Three Things to Know: There is nothing like a comeback at Madison Square Garden

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks
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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) There is nothing like a comeback at Madison Square Garden

How do you want to view this? Is it a promising sign for a Knicks team struggling to find its identity and get its stars to step up this season? Or is it the 4,367th sign that something is wrong in Boston?

That capped off a wild comeback at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks had trailed by 25 in the first half and 20 in the third quarter, but they crawled back into this one largely thanks to Mr. “do not Google his last name” Evan Fournier. He has not lived up to his offseason contract or expectations this season, but he did on Thursday with 41 points, including knocking down 10 threes.

In his couple of games since coming back, Julius Randle has averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds on 50% shooting. It’s just a couple of games, and the three-ball isn’t falling, but it’s a promising sign. If Fournier and Randle can get going, if the Knicks can get just a few more stops, maybe this ship can turn around.

Some Knicks fans booed the team early in this game, and Julius Randle gave them a thumbs down. When asked about it after the game, Randle said he was telling the crowd to “shut the f*** up.” Meaning he was acting like a true New Yorker.

From Boston’s perspective, Jayson Tatum was brilliant — 36 points, 6-of-11 from 3, scoring 11 of the team’s final 13 points including the jumper that tied it before Barrett got his chance — but little else worked. There is nothing consistent about this team and its effort, and after the game a frustrated Ime Udoka vented.

“I think it’s a lack of mental toughness to fight through those adverse times. To your point, it’s across the board. It’s a turnover here, a bad shot here, a missed defensive assignment here, and several missed rebounds tonight. So, it’s a lot of different things.”

Udoka then lamented that the Celtics don’t have the leader, the veteran on this team that takes charge when things aren’t right, calms the team down and points them in the right direction. So it spirals. Like it did in MSG.

Everyone in Boston is looking for the answer, but it may be up to Brad Stevens to find one.

2) Suns handle shorthanded Clippers, but LA gets a ray of hope

The TNT nightcap game went exactly as we all expected it would: The Suns are very good, the Clippers are feisty but very shorthanded, and Phoenix got a comfortable 106-89 win. Chris Paul had a triple-double and it was a nice night for Cameron Johnson, who scored 24 and hit 4-of-7 from 3.

The loss dropped the Clippers below .500, but a report from Chris Haynes was a ray of hope for Los Angeles — Kawhi Leonard is on pace to return this season.

Leonard partially tore his ACL last playoffs and had surgery on in it in July, his return this season was up in the air. However, if he is back and Paul George gets healthy, suddenly the Clippers are a threat. Or, at the least, a very tough out.

The Clippers are struggling to keep their head above water without either Leonard or George, who is out until the end of the month and maybe longer with an elbow injury.

The Clippers are built around a pair of elite two-way wings that are a difficult matchup, and they are surrounded by a solid and versatile group of role players that give coach Tyronn Lue options. If that team makes the playoffs, nobody will want to face them.

3) Stephen Curry, LeBron James lead early fan All-Star voting

The NBA released the results from the first round of fan voting for the 2022 All-Star Game in Cleveland.

I’m not a fan of the “are the fans wrong” debate and takes because THE FANS ARE NEVER WRONG. It’s an exhibition game and pure entertainment, so give the people what they want.

My picks would be slightly different, as I wrote earlier in the week. I’d have the same frontcourt as the fans in the East — Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid — and I also had DeMar DeRozan as one of the starting backcourt players. (Yes, that is with the understanding that he plays small forward for the Bulls, not a backcourt spot, but again this is an exhibition let’s get the best players on the court.) I would have Trae Young over James Harden at the other backcourt spot, but either way works.

In the West, I agree that Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Nikola Jokic are locks. I would put Donovan Mitchell at the other guard spot, but the West is deep with solid guards, so going with Luka Doncic (as the fans did) or Chris Paul would work. For the final frontcourt spot, I would go with Draymond Green. The fans went with Paul George, which is very fair based on his play, but will he be healthy for the game? Andrew Wiggins being fourth in fan voting for the West frontcourt was the biggest surprise on the board.

Highlight of the night: Ibaka shuts down Cam Johnson dunk

There were not many Clippers highlights from this one, but here is a reminder that Serge Ibaka is still not to be messed with around the rim. Just ask Cam Johnson.

Last night’s scores:

New York 108, Boston 105
Memphis 118, Detroit 88
New Orleans 101, Golden State 96
Phoenix 106, Clippers 89

Lakers question coming in August: Extend Anthony Davis, or wait?

