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 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) 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

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.