Three Things to Know: Nets soap opera drama continues as team loses to Cavaliers

Brooklyn Nets v Cleveland Cavaliers
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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) Nets soap opera drama continues as team loses to Cavaliers

Will James Harden leave Brooklyn? Will Kyrie Irving get vaccinated? When will Kevin Durant return and how far will the Nets fall without him? Would Brooklyn really trade Joe Harris?

To find out the answers to these questions and more, tune in to the next episode of As Brooklyn Turns.

Or maybe The Bold and the Beautiful Nets? Empire, Brooklyn? Days of Our Lives in Brooklyn? Brooklyn Landing?

We’ve got to workshop the name, but there is definitely a soap opera surrounding the Brooklyn Nets right now. One that did not stop — in fact, was brought into sharper focus — on Martin Luther King day when the Nets clearly missed Durant while being knocked off by the Cavaliers, 114-107. The Nets had the star power, but the Cavaliers had the highlights.

Here are the highlights of the Nets soap opera on Monday:

• Irving said that nothing basketball related — including Durant being out and the team losing without him— would lead to him getting vaccinated so he can play in Nets’ home games. He returned to talking about this being a protest to the vaccine mandate and what was best for his family, and he is not coming off the shaky logic of those positions.

“I made my decision already and I’m standing on it… It’s not going to be swayed by one thing in this NBA life that is somehow brought to my attention as being more important than what’s going on in the real world. It’s just not happening for me… I’m just standing rooted in what I believe in. And though we’re dealing with this right now with Kev, I know I am protected by the organization, I’m protected by my teammates, all the doctors I talked to, I’m rooted.”

This means Brooklyn will have different starting lineups and rotations in the playoffs based on whether the game is at home or on the road. What could possibly go wrong with that?

• Rumors are circulating around the league that Harden would be open to a change of scenery after this season — which has Daryl Morey holding onto hope of a Ben Simmons for James Harden trade.

Harden has talked both about how hard it would be to leave Brooklyn and this situation with Durant, and how he has never been a free agent, never been recruited like that, and wants that experience. He could go through the free agency process this offseason, meet with teams, then decide to return to Brooklyn.

If he leaves, it is likely because he opted-in to his $46.9 million option for next season and found a trade, or worked out a sign-and-trade (the teams with cap space to sign a max player next offseason are rebuilding, like the Thunder, and not places Harden can go and compete for a ring). A sign-and-trade, as he would likely use to go to Philadelphia, would hard-cap the 76ers and force them to shed salary and critical rotation players beyond Simmons, robbing the team of depth. It’s a complicated mess, but Morey could do it to pair Harden and Embiid and hope that is enough to win the East.

The most likely outcome? Harden signs an extension to stay in Brooklyn, but anything can happen.

• The Nets need to find a way to keep their heads above water without Durant and Harris, both injured. The loss to Cleveland showed just how much KD — playing at an MVP level this season — has meant to Brooklyn. The Nets have 11 of 16 games left before the All-Star break on the road.

2) After LeBron promises Lakers will be better, they deliver with win against Jazz

I’m not about to say, “THIS is where the Lakers turn their season around” because we’ve seen this movie before: Los Angeles gets up for one big game, LeBron James looks like an MVP, enough other players execute around him, and they pick up an impressive win. Then next game (or a few later) their bad habits and fit issues return, and they fall back to around .500. One game does not change a season.

But Monday’s win over the Jazz was a good step.

The day before, LeBron promised Lakers fans the team would be better.

Monday night they were better… at least LeBron and the bench players were. LeBron finished with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, 10-day contract player Stanley Johnson had 15 on 7-of-9 shooting, Malik Monk added 14, and Russell Westbrook was at least playing downhill.

Utah, the team that takes and makes the most 3-pointers in the league, went ice-cold down the stretch, going 0-of-9 from 3 while the game was decided. More concerning, Utah was -22 in the minutes LeBron was at center — small ball bites the Jazz again. That has been a concern in a few losses lately, and it’s what they will see come the playoffs. The Jazz have to answer that question to reach the Finals.

3) Bam Adebayo returns, Heat pick up win

Through a rash of injuries and COVID-related absences this season, the Miami Heat kept finding a way to win. It has been a tribute to their culture and player development that guys deep on the bench, such as Max Strus and Omer Yurtseven, have contributed to wins.

Now Bam Adebayo is back.

The All-Star center had missed 22 games following thumb surgery, but he returned against the Raptors and, while he looked a bit rusty, still had 14 points and nine rebounds in the game.

Jimmy Butler had a triple-double of 19/10/10, and Tyler Herro continued his Sixth Man of the Year campaign with 23 off the bench.

With Brooklyn and Cleveland struggling, Miami has moved up to second in the East. Despite all the hits and health issues they have. We tend to talk about a healthy Bucks or Nets team coming out of the East, but Miami may be more than just a sleeper. This team is a legit problem.

Highlight of the Night: Ja Morant with 360 layup against Bulls

We could just rename this the “Ja Morant Highlight of the Night” and do well, because every time he steps on a court something impressive happens. Against the Bulls, it was a 360 layup that left Chicago shook.

Morant and Desmond Bane each had 25 in the Grizzlies win.

Last night’s scores:

Boston 104, New Orleans 92
Charlotte 97, New York 87
Washington 117, Philadelphia 98
Cleveland 114, Brooklyn 107
LA Clippers 139, Indiana 133
Memphis 119, Chicago 106
Atlanta 121, Milwaukee 114
Portland 98, Orlando 88
Miami 104, Toronto 99
Dallas 104, Oklahoma City 102
Phoenix 121, San Antonio 107
LA Lakers 101, Utah 95

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.