Three Things to Know: Don’t look now, but the Miami Heat are first in the East

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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) Don’t look now, but the Miami Heat are first in the East

Brooklyn is not the same with Kevin Durant out with a knee sprain (and Joe Harris still out after ankle surgery, and Nic Claxton missing seven games with a hamstring issue). The Nets are 5-5 in their last 10. The Chicago Bulls can’t get a stop without Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso out (more on that below, keep reading), plus Zach LaVine has missed the last five games with a knee issue. The Bulls have lost 6-of-7.

Both of those teams are looking up at the Miami Heat in the East on Monday morning.

Miami held on late to beat the Lakers Sunday — despite another strong game from former Heat player LeBron James, who had 33 — behind a triple-double from Jimmy Butler (20 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) and 25 points from sharpshooter Duncan Robinson. Of course, the Heat role players were making themselves felt, like Max Strus draining a step-back 3 over Russell Westbrook.

No team has been more resilient this season than the Heat. Miami weathered a rash of injuries this season — Bam Adebayo missed 25 games, primarily due to thumb surgery, Jimmy Butler has missed 18, Markieff Morris is still out with neck issues after the cheap shot from Nikola Jokic, and the list goes on and on — plus the usual mix of COVID absences (Tyler Herro right now) and kept on winning.

Miami’s big 3 of Butler, Adebayo and Kyle Lowry have played just 14 games together this season — and the last time they did was close to Thanksgiving — yet it has not slowed this squad.

Heat culture has been on display all season with Strus stepping in as a deadly shooter, Omer Yurtseven playing well and earning minutes on the front line, Gabe Vincent stepping up, and the list goes on and on. The Heat are 30-17, not only good enough for first but also in position to solidify that spot as the two teams below them now battle a rash of injuries.

Miami is top 10 in the league in offense and defense for the season, the sign of a contender and something only one other team in the East can claim (Milwaukee, using NBA.com stats). Maybe most concerning for the rest of the East, this Heat team is better built for the playoffs — they have versatility of scheme, tough individual matchups, and strong defense needed n the postseason, plus Butler thrives in the short-term intensity of the playoffs.

The top of the East is tight, the first-place Heat are just one game up on the fourth-seed Bucks. There will be more shuffling ahead.

But when mentioning contenders, do not leave Miami off the list.

2) Bulls are in trouble and Grayson Allen‘s price is just one game

Chicago’s surprising fast start — at least surprising to many outside the Windy City — was fueled by a better-than-expected defense. On paper, this looked like a bottom 10 (maybe bottom five) defense, but in November the Bulls’ defensive rating of 107.6 may not have been elite but it was good enough for 11th in the league. Combined with a potent offense and the Bulls were racking up wins.

Over their last 10 games, the Chicago defense has a 116.3 net rating, bottom 10 in the league, and the team is 3-7 after giving up 114 points to Orlando in a loss Sunday.

The Bulls are trying to find their defense without Lonzo Ball (out 6-8 weeks with knee surgery) and now Alex Caruso, who will miss 6-8 weeks following wrist surgery — the Bulls have a 118.8 defensive rating when both Ball and Caruso are off the court. It could be a tough few weeks in Chicago.

Caruso is out after the Bucks Grayson Allen took him out of mid-air, brought the right hand over to make it an unnecessarily and excessive foul, and threw Caruso to the ground.

For that, and saying they took Caruso’s injury into consideration, Grayson Allen was suspended just one game.

Welcome to Adam Silver’s NBA, which has made a conscious effort not to be as harsh with penalties as David Stern had been. Silver has a better relationship with the players and the players’ union.

But the league has to do more to protect vulnerable players from injuries, or what is the fear of injuring a player? Allen deserved more than a game; three seemed better. Nikola Jokic got one game for a blindside hit on Markieff Morris that has cost the Heat player more than 30 games (yes, Morris instigated that and deserved punishment as well, but that was a cheap shot by Jokic to the back that deserved more from the league). Those are just the most high-profile cases, but there was nothing for what Jonas Valanciunas did to Chimezie Metu last season. The league is wildly inconsistent with its punishments for these plays. Will Kelly Oubre feel more than a slap on the wrist for this play Sunday? (Oubre at least showed remorse and checked on Hunter, that’s more than we can say for Allen.)

Silver wants to keep the league’s players, and its stars in particular, on the court. This is an entertainment product. But player safety has to be paramount and slaps on the wrists for players who put the health of other players in jeopardy runs counter to that.

3) What slump? Jayson Tatum hits nine threes, scores 51 in Celtics win

Jayson Tatum had missed his last 20 3-pointers and could not find a rhythm going into Sunday’s game against the Wizards.

That changed fast. Tatum drained nine 3-pointers on his way to 51 points — 48 in the first three quarters — leading Boston to a comfortable win over Washington on Sunday.

