nikola Vucevic returns to the lineup (health and safety protocols).

The Bulls got off to a fast 4-0 start against a soft schedule this season, but as things got tougher they have gone a respectable 5-4. The defense that was supposed to be the Achilles heel of this team has been top-10 in the league, and as long as that continues, the Bulls will continue to rack up wins.

3) Atlanta snaps losing streak but picks up another loss

Atlanta was riding a six-game losing streak and was about to take on the defending NBA champions, but Trae Young took it upon himself to change the Hawks’ fortunes and scored a season-high 42 — hitting 8-of-13 from 3 — to get Atlanta a win against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season.

That win came despite the return of Giannis Antetokounmpo to the lineup, he scored 26 points (he had missed a game with a sprained right ankle). The Bucks are still shorthanded and have dropped 7-of-10 because of it, but they expect to get Khris Middleton back Wednesday. He had been in the league’s health and safety protocols.

While the Hawks got a big win on the court Sunday, they had a big loss off it.

Atlanta’s starting wing De'Andre Hunter is going to miss the next two months following wrist surgery, the team announced. Hunter has struggled with injuries, a knee issue last season kept him out of all but 23 games, and now he’s having surgery a dozen games into this one.

Kevin Huerter has moved into Hunter’s starting role, but there will be more run for Cam Reddish, Delon Wright, Danilo Gallinari, and Lou Williams.

Highlight of the Night: Anthony Davis to himself off the backboard

Anthony Davis showed up ready to play for a Sunday matinee, scoring 34 points and grabbing 15 boards for the Lakers in a win over the Spurs. He even threw himself an alley-oop off the glass.

(Yes, technically that hit the rim, so it should be a missed shot and offensive rebound in the scorebook, but we know what he was trying to do.)

Last night’s scores:

LA Lakers 114, San Antonio 106
Atlanta 120, Milwaukee 100
Charlotte 106, Warriors 102
Phoenix 115, Houston 89
Brooklyn 120, Oklahoma City 96
Denver 124, Portland 95
Chicago 100, L.A. Clippers 90

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.