Three Things to Know: Suns “kicking a**,” have little trouble picking apart Lakers

Charlotte Hornets v Phoenix Suns
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LOS ANGELES — 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) Suns “kicking ass,” have little trouble picking apart Lakers

“They’re kicking ass.”

That was Lakers’ acting coach David Fizdale’s assessment of the Suns. It’s spot on.

“The way we’re playing, I believe this team is better than the team last year that went to the Finals, to be honest with you.” Suns’ center Deandre Ayton said postgame.

Everything that propelled the Suns with the best record in the NBA — versatility, depth, balance, guys selflessly playing for one another — were things the Lakers could not match Tuesday night in a nationally televised game. After a rough shooting first half, Phoenix stuck with its plan and pulled away in the second half, picking up a comfortable 108-90 win over Los Angeles.

We could use this space to pick apart the .500 Lakers — LeBron James played well, scoring 34 and getting downhill, but that’s about it for positives, and the AD-less Lakers defense is hard to watch — but this game was more a picture of what the Suns are doing right.

The Lakers (like a lot of teams) have been hampered by injuries (Anthony Davis‘ knee) and by COVID protocols (Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, Austin Reaves). The Suns were there, too — they just got Devin Booker back after a seven-game absence due to a hamstring strain, but a deep and balanced Phoenix roster went 5-2 without him.

“I think a big part of it comes down to our team culture, how guys step into situations and we remain ourselves,” Cameron Johnson said. “You can see our identity on the court when we have everybody. It’s a group of guys that likes playing together and we play for each other.”

Before the game, Suns’ coach Monty Williams said his team needed to establish themselves in the paint early. Enter Deandre Ayton, who scored 11 of the first 13 Suns points, 12 in paint.

This is where the Suns’ versatility comes in — seven minutes into the game Fizdale went small, sitting DeAndre Jordan and using LeBron or Carmelo Anthony at center lineups. That doesn’t play Ayton off the floor — the Suns’ big man can switch onto LeBron or Russell Westbrook on the perimeter and hold his own defensively. On offense, the Suns set picks off the ball to force a switch and get a guard on Ayton (or JaVale McGee), then lob it into him for an easy bucket.

The Suns also have a balance — the floor is always spread, guys are always in the correct position. On offense, that allowed them to swing the ball to open shooters. This game might have been a blowout much earlier if Phoenix didn’t start the game shooting 0-of-9 then 3-of-20 from 3. Monty Williams’ message to his team was to stay true to who they are as a team and keep shooting — and the Suns hit eight of their next 16.

That balance also means there are always defenders back and in position, taking away easy transition buckets. The Lakers need those to thrive, but they started just 16.5% of their possessions in transition and had 15 fast break points on the night.

Phoenix stayed true to who they were Tuesday and the Lakers ultimately crumbled. Saturday comes the real test for Phoenix: Golden State on Christmas Day. A showdown of the NBA’s two best teams this season. The Warriors will challenge the Suns in a way these Lakers right now cannot.

2) Adam Silver makes it clear “No plans right now to pause the season”

The NHL extended its traditional holiday break for a few days to try and get ahead of the latest COVID-19 surge.

The NBA will not be following suit.

Adam Silver was clear about that on ESPN’s NBA Today.

This is not a surprise to regular readers of “Three Things,” we reported sources told us the same thing a few days ago. As Silver said, it’s not logical to think that if the league sends players home they will stay in and quarantine — players will go to the same indoor holiday parties, go to the same restaurants and clubs, and have the same exposure. And it’s not like in a week the virus will go away. (Yes, players are already going to those parties/clubs, but there is testing and structure now.)

The NBA will increase testing and bring back mask mandates after Christmas, although the COVID protocol/G-League shuffle teams have been engaged in the past few days is likely with us for a while as the league just powers through this.

But that’s the plan; the league will power through this.

3) Kemba Walker racked up some highlights during Knicks’ win

Kemba Walker wants more run, although I don’t know that scoring 21 points on 21 shots against the lowly Pistons is changed Tom Thibodeau’s mind.

But as the Knicks racked up a win, Walker racked up some highlights. There was the crossover and oop to Mitchell Robinson (who had an impressive game, 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting, plus 14 boards).

Then midway through the fourth, Walker drained a three and did a little shimmy.

Walker is getting run because the Knicks, like every other team, is battling COVID. But he’s making his case to get on the court a little more.

Highlight of the Night: Udonis Haslem gets standing “O,” then drains three

A Udonis Haslem sighting is snow leopard rare. The Heat legend has played 24 minutes across five games this season.

So when he entered Tuesday night’s blowout win over the Pacers, Heat fans gave him a standing ovation.

But that was nothing compared to the reaction when the 41-year-old drained a corner 3.

Miami was having fun with its blowout of Indiana

Last night’s scores:

Miami 125, Indiana 96
New York 105, Detroit 91
New Orleans 111, Portland 97
Dallas 114, Minnesota 102
Phoenix 108, LA Lakers 90
Washington at Brooklyn, postponed

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

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

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
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

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
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

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.

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