Three Things to Know: Let’s just watch some Ja Morant highlights and marvel

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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) Let’s just watch some Ja Morant highlights and marvel

Just watch and enjoy.

This isn’t about Ja Morant leading the Grizzlies to a 118-110 road win over San Antonio. This isn’t about whether he will be named an All-Star Starter tonight or not. This is simply about watching and enjoying the most entertaining player in the game today — because he was in rare form, even for him, on Wednesday night.

This was insane.

As was this.

Just watch all 41 points he had on the night, including the dunks and ridiculous step-back 3s that make him nearly impossible to guard.

2) The Suns are both the best and hottest team, winners of eight straight

It’s January, so ultimately this doesn’t matter, but it’s worth stating:

If the playoffs started today, the Suns would run away with the title and hide.

Wednesday night they went into Utah and took care of business against a shorthanded Utah team (no Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert). It was the Devin Booker show as he put up 43 points with 12 rebounds.

The Suns are 38-9 with the fifth-ranked offense and second-ranked defense in the NBA (using the NBA.com numbers, filter out garbage time and they are third in offense. Over the last 10 games the Suns are 9-1, fourth in offense and fifth in defense. They are 16-3 in clutch games (within five points in the final five minutes). Phoenix is balanced, versatile, deep and they play smart.

They are the best team in the NBA right now and they should be title favorites.

3) Charlotte scores 158 in regulation in beating the Pacers

The Hornets got 39 from Kelly Oubre, and a 29/10/13 triple-double from LaMelo Ball, and they ran away from the Pacers in the second half to beat them 158-126. Charlotte had a 147.7 offensive rating for the game.

Yes, 158 is a new high for any team this season, and they did it in regulation in a game with garbage time.

Highlight of the Night: Even Mobley puts Giannis Antetokounmpo in a poster

Evan Mobley is fearless, and he is not letting a former MVP and DPOY stop him from getting to the rim.

Cleveland with the very impressive 115-99 win over a Milwaukee team that had all of its big three. That’s a statement game.

Last night’s scores:

Cleveland 115, Milwaukee 99
Charlotte 158, Indiana 126
LA Clippers 111, Orlando 102
Atlanta 121, Sacramento 104
Miami 110, New York 96
Denver 124, Brooklyn 118
Chicago 111, Toronto 105
Memphis 118, San Antonio 110
Phoenix 105, Utah 97
Dallas 132, Portland 112

NBA investigating if referee Eric Lewis had burner Twitter account defending himself

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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About the last place an NBA referee should want to spend time is Twitter — pictures of puppies and ice cream can draw dark and cruel reactions in that social media space. One can only imagine fans’ reactions to the people making calls against their team (the legitimacy of those calls is moot).

Yet the NBA is investigating if referee Eric Lewis had a Twitter burner account where he defended himself, something first reported by Marc Stein. The account — now deleted — had the username “Blair Cuttliff” with the handle @CuttliffBlair.

The NBA has a rule that referees cannot comment on officiating publicly (outside of specific, authorized moments).

There was some commentary on Twitter that Lewis’ brother, Mark, ran this account, not Eric. That will be part of the league’s investigation.

Lewis has been an NBA official for 19 seasons and is highly rated by the league, having worked an NBA Finals game along with numerous playoff games. The last game he officiated was Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Lakers and Nuggets on May 16.

This is not the first time the league investigated a Twitter burner account. In 2018, then 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo stepped down after Twitter burner accounts — linked to him and his wife — criticized 76ers players and more. Kevin Durant has admitted to having Twitter burner accounts in the past (which is not a violation for players).

Three things to watch in Game 7 between Miami Heat, Boston Celtics

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After three games, the Boston Celtics looked done — not only did they get blown out in Game 3, they dropped the rope. They quit. This looked over. But Boston found their pride and won Game 4, then won Game 5 at home, and finally came the insane Derrick White Game and a Game 6 win to become only the third team ever to go down 0-3 and force a Game 7.

Miami was in control of this series, but some cold shooting nights — particularly from their stars — and a lot of turnovers opened the door for the Celtics. Miami and its vaunted culture, find itself in the exact place it was a year ago, having to win a Game 7 against these Celtics to advance to the Finals — if Jimmy Butler hit an open 3-pointer late a year ago the Heat would have advanced. Can they take that one more step now?

Game 7. The sweetest two words in sports, and we get one Monday night from the TD Garden.

Here are a couple of things worth watching, plus some betting advice from Vaughn Dalzell of NBC Sports Edge.

1) Butler/Adebayo or Tatum/Brown? Which stars show up?

The last time we saw Jayson Tatum in a Game 7 was just two weeks ago, when he dropped a record 51 points on the 76ers in that deciding game. A season ago in a Game 7 against these same Heat, Tatum scored 26 points and hit 4-of-7 from 3, while Jaylen Brown added 24 points.

This item really isn’t about them. While the Celtics’ stars have to have good games, it’s reasonable to expect them to.

This is all about Jimmy Butler, and to a lesser extent Bam Adebayo. For the first 43 minutes of Game 6 these two shot a combined 7-of-35 and were not good enough. Butler had 14 points and was a non-factor in Game 5. For the last three games he has looked tired, he’s lacked some of his explosion, and he has struggled with the Celtics length as they have packed the paint and taken away his easy shots inside for buckets.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said after the Game 6 loss. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

Butler turned things around in the final minutes of Game 6 — sparking a 15-4 run — mainly by attacking and drawing fouls, although he hit a 3-pointer in there as well. That Butler needs to show up Monday night in Boston, they need his points and they need his defense (he will draw Brown or Tatum as his assignment for much of the game).

If Miami is going to win, Butler has to be the best player on the floor. It’s that simple. If he struggles again, the rest will not matter.

2) Are the Celtics hitting their 3-pointers

Among the many ways the Heat have to feel they let a great opportunity slip away in Game 6 was this: Boston shot 7-of-35 from 3. The Celtics’ offense this season has been much more dependent on the 3-pointer, and the Heat did not take advantage of a bad 3-point shooting night from the Celtics.

Boston’s shooters — particularly role players such as Grant Williams and Derrick White — tend to be more comfortable 3-point shooters at home, and if this team gets rolling and hits 15 or more 3s and is shooting 40% or better on those, it’s lights out. Especially if they are breakMiami, even on a good Butler day, will have trouble keeping up.

It’s simplistic to say it’s a make-or-miss league, but when it comes to the Celtics shooting from beyond the arc it applies

3) Vaughn Dalzell’s betting recommendation for Game 7

In the last 16 Game 7’s when the total moved at least five points lower than the previous Game 6 total, the Under is on a 14-2 winning streak (87.5%), which is in play here. The total for Game 6 opened at 213.5 and closed at 209.5. Game 7 opened at 206.5 and is down to 203.5, so the trend is in effect with a 10-point or 6.0 point-move depending on how you look at it.

(Check out more from Dalzell and the team at NBC Sports Edge.)

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time

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While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.