Three things to know: Giannis Antetokounmpo makes MVP case, drops 47 on Lakers


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) Giannis Antetokounmpo makes his MVP case, drops 47 on Lakers

It’s too early to have a serious MVP frontrunner, despite what Stephen Curry did to the Nets on Tuesday night. If the league held the vote today Curry might well win, but we are five miles into the marathon of the NBA season, nobody is running away with anything. At best, there is a college football award-style watch list of players who have started the season playing at an MVP level.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has to be on any MVP list — and he dropped 47 points on 18-of-23 shooting in a win against the Lakers Wednesday to make his case.

Antetokounmpo averages 28 points on 51.5% shooting (30.8% from 3), plus grabbing 11.1 rebounds and dishing out 5.8 assists a night, and the Bucks are +20.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. If you prefer your stats in the advanced variety, he is seventh in win shares (despite the Bucks slow start), third in box score +/-, third in VORP, and second in PER.

Antetokounmpo has earned his place in any early-season MVP discussion. So has Curry. You can add Nikola Jokic (he has better advanced stat than last season when he won MVP), Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler to any list. Paul George and Anthony Davis are lurking just behind that first group, along with others. It’s early, there is a lot of MVP race to go and a lot more names that could go on that list.

As for the Bucks beating the Lakers Wednesday, here is the big takeaway:

Milwaukee had Antetokounmpo and got Khris Middleton back, and the Lakers missed LeBon James. A lot.

Deep stuff there, I know. You can try to make this game a puzzle piece in a larger picture if you want, but sometimes over the grind of an NBA season, it’s about who is available, and the Bucks had more of their good players on the court. Middleton scored 16 points and looked a bit rusty but did play 30 minutes. As the Bucks get healthy, that slow start to the season will be a distant memory — this team is still a contender.

The Lakers could get LeBron back Friday against the Celtics. Let him play a few games upon his return and then we can have a serious Lakers’ discussion. Right now, there are concerns but LeBron fixes a lot of them.

2) Suns win streak reaches 10 with win over Luka-less Mavs

The Suns look like the Suns again.

For the first four games of the season, Phoenix looked like it had a Finals hangover. They were a step slow and seemingly disinterested in the regular season. Then starting on Oct. 30 against the Cavaliers, the schedule got soft, and now Phoenix has rattled off 10 wins in a row.

The latest was 105-98 against the Mavericks without Luka Doncic. Devin Booker had 24 to lead a balanced Suns attack, and he stuck the dagger in Dallas late — the man needs just a sliver of space to make a defense pay.

Booker was putting on a show all night.

The Suns are playing top-five defense this season and their offense has been top 10 over the last eight games.

The Suns are the Suns again, which means they are contenders in the West.

3) The Kings can frustrate a veteran player like no other: The Tristan Thompson rant

Tristan Thompson —in his 11th NBA season and with a championship ring — has joined the long and storied club of veteran players frustrated with the Kings.

Sacramento just brings it out of players. Thompson went on a profanity-laced rant after the Kings came apart late and lost to the Timberwolves 107-97 Wednesday night.

“It’s a compound thing and what guys gotta understand is those little things over the course of 48 minutes, the ‘my bad’ after ‘my bad’ after ‘my bad’ is what is going to cost you a game in the fourth quarter and the reason why we got a loss…

“I’m gonna say this,” Thompson said. “I think no man in this world should rely on another man to inspire them. Point-blank, period. You can put that in all capitals. Me personally, no one should ever need a coach to inspire you. If you don’t get inspired in the game, then you shouldn’t be on the court. Losing teams, losing players, you need to get inspiration from your coach, and I’m not with that s***

“My teammates aren’t with it, because I know guys want to win and win badly. It’s not about coach Walton inspiring you, this is not no freaking Glory Road s***. You gotta be ready to play. Your number’s called, you in the damn game, I don’t need no f****** coach to inspire me. Never have, never will. The day I need a coach to inspire me, is the day I’m f****** retiring, I’m going to go play with my kids in the park. I speak for my teammates with that quote, we don’t need a coach to inspire us…

The Kings are actually a little better than their 6-9 record would indicate. They have the ninth-ranked offense in the NBA (and that despite the fact De'Aaron Fox is off to a slow start), but the Kings are 23rd in defense. The Kings have a +0.2 net rating, meaning they should be more like 8-7, but they cannot close out games.

Which frustrates Thompson.

Luke Walton’s seat got a little warm, and he is undoubtedly a part of the issues in Sacramento, but the bigger problem is this is a play-in level roster, and right now they are performing at a play-in level (they are 11th in the West now, in the mix for a play-in spot). They are who we thought they were. They are what their record says they are.

We’ll see if Thompson lit a fire under the Kings.

Highlight of the night: Franz Wagner is a highlight machine

If you had told me before the season Franz Wagner would have a couple of the best dunks of the year so far, I would have asked you where you buy your edibles. But here we are. He had this throw down on the Knicks.

Last night’s scores:

Charlotte 97, Washington 87
Detroit 97, Indiana 89
Atlanta 110, Boston 99
Brooklyn 109, Cleveland 99
Miami 113, New Orleans 98
Orlando 104, New York 98
Milwaukee 109, LA Lakers 102
Minnesota 107, Sacramento 97
Oklahoma City 101, Houston 89
Phoenix 105, Dallas 98
Portland 112, Chicago 107

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

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.

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

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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


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
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

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.