Three things to know: Warriors announce their presence with authority, rout Nets

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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) Warriors announce their presence with authority, rout Nets

The Golden State Warriors are elite. They are in the discussion as title contenders.

Any doubts about the Warriors fast start to the season — such as “Was it just the soft early schedule?” or “Will their defense hold up against elite scorers?” — were answered emphatically Tuesday night as Draymond Green held Kevin Durant in check (as much as anyone can) and Stephen Curry drained four different threes from the Nets’ center-court logo.

The Golden State Warriors went into the Barclays Center, dominated the second half, and pulled away for an easy 117-99 win. Curry had the kind of signature game that vaults him to the top of any far-too-early MVP discussion — 37 points on 12-of-19 shooting, 9-of-14 on 3-pointers, seven rebounds, five assists, and a couple of steals. Andrew Wiggins added a quality 19 for the Warriors.

However, the real mark of a contender was the Warriors defense holding Durant, James Harden, and the Nets offense to under a point per possession through the meaningful part of the game (95.7 net rating, using Cleaning the Glass and its garbage time filter). Durant, who has played like an MVP most of the season, had Draymond Green in his face much of the night and was held to 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting, five rebounds and three assists. Durant went 0-of-8 shooting in the third when the Warriors pulled away.

The Warriors have the NBA’s top-ranked defense and are third in offense so far — as a rule of thumb, a team top-five in the league on both ends is often considered a title favorite. The only other teams in the top 10 on both sides of the ball (contender status level) so far this young season are the Jazz (1st offense, 9th defense), Heat (5th and 8th), and Bulls (7th and 5th).

The Nets aren’t there and coach Steve Nash owned that.

The Nets missed Joe Harris and his shooting. They really missed the pace and shot creation of the non-vaccinated Kyrie Irving. More than that, the Nets are still trying to find their identity in a non-Kyrie world, and at the trade deadline/buyout market need to look for more athleticism off the bench (and more shooting wouldn’t hurt).

Brooklyn has work to do to get to contender status.

Golden State showed Tuesday they are already there (and they still get Klay Thompson back in a month or so).

2) Rookie of the Year early frontrunner Evan Mobley out 2-4 weeks

Evan Mobley was clearly bothered by something against the Celtics on Monday night, he shot 0-of-11 then left the game in the third quarter. Tuesday he had an MRI, and the results were not good (but could have been worse) — he is out 2-4 weeks with a sprained elbow.

In the annual GM survey, they picked Mobley — the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft — to be the best player in this class in five years.

Mobley didn’t want to wait that long and has been the best rookie this young season. He is averaging 14.6 points and eight rebounds a game, plus playing outstanding defense for a rookie, anchoring the Cavaliers in the paint (coach J.B. Bickerstaff even played him as the disruptive top of a 1-2-2 zone at points). He has fit in as a four and can play some five, and Mobley is a key reason Cleveland is off to an unexpected 9-6 start.

For the next couple of weeks, expect Lauri Markkanen to play his more natural four, plus Kevin Love is expected to return in the coming days and can play bench minutes in that role. But for the Cavaliers and just fans of good basketball, this is a setback.

3) No more Staples Center: Lakers home to be Crypto.com Arena

Let the bubble for arena naming rights begin.

The home of the Los Angeles Lakers and NHL’s Kings — and for a few more years the Clippers — will no longer be the Staples Center as of Christmas Day, it will be the Crypto.com Arena.

That’s going to take some getting used to. Sure, it’s just switching out one soulless corporation’s marketing opportunity for another, but this has been Staples Center since the day it opened, since the Shaq/Kobe era, so it’s going to take an adjustment. It’s also going to be a little awkward when the Philadelphia 76ers come to town.

On Twitter, fans have already started calling the building “The Crypt.” Which both works and is a bit ominous for an old Lakers’ roster.

To be clear, the Lakers make nothing off this. They do not own the building. AEG owns the arena, and the owner of that company, Philip Anschutz, also owns the Los Angeles Kings (plus several MLS teams and a minority stake in the Lakers). Staples Center has always been the Kings’ building with the Lakers as a primary tenant.

Multiple reports have this as a $700 million over 20 years deal for naming rights, by far the largest deal in North America. AEG bought back the last couple of years of the Staples naming rights deal to make the crypto.com deal happen, and you can bet the owners of the Barclays Center and other arenas around the league took notice. There is about to be a naming rights bubble.

Mostly, though, this new name is just going to take some getting used to.

Highlight of the night: Curry couldn’t miss even when he was playing around

Stephen Curry had one of those nights, as noted in No. 1 above, but another sign of just how hot he was that this after-the-whistle, joking around set shot went in.

Last night’s scores:

Golden State 117, Brooklyn 99
Utah 120, Philadelphia 85
LA Clippers 106, San Antonio 92

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.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37, Scoot Henderson 28, as both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.