Three things to know: Jaren Jackson Jr. game-winner helps Grizzlies keep covering up defense

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

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) Jaren Jackson Jr. game-winner helps Grizzlies keep covering up defense

Jaren Jackson Jr. has been shooting a pedestrian 33% on above-the-break 3s this season and was 3-of-10 on them in the game Monday night against Utah. But all that is forgotten because he hit the one that matters — Jackson won jump-ball against Rudy Gobert (after a controversial basket interference call ruled an inadvertent whistle after replay) then drained the game-winner to give the Grizzlies a 119-118 win against Utah.

That shot was set up by the threat of Ja Morant scoring inside — Morant leads the NBA in buckets at the rim, as Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN points out. Not Giannis Antetokounmpo or some big man like Nikola Jokic, it’s skinny 6’3″ Morant who gets to the rim and finishes more than anyone.

In the closing seconds Monday, it was the threat of Morant scoring at the rim that forced a scrambling Jazz defense to collapse in the paint, opening up the kick-out to JJJ, who drained the game-winner. Utah led by six with less than 90 seconds remaining in this game, that is a tough loss for it.

Morant has Memphis at 9-8 on the season and in the mix to avoid the play-in games in the West, which is amazing for a team with the worst defense in the NBA. The Grizzlies have a 115.8 defensive rating, worse than rebuilding Orlando (113.9) or just bad New Orleans (113.2). The Jazz had a 119.2 offensive rating in Monday night’s games, it was just the usually stout Utah defense couldn’t get the stops it needed.

If the Grizzlies want to avoid the play-in the defense has to improve. They are the worst halfcourt defense in the NBA so far this season, and they have struggled in transition defense as well. They have suffered from some bad shooting luck — teams are shooting 40.1% on 3-pointers against them, a ridiculously high number that will come back to earth some over the course of the marathon NBA season — but a lot of this is on the Grizzlies. There is no grit and grind in their defense.

There are moments with Morant the Grizzlies look like a team on the rise, but the question of who can be the No. 2 next to Morant, and if the team can get stops, is holding them back. The Grizzlies have been the luckiest team in the NBA this season — their -4.7 net rating suggests they should be 6-11, not above .500. That luck will run out unless the Grizzlies change it by getting some more stops.

2) LeBron earns one-game suspension, Isaiah Stewart gets two

The way Isaiah Stewart did his Earl Campbell imitation — running over anyone and everyone who got in his way — the only question was whether he would get a two- or three-game suspension for the league after the Pistons/Lakers dust-up.

The bigger question was: Would the league suspend LeBron James? It may have been inadvertent and unintentional (don’t expect Pistons fans agree with that), but LeBron still punched Stewart in the face.

The answer to those questions:

Stewart got a two-game suspension without pay

LeBron was suspended one game without pay for “recklessly hitting Stewart in the face and initiating an on-court altercation.” This is the first suspension of LeBron’s career and will keep him out against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. It will also cost him $284,000.

In the end, this seems fair… unless you’re a Knicks season ticket holder. LeBron could not get off with just a fine here; that was a punch to the face that drew blood and required stitches. That earned a suspension.

Stewart… he got a reputation he will like out of this.

3) New coach, same problems for Kings in loss to shorthanded 76ers

Maybe it was time for Luke Walton to go — he wasn’t the solution. He wasn’t solving the problems of this imbalanced Kings’ roster.

However, the Alvin Gentry era in Sacramento didn’t look any better in its debut.

Sacramento lost 102-94 to a Philadelphia team without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Danny Green, or, of course, Ben Simmons. That’s four-fifths of the pre-season projected 76ers starting five in street clothes, and Philly was still the better team in crunch time.

