Three Things to Know: DeRozan makes history, looks like MVP on 40-point night

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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) DeRozan makes history, looks like MVP on 40-point night

DeMar DeRozan missed four of his first five shots Monday night. It looked early like it might have to be the Nicola Vucevic show if the Bulls were going to knock off a gritty Spurs team.

Then DeRozan flipped the switch, dropping 40 on his former team.

DeRozan is the hottest player in the NBA and has tied Wilt Chamberlain in the record books.

What’s been impressive during this streak is DeRozan is taking what the defense gives him. You can feel his confidence and belief he can get a bucket one-on-one anytime he wants, but when Gregg Popovich finally started throwing double teams at him in the fourth, DeRozan settled into assist mode and started dishing and setting up teammates. The result was the 120-109 win.

It had Marc Stein speaking for a lot of people.

Maybe. Probably. But it’s not going to be that easy.

Here’s how I break down the MVP race right now: There are three clear frontrunners in Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid. Put them in whatever order you want as of today, it could and likely will shift over the final couple months of the season, but those three are out front.

That leaves two spots on the ballot to be selected between the guys on the next tier: DeRozan, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Ja Morant, and if you want to reach a little LeBron James and Devin Booker. In my mind, it’s very tight between the first five on that list. DeRozan is hot right now and could well end up on MVP ballots given the Bulls’ success, but things can shift over the final couple of months of the season. There is no given.

DeRozan has earned his way into the conversation of the top players in the league so far this season — that alone is a huge accomplishment for a player many thought past his prime before this season. DeRozan has long been a good player, but not one on an MVP level. He absolutely is now.

And the Bulls are a threat because of it.

2) Nets, without their new star, snap 11-game losing streak

James Harden is now not playing for Philadelphia. Kevin Durant is still out with a sprained knee, Kyrie Irving can’t play because it was a home game, and Ben Simmons was in the building but not ready to suit up for game action.

Still, the vibe around the Nets felt a little fresher as they snapped an 11-game losing streak knocking off the new-look Kings 109-85.

Another new Net, Seth Curry, had 23 points to lead the way. Steve Nash wisely let Curry and Andre Drummond — another new Net after the trade — work together in a two-man game because they already have established chemistry.

After that, Bruce Brown and LaMarcus Aldridge each had 19 for the Nets.

There are a lot of questions about what these Nets will look like and how it will all fit together once everyone returns to action later in February, but the team on the court Monday night looked like they were having fun. When was the last time you could say that about the Brooklyn Nets?

3) Josh Giddey impresses with triple-double, Thunder upset Knicks in OT

Julius Randle had a triple-double: 30 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists for Knicks/

But Oklahoma City’s Josh Giddey was the best player on the court.

Giddey put up his own triple-double — 28 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds — and it was his pinpoint passing that sparked the Thunder to come back from 11 down, force overtime, then beat the Knicks 127-123. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out with a sprained ankle, Giddey has had the ball in his hands and has shown off his passing, particularly his passing off the dribble.

Tre Mann added 30 points and Darius Bazley scored 23 for OKC.

It’s too early to say how the Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey backcourt will work out for the Thunder, but there is the potential for something special there.

Highlight of the night: Justise Winslow shut down Justin Nwora at the rim

Justin Nwora thought he had a highlight dunk coming. Justise Winslow had other ideas.

Yesterday’s scores:

Washington 103, Detroit 90
Brooklyn 109, Sacramento 85
Oklahoma City 127, New York 123 (OT)
Chicago 120, San Antonio 109
Portland 122, Milwaukee 107
New Orleans 120, Toronto 90
Denver 121, Orlando 111
Utah 135, Houston 101
LA Clippers 119, Golden State 104