Three things to know: Suspensions are coming, will LeBron get one?

Los Angeles Lakers v Detroit Pistons
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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) Isaiah Stewart will get suspended for Lakers/Pistons fight, will LeBron?

This much is certain: The Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart will get suspended for the Lakers/Pistons fight Sunday — and this was almost a real fight. Stewart wanted it to be (he grew up boxing and wanted to hurt LeBron James). There is more actual fighting in West Side Story than most NBA “fights” — “you’re lucky this smaller teammate/coach is holding me back” — but Stewart genuinely wanted to go.

Stewart was triggered by the blood running down his face and it took nearly a full team of guys and multiple efforts to keep him away from going at LeBron. Cade Cunningman tried, the rookie was in the right place with the right intentions, but he isn’t strong enough to stop “beef Stew.” DeAndre Jordan did his job protecting the team’s best player. Stewart will get a suspension for this — despite Dwane Casey saying he shouldn’t — and the only question is how many games.

The bigger question is will LeBron get a suspension as well? It may have been unintentional — it appears he was trying to use his elbow to get Stewart’s arm off him, and LeBron did come over and try to apologize — but this is still a closed-fist shot to the face. That has led to suspensions in the past.

 

My guess? Stewart gets two games, LeBron gets a fine. But the NBA’s roulette of justice is often random and impossible to predict. We’ll see what is decided by the suits in Manhattan.

Both Stewart and LeBron were ejected for their part — and the Detroit crowd loved the LeBron result.

Pistons fans probably shouldn’t have been so happy — the incident lit a fire under the Lakers, who finally played with the urgency LeBron has wanted to see. Russell Westbrook (who got a technical for his part in the fight) caught fire, Anthony Davis blocked Cunningham twice, and the Lakers went on a 37-17 fourth quarter run to win the game and even their record at 9-9.

If this becomes the incident that somehow galvanizes these lackluster Lakers, LeBron will gladly take any punishment coming his way.

2) Luke Walton fired by Kings, now team needs to find actual solution to problems

It is not Luke Walton’s fault the Kings are 6-11, have lost 7-of-8, and are sitting 12th in the West. He was handed a “Chopped basket” of ingredients, an imbalanced core of a roster that went 31-41 last season, and was told to make it better. Walton was faced with decisions such as “should we start Chimezie Metu or Moe Harkless at the three?” (It’s been Metu, as of late.)

Walton also was not the solution in Sacramento. He was not the chef who could turn that mismatched basket into something worthwhile.

That’s why Walton was fired on Sunday, replaced in the interim by veteran NBA coach Alvin Gentry. However, GM Monte McNair will want his own guy in the big chair, either later this season or during the following offseason.

The Kings have missed the playoffs for 15 straight years, tying them for the longest streak in NBA history (with the Donald Sterling Clippers, a group you never want to be in the same sentence as). That streak started at the disastrous trying-to-sell-an-move-the-team end of the Maloof ownership era, but Vivek Ranadive took over in 2013 and has presided over more than half the streak. Gentry makes the 11th coach the Kings have had in those 15 years (and his replacement will make it an even dozen).

The Kings’ questions start here: What is the backcourt of the future? It was supposed to be anchored around De'Aaron Fox, but he has struggled this season since getting his contract extension, and he has never translated his game into becoming a halfcourt force that drives the offense. Tyrese Haliburton is good and has fundamental pick-and-roll skills, but he’s not a No. 1 offensive creator. Buddy Hield comes off the bench and can score, but is more likely to be traded than become the core of the future Kings. Davion Mitchell has played well as a rookie, but his offense still has a long way to go.

The Kings have four nice players in the backcourt, but not a player who can drive the offense consistently among them.

Harrison Barnes has been surprisingly impressive this season. Richaun Holmes is the most underrated center, and maybe player, in the game today, but he’s not driving the offense.

The Kings are a nice roster without a true No. 1 scoring option at the NBA level, and that’s not going to change no matter who is coaching.

3) Nuggets Michael Porter Jr. could miss rest of season with back issue

The basketball gods do not smile on Denver.

They have been the “if they can get Jamal Murray back healthy” possible contenders all season, but now comes this news: Michael Porter Jr. has a nerve issue in his back that could cost him the season.

Ugh.

Medical red flags about his back were why MPJ slid down to 14th in the 2018 NBA Draft. He had a microdiscectomy at Missouri that limited him to just three games played in college. After the Nuggets drafted him, Porter Jr. had another back surgery and missed an entire season trying to get right.

When he’s right, he’s a No. 2 (or maybe No. 3) option on a Nuggets team looking to contend. His potential to be that player nightly is why Denver gave him a five-year, $172 million contract extension last offseason (the fifth year is only partially guaranteed, but still that’s $145 locked in).

His back has clearly been behind Porter’s slow start to the season— 9.9 points a game on 35.9% shooting overall and 20.8% from 3.

Murray may return to the Nuggets rotation once the calendar flips to 2022, but will Porter join him? Without both of them, the Nuggets are not the contenders they otherwise might be.

Highlight of the Night: Paul George recreates his poster dunk

In 2013, Paul George did this to The Birdman in a playoff game against Miami.

Paul George recreated that dunk Sunday, with Dwight Powell in the Birdman’s place.

Last night’s scores:

LA Clippers 97, Dallas 91
LA Lakers 121, Detroit 116
Chicago 109, New York 103
Phoenix 126, Denver 97
Golden State 119, Toronto 104

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.