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 coming up clutch in Cleveland 🔥 pic.twitter.com/pqB2zUJbmt
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 5, 2022
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.
He’s walkin in memphis ref how do u miss that??? pic.twitter.com/tqYH1L8feu
— Mike Goldfarb (@MikeGoldFool) January 5, 2022
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.
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