Three Things to Know: What will Lakers do without Davis? Go smaller.

Los Angeles Lakers v Chicago Bulls
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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) What will Lakers do without Davis? Go smaller.

There were understandable reasons the Bulls beat the Lakers Sunday night. First, the Bulls are an outstanding team — 18-10 after the contest, the No. 2 seed in the East with the eighth-best net rating in the league. Chicago was at home. The Bulls, while still shorthanded, had fresh legs after a week off due to COVID protocols. And finally, Chicago got DeMar DeRozan back, he wanted to show Rob Pelinka what the Lakers were missing, and dropped 38 including this dagger.

But we learned a lot about what life will be like for Los Angeles for the next month — at least, likely a little longer — as the Lakers adjust to life without Anthony Davis, who is out with a sprained knee.

While Lakers fans have been frustrated this season that Davis hasn’t stepped up and looked like the No. 1 option on a championship team — because he’s not shooting as well as he did in the bubble, plus the effort is not there every night — Davis is still elite. The Lakers are flat-out better with him on the court. He is averaging 23.3 points and 10 rebounds a game. More importantly, he was their best defender and rim protector. After a rough start to the season on the defensive end, the Lakers had crawled back into the top 10 defenses in the league thanks to Frank Vogel and Davis — the Lakers defense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better with Davis on the floor.

That defense will be the biggest issue without Davis, especially as the Lakers go smaller and smaller.

Over the past two weeks (seven games), the Lakers’ defensive rating was 104, fourth-best in the NBA. They were getting stops — until Sunday. The Bulls had a 112.9 offensive rating for the game. Again, fresh legs at home and DeRozan was going off, there are excuses if you want them, but until Davis returns the Lakers will go as their defense goes, and it was not great on Sunday.

The Lakers also were at their best going small — LeBron at center lineups specifically — and Los Angeles will need to lean into that.

Vogel went with his instincts to start the game, going bigger and starting DeAndre Jordan at center and LeBron at the four. That didn’t last. By the second half, Carmelo Anthony was in the starting lineup and LeBron slid over to center. Expect a lot more of that — this Lakers’ roster was not built to handle the loss of Davis for long. Jordan and Dwight Howard (once he’s returned from COVID protocols) will have to play a stepped-up role and be better, but when it gets tight the Lakers will lean on LeBron (and sometimes Anthony or Trevor Ariza) at the five.

Those smaller lineups will mean more effort from LeBron defensively every game, which is the other big concern for the Lakers through all of this — wearing LeBron down midseason. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport, he knows his body and is focused on recovery like few others. Still, he’s about to turn 37 and has the second-most total minutes played in NBA history (regular season and playoff combined). The hope was to reduce his minutes this season, but Westbrook is not taking on that load and injuries have gotten in the way. It’s on LeBron.

Specifically on LeBron, the center.

2) No, the NBA isn’t going to be postponing games. But COVID is hitting hard.

The NBA announced the postponement of five games, three of them on Sunday, because COVID hit the league so hard several teams could not suit up eight healthy players to play. That’s likely getting worse before it gets better, considering how many players are entering protocols.

It’s why the NBA will ramp up testing and go back to more strict mask mandates (after Christmas, of course, don’t want to mess with those showcase games). It’s why the NBA will start to require teams sign players to 10-day contracts as they lose roster players to COVID protocols — to have enough bodies to keep the games going (and the schedule on track, and the money rolling in).

All that has led some to call for the NBA to shut the league down, including Boston’s outspoken Enes Kanter Freedom.

That’s not happening.

Reaching out to multiple sources in the last 24 hours to ask about a shutdown, the league does not appear headed in that direction — for a couple of reasons.

First, does anyone think sending players home to stay inside with their families and friends through Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties would lessen the number of players who get infected? Are players more likely to stay at home and avoid public clubs/bars/restaurants if sent home? Shut things down and the league sends players to spend more time in the places they are most likely to get infected.

Second, what exactly is the guarantee that things will be better in two weeks? The uptick in NBA players testing positive mirrors the uptick in people nationally becoming infected, with hospitals filling up again (primarily with the unvaccinated and people at higher risk, such as the elderly). With two weeks of parties at homes and the Omicron variant spreading through the nation, there’s no reason to think a few weeks off puts the NBA in a better space.