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Anthony Davis had an incredible playoff run: 22.6 points and 14.1 rebounds a game while looking like the best defender in the league. It was a reminder of why he has a championship ring and what he is capable of when healthy.

Coming off that, should the Lakers offer him a contract extension?

Davis is under contract for $40.6 million next season, with an early termination option (essentially a player option) for the 2024-25 season for $43.2 million. Come August, the Lakers can offer Davis an extension of up to three years, $167 million (approximately, it would depend on the official salary cap numbers).

Should the Lakers? ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on Get Up that locking Davis up so he can’t test free agency in 2024 will be a priority and they will extend him. However, on Sedano and Kap on ESPNLA, ESPN’s Lakers beat writer Dave McMenamin was more cautious. (Hat tip Real GM.)

“Certainly, the Lakers’ thinking ever since they acquired Anthony Davis is that it’s an Anthony Davis, LeBron James combo deal. With LeBron James only under contract for sure for another year with a player option the following year., and with him openly contemplating retirement at this stage of his career… But you just don’t do it. You play out this year with him. You see where things stand with him and LeBron. Obviously, then you risk the second year he has left, he can opt-out and leave as a free agent…

“You hope Anthony Davis stays healthy and you get the best out of him next year. But I don’t think they’re going to be in a position to be interested in a long-term extension for him this summer.”

At its core, this comes down to LeBron James and his future. If he retires, leaves, or in whatever way is not on the Lakers after the summer of 2024, as great as Davis can be, he is not the No. 1 option the Lakers would want to rebuild around. At that point, the Lakers would want to move on, although trading Davis (or completing a sign-and-trade) would be the Lakers’ preferred option, bringing back pick and young players to help jumpstart whatever comes next.

If LeBron is still a Laker in 2024-25, the Lakers would want Davis on the roster.

It’s not an easy decision for the Lakers, but with an increasingly strict CBA looming, it’s understandable if the Lakers want to wait and see how this season plays out before committing to Davis.

James Harden reportedly “torn” over Philadelphia vs. Houston

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Reports of James Harden strongly considering a Houston reunion have grown stronger throughout the season, with reporting on it here at NBC Sports and across the NBA media universe.

But would Harden really leave a contending team in Philadelphia to go to a rebuilding Houston team? He appears torn on his decision, Shams Charania of The Athletic said on The Ryen Russillo Podcast (hat tip Real GM).

“We’re less than a month out from free agency starting. I really think he’s torn with the prospect of staying in Philadelphia or moving on to Houston potentially and returning back to his home. That’s where his roots are and his family there of course. They’ve got upwards of $60 million [in cap space]. They can make even more money available. Close to $70 million in cap space. They’re going to have a ton of money and I think this is a team in Houston where I do believe they are going to be aggressive in the marketplace…

“My sense right now is this is someone that is torn. I think whichever way it goes, it’s going to be relatively close. That’s why as we get closer to July 1, June 30th, those conversations that he’s going to have, as he becomes a free agent, with Nick Nurse [the new 76ers coach] and with Daryl Morey, what their vision is for him, what their vision is for that team, what that offer ultimately is going to be versus comparing it to whatever Houston comes with on June 30th or July 1, those are all very important factors. This is a guy that you would assume would sit down with both teams. Philadelphia is going to have a window earlier, potentially going in and scheduling meetings. This is a situation now where we’re going to see which way it lands.”

Both league sources NBC Sports has spoken with and other media members traveling with the NBA Finals — Harden has been a topic of conversation over meals — think Houston is the frontrunner. There is almost an expectation in league circles that Harden will be a Rocket next season, though nobody feels anything is decided.

Is that the right move for the Rockets? They have an interesting young core with whoever they draft at No.4 plus Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Kevin Porter Jr., Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and others, but it’s not got a group ready to win a lot of games on the NBA level yet. The Rockets have been through three years of a rebuild and the reports are ownership wants to start seeing wins and a playoffs trip. Harden gets them closer to that now, but at what cost to building a long-term winner and culture?

The ball is in Harden’s court. The only real questions are, has he decided, and how much would the Rockets offer? (The max is four years, $201 million, but do they want to pay him $50 million a season for four years with where his skills are currently and are trending?)

Miami thrives in adversity. How will Denver respond to adversity in Game 3?


