Three Things to Know: Ja Morant is NBA’s most entertaining player


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) Ja Morant is NBA’s most entertaining player

Ja Morant banked in this acrobatic game-winner a few days ago to beat the Suns.

Last night, Morant used all that athleticism to dominate late, score 41, and help the Grizzlies beat the Lakers.

Right now, Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the NBA. His fearless and relentless attacks on the rim, his body control in the air, his passing — you simply cannot take your eyes off him. He faced down LeBron James on a night LeBron hit a career-best eight 3-pointers and won (granted, Morant has the better supporting cast). Morant is the man who out-dueled Stephen Curry in a play-in game last season then lit up the Jazz in the first round (in a loss, but he was brilliant). He brings it in the big moments, but Morant brings it every game. You’d have to be a moron to say the Grizzlies were better without him.

Morant is the player I would most pay to see in the league today. Stephen Curry held that title for me, and he can still be jaw-dropping good. Then for years I would have said Damian Lillard held the crown and was the player I could not just flip past on League Pass.

Now it is Morant. There are others I love to watch — Chris Paul as a floor general, Zach LaVine is another attacking scorer that can take your breath away, Nikola Jokic and his passing and skill are mesmerizing — but for pure artistry and entertainment, give me Morant every day of the week.

As for LeBron and the Lakers, this pretty much sums it up right now.

2) Kyrie Irving: “I knew the consequences. I wasn’t prepared for them.”

Kyrie Irving made it clear: He is grateful to be back on the court, practicing with his teammates, and soon playing for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s only playing in road games because he refuses to get vaccinated and the New York City vaccine mandate is not going anywhere. Still, it’s something. Irving made it clear he would take it, talking to reporters for the first time since Media Day to open training camp.

“Not going to lie,” Irving said, via the Associated Press. “It’s been relatively tough to watch from the sideline. … But if I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with some of my teammates, even if it’s just on the road for away games, I’m grateful for that opportunity.”

Irving said sitting out and watching the Nets was tougher than he expected.

“I knew the consequences,” Irving said of his vaccination decision. “I wasn’t prepared for them, by no stretch of imagination coming into the season. I had my thought process on being able to be a full-time teammate and go out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball out there. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that. Things happen for a reason and now we’re here and I’m grateful for this.”

The Nets had decided as an organization they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player and told him to get vaccinated and be all-in, or he was all-out.

Then two things happened. First, the Nets have been good this season — 23-9 with the best record in the East — but they haven’t looked (or statistically been) as elite as Golden State, Phoenix, or the legit title contenders out of the West. The Nets have the seventh-best net rating in the NBA, and it doesn’t get better if you filter out garbage time or adjust for schedule strength. Kevin Durant has played like an MVP and it hasn’t been enough.

Second, COVID hit and the Nets — like most teams — have been scrambling to keep their roster full. That opened the door and had the Nets’ front office changing their tune and asking Irving to return.

Can the Nets make it work with a part-time player who is only there for road games (except the ones against the Knicks and Raptors)? Maybe. This has the potential to look like a college football team that has two quarterbacks and tries to switch between them (does that ever work?). Two different starting lineups, two somewhat different styles of play home or road, could be awkward. Or, maybe, because Irving is so talented, it just works. Still, it seems like it would be especially difficult come the playoffs, if this experiment lasts that long.

The Nets have just two road games between now and mid-January, but starting on Jan. 17 they have 18-of-25 on the road, and Irving could play a significant role in that stretch.

After that? Who knows. The Nets have not committed to keeping Irving as a part-time player all season, and you can predict what is in Irving’s mind and his next step if you want, but good luck with that.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to watch play out.

3) Ricky Rubio out for season with torn ACL

The Cleveland Cavaliers — 20-14 with the best net rating of any team in the East — have been the biggest surprise of the NBA season. A lot of things that seem like they shouldn’t work — like starting three 7-footers — do for the Cavaliers, and it’s been fun to watch, and a team the city can get behind.

Then came this punch to the gut:

Ricky Rubio is done for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury that happened late against the Pelicans on Tuesday. Rubio planted his right foot on the drive, it slipped, and after that his left knee buckled. It looked bad at the time (don’t watch this video if you are at all squeamish).

Rubio and Darius Garland had formed an impressive backcourt and the Cavaliers were +16.6 per 100 when both were on the court this season. With Collin Sexton also lost for the season due to a knee injury, the Cavs backcourt is a little thin.

There was buzz around the league the Cavaliers might be aggressive and be buyers at the trade deadline before this happened. They were thinking about making a push and trying to make a deep run. We’ll see how this injury impacts that thinking.

