Three Things to Know: Warriors struggled for answers for Morant, Grizzlies who have arrived

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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) Warriors struggled for answers for Morant, Grizzlies who have arrived

Golden State misses Draymond Green. A lot. When the Warriors beat the Suns on Christmas Day, Green got the Chris Paul assignment. Green often gets put on the opposing team’s best guard.

But with Green out (calf tightness), the Warriors had no answers for Ja Morant (the best option they had was Gary Payton II, but Young Glove didn’t get a chance until late in the first half). Morant is the hottest player in the league and he scored or assisted on 20 of the Grizzlies’ 28 first-quarter points. Morant finished with 29 points and eight assists, and late in the fourth he stuck the dagger in the Warriors.

The Grizzlies announced their presence with authority, picking up their10th straight win, 116-108.

What has been impressive is the growth of the Grizzlies as a team — this is not just the Morant show. Desmond Bane has been Memphis’ second-best player during the streak but he has had a rough night, 11 points on 14 shots. That’s when Tyus Jones stepped up with 17 off the bench, including some critical plays late, and Brandon Clarke was a force with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. (And all this without Desmond Bane, who sprained his knee and could miss a month or more.)

Those young, long, athletic Grizzlies both move the ball and move off the ball in a way somewhat reminiscent of a younger, peak Warriors team. Their length and athleticism make them aggressive defenders pushing for steals so they can get out and run — and the Warriors obliged early and got in a hole because of it.

Stephen Curry had a triple-double of 27-10-10, but the non-Curry starters shot 11-of-28 (39.3%). The usually reliable Jordan Poole was 3-of-11 off the bench. Curry did his best. It was not enough.

The Grizzlies would host a playoff round if the postseason started today, they are the fourth seed and a comfortable 5.5 games up on the Mavericks in fifth. In fact, they are closer to the Suns in first (3.5 back) than the Mavericks. Memphis isn’t just a playoff team, they are a legit top-four team in the West that will be a tough out for any team that considers themselves contenders. Morant isn’t just an All-Star, the question becomes, should he be a starter?

The Grizzlies are legit — this isn’t a grit-and-grind team winning ugly either. This team is dynamic, athletic, and a problem. If you have any doubts, ask the Warriors.

2) Brandon Ingram scores 10 in final 1:13, including game-winning 3 for Pelicans

Brandon Ingram is making his All-Star case.

He won’t be a starter, but when the league coaches vote for the West reserves it will be tough to leave Ingram off. Ingram is averaging 22.9 points a game, with 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a night — he is the heart of the Pelicans offense this season.

Ingram made his case Tuesday night, topping off a 33-point game by scoring 10 points in the final 1:13 and draining the game-winner for the Pels.

The Pelicans got the win because they made their last nine 3-point shots. Josh Hart had 21 points and nine boards, while Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans.

3) COVID hitting NBA staffs hard as well, not just players

It’s hard to escape a discussion around the NBA about what players have been out in COVID protocols, what replacement players from the G-League are getting called up (and given minutes), and how the pandemic is impacting players for a third-straight season.

But it’s also hitting front offices hard, too, Baxter Holmes reported at ESPN.

Sources told ESPN that this season there have been more than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases among 2,400 total Tier 1 staff — anyone working within 15 feet of players — across the NBA. The vast majority of cases among Tier 1 staff have also come within the past month, with more than 450 cases occurring from Dec. 7 to Jan. 10, sources said…

General managers across the league point out that while players can often be replaced by G-League backups, replacing core staffers who handle unique roles can prove to be much more challenging and impactful on day-to-day operations.

Yikes. Also, not that surprising considering the way Omicron has swept through not just the NBA but American society.

The staff numbers are a concern in part because some of them are older or have pre-existing conditions that could be an issue (something not the case with players, who are young and healthy).

The wave of the virus among players seems to be slowing (*knocks on wood*), and reports say not only are 97% of players vaccinated but also 70% have gotten the booster. There have been 11 games postponed this season due to the virus, but the league’s real hope is to have this issue largely in the rearview mirror by the time the playoffs begin in April.

Highlight of the Night: Devin Booker would like it golf quiet for his free throws

There are no fans in the Scotiabank Arena right now for Raptors games (a COVID measure for the Canadian regional government), which is a little jarring when you watch it.

The Raptors mascot is there, and he was jumping around trying to distract the Suns’ Devin Booker during a free throw — so Booker had the referee send him away.

Booker, this is not golf. You played in packed arenas all season with fans yelling at you during free throws and jumping around. Heck, you played at Kentucky and saw some organized behind-the-basket distractions. Give The Raptor a break.

Last night’s scores:

Washington 122, Oklahoma City 118
Phoenix 99, Toronto 95
Chicago 133, Detroit 87
Memphis 116, Golden State 108
New Orleans 128, Minnesota 125
LA Clippers 87, Denver 85

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.