Three Things to Know: Is Ben Simmons ready to accept role with Nets?

76ers star Ben Simmons
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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) Is Ben Simmons ready to accept role with Nets?

Ben Simmons wanted a fresh start, a new home out from under the pressures, expectations, and perceived lack of confidence in him in Philadelphia.

He got it in Brooklyn.

However, the pressure and expectations in New York are even higher — this is a title or bust team with Kevin Durant. And Simmons is not a seamless fit with the Nets.

Unless he is ready to accept a new role.

Simmons is an All-Star player who brings elite defense and passing skills to the table — skills that should help the Nets win a lot of regular season games.

It’s in the playoffs where the gaping hole in his game ends up in the spotlight. It is not simply that Simmons is not a good outside shooter, but he is not willing to shoot — less than 8% of his shot attempts have been from outside 10 feet the last three seasons, and last year in the playoffs it was 2.2%. The deeper Simmons and his team go in the playoffs, the better the opponent and their ability to exploit that weakness. We’ve all seen the results.

There is a way for Simmons to fit — accept more of a Draymond Green style role.

There have been front office people/coaches around the league talking about getting Simmons into that kind of role for years. Nobody could break it down better than Mo Dakhil did at Bleacher Report (read his whole story).

Simmons is no Green. Not as far as the accolades, and not anywhere near the reputation. But the player archetype is similarly unique. The skill sets are both rare. The elite combination of passing and defense can make life easy both on star teammates and crucial role guys night in and night out.

Durant thrived in the Warriors system before coming to the Nets. Irving works well both on the ball and coming off screens.

Specifically, it’s about Simmons accepting a role as a screen setter and short roll man.

Running an Irving-Simmons high pick-and-roll, with Durant on one side, a big in the dunker spot, and either [Patty] Mills or [Seth] Curry on the other side should create sufficient spacing. It’s a similar alignment that made the Warriors’ offense so difficult to defend.

It’s easy to envision how this all comes together. Simmons will be the defender on the opponent’s best perimeter player on one end of the court, where he can rebound and push the ball in transition (his strength).

In the halfcourt, he turns the shot creation over to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. He can set a pick for either of them, when the other team blitzes or doubles Irving, he gets the ball back to Simmons on the short roll at the free throw line, then Simmons has options: Kick the ball to Seth Curry or Patty Mills in the corners, drive the lane and draw the defense, then either finish at the rim or throw the lob to a player coming out of the dunker’s spot. It’s that secondary playmaking from Green that makes the Warriors offense so elite — throw everything at stopping Stephen Curry and the defense pays the price.

Will Simmons accept that role?

He reportedly wants to be a point guard with the ball in his hands in the halfcourt. While Steve Nash may find spots for that, there is no way the Nets should take the ball out of Durant’s hands. Or Irving’s. Both are better creators because of the threat to score.

Simmons has a skill set that can enhance what Durant and Irving bring to the table and allow more of a team game than the “you take a turn then I take a turn” we saw at points from the Harden-era Nets. (To be fair, in the limited minutes that big three were together, the ball movement was impressive.) This can work and work well.

But it all comes down to Simmons embracing this new role.

2) Is it time to take Celtics seriously as a playoff threat?

The Boston Celtics have won eight in a row and 10-of-11. Over their last 10 games, the Celtics’ have a league-best defensive rating of 95.7 (10 per 100 better than the Thunder in second). The trade deadline addition of Derrick White makes Boston even better and more switchable defensively, especially in the clutch at the end of games.

That’s a recipe for winning a lot of playoff games. Is it time to take the Celtics seriously as a playoff threat?

They looked the part in the second half of a win over the shorthanded Hawks early on Sunday. It helped that Jayson Tatum scored 38.

In an Eastern Conference where no one team has taken charge and shown to be the team to beat (unlike the Suns out West), Boston and their combination of defense and elite wing play could make a deep run. Maybe. We’re not that far removed from a Celtics team this season that couldn’t seem to find its identity for new coach Ime Udoka. Now they have found it, and for the past couple of weeks they have looked like a serious postseason threat.

3) Clippers lose Norman Powell to foot fracture

In his Los Angeles debut against the Bucks, you could see how much the Clippers needed a player like Norman Powell in the lineup — a guy who can shoot the three but also put the ball on the floor, get into the lane and get fouled. He scored 28 in that game and has averaged 21 points a night through his first three games.

Now the Clippers have lost Powell, too. He suffered a “fractured medial sesamoid bone in his left foot,” the team announced Sunday, adding the treatment is non-surgical. Still, he will be out most of the regular season, if not longer.

The Clippers have 24 games remaining. Maybe he is back for the postseason.

But for the Clippers it’s all about next season, when Powell and the rest of the role players should fit perfectly around a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Los Angeles is not going to rush him back.

Highlight of the night: LeBron loved the Super Bowl halftime show

The Dr. Dre inspired, Snoop Dogg-filled hip-hop Super Bowl halftime show — complete with Eminem taking a knee — was a hit at the Super Bowl party I was at. And it made me want to race off to Tams Burgers after the game (I have eaten at the Long Beach location more times than I can count).

LeBron James loved it, too.

And there is video proof of how much LeBron loved it.

Yesterday’s scores:

Boston 105, Atlanta 95
Minnesota 129, Indiana 120
Los Angeles Rams 23, Cincinnati Bengals 20

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

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
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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
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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.