Highlight of the Night: Chimezie Metu drains game-winner, Kings beat Mavs

Down two with 3.8 seconds left, the Kings got the ball to De'Aaron Fox out near midcourt, he drove the lane and three Mavericks defenders collapsed on him, and Fox kicked it out to wide-open Chimezie Metu in the corner and… ballgame.

Bonus highlight of the Night: LaMelo Ball was a one-man highlight package

LaMelo Ball was just showing off against the Pacers, and poor rookie Chris Duarte got the worst of it.

Ball ended the night with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists.

Last night’s scores:

New York 94, Detroit 85
Charlotte 116, Indiana 108
LA Clippers 91, Boston 82
Chicago 131, Atlanta 117
Memphis 104, LA Lakers 99
Phoenix 115, Oklahoma City 97
Utah 120, Portland 105
Sacramento 95, Dallas 94

Watch Tatum scores 40, Brown 30, Celtics blow out Bucks (again) 140-99


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jayson Tatum scored 40 points, Jaylen Brown added 30 and the Boston Celtics steamrolled the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks 140-99 on Thursday night.

The Celtics (53-24) shot 22 of 43 from 3-point range and moved within two games of the Bucks (55-22) in the Eastern Conference standings. The Celtics won the season series with the Bucks 2-1, which would give Boston the tiebreaker if both teams finish with the same record.

Boston’s performance in those three games with Milwaukee should give the Celtics plenty of confidence they could knock out the Bucks again if they meet in the postseason. The Celtics beat the Bucks in seven games in last season’s East semifinals.

The Celtics beat the Bucks 139-118 in Boston on Christmas Day and lost 131-125 in overtime on Feb. 14. The Celtics didn’t play Brown, Tatum, Marcus Smart or Al Horford in that overtime loss.

Milwaukee took a hit on the floor as well as in the standings. Bucks forward Khris Middleton left the game midway through the third quarter after taking an elbow to the face from Brown. The play resulted in a charging foul on Brown and caused Middleton to receive stitches on his upper lip.

Boston built a 114-74 lead through three periods, causing most of the starters for both teams to sit out the entire fourth quarter.

Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks with 24 points.

This matched the Bucks’ most lopsided loss of the season. They fell 142-101 at Memphis on Dec. 15.

The Bucks were playing one night after a 149-136 victory at Indiana in which they shot a season-high 62.4% from the floor with Jrue Holiday scoring 51 points and Antetokounmpo having 38 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. This marked the first time an NBA team had one player score at least 50 points and another have a triple-double with at least 35 points in the same game.

Milwaukee found the going quite a bit tougher Thursday.

Antetokounmpo shot just 11 of 27, including 0 for 5 from 3-point range. Holiday started his night by sinking a 3-pointer, but went 1 of 7 the rest of the way and finished with just six points.

After the first 8½ minutes of the game featured nine lead changes and five ties, the Celtics seized control by going on a 29-9 over the last seven-plus minutes. Boston capped that spurt by scoring 13 straight points.

Boston didn’t let up the rest of the night.

Milwaukee’s Thanasis Antetokounmpo was ejected with 1:25 left for head-butting Boston’s Blake Griffin. The head-butting came after Griffin committed a flagrant-1 foul against Antetokounmpo.

Knicks’ Julius Randle out at least two weeks with sprained ankle

Miami Heat v New York Knicks
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

In just a little more than two weeks, April 15 or 16, the New York Knicks will open the playoffs, likely on the road in Cleveland.

They hope to have Julius Randle back for that game.

The Knicks’ All-Star forward and leading scorer, Randle suffered a sprained ankle against the Heat on Wednesday night and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, the team announced.

That timeline has him re-evaluated days before the playoffs tip-off. He will not play again this regular season.

Randle rolled his ankle leaping for a rebound and landing on Bam Adebayo‘s foot in the second quarter, and he left the game not to return. Friday night against those Cavaliers (in Cleveland) will be the first game Randle has missed all season.

Randle is playing at an All-NBA level again this season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game. The Knicks have five games remaining in the season and are almost locked in as the No.5 seed, four games back of the No. 4 Cavaliers and 2.5 games up on the No.6 seed (and stumbling) Nets.


Kevin Durant: ‘I don’t care about legacy… I used to… Nowadays, I truly, truly don’t care’

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In the neverending debate around sports, we become obsessed with a player’s legacy. What is LeBron James‘ legacy and does he need another ring in his GOAT battle with Michael Jordan? What will Damian Lillard‘s legacy be if he chooses to spend his entire career in Portland and doesn’t jump teams to chase a ring? What will Kevin Durant‘s legacy be with him getting ripped by some fans for going to Golden State and joining forces with Stephen Curry in the first place, then other fans ripping him for leaving that situation?

Durant doesn’t care.

