Three Things to Know: Five players to watch on buyout market

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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) Five players to watch on buyout market

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and if you want to look back at the dayor to break down the Ben Simmons for James Harden trade — we’ve got you covered.

For NBA, it’s now buyout season.

Players in the final year of their contracts that were traded as an accounting move to save a franchise money — or a player a team hung on to so they could trade his contract, but then couldn’t find a partner — now get bought out (taking a few dollars less) to become free agents and sign somewhere they are wanted.

Here are five likely buyout candidates to watch:

1) Goran Dragic. Traded to the Spurs and soon to be bought out, it was considered a foregone conclusion the veteran point would sign with Dallas to play next to fellow Slovenian Luka Doncic. Then Dallas GM Nico Harrison blew that idea up.

Now what? There are a whole lot of playoff teams that would be interested in Dragic as a backup point guard, and he’s going to listen to offers. The Bucks, Bulls, Clippers and others will be in the mix. What team will offer him the best role?

2) Robin Lopez. Nobody is sure why the Magic signed Lopez last offseason when they wanted to take a long look at Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba. He has played solidly — like he always has — when called upon in Orlando. The Bucks are looking for depth at center with Lopez’s brother still out (although they did just trade for Serge Ibaka), and Golden State and Chicago could also be interested.

3) Gary Harris. The veteran guard has played solidly for the Magic — 11.7 points a game, shooting 38.8% from 3 — but is not part of the long-term future with the Magic and is expected by other teams to be bought out of his $20.4 million contract (unless Orlando wants to keep him for hopeful sign-and-trade fodder for the offseason). Many of the same teams interested in Dragic will have interest in Harris, plus a return to Denver is an interesting fit.

4) Tristan Thompson. He has been glued to the bench in Sacramento, who has all the centers, then was traded to Indiana as salary ballast in the Domantas Sabonis trade. Other teams expect the Pacers to buy out Thompson, and the veteran big man could get calls from all the same teams that are calling about Lopez.

5) Enes Freedom. He was already waived by the Rockets (who got him from Boston in the Daniel Theis trade, all part of the Celtics getting below the tax line) and is on the market. He has well established playoff limitations as a defender, but he hits the boards hard — particularly the offensive glass — and can make an opposing big man have to work hard on the defensive end.

2) Luka Doncic drops career-high 51 on Clippers

This is what the Clippers do, they may lose more than they win with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George out, but they are a gritty team that makes you work for that win.

Luka Doncic has a history of tearing up the Clippers — he has scored at least 42 points on them seven times now, mostly in playoff games — and he had to take over to get the Mavericks this win. Dragic scored 28 in the first quarter and a career-high 51 for the game.

Doncic finished 17-of-26 from the field and 7-of-14 from 3, and Dallas won 112-105.

3) Phoenix makes a statement, thrashes Bucks in Finals rematch

Last Sunday night, I went to The Crypt (still not used to that) and watched the Bucks beat the Clippers. Watching that game, it jumped out how much the Bucks looked like a championship-level team with an active defense, plenty of offensive weapons, a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo that impacts both ends of the floor, and their versatility.

Thursday night, the Suns mopped the floor with the Bucks, 131-107.

That doesn’t change the outcome of last year’s Finals, but it’s a statement from Phoenix that it is ready to take the next step.

“They’re the defending champs – we still hurt,” Suns coach Monty Williams said, via the Associated Press. “But from a confidence standpoint, for sure, it was a big game for us. I can admit it now.”

Chris Paul controlled the flow of the game with 17 points and 19 assists.

Deandre Ayton scored 27 points and Mikal Bridges added 18.

Highlight of the night: Here’s why Jalen Green is in the dunk contest

The rest of Jalen Green’s game is still rounding out, but the man can throw it down.

Last night’s scores:

Memphis 132, Detroit 107
Washington 113, Brooklyn 112
Miami 112, New Orleans 97
Toronto 139, Houston 120
Dallas 112, LA Clippers 105
Phoenix 137, Milwaukee
New York 116, Golden State 114

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.