Three things to know: Rebuilding Rockets make history with sixth win in a row

New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets
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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) Rebuilding Rockets make history with sixth win in a row

Break up the Rockets.

The Houston Rockets are looking to develop young players, not win games — if they cared about even the perception of winning as an organization we would see John Wall on the court. From Oct. 24 to Nov. 22, Houston didn’t win a game, 15 losses in a row.

They haven’t lost since.

With their win over the Pelicans on Sunday, the young Rockets have won six in a row. The Rockets have become the first team in NBA — or American professional sports — history to win six in a row after losing 15 in a row.

A couple of veterans — and a couple of guys whose names come up in trade rumors — led the way against New Orleans Sunday. Christian Wood had 23 points and eight rebounds, while guard Eric Gordon added 23 points and five assists.

The Rockets have been doing it with offense — they have a 118 offensive rating during the win streak (much better than the league-worst 95.8 during the losing streak), and they’ve been doing it with balance. This hasn’t been veterans like Wood or Gordon just taking over, and it hasn’t been rookie Jalen Green completely finding his legs yet (he’s been out five games with a strained hamstring) or Alperen Şengün coming into his own (although he’s fun to watch). Against the Pelicans, six different Rockets were in double figures, and it’s like that most nights.

The Rockets aren’t a threat to contend or likely even make the playoffs (even with this streak they are 3.5 games back of the last play-in spot), but give Stephen Silas and his crew some credit. The Rockets are playing better.

2) It takes everything Mitchell, Utah have to hold off Cavaliers for win

Cleveland is a tough out.

Darius Garland is coming into his own as a lead guard and the star of the Cavaliers backcourt. Evan Mobley has been the best rookie this season and shown signs of future superstardom. Veterans like Ricky Rubio, Jarrett Allen, and Lauri Markkanen are making some plays and showing the youngsters the way. This is a 13-11 team sitting seventh in the East this morning.

How though an out are the Cavaliers? It took everything the Jazz have — that is 16-7 Utah with the best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense — to hang on and beat the Cavaliers on Sunday. It took 35 from Donovan Mitchell.

Rudy Gobert has been playing the best basketball of his career to start the season — 14.9 points a game but on 73.1% shooting, plus a career-high 14.7 rebounds a night (he has a 25.1 rebound rate, he is grabbing a quarter of the available rebounds when he is on the court). Against the Pelicans, Gobert had 20 rebounds and five blocks. He has been a force this season.

Utah made 20 3-pointers and led by 15 in the fourth.

But Cleveland is a tough out. They came back and Garland had a shot at a game-winner, it just didn’t fall.

This time. But the Cavaliers are legit and the Jazz almost found out the hard way.

3) NBA pushing hard for players to get vaccine booster

After Thanksgiving, the NBA ramped up its testing of players for the coronavirus, including more game day testing. Not coincidentally, a lot more players have suddenly gone into the league’s health and safety protocols.

The league wants to avoid the kind of insane disruptions that undermined last season. The hope was the vaccine could provide that, and while the NBA could not mandate players get vaccinated, about 97% of players did, according to the league. The concern is — and a new study by the league suggests — the vaccine’s effectiveness is fading and a booster is needed (which is why the CDC suggested the same things for all Americans.

Now the NBA is adding an “incentive” for players who get the booster, less game-day testing.

We don’t know how many players have gotten the booster shot.

This is from the same playbook the NBA used to get players to take the jab in the first place: unvaccinated players faced game-day testing, could not leave their hotel while on the road, have lockers spaced apart from other players, and have other restrictions.

It worked once, we’ll see if it works again.

Highlight of the Night: Don’t try to jump with John Collins.

Charlotte’s Cody Martin learned that the hard way Sunday night. Martin tried to contest Collins’s backdoor cut and slam and just ended up in the poster.

Collins might be the best in-game dunker in the league right now.

Last night’s scores:

Utah 109, Cleveland 108
Charlotte 130, Atlanta 127
Toronto 102, Washington 90
Houston 118, New Orleans 108

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.

 

Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
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RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.