The NBA is not near ready to hit pause on the season right now. Don’t bet on that changing.

3) Pistons snap 14-game losing streak with win against Heat

It doesn’t matter that Miami was without Jimmy Butler (tailbone), Bam Adebayo (thumb), Tyler Herro (quad), Markieff Morris (neck), and that P.J. Tucker had to leave the game with an injury.

A win is a win and the Pistons will take it, a 100-90 victory for Detroit that snaps a 14-game losing streak.

It helped that the Heat’s remaining primary offensive drivers, Kyle Lowry and Duncan Robinson, shot 5-of-23 for the night. And that the Heat as a team shot 30.2% from 3 for the game.

The Pistons starters were better than the Heat’s first five, with Saddiq Bey scoring 26 and Hamidou Diallo adding 15.

Miami clearly had rookie Cade Cunningham at the top of the scouting report, they blitzed and trapped him all night long, and he ended up with just four points. However, in the fourth, when the Pistons put the game away, Cunningham started to use the Heat defense against them, drew the defenders to him, then found Bey for a couple of key threes. The rookie is learning.

Highlight of the Night: Coby White is a little too fast for LeBron chase-down block

LeBron’s chase-down blocks are the thing of legend — he sealed a championship with one. Sunday night he tracked Coby White looking to get another one but the Bulls’ guard was a little too quick and got the dunk.

Last night’s scores:

Detroit 100, Miami 90
Portland 105, Memphis 100
Sacramento 121, San Antoni0 114
Chicago 115, LA Lakers 110
Minnesota 111, Dallas 105
Phoenix 137, Charlotte 106
Cleveland at Atlanta, postponed
New Orleans at Philadelphia, postponed
Denver at Brooklyn, postponed

Knicks’ Julius Randle out at least two weeks with sprained ankle

Miami Heat v New York Knicks
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

In just a little more than two weeks, April 15 or 16, the New York Knicks will open the playoffs, likely on the road in Cleveland.

They hope to have Julius Randle back for that game.

The Knicks’ All-Star forward and leading scorer, Randle suffered a sprained ankle against the Heat on Wednesday night and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, the team announced.

That timeline has him re-evaluated days before the playoffs tip-off. He will not play again this regular season.

Randle rolled his ankle leaping for a rebound and landing on Bam Adebayo‘s foot in the second quarter, and he left the game not to return. Friday night against those Cavaliers (in Cleveland) will be the first game Randle has missed all season.

Randle is playing at an All-NBA level again this season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game. The Knicks have five games remaining in the season and are almost locked in as the No.5 seed, four games back of the No. 4 Cavaliers and 2.5 games up on the No.6 seed (and stumbling) Nets.


Kevin Durant: ‘I don’t care about legacy… I used to… Nowadays, I truly, truly don’t care’

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In the neverending debate around sports, we become obsessed with a player’s legacy. What is LeBron James‘ legacy and does he need another ring in his GOAT battle with Michael Jordan? What will Damian Lillard‘s legacy be if he chooses to spend his entire career in Portland and doesn’t jump teams to chase a ring? What will Kevin Durant‘s legacy be with him getting ripped by some fans for going to Golden State and joining forces with Stephen Curry in the first place, then other fans ripping him for leaving that situation?

Durant doesn’t care.

That’s what he told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“I don’t care about legacy,” Durant told The Athletic. “I used to. I used to want to carve out a lane or space in this game for myself that people can remember, but it’s become too much of a thing now. It just becomes too much of a focus on other people. What’s he done, what’s he done? Comparisons. Before, when we wasn’t doing all this debating, I cared about it … I’m about to be in the same breath as these top guys. It was big.

“Nowadays, I truly, truly don’t care. I truly just want to go out there and produce, be the best that I could be, go home, hang with my family, that’s it.”

Durant’s legacy as one of the great pure scorers the game has ever seen is unquestioned. If he walks away from the game right now, he goes down as likely a top 15 player of all-time (that may be low) and a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer. His ability to create a shot for himself, or just hit a jumper over his defender even if there isn’t a good look, may be unparalleled in league history.

