Three Things to Know: Pacers thought they were Born Ready, but Nets better with Irving


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) Pacers thought they were Born Ready, but Nets better with Irving

It’s obvious, but in Brooklyn it’s what they have decided mattered most:

The Nets are a better basketball team with Kyrie Irving. Even if it’s part-time.

There’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether the unvaccinated Irving should be on the court with the Nets — the same debate is playing out on the other side of the world with Novak Djokovich in Australia — but the on-the-court impact was never really a discussion worth having.

It took a half in his debut for Irving to get his legs under him and find his rhythm, but he scored 14 of his 22 points starting with a minute left in the third and through the fourth. Irving was getting to his midrange spots, making plays, and was a key reason the Nets came from 19 back to beat the Pacers.

It was a game where the Pacers took charge early because Lance Stephenson could not miss — 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the first quarter alone.

But having Irving allows Steve Nash some luxuries — he could spread out the minutes of his stars, keeping a couple of them on the court at all times. I’d say he could get his stars more rest, but Kevin Durant and James Harden each played more than 40 minutes.

The Nets crawled back into this from the middle of the third quarter on — from about when DeAndre' Bembry entered the game. He had been out of the rotation but got a chance, came in and scored 12 points. More importantly, he was a defensive force and a spark on that end of the court Brooklyn needed.

It all worked. The Nets won, snapping a three-game losing streak.

The Nets looked better, they were better with Irving on the court. It’s no surprise, and the Nets knew it to be true when they chose to let him be a part-time player. Maybe down the line — certainly during the playoffs — there are legitimate chemistry questions about having a part-time player. But for now, the Nets needed a shot in the arm and Irving gave it to them.

Brooklyn chose what was important to them as an organization, and we shouldn’t be surprised.

2) Dirk Nowitzki has jersey retired, Mavericks upset Warriors

Jason Kidd made the obligatory “hey, we’re giving out 10-day contracts” joke, but Wednesday night in Dallas was about looking back. About celebrating the greatest Dallas Maverick in franchise history, the man who brought them their lone title.

Dirk Nowitzki had his number retired by the Dallas Mavericks.

Mark Cuban also unveiled what the statue to Nowitzki in front of the American Airlines Arena will look like.

It was a worthy celebration of the greatest shooting big man to ever play the game, a player who revolutionized what role a 7-footer could play in the league.

It was also a night where the current Mavericks players took advantage of an ice-cold Stephen Curry — 5-of-24 overall, 1-of-9 from 3 — and kept the Warriors’ role players from stepping up. Luka Doncic had 26 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, and the Mavericks picked up a 99-82 win. Dallas is starting to get healthy, find its footing, and now sits fifth in the West.

3) Jusuf Nurkic took a swing at Tyler Herro

Suspensions should be coming for this one.

It had been an emotional game, but one that was basically decided — Miami was up 10 with a minute to go — when Jusuf Nurkic set a hard screen on Tyler Herro and flattened him. An angry Herro got up, sprinted at Nurkic and shoved him. Nurkic responded by throwing a legitimate punch at Herro.

Both men earned their ejections for that display.

The random roulette wheel of NBA discipline will now spin and we will see where it lands, but both players deserve a suspension for this one.

The referees got that one right, but they got it very wrong earlier in the game with an ejection of Kyle Lowry because a referee was unaware the ball was being tossed to him. Officially, crew chief Derek Richardson said that “throwing the ball in a forceful manner” was part of Lowry getting a second technical, but it looked a lot more like a referee’s ego getting in the way.

Being an NBA referee is a thankless and challenging job, and it’s usually done at a high level around the league. But not in this case.

Highlight of the night: Kevin Porter Jr. returns with game-winner

Talent was never the question.

In Cleveland and Houston, Kevin Porter Jr. could make plays, it was everything off the court that has been an issue. But the talent is there, and with the game on the line Wednesday night, Porter Jr. had the ball in his hands — and he made the play.

I’d personally rather see a play run there rather than an isolation, but it’s a make-of-miss league and Porter Jr. made it.

Last night’s scores:

Charlotte 140, Detroit 111
Philadelphia 116, Orlando 106
Houston 114, Washington 111
San Antonio 99, Boston 97
Dallas 99, Golden State 82
Brooklyn 129, Indiana 121
Toronto 117, Milwaukee 111
Minnesota 98, Oklahoma City 90
Utah 115, Denver 109
Miami 115, Portland 109
Atlanta 108, Sacramento 102

Watch Julius Randle score 57, Knicks still fall to Timberwolves


NEW YORK (AP) — Julius Randle scored 57 points in one of the greatest nights in Knicks history. The Minnesota Timberwolves had the most sizzling start in the NBA this season.

