Three things to know: John Wall wants back on the court, but how will that look?

Chicago Bulls v Houston Rockets
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LOS ANGELES — 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) John Wall wants back on the court, but how will that look?


John Wall is tired of sitting out. No trade is coming. A buyout isn’t happening (unless you think he wants to give up a big chunk of the $91 million he is owed). Wall may have agreed before to sit out, but he has been watching the Rockets struggle and wants to get back on the court.

Wall could help the 3-16 Rockets — he averaged 20 points a game for them across 40 games last season. He’s not All-Star John Wall anymore (at least right now), but on a young team that has looked overwhelmed and disorganized at points, he’s a veteran who can organize an offense and get some buckets.

What would a Wall return look like? That is the sticking point.

Wall met with Rockets GM Rafael Stone and coach Stephen Silas, and the sides could not agree on an answer to that question. From Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Wall spoke to Rockets officials and stated his desire is to play, have a starting role and compete to maintain it, but the franchise informed him that they want him to come off the bench, and not start, in order to play, sources tell The Athletic. The outcome of the conversations is that Wall will continue to sit out games while remaining professional and being around and engaged with the team, sources said.

The Rockets are rebuilding and are invested in their young backcourt of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., who are playing 30+ minutes a night. The Rockets likely envision Wall taking over DJ Augustin‘s 12.5 minutes a night off the bench (maybe that gets bumped up to 15-18 a night). Wall is a proud five-time All-Star player who wants the respect of starting and getting decent run.

The sides seem at an impasse.

Ultimately, Wall is going to need to accept a smaller role and build on it. If he wants a playoff (or contending) team to find a way to trade for him — a long shot with that massive contract, but if he wants it — he’s going to have to prove he can accept and thrive in a smaller, different role than he is used to. As Jonathan Feigen points out at the Houston Chronicle, Derrick Rose is the poster child for former All-Stars who have adapted their games. Wall can start that transformation in Houston then hope to adapt it with another team.

For now, Wall continues to sit and the Rockets continue to focus on the future. But this situation isn’t going away.

2) The Clippers would appreciate the referees not pissing off Stephen Curry in the future

It was a battle of the top two defenses in the NBA, and in a lot of ways the first three quarters of the Warriors at Clippers game Sunday afternoon lived up to that billing. Aside from the Clippers shooting themselves in the foot with turnovers, it was a well-played game and offense was not easy to come by.

Then early in the fourth quarter, Stephen Curry attacked the rim and thought he was fouled by Terance Mann (he was), but there was no call. Curry snapped and drew a technical.

That lit a fire under an unstoppable offensive force.

Curry responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter, hitting 3-of-4 from 3, and for good measure he gave the referee a “T” after draining a 3.

Curry finished with 33 points, 7-of-13 on 3-pointers, and the Warriors got the win, 105-90.

Remember this win was all about the defense — the Clippers scored less than a point per possession in this game.

3) Frank Vogel, Lakers still searching for right formula

The Lakers right now will take their wins where they can get them. Even if it’s by four points at home against a 4-16 Pistons team they had down by 19 in the third. Which is what happened Sunday night. It’s still a win and pulled the Lakers up to 11-11.

What is obvious to everyone — coaches, players, fans, and haters — is that the Lakers are a work in progress. As LeBron James noted postgame, the Lakers had nine new players in training camp this year, guys have missed time with injuries (including LeBron), and everyone is still figuring things out.

Coach Frank Vogel may be feeling the pressure, but for whatever reason he is undoubtedly throwing a lot of things out there to see what works. Among the things the Lakers have done recently:

• LeBron at center lineups. For a couple of stretches Sunday night, the Lakers went small and played Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook, Austin Reaves, Wayne Ellington, with LeBron at the five. Vogel preferred the term “centerless lineup.”

“I feel this is part of our evolution as a team and what our lineups are going to look like,” Vogel said. “We played a second unit that basically closed the game out in Indiana, with LeBron and ‘Melo at the four/five. Call it a centerless lineup. There is a lot more space for Russ, ‘Bron has a lot more space to be a roller going to the basket, which was effective, and we just have more switchability on the defensive side of the ball.

• The Lakers started big with DeAndre Jordan at center and he played 20:38, but in the other 27:22, it was either Davis or LeBron at center — the smaller lineups that have looked better for them. Vogel is looking for the line where he isn’t overtaxing his stars, but he is getting them more in the 4/5 role.

• There was an obvious effort to attack the rim and play inside out — and the Lakers finished with a strong 58 points in the paint. It helps that the Pistons don’t have a real shot blocker, so guys have cleaner looks, and that meant Davis could overpower guys on his way to 24 points, but it still was a step in the right direction as they were aggressive, playing downhill, and trying to play fast.

The paint does get clogged with Jordan on the court, which is why the smaller lineups can be so effective.

• The Lakers’ defense may be improving… slowly. The Lakers held the Pistons to a 101.9 offensive rating in this game, which is good, but this is the 30th ranked Detroit offense scoring below a point per possession coming into the game. There has been a sense among Lakers’ watchers that the defense has looked better through stretches of both the loss Friday to the Kings in triple-overtime and against the Pistons, but it’s not been consistent.

“That’s why our lives are hard right now. Because we’re not fully committed,” Vogel said.

The Lakers remain in the bottom 10 in the league in defense for the season, and that has continued over the last eight games.

• The Lakers have gotten better with their third quarter problem. That quarter was their undoing for a while. The Lakers have focused more on winning the third and they have won 5-of-8 thirds, including going on a 16-0 run against the Pistons on Sunday. That stretch essentially decided the game.

Highlight of the Night:

LeBron and Davis recreated a little Showtime for the Staples Center crowd (which felt appropriate on the night the team honored the legacy of Chick Hearn):

Last night’s scores:

Golden State 105, LA Clippers 90
Milwaukee 118, Indiana 100
Boston 109, Toronto 97
Memphis 128, Sacramento 101
LA Lakers 110, Detroit 106

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.