Three Things to Know: Break up Celtics? Trade Jaylen Brown? He drops 50 on that talk

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics
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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) Break up Celtics? Trade Jaylen Brown? He drops 50 on that talk

Something is not right with the 18-19 Celtics — this team should be better than it is. Despite two elite wings and respectable role players up and down the roster, the offense has been 20th in the league (with garbage time filtered out) and the team has relied on a top-10 defense to win games. The chemistry is off; you can see it in the body language on the court and the way they talk postgame. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but something is definitely not right.

That has led to a lot of “break up the Celtics” trade speculation among fans and around the league — and that means trading Jaylen Brown. Jayson Tatum is seen as the better player of the two and the face of the franchise, he’s not going anywhere, so it is Brown whose name — fair or not — that gets thrown around.

Brown for Ben Simmons has been a topic among Celtics fans all season. On his most recent “Lowe Post” podcast, ESPN’s Zach Lowe threw out some other ideas, including a trade with the Grizzlies that brings Desmond Bane and three future first-round picks back to Boston. There are other ideas out there.

Then you watch Brown drop 50 on the Magic, including 24 in the fourth quarter and overtime to spark a comeback win Sunday, and you have to think, “They want to trade this guy?”

Brown shot 19-of-29 overall, 5-of-10 from 3, and 13-of-15 in the paint. He added 11 rebounds and he plays strong defense.

It’s too hard to get two high-level players of the same age range to give up on things too quickly. Boston should take more time to figure this out.

That “trade Brown” talk is not coming out of the Boston front office — sources around the league tell NBC Sports they are trying to add star talent around Brown and Tatum, not break them up. All the speculation on Brown comes from other teams coveting him. Sure, if a Bradley Beal/Damian Lillard level offer fell out of the sky the Celtics would have to consider it, but nothing like that is on the table. Right now, Boston is trying to make this work.

And Brown is making it very hard to trade him.

2) OKC’s Josh Giddey becomes youngest player ever with triple-double

It left many critics shaking their heads at the time, but Sam Presti may have the last laugh (again) — Taking Josh Giddey at No. 6 is looking like a smart move by the Thunder.

Sunday in a loss to Dallas (in the return of Luka Doncic to the court), Giddey had 17 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds for his first triple-double. He did this at age 19 years, 2 months, 23 days, breaking the record LaMelo Ball set just last season (19 years, 10 months, 17 days).

Giddey drew high praise from a guard who racked up more than a few triple-doubles in his day — Jason Kidd, now coach of the Mavericks.

“He’s unselfish. As a 19-year old, he understands how to play the game,” Kidd said, via the Associated Press. “He’s comfortable with the ball. His teammates all know that if he has it, they’re gonna cut, because there’s a chance that they can get it. He’s comfortable shooting the 3. He has the total package. At 19, it’s just a matter of time of understanding how teams are going to play him. He’s as good as advertised.”

Giddey and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander make a very interesting young backcourt in OKC.

3) Russell Westbrook defends his right to have some turnovers, miss some shots

Russell Westbrook with the Lakers has been pretty close to Russell Westbrook of the past few seasons, just with a brighter spotlight on him now. Playing in Los Angeles next to LeBron James brings a different level — a championship level — of expectations, so Westbrook’s inefficient game draws more attention.

Of course, Westbrook is putting up numbers — 19.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.3 assists — and his usage is down playing next to LeBron and (when healthy) Anthony Davis. But the inefficiencies — the 20.3 turnover rate (4.8 a game), the struggles from 3 (30.2%) and trouble finishing at the rim (59.9%, well below league average) — hurt the Lakers in a way that didn’t matter in Washington and Houston.

Westbrook defended how he is playing after a game Sunday where he had nine turnovers and was 0-of-5 from three. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“My game, you know, is fine,” he said. “My game is not predicated on shots or if I turn the ball over. Like, I miss some shots, that’s part of the game. I’m allowed to miss shots. I can do that. Like any other player, I can do that. I can turn the ball over, too. I can do that. That’s all a part of the game…

“When you watch a basketball game and figure out what impact making the right plays, boxing out, rebounding, whatever that may be, making the right play, making the right reads, that’s all about being a basketball player,” he said.

What’s changed is not Westbrook, he’s the same player. What has changed is his team, his role, and the expectations. The best player and primary ball handler on any team is given some leeway to miss shots and have turnovers because of the shots and opportunities they create for others. Stephen Curry and the Warriors were (and are) a high turnover team through their title years.

Westbrook could be that guy and be forgiven in Oklahoma City or Houston or Washington. However, Westbrook is not the Alpha, not the No. 1 option on the Lakers, that’s LeBron. When Davis is healthy, Westbrook is the third option, and in that role the Lakers need more efficiency. They aren’t getting it, they are getting 33-year-old Westbrook, and it doesn’t sound like he plans to change.

The Lakers beat a shorthanded Timberwolves team (no Karl-Anthony Towns or D'Angelo Russell due to health and safety protocols) 108-103. LeBron led the way with 26 points, Westbrook had 20 on 7-of-16 shooting overall, with five assists. But it wasn’t pretty or efficient.

Highlight of the Night: Ish Smith stands no chance, ends up in Bismack Biyombo poster

Bismack Biyombo is a generous, kind, thoughtful person who cares about others and has been a tremendous mentor to LaMelo Ball and the other young Hornets when he was on that team (he’s with the Suns now).

But don’t get in the man’s way when he is on his way to dunk. Ish Smith tried and it ended poorly for him.

Last night’s scores:

Toronto 120, New York 105
Boston 116, Orlando 111 (OT)
Cleveland 108, Indiana 104
Sacramento 115, Miami 113
Phoenix 133, Charlotte 99
Dallas 95, Oklahoma City 86
LA Lakers 108, Minnesota 103

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.