Even in an era where the scoreboard totals seem to balloon higher all the time, this spectacular display of shooting and scoring felt different.

“It was a movie,” Minnesota’s Taurean Prince said.

The Timberwolves overcame Randle’s performance by riding a sizzling start and a steady finish to beat New York 140-134 on Monday night.

Prince scored a season-high 35 points and went 8 for 8 from 3-point range for the Timberwolves, while Mike Conley added 24 points and 11 assists. His three free throws gave Minnesota the lead for good with 2:17 remaining.

Randle’s final basket, a three-point play with 42 seconds remaining, cut it to 137-134, but he was beaten to a rebound by Kyle Anderson on Minnesota’s next possession, and a cutting Prince scored inside with 10.1 seconds left before Conley made a free throw after Randle was called for a technical foul.

That left Randle kicking himself for not making the defensive play on the night the offenses ruled.

“Jalen (Brunson) got a defensive stop, we’re down three, it’s my job to come up with that rebound, 14 seconds left,” Randle said. “If we do that, we have a chance to win the game – or not win the game, but at least tie the game. So I didn’t get the job done.”

The Timberwolves made more than 70% of their shots in the first half and led by 17, before Randle carried the Knicks back with a franchise-record 26 points in the third quarter.

He finished tied with Richie Guerin behind the only two 60-point games in Knicks history, Carmelo Anthony’s 62 on Jan. 24, 2014, and Bernard King’s 60 on Christmas Day in 1984. But the Knicks had their three-game winning streak snapped.

The All-Star forward threw down a powerful driving dunk in the first quarter but did most of his damage from much farther away. Randle made eight 3-pointers in surpassing his previous career high of 46 points.

The Wolves made their first 10 shots and didn’t cool off much the rest of the game, finishing at 61.4% and snapping a three-game skid despite playing without Anthony Edwards for a second straight game because of a sprained right ankle.

“We’ve got shooters, baby,” center Rudy Gobert said.

Gobert’s basket made the Wolves the first team this season to make its first 10 shots, and Knicks fans loudly cheered when Jaden McDaniels missed Minnesota’s next attempt, nearly seven minutes into the game. The Wolves led 42-32 after one, shooting 16 for 22 (72.7%).

Prince’s 3-pointer made it 70-53 with 4:35 left in the first half, but the Knicks finally put together some stops to cut it to 79-70 at the break.

Then Randle came back and went 9 for 10 in the third, hitting 5 for 6 beyond the arc. He raised his hand to fault himself after the one miss, an ill-advised attempt that missed the rim by a couple feet. But he could hardly be blamed for trying the way almost everything else he threw up was going in.

Finch said Edwards hadn’t done anything besides get treatment thus far, but the Wolves didn’t rule him out until Monday, indicating his injury isn’t as bad as originally feared.

“For sure there’s some relief,” Finch said. “But you know Ant, like Ant always wants to play. He never thinks he’s hurt, so hopefully it is feeling better, which he says it is. But in terms of pain tolerance, range of movement, stability, all those things, I think we’re trying to figure out where that really is with him.”

Report: Lakers, Austin Reaves have mutual interest in new contract


Austin Reaves is the latest in the impressive Lakers finds of role players. Undrafted out of Oklahoma, Reaves got a two-way contract from the Lakers, which was eventually turned into a regular minimum deal — he is making $1.6 million this season.

He had far outplayed that deal, averaging 12 points a game, becoming a key part of the Lakers’ rotation, and he dropped a career-high 35 on Sunday night. Reaves is up for a massive pay raise this summer, the Lakers want to give it to him and there is mutual interest, reports Jovan Buha at The Athletic.

He will be a restricted free agent this summer, and will undoubtedly have multiple suitors looking to pry him from the Lakers — especially after stat lines like Sunday’s. Both the Lakers and Reaves’ camp have interest in Reaves re-signing in Los Angeles, according to multiple league sources who were granted anonymity so that they coud speak freely. The max the Lakers can offer Reaves is a four-year, $50.8 million contract if they chose to use his Early Bird Rights, but they also have the power to match any contract he signs with another team.

While the Lakers can match any offer, it’s a little more complex than that because Reaves is an Arenas Rule free agent (named after The Hibachi himself). I’ll let our friend Keith Smith of Sportrac explain it.

When a player is an Arenas free agent, opposing teams can still offer whatever salary they are able to give, but the incumbent team is given an avenue to match the offer. What happens in these offers is that the first-year salary for an Arenas free agent is limited to either the Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (NTMLE) or what a team can match using their Early Bird exception…. That results in what is often referred to as a “poison pill” structure for a contract.

