Three Things to Know: NBA, players union agree to increased testing, mask wearing

Milwaukee Bucks v Minnesota Timberwolves
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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) NBA, players union agree to increased testing, mask wearing

The coronavirus has been kicking the NBA’s ass. The league had to act.

With 40 players in NBA health and safety protocols right now — including star players such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook who potentially will miss the Christmas Day showcase — plus games being postponed, the NBA turned back the clock.

At least through the first week of 2022, the NBA is going back to some of its 2020 coronavirus protocols. The league and NBPA (the players’ union) agreed to the changes and teams were told in a memo sent out Thursday (both the Associated Press and ESPN confirmed the memo).

Testing will be increased — for vaccinated and unvaccinated players — and basically be daily from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8. Not so coincidentally, that is right after the league’s showcase, spotlight games on Christmas Day. It’s also right after players will be home with families celebrating the holidays but potentially being exposed to the disease. The hope is to catch a player or staff member who gets a breakthrough case before it spreads through a team. Or, put more bluntly, the league wants to avoid another situation like the Bulls, who had 10 players in the protocols and had to postpone games.

Also, the NBA will go back to their old mask rules — masks will be worn at all times during team activities. That includes on the bench during games, during travel, in the locker room, basically every minute a player is not on the court during a game or practice. Head coaches also can bypass a mask during games.

In Toronto, they are going a step further, with the number of fans allowed at games is being reduced to allow more social distancing, and those fans will have to be masked (Toronto already had a vaccine mandate for fans). Enforcing a mask mandate for fans around the league seems like the next step.

Maybe Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is right and we, as a society, are going to have to adjust our levels of risk and learn to live with the coronavirus. But with the United States just passing the 800,000 dead from the disease mark, we as a society are not there yet. We need to get vaccinated (and get the booster), wear masks, and take steps to reduce the spread of the disease to protect the most vulnerable among us. It’s what a mature and caring society would do.

2) Kevin Durant drops 34, keeps playing like an MVP, Nets keep winning

Stephen Curry may well lead the early MVP race (and deservedly so with his numbers and the Warriors’ success), but don’t call it a runaway. Kevin Durant is right there with him.

The shorthanded Nets beat the shorthanded 76ers on Thursday night behind 34 from Durant, who had a four-point play with 1:46 left that proved to be decisive. Durant was the best player on the court and has to be right now if the Nets want to win. The 76ers threw Danny Green then Matisse Thybulle on KD, but nothing they did worked.

Big men Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton each added 17 points for the Nets, who had just nine players available due to injuries, COVID protocols, and whatever you want to say is going on with Kyrie Irving.

Joel Embiid had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but the 76ers have dropped three straight and are now 15-15.

After the game, Doc Rivers was hot because the Nets were called for no fouls in the fourth quarter. Zero. Rivers called a timeout with :03 seconds left and his team down 9 to complain to the referees about it.

“I thought Joel got fouled the last three post possessions, and-ones, and none was called,” Rivers said after the game. “I don’t know how a team can play the fourth quarter of a game where we’re driving the ball and posting the ball and they have zero fouls. It’s hard to play a quarter in the NBA and commit no fouls.”

3) Zion Williamson gets injection in foot, out at least 4-6 more weeks

Zion Williamson’s foot is not healing the way doctors had hoped, so the team took the next logical step to speed up the process — but it requires a step back first.

What does that mean?

The fifth metatarsal — the bone between the little toe and the ankle — is not an area of the foot with good blood flow and healing can be slow. It’s not unheard of for the need for doctors to do another surgery, essentially re-breaking the bone and re-setting it to get the job done. Hopefully, Zion does not need to go down that road.

Will we see Zion play this season? Maybe, but it’s hard to be optimistic right now.

What should really worry Pelicans fans short-term is how the franchise is dealing with it — reports of them looking for win-now trades and reaching out a possible swap of picks for Ben Simmons.

First off, Simmons next to Zion is the worst possible pairing — two non-shooting, ball-dominant players who both want to drive the lane and finish. The one of them without the ball is only dangerous cutting out of the dunker spot or in transition. Teams will go under every pick, pack the paint, and dare the Pelicans to shoot from outside 12 feet. It’s a tactical mess.

Beyond that, a swing for the fences to try and make the play-in rather than thinking long-term just comes off as desperation. Maybe it’s David Griffin trying to save his job, maybe it’s something else, but this 9-21 team should be developing young players and making moves for next season and beyond, not trying to patch the holes and race for the 10 seed.

Highlight of the Night: John Wall looks good for a guy not playing

John Wall wants to play. The Houston Rockets are okay with that, but only on their terms — limited minutes off the bench, with Wall more in a mentor role. Wall feels he has earned more than that.

However, there is no doubt he looks like he could play right now – watch him throw down a 360-degree dunk in warmups Thursday night.

Last night’s scores:

Indiana 122, Detroit 113
Brooklyn 114, Philadelphia 105
New York 116, Houston 103
Phoenix 118, Washington 98
Chicago at Toronto, postponed

Watch Luka Dončić throw the pass of the year to Hardy for 3



Luka Dončić was on the court for the Mavericks Monday — something that was not assured until earlier in the day — and once there made the pass of the season. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Dončić lept in the air and threw a bullet skip pass to Jaden Hardy for 3.

That is your assist of the year. Even Dončić called it one of his best passes ever.

Dončić led the way with 25 points and six assists and the Mavericks — desperate for a win as they try to climb back into the play-in — beat a shorthanded Pacers team without Tyrese Haliburton or Myles Turner, 127-104. Dončić was cleared to play earlier in the day when the NBA rescinded his 16th technical of the season, which would have triggered an automatic one-game suspension.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.