Three things to know: Suns try to stay locked in as win streak reaches record 18

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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) Suns try to stay locked in as win streak reaches record 18

No Suns team has won this many games in a row. Not Paul Westphal teams, not when Charles Barkley was leading the team to the Finals, not when Steve Nash was leading “seven seconds or less.”

With a win Thursday night over the rebuilding Pistons, the Suns’ win streak stretched to 18, a franchise record. They didn’t lose a game in November, carried that into early December (despite not having Devin Booker due to a strained hamstring), and now have the best record in the NBA. It’s an epic run that has the Suns locked in as title contenders out of the West.

After the game, the Suns were saying all the right things about taking it one game at a time and staying focused. Having a rematch with the Warriors Friday night looming will help with that, still these quotes, via Andrew Lopez of ESPN, are a good sign for Suns fans.

Coach Monty Williams: “Obviously it’s hard to win in this league. But we’re not satisfied. We talk about stretching it out but it takes the right things to do that. So we’ve taken it one game at a time.”

“But for us I think it’s always about the feeling of making sure we’re playing the game the right way,” Chris Paul said. “We always talk about we have a standard. We say this every night and a win is a win but we feel like we could have played better.”

“It feels good but at the same time, I don’t know, I guess it feels good but we got another tomorrow,” Cameron Payne said. “We have to keep going. It’s 1-0 today. That’s how I feel.”

Whether the Suns’ win streak ends tonight in Golden State or continues on and they challenge the ’72 Lakers for the longest streak all-time (33 games), this streak has put the Suns back at the top of the NBA, both in the standings and in people’s minds. That is where they belong.

2) Grizzlies set margin of victory record with 73-point win over Thunder

What was weird about this game is both teams went in short handed: No Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Josh Giddey for the Thunder, no Ja Morant for the Grizzlies. That meant no reason to watch for a lot of us.

The game became NBA history: The 152-79 Grizzlies win set a record for the largest margin of victory in NBA history.

To lose by 73, everything has to go wrong for Oklahoma City while everything goes right for the Grizzlies. The first part is very, very true — the Thunder shot 24.4% in the first half, 32.9% for the game (and that was with Tre Mann shooting a respectable 5-of-11 overall and 2-of-4 from 3). Nobody from OKC good, but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was 0-of-7 and Paul Watson 1-of-8 shooting.

OKC had an 82.8 offensive rating in this game — and their offense was better than their defense.

The Grizzlies were hot — 52.8% from 3 as a team — but they also just got uncontested look after uncontested look. Especially in the paint. Jaren Jackson Jr. had 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting, but you can go down the list and get a sense it was a layup line: De'Anthony Melton 8-of-10, John Konchar 7-of-8, and it just goes on and on.

The Thunder aren’t this bad, the Grizzlies are not this good, this was just the Everclear extreme version of one of “those games.”

Here are the highlights, Thunder fans, look away.

3) LeBron returns Friday after missing one game due to COVID tests

Did LeBron James get sidelined by a false positive?

LeBron was put into the league’s health and safety protocols on Tuesday, had eight negative tests by Thursday, and is now out of the protocols and will play Friday when the Lakers take on the Clippers. That’s an odd turn, to say the least, and here is the NBA’s explanation:

“James was originally placed in the Protocols on Tuesday, November 30 after a series of tests delivered conflicting results, including an initial positive test that was collected on November 29. Additional testing confirmed that he is not a positive case.

“In accordance with the Protocols, and the consistent testing practice that has been in place since the 2019-20 Season Restart in Orlando, the sample that produced the initial positive test was re-run twice and returned one negative and one positive result on two different PCR instruments. As a result, James underwent additional testing on November 30, with one test returning a negative result and a second test resulting in a clinically inconclusive result.”

So… false positive? That would be the kindest way to put this. The Lakers beat the Kings without LeBron on Wednesday, so no harm done I guess, but still. Not a good look for the league.

Also of note: The NBA took the Clippers at Lakers battle of LA off ESPN Friday night and replaced with the Suns at Warriors rematch. This led to a lot of hand-wringing among Lakers faithful and writers about the diminishing power of the brand and why the sky is falling. My two cents: It’s not always about you. The Suns and Warriors are clear-and-away the two best teams in the NBA, these teams played a thriller just a few nights before, and the Suns are on an 18-game win streak. That is simply the better and more interesting game (especially with no Kawhi Leonard and, at the time the call was made, no LeBron). Don’t worry, the Lakers still have roughly 2,647 nationally televised games left this season.

Highlight of the Night: Alex Caruso

Bulls teammates praise Alex Caruso because he does the little things: Sets good picks, gets steals, serves as a floor spacer, etc.

But he can also get up and dunk, and he had the one of the night in Madison Square Garden.

Last night’s scores:

Chicago 119, New York 115
Toronto 97, Milwaukee 93
Memphis 152, Oklahoma City 79
Phoenix 114, Detroit 103
San Antonio 114, Portland 83