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


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) 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

Watch Isaac Okoro drain game-winning 3-pointer, Cavaliers top Nets


NEW YORK (AP) — Isaac Okoro hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 0.7 seconds remaining and finished with 11 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Brooklyn 116-114 Thursday night and closed in on their first playoff berth since 2018 with a two-game sweep of the Nets.

“It was a lot of pressure put into the shot, of course,” Okoro said. “You always feel good with a game-winner. For me, it was my first one.”

Donovan Mitchell scored 31 points, Evan Mobley had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Jarrett Allen finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds against his former team. Cleveland, which beat Brooklyn 115-109 on Tuesday, won for the eighth time in 10 games and reduced its magic number to clinch one of the Eastern Conference’s top playoff spots to two.

“It was ugly at times,” Mitchell said. “There’s just so much going on (in the playoff race), and at the end of the day all we can do is control what we can control and winning these games instead of praying that other teams lose or win, we just gotta go out there and do what we do, and it’s great to have a win like this tonight.”

Mikal Bridges scored 32 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 25 points and 12 assists and Joe Harris hit five 3-pointers and finished with 15 points as the Nets lost their fifth straight game.

“It’s frustrating,” Bridges said. “Obviously, we’ve got to keep the energy and morale high, but it’s devastating losing like that.”

Cleveland trailed 112-104 with 2:13 left before closing the game on a 12-2 run, with the help of three crucial Nets turnovers. Trailing by one, Mitchell missed a second free throw that would’ve tied the game, then he missed a put-back, and three different Nets had their hands on the ball for the potential rebound before it bounded to Cleveland guard Caris LeVert.

“I thought we did a great job of getting some stops to put ourselves in that position,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You miss the free throw, we had multiple opportunities at it, but guys didn’t quit on the play, and we talk about winning 50-50 balls and winning the scrap.”

LeVert, who spent his first four seasons with Brooklyn, found Okoro in the corner, and he drained the 3-pointer to give Cleveland the lead.

“The ball goes out to Caris, and I’m just running to the corner and going to my spot, and Caris trusted me,” Okoro said. “Once it left my hand, I knew it was going in.”

Bickerstaff said Okoro had no fear of taking the big shot.

“But I think what was most important is Caris saw that he was open and got him the ball, and that speaks to this team,” Bickerstaff said.

A heave from half court by Bridges at the buzzer fell short.

Bridges secured his eighth 30-plus point game as a member of the Nets through three quarters with 14 points in the third quarter. Then Harris heated up with four fourth-quarter 3-pointers in a sub-five-minute span, helping Brooklyn build a 10-point advantage.

“I felt like we deserved to win that game because we did a lot of good things throughout the course of the night,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “This is an opportunity for us to learn who we are.”

The Cavaliers rank first in the NBA in points-against per game and defensive rating, but had no answer for the Nets offense, which shot 56% in the first half. Dinwiddie had 19 points, including 11 in the second quarter, and seven assists, helping Brooklyn take a 61-60 lead into the break.

Mitchell and Bridges each scored in double figures in the first quarter, seeming to trade baskets in the early going. Mitchell scored 12 in the first, including nine in the first 2:17. Bridges had 10, helping the Nets build a 33-31 lead after one.

Malone says Jokić turned off by ‘ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation’


There has always been some element of “if you don’t see things the way I do you’re an idiot” in the NBA MVP conversation. Between sports talking heads and fevered fans on social media, there have always been some pushing the edge in the MVP debate.

However, something about Nikola Jokić looking like he would win a third-straight MVP around the All-Star break — fueled by Tim Bontemps straw poll at ESPN — turned the conversation much more intense much earlier this season. And it got nasty — again driven by ESPN on-air personalities. Some past MVP votes were re-litigated through the lens of this season, while other fans and media equated backing their guy with tearing down someone else (often Jokić, but sometimes Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo, the other frontrunners). That has turned Jokić off from the conversation, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said after his team beat the Wizards Wednesday.

Here’s the full quote:

“I think this year unfortunately has just taken a really ugly, nasty turn in the MVP conversation, and I think it’s really turned a lot of people off, including [Jokić]. And what’s happening now is there’s so many guys that could win the MVP this year. Great candidates. Joel Embiid is a great candidate, Luka Doncic is a great candidate, Jayson Tatum, whoever you want to put in that mix, those are all deserving. But what happens in today’s society is that everybody, it’s like when I was a college coach and all the negative recruiting. It’s not promoting my guy, it’s ripping down every other guy. And that’s just ridiculous.

