Three Things to Know: Blocked shot to beat Warriors adds to Jokic MVP case

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers
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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) Jokic making serious MVP case, blocked shot to beat Warriors adds to it

Nikola Jokic is playing better than his MVP season.

You can see it when you watch the Nuggets play — he is in control of everything right now, being the kind of floor general we usually associate with great point guards. He is the hub of the Nuggets’ offense and he will not be rushed into a decision, which you can see in his passing. Of late, he is tearing up the league.

His defense also has improved, something the Warriors learned the hard way Tuesday when Jokic got back in transition and blocked a driving Jonathan Kuminga shot attempt to preserve the Nuggets win over the Warriors.

Add it to Jokic’s MVP case — which is a strong one.

Jokic is averaging 25.8 points a game, a career-high 14 rebounds a night, plus is dishing out 7.1 assists a game — and he is doing it all efficiently. His 63.2 true shooting percentage is the highest of any of the top 10 scorers in the league. His advanced stats (VORP, Win Shares, estimated +/-, whatever you want to use) are in line with or better last season when he won MVP. Jokic’s PER of 32.3 this season would set an all-time record, besting anything Jordan or Chamberlain posted. Plus, his twerking is unparalleled in the league.

The best stat for Jokic’s case: The Nuggets outscore opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 13.9 when he sits — the Nuggets are +23.6 when he plays. That is the definition of value.

The argument against Jokic: The Nuggets are 17-16. Basically a .500 team. Players who take home the award tend to come from the top three teams in their conference.

A recent straw poll by ESPN found Stephen Curry a clear frontrunner for the MVP award. When we at NBC pick our mid-season awards in a few weeks, I might have Curry on top of my MVP list. For my money, four players have separated themselves from the pack in this race: Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Jokic. You can make a strong case right now for any of those four.

A Jokic repeat as MVP is on the table — he has played well enough to be in the conversation.

And he is even winning some games with his defense.

2) Stephen Curry, we love you 3,000

When Stephen Curry passed Ray Allen last week to become the NBA’s all-time leader in made 3-pointers, the question was where would he set the bar for the next generation. Because Curry wasn’t done.

At the end of the third quarter against the Nuggets Tuesday, Curry became the first player in NBA history with 3,000 made threes.

Curry wasn’t done, of course.

Never say never, someday a player will take aim at Curry’s records from 3 — he has inspired a generation of shooters. But the targets he will leave behind are ridiculous.

3) LeBron, Westbrook both with triple-doubles for Lakers in win

The Lakers will take their wins wherever they can get them right now, no questions asked.

So if it takes both LeBron James starting at center, and both he and Russell Westbrook having triple-doubles on the road to beat a rebuilding Rockets team, then that’s what it takes.

James finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Westbrook had 24 points with 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his seventh of the season.

The Lakers got the 132-123 win to snap a five-game losing streak.

Highlight of the Night: Antetokounmpo moves his defender “like a matchstick”

Freddie Gillespie is in Orlando on a 10-day hardship contract, and he got his chance to prove himself guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo. That didn’t end well for him.

Last night’s scores:

Milwaukee 127, Orlando 110
Miami 119, Washington 112
Philadelphia 114, Toronto 109
LA Lakers 132, Houston 123
New York 96, Minnesota 88
New Orleans 108, Cleveland 104
Denver 89, Golden State 86
Sacramento 117, Oklahoma City 111

Paul George has to be helped off court after fourth quarter leg injury


Hopefully this is not serious, not something that changes the playoff picture in the West.

The Clippers’ Paul George went down with 4:38 left in the game Tuesday night after a collision with Lu Dort going for a rebound.

George had to be helped back to the locker room and struggled to put any weight on his leg.

After the game, Tyronn Lue said George was still being evaluated and had no update on his status. George was seen exiting the arena on the back of a cart with his right leg extended, according to the AP.

George had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists before exiting the game. On the season he is playing at an All-NBA level averaging 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game, and the Clippers are 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

The Thunder went on to win 101-100 in a game filled with drama, including a technical foul for Kawhi Leonard, an ejection of Terrence Mann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 31 points, and Lou Dort locking up Leonard in the final seconds.


