Three Things to Know: Ja Morant returns, the Grizzlies are a team to watch

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies
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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) Ja Morant returns and the Grizzlies are a team to watch

Ja Morant is, for my money, the most dynamic, entertaining player in the NBA right now. You can’t take your eyes off him, and he averaged 25.3 points and 7.1 assists a game as the primary shot creator on the Grizzlies’ top-10 offense.

All of which overshadowed the fact there is a good team around him — a team that went 10-2 while Morant was out with a sprained knee. Dillon Brooks and Desmond Bane stepped up as shot creators, and for the last dozen games the Grizzlies have been the best team in the NBA (+16.5 net rating with him out).

Morant’s return Monday brought the promise of him meshing with that inspired rest of the team and the Grizzlies would take off. Except it wasn’t that smooth out of the gate. Combine that with a feisty Thunder team looking to avenge a 73-point loss and you get a 102-99 OKC win. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 23 for the Thunder and was once again clutch, while rookie Josh Giddey added 19.

Morant was understandably a bit rusty at points, but he was getting in the lane and causing the Thunder defense problems. He was making some plays.

Memphis is solidly situated as the No. 4 team in the West. The defense that held them back early has been better (league average), and as Morant works his way back into the rotation the Grizzlies offense will thrive. They look like a solid playoff team taking a step forward from last season. A team worth watching.

After the game, Morant expressed his frustration with some idiot courtside fans who said the team was better off without him (something other fools had said on social media). From  Drew Hill of the Daily Memphian:

“Even during the game, I was running down the court and I heard some of my fans courtside tell me I need to sit back out. So, I just don’t understand what they wanted to get out of that. I feel like that just makes it worse.”

Morant went on a long rant about this postgame. These clowns got in his head. It’s easy to say from the outside, but Morant needs to ignore comments from outside the locker room. Tune them out, or go full Kobe and just use it as fuel and motivation. Nobody in their right mind thinks the Grizzlies are better off without Morant. With him as their No. 1, this is a team on the rise in the West and with real potential. Plus, they are just entertaining.

Don’t take your eyes off Memphis.

2) Joel Embiid drops 41, lifts 76ers past Celtics

The 76ers are pretty simple to figure out this season: They outscore teams by 4.1 points per 100 possessions when Joel Embiid is on the court, they get outscored by 4.8 per 100 when he sits.

Embiid was on the court plenty — more than 40 minutes — and the Celtics had no answer for him as Embiid scored 41 points, grabbed 10 boards, dished out five assists and had four blocks in Philly’s 108-103 win. And he was clutch.

Seth Curry added 26 points and Tobias Harris had 25 for Philadelphia. Jaylen Brown led the shorthanded Celtics — seven players are in COVID protocols — with 30.

It’s hard to project what these 76ers will look like come the postseason because we don’t know what the post-Ben Simmons trade roster will look like (yes, that trade will happen at some point). The 76ers are 16-15 and hanging in until they can morph into whatever it is they will become.

But as long as they have a healthy Joel Embiid, this team is a threat.

3) Tyrese Haliburton shows his Christmas spirit, breaks out “Elf” customs

The best kicks of the season go to the second-year Kings’ guard (who plays like he’s been in the league 10 years).

Highlight of the Night: The Warriors ball movement is mesmerizing

The Warriors look like the Warriors again this season not just because Stephen Curry can drop 30 in his sleep, but also because they assembled a veteran, high IQ team that knows how to get the ball flying around the court.

Check out this passing from last night’s win over the Kings.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 108, Boston 103
Chicago 133, Houston 118
Oklahoma City 102, Memphis 99
Utah 112, Charlotte 102
Golden State 113, Sacramento 98
San Antonio 116, LA Clippers 92
Orlando at Toronto, postponed