Three things to know: Through everything, Nets sit atop East after beating Knicks

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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) Through everything, Nets beat Knicks to improve to 15-6, lead East

Kyrie Irving is off thinking he’s making a statement or something. James Harden has been slow to round into form again this season. Joe Harris is out with ankle surgery. Blake Griffin has fallen out of the rotation. They start seemingly every game slow and have terrible first-quarter numbers. All of this has meant Kevin Durant is forced to take on a ridiculous load with Brooklyn.

It’s been a rough first quarter of the season for the Nets. Nothing seems to go according to plan.

They are still 15-6 and sit in first place in the East after beating the Knicks in a thriller Tuesday night, 112-110.

The game seemed to sum up the Nets season in a way.

“On the one hand, it felt it was closer than it needed to be. On the other end, we found a way,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We got some stops, got some rebounds, and made plays.”

The Nets defense has been pretty average: 12th in the league for the season, 16th in the NBA over the past six games (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time).

The offense is nothing complex — they run more isolation than any other team in the NBA this season. Which makes sense because they have two of the best isolation player in the game today — and two of the best ever — in Harden and Durant. The Nets force you to send help, are willing to move the ball to the open man, and count on a veteran team to make the high IQ play and finish. It works. The game-winning play against the Knicks on Tuesday is a perfect example.

It’s all working and the Nets keep on winning. Brooklyn can be a lot better than the team it is today, and it has three-quarters of the season to get there, but it’s still working. The Nets are still winning.

Tom Thibodeau’s decision to move Kemba Walker out of the rotation and start Alec Burks in his place was justified after his new point guard led the team with 25 points in the loss. The starters still were outplayed and it was still the bench — led by a combined 28 from Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley — that got the team back in the game. The script remained the same for the Knicks, but this looked better.

However, there are no moral victories in the NBA; this loss dropped New York to 11-10 on the season and 4-6 in their last 10.

Julius Randle and Thibodeau were hot after the game — after watching James Johnson draw the foul that led to the game-winning free throws (and he was fouled by Mitchell Robinson, who came across Johnson’s arm — at the free throw disparity. Randle took just two free throws all game despite playing inside a lot, and the Knicks shot 12 as a team to the Nets’ 25.

The Knicks need a little more Nets in them and to just find a way to win games, but the lineup changes are a step in the right direction.

2) Versatile, clutch Suns too much for Curry and Warriors

In a battle of two of the top-three defenses in the NBA this season, it was the Suns “D” — and their versatility, and their great clutch play — that was the difference in this one.

Mikal Bridges and a swarming Suns defense forced Stephen Curry into a 4-of-21 shooting night overall, and he was 3-of-14 from 3. To be fair, Curry missed some shots he usually makes and this was also just one of those nights, but Bridges and the Suns defense seemed to speed him up just a little, and it threw him off.

It’s part of what the Suns do well — they are the most versatile team in the NBA, they can beat you so many different ways, and every night they can find one. They found ones against the Warriors, picking up a 104-96. It was a defense that forced 23 Warriors turnovers — 24% of Golden State possessions — that was the difference in this game. That and the Suns are clutch and again cranked it up in the final minutes to pull away.

For more on this game, check out the Three Reasons the Suns Beat the Warriors and Are Contenders.

That would be 17 straight wins for the Suns. Don’t use the words “Suns” and “fluke” in the same sentence ever again.

3) LeBron James enters league’s health and safety protocols, out 10 days

LeBron James, who has already missed half of the Lakers games this season coming into Tuesday night, was out against the Kings and will miss a few more games after going into the league’s health and safety protocols.

LeBron is vaccinated but has tested positive — based on the time he will miss, not an official announcement — making this another breakthrough case for the league. The most important news is that Davis said he has spoken to LeBron and said he is asymptomatic. Vaccinated people are far less likely to get sick or be hospitalized if there is a breakthrough case.

LeBron can return in either 10 days if he doesn’t show symptoms or if he has two negative tests 24 hours apart (which could come sooner than 10 days). LeBron is going to miss a little time, but how much remains to be seen.

The Lakers are 7-4 when LeBron plays and now 5-7 without him after beating the Kings on Tuesday night. Los Angeles has a -2.2 net rating this season when LeBron is off the court. Unfortunately, the Lakers are used to playing without him this season. They will need to do it at least three more games.

Highlight of the Night: Klay Thompson is back… in the G-League

Klay Thompson is working out with the Warriors G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz as he nears a return, but he is still Klay. He took part in a team scrimmage on Wednesday and drained the game-winner. Because’s he’s Klay Thompson.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 112, New York 110
Memphis 98, Toronto 91
Phoenix 104, Warriors 96
Portland 110, Detroit 92
LA Lakers 117, Sacramento 92

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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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.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.