The Celtics faithful that filled the Washington Arena gave Tatum a standing ovation when he checked out.

“When you’re missing shots, you know what you’re capable of, and sometimes you’ve got to laugh it off,” Tatum said postgame, via the Associated Press. “It’s as simple as sometimes you just don’t make shots. You play so many games.”

Highlight of the Night: Jalen Suggs is a bad, bad man

Jalen Suggs was going to the rim and DeMar DeRozan was not going to get in his way.

He wasn’t done, Suggs had an in-game 360 dunk in him as well.

Get that man in the dunk contest.

Last night’s scores:

New York 110, LA Clippers 102
Boston 116, Washington 87
Miami 113, LA Lakers 107
Orlando 114, Chicago 95
Portland 114, Toronto 105
Atlanta 113, Charlotte 91
Philadelphia 115, San Antonio 109
Dallas 104, Memphis 91
Minnesota 136, Brooklyn 125
Denver 117, Detroit
Golden State 94, Utah 92

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).

Donovan Mitchell is not looking back on summer, says now is happiest he’s been in league

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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The New York Knicks chose not to go all-in last summer and bring Donovan Mitchell home. The kid who played his AAU games in Manhattan and grew up a Knicks fan watching games at the Garden was open to it, but the Knicks lowballed the offer and Koby Altman and the Cavaliers swooped in.

Mitchell returned to New York Sunday, but he wasn’t looking back — he’s happy where he is now in Cleveland, on one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“What’s done is done, and I’m happy as hell to be where I’m at,” he said. “At the end of the day, this decision was made and I don’t think I’ve been happier since I’ve been in the league. But I think for me it’s always going to be motivation to come back and play well in my hometown, but you could say that about anybody. But with what happened this summer, it’s over with, it happened and I’m happy to be with the Cavaliers.”

Whether Rose holding back picks — concerned about having enough ammunition to bring in the next star to New York to go with Mitchell — was a mistake will play out over time. It depends on what bold move Rose makes next with the roster. Whatever decision he makes will be compared to the “what if” of Mitchell, fair or not.

Mitchell has been better than expected in Cleveland — averaging 28.4 points a game shooting 42.1% on 3-pointers — and has fit beautifully in the backcourt with Darius Garland, as well as with the front line of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Together those four form the cornerstone of a team that could contend for a title in the coming years. Mitchell is loving every minute of it.

That group (minus Allen, who remains out with a lower back contusion) wasn’t enough on Sunday against a desperate Knicks team. New York got the 92-81 win behind 23 from Jalen Brunson (Mitchell also had 23).

 

Three things to know: Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham’s vision

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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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham‘s vision

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham before NBA training camps opened. 

This is what Darvin Ham envisioned.

In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 35.6 points on 66.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He has been dominant — and his 55-point game leading the Lakers to a win over the Wizards on Sunday put him in historic company.

What Ham envisioned was more than just Davis playing the five and going back to an All-NBA — if you ask Patrick Beverley or Kristaps Porzingis after the game, MVP — level, it’s that the rest of the team would follow.

So far it has. In its last 11 games, the Lakers are 8-3 with the third-best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense over that stretch, with a +7.2 net rating. What’s more, the shooting woes that dragged them down early in the season have also righted themselves.

This hot streak started against a soft part of the schedule, but road wins over the Bucks and Wizards show it isn’t a fluke. This is a team gaining confidence, and while it likely will not sustain this level of success for the remaining five months of the season, it’s a sign of what this team is capable of when clicking.

Los Angeles also still has a lot of work to do. Even with this recent run they are 10-12 and sit 12th in the West — they have to keep this going long enough to get into the playoff mix. Then we can discuss what kind of postseason threat they are.

Two Wizards notes out of their loss to the Lakers Sunday.

First, Bradley Beal left the game in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He did not return and after the game there wasn’t much of an update on whether he will miss time, and if so how much. It’s not a good sign for a Wizards team without much margin for error.

Also, Daniel Gafford had maybe the dunk of the year. This is insane.

2) Damian Lillard returns to court and Trail Blazers

With Damian Lillard sidelined by a strained calf, the Trail Blazers dropped 7-of-8 and fell to .500 on the season (11-11). They were not the same team.

Sunday he returned — looking unbothered by any calf issue — and suddenly the ball was moving again, and the offense clicking in a win over the Pacers. Lillard was 5-of-10 from 3 on his way to 21 points, but just his presence opened up the offense so Jerami Grant could score 28. Anfernee Simons, coming off his insane 45-point night, added 22.

Lillard doesn’t have to carry Portland, he doesn’t have to drop 40 every night to have a chance to win (see Doncic, Luka). Grant and Simons can help carry the scoring load. But this is also a team without much margin for error, so they struggle without the threat of Lillard, the floor shrinks and the ball doesn’t move the same way.