Beyond that, it’s the eye of the beholder. Durant is back on the court in Phoenix trying to extend that legacy, however people choose to define it.

What you say about Durant’s years in Golden State — with a couple of rings and a couple of Finals MVPs — says more about what you want and expect from a superstar than it does Durant. He told Charania he saw no logic in what people said about him as he left Golden State, so he stopped worrying about it. He went to Brooklyn, which went worse than just about everyone expected, so he moved on and said he is ignoring the critics again. (Except the occasional foray into Twitter may suggest he cares more than he lets on.)

Durant has cast himself as a guy who just wants to hoop because, at his core, that’s who he is. This is a guy who loves the grind, the competition, he’s an ultimate process-over-results guy. He’s embraced that about himself, he sees that as his legacy even if others will pile more on top of it.

Durant can’t end the legacy debate around him. But he doesn’t have to care about it, either.


Rudy Gobert latest to rip referees, claims conspiracy against Wolves ‘It’s just so obvious’

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Devin Booker‘s 15 free throw attempts in the Suns’ win Wednesday was more than the 12 the entire Timberwolves team took.

That set Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert off on a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory that the referees wanted to help the Suns win. And the Kings the game before that. And the Warriors the game before that. Here’s the full quote (via Chris Hine) that will earn Gobert a healthy fine from the league:

“It’s bulls***. Bulls***. It’s really not fair. Every night. I’ve been in this league for 10 years and I try to always give the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard for me to think [the referees] are not trying to help [Phoenix] win tonight. It’s hard for me to think they didn’t try to help the Warriors win the other night, or the Sacramento Kings the other night.

“It’s just so obvious. As a basketball player that’s been in this league for so long, it’s disrespectful, and it sucks, to be honest. We work so hard to be in a position to compete with the best, and we just get manipulated into those situations where it just impacts the game for the other team too much. They know how to do it. They do it a lot of different ways. Tonight was another way of doing it.

“But it’s all good. We understand that it’s also a business. Unfortunately. It’s sad, but it’s good also. It’s really good. But it’s true. We understand that we’re not the biggest of the markets, and we’re a team that … I think you want to see [Kevin Durant] in the playoffs, Steph [Curry] in the playoffs, you want to see LeBron [James] in the playoffs. The Timberwolves are not there yet. We got to keep putting our head down, keep playing through that, and it’s frustrating for sure, especially for me.”

For the record, the Timberwolves and Kings were very close in free throws attempted — 34 to 32 — in that Minnesota win. The Timberwolves had 25 free throws to the Warriors’ 17 in that Golden State win. Also, Sacramento fans will have a good laugh at the idea that they are lumped in with the big market, star-driven franchises that allegedly get all the breaks from the league.

It’s also amusing that Gobert is complaining about all the calls the Suns got when Phoenix coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 after going off last week on how the referees are conspiring against the Suns. Maybe this is just Gobert taking a page out of Williams’ book? Gobert’s frustration is understandable on one level, Booker can be a frustrating player for defenders to go against. The Suns’ guard is a master of drawing contact (often initiating it) then getting the ball up looking for a shooting foul.

Two other quick thoughts. Suggesting that the number of free throws teams take in a game should be roughly even is flawed logic — aggressive teams attacking the rim get the calls. That is not always going to be even. Giannis Antetokounmpo gets calls because he is relentless in driving the lane, and nobody has another answer to stop him, and that is true of Joel Embiid, Luka Dončić, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the other guys who get to the line a lot.

Is the NBA a star-driven league? Duh. It has been since David Stern started selling Magic vs. Bird instead of the Lakers vs. Celtics. Do the game’s biggest stars get special treatment from the referees? It does feel like it, but those are also the players with the ball in their hands the most, attacking and creating shots for themselves and others, so they were naturally going to draw more fouls anyway.

Gobert is frustrated and I get that. But the Timberwolves have been one of the best teams in the NBA over the few weeks, and that driving their chance to make the top six and avoid the play-in should be the focus. This Minnesota team is finding its stride, and the referees will not take that away. Unless the Wolves let them.