“This game, as Adam Silver told us at the All-Star break, the game is in a great spot. The league’s in a great spot. We have great players. Celebrate them. Don’t criticize, don’t tear them down. Build them all up, and whoever wins it, good for them. And that’s one thing that’s been really disappointing this year with the whole MVP conversation and all the hot takes. It’s really just gotten ugly and nasty, and I really don’t care for it.”

Malone isn’t the only person saying this. Jeff Van Gundy talked about this on the Lowe Post Podcast.

“Can we stop trying to put people down?” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said recently. “We should be celebrating our guys in the league. Giannis, Jayson Tatum, Joker, all of them are great. We don’t need to push one down to elevate the other guy. They all are completely different players.”

The NBA may not always like the tone but it LOVES the debate — it does not want everyone hugging it out. They want drama and tension. They want an argument. And in an online world where tearing someone down gets more clicks/eyeballs than lifting someone up, the debate was always going to get ugly at times.

[Side note: What grates on voters (*raises hand*) is when people jump in our mentions or timelines saying that this stat or style of play – clutch points, defense, some advanced stat, head-to-head play — makes it clear and obvious that it has to be Player X. The NBA goes out of its way to get a very diverse group of voters in terms of background, and everybody brings their own criteria to the table. As it should be.]

There is no single NBA-sanctioned definition of MVP for a reason — the league wants the arguments.

Which this race is providing. You can make a legitimate argument for Jokić, Embiid and Antetokounmpo. It’s boring (and bad sports talk) to say there is no bad choice among them… but there is no bad choice among them.

That said, some passion and a little edge are welcomed in the conversation. Ideally, people just know where the line is.



PBT Podcast: Kings a playoff threat? Plus some summer free agent talk.


The last time the Sacramento Kings were in the playoffs, there was a Bush in the White House and Pixar released the first “Cars” movie.

They are back with a vengeance this season, going into the playoffs with a top-three seed and an elite offense, but how far can they go once in there? Maybe a long ways if things break right, and Corey Robinson and Kurt Helin of NBC Sports get into all of that.

They discuss the passing of Knicks legend Willis Reed, then Corey’s Jukebox compares Jayson Tatum to Eddie VanHalen’s “Eruption.”

Finally, they focus on some possible free agents this summer maybe making their final runs with teams — will Draymond Green be back with the Warriors? What about Kyrie Irving with the Mavericks? The Knicks want Josh Hart back but are not getting a discount, and don’t be surprised if the Heat and Trail Blazers try to make some big moves.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above (the Christmas games segment) or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at, 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

LeBron James begins on court work, shoots down report of return before season’s end


Lakers fans’ dreams of their retooled roster — one that was impressive for the three games everyone was together just after the trade deadline — getting healthy and making a surprise run through the Western Conference start with one simple premise:

LeBron James getting back on the court.

There was good news on that front Thursday following his evaluation. The Lakers announced that LeBron started “on-court activity” and a “gradual basketball movement program” to return from a foot tendon issue that has sidelined him for 12 games. However, no official timeline was given for LeBron to return to the court.

At almost the same time that news broke, it was leaked to multiple reporters that LeBron was targeting a return for the final week of the season. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin summed it up well on SportsCenter:

“A league source familiar with LeBron James’ thinking told me that he believes LeBron will push for sometime over the final three games the Lakers play in Los Angeles — April 5 against the Clippers, April 7 against the Suns, April 9 against the Jazz — to target that range so long as there are no setbacks in his rehab to make his comeback. Get back onto the court, get a little bit of a dress rehearsal before either the play-in tournament or a playoff berth for the Lakers.”

Within an hour after the reports of a LeBron return timeline broke, he shot them down on Twitter.

There is zero chance word of LeBron targeting the final week of the season was leaked to at least four well-sourced NBA and Lakers’ reporters randomly or by someone that all of these people did not trust. Choose to read between the lines what you will, or who you think is pressuring whom, but this did not get out on accident. There is unquestionably a desire to get LeBron back on the court in Los Angeles before the end of the season. The Lakers need LeBron for any kind of playoff run and they don’t want to just throw him in the mix for a play-in game.

The Lakers are currently tied for 9/10 in the West with Dallas, just half a game back of the Thunder and Timberwolves for the 7/8 seeds, and 1.5 games back of the Warriors as the No. 6 seed (although they will be difficult to catch, especially with Golden State having now won two in a row on the road — the Lakers would need a record two games better than the Warriors the rest of the way). Los Angeles is also half a game up on the Pelicans and Jazz for falling out of even the play-in. The Lakers need wins.

LeBron would help with that, but he says there still is no timeline for his return.