Three Things to Know: Picking the 2022 All-Star Game reserves (and snubs)

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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) Picking the 2022 All-Star Game reserves (and snubs)

It is one of the great annual fights around the NBA. The league keeps the All-Star Game rosters intentionally small — 12 players, down from the 15 that can dress for a regular NBA game — which means when the coaches select the All-Star Game reserves deserving players get snubbed.

We LOVE to argue about snubs.

The five All-Star game starters from each conference are selected by a vote of the fans — with an assist from the players and media — and we know who those are (in a week they will be drafted into Team LeBron and Team Durant… even if neither of those guys likely are playing in the actual game due to injuries).

Here are my picks from the reserves, which by league rules must be three frontcourt players, two guards, and two wildcards (I made these picks first on a PBT Podcast a couple of weeks ago, but this is adapted for the fans voting in Andrew Wiggins as a starter):

WEST

G: Chris Paul
G: Donovan Mitchell
FC: Rudy Gobert
FC: Karl-Anthony Towns
FC: Draymond Green
WC: Luka Doncic
WC: Devin Booker

Green deserves to make the team — as a media member I voted him a starter — but it will be a surprise if he plays due to his ongoing back/calf issues. I would replace him with Anthony Davis, who has put up All-Star numbers despite missing a lot of time and still disappointing Lakers fans.

SNUBS: Anthony Davis, Dejounte Murray, Brandon Ingram, Deandre Ayton, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Desmond Bane, Paul Geoge (PG13 was a lock for this team before his elbow injury, and that is the only thing keeping him off, he carried the Clippers for stretches this season).

EAST

G: James Harden
G: Zach LaVine
FC: Jayson Tatum
FC: Jimmy Butler
FC: Jarrett Allen
WC: Jrue Holiday
WC: Fred VanVleet

SNUBS: LaMelo Ball, Jaylen Brown, Darius Garland, Khris Middleton, Pascal Siakam, Domantas Sabonis, Bradley Beal.

Tell me where I’m wrong — but if you’re putting LaMelo or Garland on the All-Star team, who are you taking off? Let the arguing begin.

2) The Nets are not good without Durant, fall to Kings for sixth straight loss

It’s time to have a serious talk about just how good — or not very good — the Brooklyn Nets are.

There are legitimate questions: What is this team’s identity? Will we ever see them whole (which would include Kyrie Irving playing home games)? If they get healthy, will the Nets play enough games together to form good habits and an identity? Can they win a title with this isolation-heavy style?

Brooklyn has lost six straight and is 2-7 since Kevin Durant went down with a sprained knee, the latest loss a 112-101 to the Kings in Sacramento.

James Harden and Kyrie Irving combined for 18 points on 7-of-26 shooting — Nic Claxton was the Nets’ best player with 23 and 11. If this were a one-off loss on the road for a team Steve Nash called tired, you could shrug it off. But It is not. Harden is not blowing by guys and being unguardable the same way we remember. Irving is still finding a rhythm. Patty Mills is playing well but his role changes (starter or sixth man) depending on where the game is played.

Kevin Durant’s best MVP argument would be what happened to this team when he went down. (No, he’s not winning the award, he’ll miss too many games to likely even make the top five, but the point of his value still stands.)

Milwaukee should be seen as the favorite in the East, the defending champs have had their issues as well but you see stretches of what they can be (especially if they get Brook Lopez back). Miami has to be in the mix, they are a legit threat to come out of the East. Philadelphia could be if Joel Embiid gets enough help. Chicago still has to prove it can keep doing this come the playoffs, will their defense hold up? Still, the Bulls are an outstanding team. Cleveland keeps on winning.

How many of those teams can the Nets beat in a seven-game series? (I don’t know if they can bet the Bucks or Heat.) Will the Nets even be whole for the playoffs? What is this team’s identity?

There are far more questions than answers in Brooklyn.

3) WNBA gets a major investment — a step in the right direction

WNBA free agency is going on and this kind of sums up the finances of the league:

Courtney Vandersloot, who was critical to the Chicago Sky winning the title last season, got an offer she considered “disrespectful” from the team and is negotiating with a Russian team that will pay her enough to sit out the WNBA season to be rested for its campaign for a Euroleague crown (Holly Rowe of ESPN broke that story). If you don’t think it can happen, Diana Taurasi did exactly that before.

The WNBA needs to grow revenue to get player salaries up to where players don’t have to have two jobs — most WNBA players head to Europe to play for another team after the WNBA season ends, because the pay is better over there. We see a few big names like Candace Parker doing NBA commentary (she is one of the two best studio analysts TNT/Turner has right now) to get that second check, but everyone has two jobs. You can imagine what that year-round play does in terms of wear on a body? Players break down.

Which is why it’s good news the WNBA announced a major investment from a number of people and companies — Nike, Micky and Nick Arison (Heat owners), Joe and Clara Tsai (Nets/Liberty owners), Condoleezza Rice, Baron Davis, Pau Gasol, Swin Cash, Linda Henry (Boston Red Sox, Liverpool FC), and many others — in which those people get a piece of the league.