In the case of Reaves, let’s say a team looking for a well-rounded guard — the Orlando Magic — offer something like four years, $60 million. On the Orlando books, that would look like $15 million a season. However, under the Arenas provision, on the Lakers’ books the first year of that deal can only be for the $11.4 million the Lakers can offer right now, and Reaves would make less than $12 million in the second year (still far more than he makes this season). However, in the final two years of this hypothetical offer Reaves would make $17.9 million and $18.8 million on the Lakers’ books, a considerable jump. (If this were an $80 million offer from the Magic, the first two years would be the same but the last two would hit the Lakers’ books hard for more than $27 million a season, hence the poison pill name.)

The Lakers might well match that offer anyway, they still feel the sting of losing another of their young finds, Alex Caruso, and don’t want to let Reaves leave and then thrive somewhere else. Reaves isn’t looking to leave, he has said he loves Los Angeles and playing for the Lakers. However, this is a business and Reaves is not in a position to leave money on the table.

While everyone’s intentions are good, the Lakers have a lot of free-agent decisions to make this summer: D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Troy Brown Jr. and more (plus Jarred Vanderbilt is extension eligible). There are going to be roster changes, and the Lakers can’t spend like the Warriors or Clippers who don’t appear to care about the tax — the Lakers are a family business and there is a budget.

Two things are for sure: It will be a wild offseason in Los Angeles, and Austin Reaves will get paid. By whom is the question.

Lillard sounds like a guy considering shutting it down for season

Boston Celtics v Portland Trail Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers have lost six in a row, are 31-40 and sit 3.5 games out of the 10 seed and final play-in spot in the West (a few teams sit between them and that goal, too). It’s not impossible, but with just 11 games remaining there’s a reason gives them just a 0.4% chance of making the playoffs. It’s hard to be optimistic.

Even for the perpetually optimistic Damian Lillard.

Check out his quotes postgame, with the first being via Sean Highkin of the Rose Garden Report (Blazers fans should subscribe).

“I think everybody in here is not crazy,” Lillard said… “You look at what other teams are doing, they’re creating separation, and we’re on a losing streak. We’ve pretty much fallen out of the race for the 10th spot unless we win every game, if you really look at it truthfully.”

Lillard has played at an All-NBA level this season, averaging 32.2 points and 7.2 assists a game, shooting 37.3% from 3, an insane-for-a-guard 64.5 true shooting percentage, all while having the fifth highest usage rate in the league. Put simply, he has carried the Blazers.

Maybe it’s getting close to time to take that burden off his shoulders.

If/when Lillard decides to sit out the rest of the season, it will start another round of “should Lillard leave” speculation in the media and around the league (other teams are certainly watching). Just don’t bet on it happening. As Lillard said recently about staying to win in Portland, “I’m also willing to die on that hill.” Lillard has four years, $216.2 million remaining on his contract after this season, the deal he signed just last summer. However, more than the money, Lillard sees himself in the Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee mold — he wants to stay and win in his city.

Rather than selling, look for the Trail Blazers to try and be buyers around the Draft or into the summer, offering good young players such as Shaedon Sharpe and Anfernee Simons, plus plenty of draft picks. Portland wants to win around Lillard and is willing to be aggressive.

But that’s next season, this season has reached the point it may be time to pack it in for Lillard.

Morant reportedly could return to Grizzlies Wednesday vs. Rockets


Despite his eight-game suspension being up, Ja Morant will not be on the court Monday night when the Grizzlies host the Mavericks (Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are questionable for the Mavericks as of this writing, although Dončić has been hopeful he could play).

In good news for Grizzlies fans, Morant could return as soon as Wednesday against the Rockets, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Rockets and their porous defense are an excellent soft landing spot for Morant to return, put up some numbers, but not have to play heavy minutes. The Grizzlies play the Rockets both Wednesday and Friday and need wins as they are in a fight for the two seed with the red-hot Sacramento Kings.

Morant was suspended for flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.”The suspension was retroactive, including games he was “away from the team” following the incident. The suspension cost Morant $668,659 in pay, but it hit his bank account harder than that after one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness. Morant is also in the mix for an All-NBA spot — which, via the Rose rule could increase his contract extension that kicks in next season — and this incident and missed games will not help his cause.

Hopefully, Morant got a chance to step back and consider his path forward during the suspension. If the Grizzlies are going to make the postseason run this season — and be a contender for years to come — as they expect, they need peak Morant on the court.