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


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) 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 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

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.”