The money will go to marketing, building a digital infrastructure, “growth of consumer touchpoints,” and basically growing the brand. The WNBA’s popularity is growing, but the league needed this kind of investment to take advantage of that — and ultimately grow the revenue needed to raise player salaries. This is basic “you have to spend money to make money” economics, something the NBA does for itself without thinking but has always held back with the WNBA. It’s always been about not losing too much money, and that has strangled the growth of the league (something the NBA did to itself in its early days, but that’s not a lesson that stuck).

“Our strategy is to deploy this capital to continue to drive the league’s brand as a bold, progressive entertainment and media property that embodies diversity, promotes equity, advocates for social justice, and stands for the power of women,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “Having just completed our historic 25th season, with this access to additional capital, we are setting the WNBA up for a successful future and it represents a sign and signal of the future direction of women’s sports as a whole.”

Let’s hope it is that signal. It is undoubtedly a good step forward.

Highlight of the night: Josh Giddey‘s insane pass sends game to OT

Count me among the skeptics won over. I was not sold when the Thunder drafted Josh Giddey, but the rookie has won me over — check out this pass for a layup that forced overtime (and watch Luka Doncic fall asleep on defense).

Luguentz Dort took over scoring 14 in overtime and the Thunder knocked off the Mavericks 120-114.

Last night’s scores:

Orlando 119, Indiana 118
Washington 106, Philadelphia 103
Memphis 120, New York 108
Houston 115, Cleveland 104
Oklahoma City 120, Dallas 114 (OT)
Utah 108, Denver 104
Sacramento 112, Brooklyn 101
LA Lakers 99, Portland 94

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
John Fisher/Getty Images
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
John Fisher/Getty Images
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”

Watch Bam Adebayo score 38, lift Heat to win over Wizards

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MIAMI — Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 38 points and the Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards 110-107 Friday night.

Caleb Martin added 20 points and Kyle Lowry finished with 13 points while Tyler Herro had 11 points and 10 assists for the Heat, who won their second straight at home against Washington after their 113-105 victory Wednesday.

Adebayo’s two free throws with 1:37 remaining put Miami ahead 105-104 lead then extended the advantage on a short jumper with 38 seconds left.

“It was one of those things where my teammates gave me the ball and I was taking advantage of the mismatch,” Adebayo said. “They were shots (Washington) let me have.”

Adebayo has scored in double digits in all 18 of his appearances this season. He’s had double-doubles in half of those games; Miami is 6-3 in those contests.

“He had a lot on his shoulders, really the last several games with a lot of different lineups and everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You need that stability from your leaders. I think at some point we’ll print up these shirts, `Mr. Reliable,’ and I’ll wear them, probably.”

Lowry also had eight assists, seven rebounds and a four-point play with 3:15 left for a 103-102 lead – the 11th of what would be 13 lead changes on the night.

And it was another close game for the Heat, who are already 4-3 in games decided by three points or less this season.

“That’s what’s happened really for, it seems like several weeks,” Spoelstra said. “It just feels like every single one of these games is going down to the last possession.”

The Wizards cut the deficit on Bradley Beal‘s dunk before Martin made two free throws with 12.5 seconds for the final margin, then hounded Beal defensively on the game’s last possession and forced the Wizards’ All-Star into a miss to end the contest.

“I take pride in trying to make stops,” Martin said. “Those are the types of situations you dream about, game on the line against a guy like Bradley Beal with the ball late shot clock. I just tried to make it as tough as possible.”

Beal and Kyle Kuzma finished with 28 points Kristaps Porzingis added 18 points for the Wizards.

“We did enough throughout the course of the game to put us in position to win,” said Beal, who returned from a one-game absence because of a quadriceps contusion. “We had several leads and ended up giving up those leads late. It was a matter of us getting stops at the defensive ends.”

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler (right knee soreness) missed his fifth straight game because of right knee soreness while shooters Max Strus (right shoulder impingement) and Duncan Robinson (left ankle sprain) also sat out.

The Heat rallied from a 12-point deficit late in the first quarter and cut it to 59-56 at halftime.

“Obviously, we had shots late that were makeable to keep them at bay,” Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.

Another Hornets injury: Hayward out indefinitely with fractured shoulder

Philadelphia 76ers v Charlotte Hornets
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
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The basketball gods have not been kind to the Hornets this season. LaMelo Ball missed the start of the season with a sprained ankle, got back and played just three games before re-injuring it by stepping on a fan’s foot while chasing a loose ball out of bounds. Miles Bridges will not be with the team. Cody Martin had his knee scoped and is out, and Dennis Smith Jr. is out with a sprained ankle — and that’s just the guys out right now.

Now add Gordon Hayward to the list. He is out indefinitely with a fractured shoulder. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

Hayward will be evaluated week-to-week his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Hayward’s wife called out the Hornets for playing her husband when he had a broken bone.

Hayward has a long history of injuries and has battled shoulder issues all season. There had been hope in Charlotte that he could stay healthy long enough to contribute to some wins and build up some potential trade interest (his name came up in Russell Westbrook scenarios, for example). In the 11 games he played, he averaged 16.3 points and shot 38.1% from 3. Of course, a trade was always a longshot because Hayward is owed a fully guaranteed $31.5 million next season, no team was taking that on without sweeteners.

With him injured, a trade is out of the question (other than part of a salary dump).