Three things to Know: ‘Light the Beam’ — Kings secure first playoff berth since 2006


Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Light the Beam: Kings secure first playoff berth since 2006

“Light the beam! Light the beam!”

The chant was ringing across the beam-less Moda Center in Portland Wednesday night from a healthy-sized group of Kings fans who drove (or flew) up from Sacramento to watch the Kings secure their first playoff berth since 2006. They got their wish, watching a 120-80 thrashing of the Blazers — and they made themselves heard.

Back in Sacramento, the fans gravitated to the Golden 1 Center downtown to see the beam get lit, chanting and waving flags the whole way.

The Kings have been the best story in the NBA this season, and the most entertaining team to watch with an up-tempo, high-efficiency offense (and a defense that had them winning fun-to-watch shootouts). They took a risk trading away a fan favorite in Tyrese Haliburton (who has lived up to the hype with an All-NBA-level season in Indiana), but that got them Domantas Sabonis, who became a lynchpin at the center (and very possibly an All-NBA player himself this season). Moving Haliburton also unleashed De'Aaron Fox at the point, he has been brilliant and is the frontrunner to win the NBA’s first Clutch Player of the Year award.

Then there’s Keegan Murray, who stood out at Summer League as the most NBA-ready player in this class, and he has responded by making more 3-pointers than any other rookie in NBA history.

Veteran coach Mike Brown brought it all together — a defense-first coach overseeing one of the best offenses the game has ever seen — and he likely will be rewarded with the Coach of the Year award.

This is why sport. A fan base that has suffered through an ownership group that tried to sell the team and move them out of town, that has suffered through losing season after losing season, fans that have not bought tickets to a playoff game since there was a Bush in the White House have been rewarded. The Kings are in — and not just squeaking into the postseason, they are the Pacific Division champions and the No.3 seed in the West.

This is something a story and a franchise worth celebrating. Savor this moment Kings fans, you deserve it.

2) Jalen Williams tip-in helps Thunder stay in the postseason at bottom of West

A lot of action impacting the crowded bottom of the West playoff chase. Here’s a quick breakdown.

• Jalen Williams’ putback game-winner saved the Thunder on a night they almost dropped one to the Pistons.

• The Thunder’s win combined with the Mavericks’ loss to the 76ers has Oklahoma City a full game up on Dallas for the final play-in spot, but that is really two games because OKC also owns the tiebreaker. (Dallas is also two games back in the loss column from No. 9 seed New Orleans.) Nothing is set, but the Thunder control their own destiny in making the postseason, and Luka Dončić and the Mavericks could be on the outside looking in.

Anthony Davis went off for the Lakers and they beat the Bulls in Chicago.

• The Lakers were helped out Wednesday by the return of Kevin Durant to the Suns, who helped them beat the Timberwolves 107-100. The Lakers are the No.8 seed in the West, tied with the Pelicans for No.9 but also just half a game back of the Timberwolves at No.7 (the Lakers. Timberwolves and Pelicans are all tied in the loss column at 38).

• The Clippers had the most improbable win of the night: No Kawhi Leonard, no Paul George, going up against a Memphis team that had won seven in a row. But the Clippers got a vintage Russell Westbrook performance and that was enough. They continue to sit as the No.5 seed in the West, and they could see Durant and the Suns in what would be a very interesting first-round series.

3) Knicks get win, but lost Julius Randle to sprained ankle

The Knicks picked up a win at home against the Heat, a quality win that has New York even more locked in as the No.5 seed in the East (and may have destined Miami for No.7), but that’s not what anyone is talking about.

Julius Randle sprained his ankle leaping for a rebound and landing on Bam Adebayo‘s foot in the second quarter, and he left the game not to return. As is often the case with ankle sprains, it will be later today — once the swelling has gone down and maybe an MRI is done — that they will have a true picture of the severity and how long Randle could be out.

Randle has not missed a game yet this season, but that will change. Randle is averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, playing at an All-NBA level again this season in New York. The Knicks will not be the same team without him.

The Knicks have five games remaining in the season and are almost locked in as the No.5 seed. The season ends April 9 but the Knicks would not start the playoffs (likely in Cleveland) until April 15 or 16. That’s more than two weeks to get Randle right.