Three Things to Know: What does Kyrie Irving’s return mean for Nets?

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com 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) What does Kyrie Irving‘s return mean for Nets?

After months of drama and a reversal by team management, Kyrie Irving returns to the court for the Nets tonight in Indiana. It’s now “scary hour” for the rest of the league, according to Nic Claxton.

But what does Irving’s return — only for, he still refuses to get vaccinated and with Omicron surging New York City’s vaccine mandate isn’t going anywhere — mean for the Nets?

It’s a shot in the arm to a sagging offense.

The Nets defense has been top 10 in the league, but their offense has been middle of the pack — even with Kevin Durant playing at an MVP level. They are 12th in the league, using Cleaning the Glass’ stats with a garbage time filter. That’s not contender status.

Irving brings buckets.

“Have you watched him play?” Durant said recently. “He’s a master. He can score 60%, 70 % of his shots if you don’t guard him. He’s a high IQ player. It’s just a matter of him getting his legs up under him and his wind up under him. And then for us, we’re going to run plays for him, we’ll try to look for him.
“We play team basketball, but he can adapt and do anything out there so we’re not worried about him.”

Irving has the best handles in the league and is an elite isolation scorer — as are Durant and Harden, which make them such a dangerous playoff team — but he also shot 43.4 % on catch-and-shoot 3s last season. You can’t help off Irving on the perimeter, and he worked well off the ball last season with Harden serving as playmaker.

Last season, the Nets had a +11.4 net rating and a 123.5 offensive rating when Durant, Harden, and Irving were on the court together. They were almost unstoppable, which is why they have been one of the betting favorites to win the title all season (+260 right now at our partner Points Bet, lower odds than the Warriors at +500 or anyone else).

Irving can fill some of Joe Harris‘ minutes in the short term while the sharpshooter recovers from ankle surgery. Patty Mills will move to a sixth man role for road games, then be back in the starting lineup at home.

Come the playoffs, it could be very odd having different home and road starting lineups and rotations — would the Nets lose games to get a lower seed, preferring to have Irving on the court for a road Game 7 rather than play at home without him? — but the Nets have months to figure that out.

Right now, they have lost three in a row, look flat and need a shot in the arm. Irving may refuse to get that shot in the arm, but he can be one for this team right now.

2) Grizzlies win battle of the surprise upstarts, beat Cavaliers

Ja Morant is not just entertaining, he is clutch — he scored six of his 26 points in the final 30 seconds, including the go-ahead basket, against the Cavaliers Tuesday.

The Grizzlies came out with the 110-106 win against the Cavaliers in the battle of upstart playoff teams from each conference. What made this game so entertaining was Darius Garland going toe-to-toe with Morant and finishing with 27 points and 10 assists in his return to Cleveland’s lineup (he was out four games due to health and safety protocols). Jarrett Allen and Jaren Jackson Jr. was a fun battle in the paint.

The game also had a little controversy with Morant getting a no-call late that had Cavaliers fans up in arms.

It was an entertaining game, from two of the must-watch teams in the league this season.

3) LeBron James takes over in clutch, Lakers pick up third straight win

Nothing has changed with the Lakers: They need LeBron James to be dominant to have a chance to win. For the last month plus, LeBron has been that.

Tuesday night, he scored 14 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, took over in the clutch, and pushed the Lakers past the Kings 122-114.

That’s three straight wins for the Lakers, who move above .500 at 20-19.

Malik Monk continues to give the Lakers an offensive boost, scoring 24 in this one and hitting 6-of-11 from 3. Russell Westbrook added 19 points, and while he shot just 7-of-19 he didn’t have any turnovers, so that’s a win.

De'Aaron Fox had 30 for the Kings, Buddy Hield scored 26 off the bench.

The Lakers have a couple more games at home this weekend — we’re not mentioning the new name of that building — but then have 9-of-12 on the road.

Highlight of the night: Fred VanVleet is on fire

It’s something a little different for this space, not just a single highlight, but we need to give some love to Fred VanVleet, who had his third straight 30+ point game dropping 33 on the Spurs in a Raptors win Tuesday.

That’s three straight wins this season, and VanVleet is playing at a level this season that has earned him All-Star consideration (whether he can make the cut in a deep East is a more challenging question).

Last night’s scores:

Memphis 110, Cleveland106
Toronto 129, San Antonio 104
New York 104, Indiana 94
Phoenix 123, New Orleans 110
LA Lakers 122, Sacramento 114

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

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

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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

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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
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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.