After the game, Gentry used the one tool he could to light a fire under his team, threatening to bench guys who aren’t competing. Via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“We’ve got to find the combination of guys that are going to play. Don’t really care what the hell the back of the jersey says, we’re going to play the guys that are going to play hard and do what we try to ask them to do. If you don’t want to run and you don’t want to get out and play in the open court, then we’ve got to find somebody that will…

“The one message I said from Day 1 is that the only thing and the only one that’s going to rescue us from this is us. There’s nobody in this league, not in the 35 years I’ve been in it, that has any sympathy for us. So you have to come together and you have to find a way to bail yourself out of this.”

Tristan Thompson was again blunt about this team.

The Kings are 6-12 and sit 12th in the West, 2.5 games back of even making the play-in. Watch this team play and it’s hard to see any identity — what kind of team do they want to be, and who is their leader? De'Aaron Fox looked better on Monday (23 points on 7-of-15 shooting), but he is working off the ball in crunch time because their bread-and-butter halfcourt play is the Tyrese Haliburton/Richaun Holmes pick-and-roll. Harrison Barnes has been good this season but was 2-of-8 shooting against the 76ers.

Maybe Gentry can instill an identity in this team, and maybe they can get a little nasty. The Kings can be better.

But the real fixes to turn this team around fall on GM Monte McNair and the front office — it doesn’t matter who the coach is if he doesn’t have the talent to win games.

Highlight of the night: Iman Shumpert is the “Dancing” king

Iman Shumpert can dance.

The 10-year NBA vet couldn’t land a contract this season, so he took his leg and championship ring to “Dancing With The Stars” and became the first NBA player to win the contest, and he did it with this dance.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 117, Cleveland 112
Charlotte 109, Washington 103
Atlanta 113, Oklahoma City 101
Boston 108, Houston 90
Indiana 109, Chicago 77
Milwaukee 123, Orlando 92
Minnesota 110, New Orleans 96
Phoenix 115, San Antonio 111
Memphis 119, Utah 118
Philadelphia 102, Sacramento 94

Kevin Durant drops 30, Suns win fourth straight beating shorthanded Nuggets


PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns are starting to string together some wins now that Kevin Durant is healthy.

Even so, they’re far from a well-oiled machine.

Durant scored 30 points, Devin Booker added 27 and the Suns won their fourth straight game by beating the short-handed Denver Nuggets 100-93 on Friday night.

The Suns improved to 5-0 with Durant in the lineup despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead. Phoenix traded for the 13-time All-Star in a deadline deal back in February.

“I like how we played in the first half, but it was a bad second half for us,” Durant said. “We just let our foot off the gas a little and they were playing extremely hard. … We’ve just got to do a better job of sticking with it.”

The Nuggets rested a big chunk of their starting lineup, including reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, guards Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forward Michael Porter Jr. But they still showed fight after trailing 60-40 at halftime.

“I am immensely proud,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “You are down 27 points on the road, second half, second night in a row. Every reason just to roll over and play dead and get ready for Sunday at home. Guys just wouldn’t do it.”

The Suns pushed their advantage to 27 midway through the third quarter, but the Nuggets pulled to 84-74 heading into the fourth quarter. Denver cut it to 97-93 in the final minute, but Josh Okogie nailed a corner 3 to seal it for the Suns. Okogie had 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Chris Paul had 13 assists.

Aaron Gordon had 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Nuggets. Bruce Brown scored 16 points and Reggie Jackson had 13. The overmatched but feisty Nuggets got 22 points from the bench.

“It was our energy and our effort,” backup guard Peyton Watson said. “We know we were missing guys but that doesn’t change the culture here. We always want to play hard, get stops.”

Durant shot 11 of 15 from the field in a dominant performance two days after a rough shooting night in his home debut against Minnesota. The 34-year-old star has battled knee and ankle injuries over the past few months, but appears to be getting healthy as the Suns continue to cling to the No. 4 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Suns scored just 16 points in the fourth quarter on Friday, but managed to hang on for the victory.

“We’re trying to find that rhythm and trying to get wins at the same time,” Booker said.

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.



Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains


While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).