With Lillard back, the Trail Blazers are a threat every night. In a tight West — the Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers and Warriors for the sixth seed — they can’t afford any more slumps like the recent one. And they can’t afford to be without Lillard for an extended stretch.

3) Does he have a puncher’s chance? Floyd Mayweather wants to buy NBA team

The instinct is to bet against Floyd Mayweather ever owning an NBA team for a couple of reasons, but when you’re talking about a boxer with a 50-0 career record, bet against him at your own risk.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

There are two key questions about Mayweather’s being able to purchase an NBA team.

The first is, does he really have the money? Mayweather says he does, and last year said his net worth was above $1.2 billion. Whether that is true, and whether that money is liquid or if it’s tied up in speculative investments, is not something we know (it’s not like Mayweather has to make his financial situation public). However, you can be sure it’s something the NBA would have its accountants look into — Mayweather would have to open his books to them to get into the club.

The second issue is Mayweather’s history of controversies — including homophobic comments and pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. The NBA vets its owners looking to avoid public relations blowback, and you can be sure a Mayweather ownership would lead to a lot of hard questions for a league that paints itself as progressive.

Even if he has the $2 billion and the league approves him, Mayweather will need partners in this process. The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that may be double the $2 billion number Mayweather threw out. As for potential expansion teams (probably headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources (think the second half of this decade), and the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jose Alvarado put up a 38-spot for the Pelicans and had the New Orleans fans singing his name.

Jose Alvarado had Pelicans’ fans singing his name after 38-point game

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jose Alvarado brought fans to their feet repeatedly, and they gleefully sang his name.

Alvarado highlighted a career-high 38-point performance with a career-best eight 3-pointers, and the Pelicans won their fourth straight game by beating the Denver Nuggets 121-106 on Sunday.

“I’m happy he had a big night,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “It’s fun. This is why you watch the game. This is why guys go out and compete and work hard, to have moments like this.”

Alvarado, a 6-foot guard whose production has far exceeded expectations since he went undrafted out of Georgia Tech in 2021, came off the bench with the Pelicans trailing by 14 in the first quarter and immediately scored eight points during an 11-1 run.

“Jose, in that moment, he felt his number was called and he he had to make a play – do something. He did that and more,” said Pelicans star forward Zion Williamson, who added 25 points in his typically forceful way around the basket. “The shots he made were huge.”

It wasn’t long before fans began serenading Alvarado with a soccer-crowd-style chant replacing “Ole,” with “Jose.”

“Jose was the guy tonight,” Nuggets forward Bruce Brown said. “He killed us.”

Denver coach Mike Malone said his team “never adjusted” when it became apparent Alvarado was going to be a premier scorer in the game.

“Give him credit,” Malone said, “but we did a poor job, obviously, of guarding him.”

Alvarado hit 12 of 19 shots and missed just three of his 11 3-point attempts. He also scored on explosive driving floaters over significantly taller defenders in the lane.

“I’m not a big scorer,” said Alvarado, whose game-high in college was 29 points.

He couldn’t recall scoring as many as 38 at any level, adding with a smile, “This is the one I’m going to remember.”

When he checked out of the game, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered wildly. Teammates hugged Alvarado as he came to the bench, and some playfully poured water over his head after the game ended.

“This team is special,” Alvarado said. “It’s more than just teammates to us. We’re all brothers and we all want to see each other win. When someone’s hot, they’re going to give you the ball and that’s what they did.”

Because Alvarado lacks the “physical attributes a prototypical NBA player would have,” Williamson said, the reserve guard represents the type of “underdog story” people love.

“He’s making an impact. He’s the X-factor for us,” Williamson said. “So, when people see that, and he’s telling them to stand up and get hyped, it’s infectious energy. You can’t help but want to be a part of that.”

Jonas Valanciunas added 13 points for New Orleans despite being limited to less than 14 minutes by foul trouble. Willy Hernangomez, who played nearly 20 minutes in place of Valanciunas, responded with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Trey Murphy scored 12 points, including a pair of driving dunks and a 3-pointer from 27 feet away. That helped the Pelicans, who were without Brandon Ingram for a fourth straight game, win for the ninth time in 11 games.

Nikola Jokic had 32 points and 16 rebounds for the Nuggets, who’ve lost two straight on the heels of four straight victories. Aaron Gordon scored 19 points and Jamal Murray 18 for Denver.

But Denver committed 19 turnovers, which led to 18 Pelicans points.

“When you play better teams on the road, you can’t beat yourself,” Malone said. “Unfortunately, tonight was another example of us doing that.”

Jokic had 13 points in the first nine minutes. His end-to-end layup as he was fouled and two free throws shortly after gave Denver an early 30-16 lead.

But about the time Jokic checked out, Alvarado checked in and hit two 3s and a driving layup to help the Pelicans close it to 31-27 by the end of the opening quarter.

Jokic had 21 points and Alvarado 19 by halftime, when Denver led 60-59.