MIAMI —We know how the Miami Heat handle adversity. Their ability to deal with it is why we’re still watching them play.

“We faced a lot of adversity during the season,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after his team evened the NBA Finals at 1-1. “We handled it the right way where you are not making excuses about it, the injuries, the changes lineups. Because of all that adversity and the 57 close games that happened, due to a lot of that, it hardened us. It steeled us and we developed some grit, which is what we all want.”

The question heading into Sunday is how will the Nuggets handle adversity? Denver was the No. 1 seed for most of the season, has been up in every series 2-0 entering Game 3, and only lost three games in the West playoffs. While Denver has faced challenges during the season it had a very different path to this point than Miami.

“What I know about our group is for years now we’ve handled adversity very well,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I have no doubt that tomorrow night will be a much more disciplined, urgent team for 48 minutes.”

“Discipline” was one of the buzzwords around the Nuggets on Tuesday, heading into Game 3. The Heat players sounded like themselves, focused but a little looser, a little more comfortable at home in a familiar environment.

“This is who we are,” Kevin Love said. “Obviously when it’s time to get down to business, our focus is all the way there during our prep, during our film session… But when we’re working we still like to have fun and keep it loose. It keeps us loose out there on the court starting the game and throughout 48 minutes. But it’s not without intention and the willingness to do whatever it takes.”

A change in tone was more evident among the Nuggets. To a man they talked about urgency, discipline and communication.

The Nuggets also had a straightforward, honest film session out of Game 2.

“I showed 17 clips this morning,” Malone said. “Every clip was a discipline clip, if you will, where our discipline, whether it was game plan, whether it was personnel, whether it was defending without fouling, whatever it may be, 17 clips added up to over 40 points in Game 2.

“That, to me, is staggering. What we can do better is just be a lot more disciplined in terms of the game plan, who I’m guarding. Most of that stems from communication.”

Actually, the Nuggets may need to watch their communication during the game.

“We probably could communicate a little bit better and also just be more aware of the actions they are running,” Michael Porter Jr. said. “But also they are playing off of our coverages, they are hearing what we are communicating to each other and they’re doing the opposite. If we say ‘switch,’ they are slipping out for open threes and if we don’t say ‘switch,’ they are actually going to set the screen.

“So they do a really good job of playing off of what our game plan is. So that’s what this film session was about this morning, fixing that. So hopefully they won’t get as many open shots.”

Malone called out his players after Game 2, although he was quick to say it was more them calling themselves out.

Denver has been challenged, by their coach and Miami. How will it respond to this adversity?

“Yeah, we’re probably going to see tomorrow, are we going to respond well or not,” Nikola Jokić said. “That’s the answer.”

Coach, front office updates from around NBA: Fizdale headed to Suns bench


Things continue to move and settle around the NBA as teams find coaches (well, except Toronto) and some front office personnel move around. Here is the latest around the league.

• Former Grizzlies and Knicks head coach David Fizdale, an associate general manager with the Jazz last season, is returning to the bench as an assistant on Frank Vogel’s staff in Phoenix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Fizdale and Vogel are tight, remember Fizdale was in the bubble on Vogel’s staff when the Lakers won a ring. Give new owner Mat Ishbia credit for spending, he made Kevin Young the highest-paid assistant coach in the league to stay with the team and has now hired a former head coach to be a top assistant. That’s a lot of coaching firepower, now the Suns just need to fill out the roster with some firepower around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker.

• If you want to become a general manager in the NBA, the best way is to be an assistant GM for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Apparently. Presti has had five different assistant GMs under him and now all five have gone on to be general managers elsewhere.

The latest is Will Dawkins, who will be the GM and No. 2 in the power structure in Washington under new team president (and former Clippers GM) Michael Winger, reports Josh Robbins and David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Also in the front office in Washington is former Hawks GM Travis Schlenk. That’s a lot of brain power and good hires. The question remains how much freedom owner Ted Leonsis — a guy who demanded his team do whatever it took just to make the playoffs every year — will give Winger, Dawkins and company. The team has big decisions this summer with Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis expected to opt out.

• The Milwaukee Bucks finally made the hiring of Adrian Griffin as their head coach official.

“Adrian is a widely-respected coach and former player, who brings great leadership and experience to our team,” Bucks General Manager Jon Horst said in a statement. “His championship-level coaching pedigree, character, basketball acumen and ability to connect with and develop players make him the ideal choice to lead our team. He has earned this opportunity.”