That’s what he told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“I don’t care about legacy,” Durant told The Athletic. “I used to. I used to want to carve out a lane or space in this game for myself that people can remember, but it’s become too much of a thing now. It just becomes too much of a focus on other people. What’s he done, what’s he done? Comparisons. Before, when we wasn’t doing all this debating, I cared about it … I’m about to be in the same breath as these top guys. It was big.

“Nowadays, I truly, truly don’t care. I truly just want to go out there and produce, be the best that I could be, go home, hang with my family, that’s it.”

Durant’s legacy as one of the great pure scorers the game has ever seen is unquestioned. If he walks away from the game right now, he goes down as likely a top 15 player of all-time (that may be low) and a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer. His ability to create a shot for himself, or just hit a jumper over his defender even if there isn’t a good look, may be unparalleled in league history.

Beyond that, it’s the eye of the beholder. Durant is back on the court in Phoenix trying to extend that legacy, however people choose to define it.

What you say about Durant’s years in Golden State — with a couple of rings and a couple of Finals MVPs — says more about what you want and expect from a superstar than it does Durant. He told Charania he saw no logic in what people said about him as he left Golden State, so he stopped worrying about it. He went to Brooklyn, which went worse than just about everyone expected, so he moved on and said he is ignoring the critics again. (Except the occasional foray into Twitter may suggest he cares more than he lets on.)

Durant has cast himself as a guy who just wants to hoop because, at his core, that’s who he is. This is a guy who loves the grind, the competition, he’s an ultimate process-over-results guy. He’s embraced that about himself, he sees that as his legacy even if others will pile more on top of it.

Durant can’t end the legacy debate around him. But he doesn’t have to care about it, either.


Rudy Gobert latest to rip referees, claims conspiracy against Wolves ‘It’s just so obvious’

Minnesota Timberwolves v Golden State Warriors
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Devin Booker‘s 15 free throw attempts in the Suns’ win Wednesday was more than the 12 the entire Timberwolves team took.

That set Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert off on a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory that the referees wanted to help the Suns win. And the Kings the game before that. And the Warriors the game before that. Here’s the full quote (via Chris Hine) that will earn Gobert a healthy fine from the league:

“It’s bulls***. Bulls***. It’s really not fair. Every night. I’ve been in this league for 10 years and I try to always give the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard for me to think [the referees] are not trying to help [Phoenix] win tonight. It’s hard for me to think they didn’t try to help the Warriors win the other night, or the Sacramento Kings the other night.

“It’s just so obvious. As a basketball player that’s been in this league for so long, it’s disrespectful, and it sucks, to be honest. We work so hard to be in a position to compete with the best, and we just get manipulated into those situations where it just impacts the game for the other team too much. They know how to do it. They do it a lot of different ways. Tonight was another way of doing it.

“But it’s all good. We understand that it’s also a business. Unfortunately. It’s sad, but it’s good also. It’s really good. But it’s true. We understand that we’re not the biggest of the markets, and we’re a team that … I think you want to see [Kevin Durant] in the playoffs, Steph [Curry] in the playoffs, you want to see LeBron [James] in the playoffs. The Timberwolves are not there yet. We got to keep putting our head down, keep playing through that, and it’s frustrating for sure, especially for me.”

For the record, the Timberwolves and Kings were very close in free throws attempted — 34 to 32 — in that Minnesota win. The Timberwolves had 25 free throws to the Warriors’ 17 in that Golden State win. Also, Sacramento fans will have a good laugh at the idea that they are lumped in with the big market, star-driven franchises that allegedly get all the breaks from the league.

It’s also amusing that Gobert is complaining about all the calls the Suns got when Phoenix coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 after going off last week on how the referees are conspiring against the Suns. Maybe this is just Gobert taking a page out of Williams’ book? Gobert’s frustration is understandable on one level, Booker can be a frustrating player for defenders to go against. The Suns’ guard is a master of drawing contact (often initiating it) then getting the ball up looking for a shooting foul.

Two other quick thoughts. Suggesting that the number of free throws teams take in a game should be roughly even is flawed logic — aggressive teams attacking the rim get the calls. That is not always going to be even. Giannis Antetokounmpo gets calls because he is relentless in driving the lane, and nobody has another answer to stop him, and that is true of Joel Embiid, Luka Dončić, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the other guys who get to the line a lot.

Is the NBA a star-driven league? Duh. It has been since David Stern started selling Magic vs. Bird instead of the Lakers vs. Celtics. Do the game’s biggest stars get special treatment from the referees? It does feel like it, but those are also the players with the ball in their hands the most, attacking and creating shots for themselves and others, so they were naturally going to draw more fouls anyway.

Gobert is frustrated and I get that. But the Timberwolves have been one of the best teams in the NBA over the few weeks, and that driving their chance to make the top six and avoid the play-in should be the focus. This Minnesota team is finding its stride, and the referees will not take that away. Unless the Wolves let them.