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) Injuries deal Durant and Nets, Green and Warriors setbacks
Just as the wave of COVID upending the NBA is starting to fade, the basketball gods decided the two betting favorites for the title needed another hurdle in their season.
The Nets’ Kevin Durant will be out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained knee against the Pelicans this weekend. Draymond Green — who has missed all but seven seconds of the last five Warriors games — will be out another two weeks minimum as an MRI showed the pain in his calf is tied to a disc issue in his lower back. It is likely Green is out longer than the minimum.
This is a setback for both teams as their “big three” try to develop (or regain) chemistry.
It’s a bigger blow to the Nets.
KD limped to the locker room after an apparent knee injury.
Hope he's ok 🙏 pic.twitter.com/SiXVMjzI90
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 16, 2022
Last season, the trio of Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving played just 15 games together (including the playoffs). This season they have played two games together — with Kyrie Irving just brought back to the team but only allowed to play road games because he is unvaccinated — but that was about to change. The Nets will play 11 of their next 14 on the road, that was when the chemistry was to be built.
Durant likely will miss all of those games. That leaves little time to develop chemistry on the road the rest of the season.
Tough blow for a team that’s looking for continuity and chemistry amid a part-time season for Kyrie.
Assuming KD returns after the All-Star break, the Big 3 (Kyrie) can play in 8 of 23 to close out the season.
Means we’d see the Big 3 for a max 10 games before playoffs.
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 16, 2022
The Nets will need Irving to be strong in those games to make up for the loss of Durant, who has played at an MVP level this season (missing this many games will essentially kill his MVP chances). Durant leads the NBA in scoring at 29.2 points per game, is playing 36.5 minutes per game (fifth-most in the league), and the Brooklyn offense falls off by 4.6 points per 100 possessions when he is out.
We have yet to see the Warriors “big three” this season, but they have more time to get their chemistry right.
Green’s return timeline is vague. He will be re-evaluated closer to the end of the month, but back issues are delicate and hard to gauge. The idea he could be out until after the All-Star break is not out of the question.
The good news for the Warriors is they are entering a softer part of the schedule, including a seven-game homestand that starts this week. Even if Green is out until after the All-Star break, that would give the Warriors 24 games together to build their chemistry and good habits before the playoffs start.
Green’s injury is a setback for the Warriors but not an insurmountable problem.
2) Who says Rudy Gobert doesn’t have an outside shot?
NBA players routinely wait a beat before taking their end-of-quarter/half heaves from beyond halfcourt, until just after the buzzer sounds, so it looks like they tried the shot but it doesn’t impact their stats.
Rudy Gobert took his heave just after the buzzer — but he drained it.
Not that it mattered in the end, the Jazz routed the Nuggets 125-102, snapping a four-game losing streak (that not so coincidentally was tied to games Gobert missed). Donovan Mitchell scored 31, Gobert finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds.
3) Cade Cunningham ejected because he dared show emotion on the court
What we want to see as fans is passion. Yes, team fans would like to see high-flying athleticism and their team win, but if we can see the passion and how much the player cares — if they leave it all on the court — they win our hearts.
Which is why the referees injecting themselves into the game in moments like the one that happened to Cade Cunningham Sunday make me angrier than they should. Let the players show their passion — this is an entertainment product.
Cunningham already had one technical from a play earlier against the Suns. In the third quarter, he threw down an athletic and impressive reverse slam over Jalen Smith, then pointed at him (or someone). Instantly he was hit with a second technical and ejected.
Here was how referee crew chief Kevin Cutler explained the ejection postgame, answering a question from pool reporter Rod Beard of the Detroit News:
“After he dunked the ball, he was assessed a technical foul for a physical taunt for pointing at the defender.”
He pointed. That’s not taunting worthy of an ejection, that’s just emotion.
We need more passion, more emotion in the game, not less, and the officials need to let it happen.
The ejection didn’t change the course of the game, it was a blowout Suns win, 135-108 in the end. Devin Booker led the way with 30 points.
Highlight of the Night: Kings’ Davis with the steal on one end, poster on other
Last night’s scores:
Phoenix 135, Detroit 108
Houston 118, Sacramento 112
Minnesota 119, Golden State 99
Utah 125, Denver 102