Grizzlies Ja Morant: ‘My job now is… to be more responsible’


While his coach said he anticipates Ja Morant will return to the court Wednesday for the Grizzlies, Morant downplayed expectations and said things are “still in the air.”

Whether the official return is Wednesday or a few days later, Morant is back practicing with teammates and spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension. He once again was apologetic.

“I’m completely sorry for that,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”

Morant was suspended eight games by the NBA after flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.” Morant used that time to go into counseling at a facility in Florida but added he “never had an alcohol problem.”.

“I went there to counseling to learn how to manage stress,” Morant said. “Cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”

Morant said that his treatment is an “ongoing process,” adding that he was getting off social media and letting his actions speak for him.

Morant and his associates had incidents before that caught the attention of people around the league — including a run-in with Indiana Pacers security — however, this incident in a Colorado club was the first one that hit him in the wallet. The suspension cost him $668,659 in game pay, plus one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness.

The biggest hit is Morant possibly missing out on an All-NBA guard spot. Morant could make $39 million more over the five-year extension that kicks in next season if he makes one of the three All-NBA teams. However, the guard spot is especially crowded with deserving players this season and this incident and the missed games do not help his cause.

Hart will be free agent this summer seeking new contract, ‘would love for it to be New York’


Josh Hart‘s play since coming to the Knicks has made him a lot of money.

Already a darling of many front offices, Hart has been a seamless fit in New York, averaging 11.1 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Tom Thibodeau, playing quality defense, and being the kind of plug-and-play wing every team can use. He’s quickly become a fan favorite in New York, but the Knicks will have to pay up to keep him. Hart has a player option for $12.9 million next season that he is widely expected to decline — there’s a lot more money and years available to him on the open market.

Hart told Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape he wants to find a home, and he hopes that it is in New York.

“I want bigger things for my wife and myself,” Hart said. “Just find a home somewhere where we are valued and really like living there. And I think that can be New York. I would love for it to be New York and hopefully the organization feels the same way. Coming up, this contract is hopefully my biggest one, one where I’m making sure my family’s fully taken care of. So, I’ve also got to take that into account, too.”

That is the polite way of saying, “I like it here but you’re not getting a discount.”

While Hart will have made a tidy $33 million in his career when this season ends, his next four-year contract will be worth more than double that amount — this is the deal that sets up generational wealth for Hart’s family. This is a business and he has to make the decision best for him, as much as he may love the Knicks.

Expect the Knicks to pay up, especially as long as Thibodeau is around. This is a deal that should come together.

But first, Hart and the Knicks are headed to the playoffs, and Madison Square Garden will be rocking. It’s going to be the kind of experience that makes a guy want to stay with a team.

Hall of Famer, Knicks legend Willis Reed dies at 80


Willis Reed, the legendary Knicks’ center whose dramatic entrance onto the Madison Square Garden floor minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals sparked the team to its first title, has died at the age of 80.

The National Basketball Retired Players Association announced Reed’s passing. While no cause of death was announced, it was known Reed had been in poor health for some time.

“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s. He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports.

“As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus. We send our deepest condolences to Willis’ wife, Gale, his family, and many friends and fans.”

Reed had an amazing career — highlighted by the two NBA titles and two NBA Finals MVP awards, plus being a seven-time All-Star — but he is best remembered for a legendary 1969-70 season. That year he became the first player to sweep the regular season, All-Star Game and NBA Finals MVP awards.

However, it was him walking out on the court for Game 7 of the Finals in 1970 — after he suffered a thigh injury in Game 5 and had to miss Game 6 of the series, and the Knicks had no answer for the Lakers’ Wilt Chamberlain without him — that became the moment of legend. Reed scored four early points that game, and while he was limited the rest of the way he sparked the team to its first title (Walt Frazier’s 36 points and 19 assists had something to do with the win, too).

Reed was born in 1942 in Hico, Louisiana, and stayed in the state through college, leading Grambling State to the 1961 NAIA title. Considered an undersized center at 6’9 “, teams quickly learned he played much bigger than that as he went on to win the 1965 Rookie of the Year award.

Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds a season over the course of his career, and he had his No.19 retired by the Knicks. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.