Three Things to Know: The three things we learned Christmas weekend

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns
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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) The rest of the NBA is chasing the Warriors

There is a theory (I think it was Tom Haberstroh’s) that the best time to judge the NBA title race was how teams did from Halloween until Christmas. The theory goes that teams had shaken out the early-season cobwebs, they were relatively healthy and engaged, making it the time you can clearly see what teams are. Of course, it’s not perfect — this year the Bucks were never whole in that stretch, for example — but it’s a good measuring stick.

This season, the Warriors were 22-5 in that stretch and had the best net rating in the NBA, +11.1. They looked like the best team in the NBA.

If there were any doubts that the Warriors are sitting in the pole position for the upcoming title chase, they were erased on Christmas Day when Golden State beat Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun, 116-107, behind 33 points from Stephen Curry.

That win came from a Warriors team without key role players Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole —both on the COVID protocols list — plus Klay Thompson doesn’t return until next month. Same with James Wiseman.

What Golden State has in Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and others are players who rise up to the big moments. Players who have proven themselves in the playoffs’ cauldron can take the heat.

There are teams that could knock off these Warriors come the postseason: The Suns were 24-3 between Halloween and Christmas and are the second-best team in the NBA; the Utah Jazz had the second-best net rating in the league during that stretch and are a force but need to prove they can play in the big moments; the Nets were 19-6 over those six weeks despite injuries keeping core guys out, but now Kyrie Irving will return for road games; the Bucks are rounding into form despite a rash of injuries and are the defending champs; Miami has looked dangerous when healthy (and keep winning despite core guys missing time).

A lot can happen between now and June, but the Warriors on Christmas showed they are the team to beat.

2) LeBron James isn’t enough to lift up these Lakers

LeBron James has scored at least 30 points in each of his last four games, playing at an All-NBA level and attacking downhill like a man of 27, not almost 37.

The Lakers lost all four of those games.

Including to a very shorthanded Nets team on Christmas. LeBron passed Kobe that day for most points scored on Christmas in NBA history, but Brooklyn got a triple-double from its star James Harden, and its role players such as Patty Mills stepped up in a way the non-LeBron Lakers players did not. Both teams were shorthanded, only one team looked like it.

Watch LeBron and you can see the frustration in his body language (it was very evident in the second half against the Suns last Tuesday) — the glares at teammates after missed defensive assignments, the dropped shoulders in resignation.

The Lakers have lost five in a row and in that stretch the defense has been bad — 24th in the league — but the offense has been worse, scoring less than a point per possession and being the worst in the league. Anthony Davis is out with a sprained knee, which is part of the problem — without him this team has collapsed like a Jenga tower.

In the last five games, LeBron is shooting 55.8%, Russell Westbrook is 45.3% (but is inconsistent night-to-night), Carmelo Anthony 36.2%, Talen Horton-Tucker 29.7% (in three games), Wayne Ellington 31.3%, and the list goes on and on. The Lakers brought in Isaiah Thomas on a 10-day hardship contract, and he scored 19 in his first game, but through four games shot 30.8% and the L.A. defense was five points per 100 possessions worse when he was on the court, so the Lakers chose not to bring him back for a second 10 days.

There are no easy fixes on the trade market. Despite the dreams of some Laker fans, Westbrook isn’t tradable, except in a salary dump (no other GM is making the deal Rob Pelinka did to get him this summer). The Lakers have a lot of veteran minimum players who don’t have the salary to bring back much help. The one hope might be combining the salaries of Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn to bring back a starter-level player from somewhere (Myles Turner, the Pacers’ center is one rumor), but is one starter-level player enough for these Lakers?

The Lakers are struggling, but it is not on LeBron the player (LeBron the GM… maybe, how much did he push for Westbrook?).

Los Angeles is 16-18 and will play another month or more without Davis. The question is, at that point can the season be salvaged, or are the Lakers just a play-in team? Again?

3) COVID isn’t done sucking the fun out of the league

There are no style points in the NBA right now. In a decimated league, any win is a good win.

The Omicron variant may not be as severe or dangerous (at least to the vaccinated and boosted), but it hit the NBA hard on Christmas — just as it did the nation — and will continue to do the same for weeks.

Omicron has sucked some of the fun out of the league.

On Christmas, there was no Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Luka Doncic, and Trae Young, which doesn’t even get into the role players and depth issues. Joe Johnson and Lance Stephenson are back in the league because teams need bodies.

The day after Christmas, the NBA increased its testing of players (and inforced more of a mask mandate), and news came down Draymond Green, Lonzo Ball, John Collins, Kyle Lowry, Dejounte Murray, Jusuf Nurkic, Jae Crowder, Miles Bridges, P.J. Washington, Elfrid Payton, and Rajon Rondo all entered protocols, and that’s just a partial list from the day.

The carousel of roster players being put in protocols and G-League players jumping up for 10-day deals will continue, at least for a couple of weeks. It’s dizzying and hard to keep up, but in a world where we all will have to learn to live with COVID and the question is what that ultimately looks like, the NBA powering through feels like the right move.

Highlight of the Night: De'Aaron Fox returns from protocols and throws it down

De’Aaron Fox returned from COVID protocols, and he didn’t lose his hops or showmanship — this was a monster dunk.

Fox may be available in a trade heading into the deadline, the Kings are reportedly open to the idea (something they were not last offseason, even when talking Ben Simmons… although I might still rather have Fox than Simmons).

Last night’s scores:

Miami 93, Orlando 83
Cleveland 144, Toronto 99
Philadelphia 117, Washington 96
Memphis 127, Sacramento 102
Oklahoma City 117, New Orleans 112
San Antonio 144, Detroit 109
Chicago 113, Indiana 105
Denver 103, LA Clippers 100

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it


Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.


Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen


CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
Eric Espada/Getty Images

RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.


Lonzo Ball undergoes successful knee surgery, out ‘at least a few months’


Lonzo Ball underwent another arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Wednesday, and the doctors finally had some positive news.

They believe that they’ve “addressed the issue”, and there is “confidence” that he’ll be able to play this season. He’s still expected to miss “at least a few months”, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Charania added that both sides will monitor his progress over

After his first surgery in January, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well at all, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. During media day this week, Ball said that he couldn’t run or jump, so he couldn’t play basketball. Billy Donovan said that they had to think of Ball’s injury as potentially season-ending. So an update that says that he should play this season is considered good news at this point.

Chicago had a 22-13 record with Lonzo last season, but were just 24-23 without him. He averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 3.1 triples per game in his first year with the team.

They have other defenders like Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso, but they don’t have anyone else that can both defend and facilitate the way Lonzo can. They’ll use training camp and the preseason to decide on a starting point guard between Dosunmu, Caruso, and Goran Dragic.

They’re one of the more talented teams in the East, but they may end up playing in the play-in tournament if they’re without Ball for the majority of the season.