Three things to know: Chris Paul has Suns seemingly unstoppable in clutch

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns
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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) Chris Paul has Suns almost unstoppable in clutch

The Phoenix Suns are 11-1 in clutch games and have a 53.5 net rating in those minutes (final five minutes of a game within five points).

That’s not a typo. That’s the Chris Paul effect.

There are a few reasons the Phoenix Suns have to be listed with the title contenders of the NBA, and their play in the clutch is one of them. The Suns’ defense drives them in those moments, and the Spurs found out about that the hard way Monday night.

Credit the Spurs for making a game of it, they trailed by 15 late in the third but fought back to make a game of it behind another strong game from Dejounte Murray and 15 points off the bench from Bryn Forbes.

Ultimately, the Spurs made it close late, but then became the 11th victim of the Suns in the clutch. Phoenix got the win, 108-104.

The Suns have a ridiculously good 82.7 defensive rating in clutch minutes. That defense fuels a few turnovers, and in clutch minutes the Suns play fast (fourth-fastest pace in the league) and move the ball (they assist on 68.4% of made clutch baskets, third highest in the league). This is a team effort, not one man in isolation on offense.

And that makes Phoenix a real threat come the playoffs.

2) Joel Embiid is a force of nature, drops season-high 43

This was a bad recipe for the Hornets:

Charlotte is not a good defensive team in the paint (they give up the third-most points in the paint per game this season) and on top of it, starting center Mason Plumlee is out (health and safety protocols). Joel Embiid is a force of nature in the paint and was coming to town Monday.

The result was Embiid going off for a season-high 43 points and scoring six of his team’s eight points in overtime.

Credit the shorthanded Hornets for a gritty game and forcing overtime. Kelly Oubre Jr. went off for 35 (more on him later).

But in the end, Charlotte had no answer for Embiid.

The good news for 76ers fans, Embiid says he is “nowhere near” 100% yet after he recovered from COVID-19. He’s only going to get better.

3) Andrew Wiggins goes off for eight 3-pointers in Warriors win

Andrew Wiggins has developed into a consistent and quality role player for the Warriors, giving them a fairly efficient 18.7 points a game and good defense.

But every once in a while he reminds you why he went No. 1 overall in the draft.

Monday was one of those nights as he drained eight 3-pointers against the overmatched Magic. (Stephen Curry added seven himself.)

You know Wiggins was hot when Curry was in awe.

Golden State cruised to a 125-96 win. Curry finished with 31 points, Wiggins 28.

Highlight of the Night: Kelly Oubre, c’mon man

We could have put a Lonzo Ball alley-oop finish or a Stephen Curry half-court buzzer-beater in this slot, but what is the highlight you’re going to be talking about after seeing it? Kelly Oubre’s Shaqtin moment.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 127, Charlotte 124 (OT)
Oklahoma City 114, Detroit 103
Indiana 116, Washington 110
Memphis 105, Miami 90
Chicago 109, Denver 97
Milwaukee 112, Cleveland 104
Atlanta 121, Minnesota 110
Phoenix 108, San Antonio 104
Golden State 126, Orlando 95
LA Clippers 102, Portland 90

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.