Three Things to Know: Harden, Simmons introduced… but when do they play?


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out 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) Harden, Simmons introduced… but when do they play?

James Harden was introduced as a 76er — then Tuesday night he rang the bell before the game.

Ben Simmons made his first appearance anywhere as a Net and said he’s been happy so far in Brooklyn.

Both stars of the blockbuster deadline trade were introduced by their new teams at their respective press conferences and… meh. It gives the media something to write about, but both said exactly what they were expected to say. A little pageantry and performance to make the PR team happy, with zero meaning.

“I just knew for a very long time this was a perfect fit,” Harden said of the 76ers, via the Associated Press. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I think it’s going to be scary,” Simmons said of the Nets. “Having those guys run alongside me, multiple different weapons on the floor and I think at the pace we want to play at, it’s going to be unreal.”


What we should care about: When will they play? That’s when Simmons and Harden have to start answering the fundamental questions about fit, about whether getting what they want was really good for them and their new teams. Most importantly, we start to see whether these teams are truly contenders this season.

The Nets are targeting Feb. 25 in Minnesota for Harden’s first game.

The 76ers are not putting a return date out there for Simmons. He needs to both get his physical conditioning up to par, and deal with the personal challenges and mental health issues that kept him off the court in Philadelphia.

At some point in late February we start to answer the real questions. What we got Tuesday was a show, and not a very exciting one at that.

2) Celtics blow out Harden-less 76ers by 48

It’s tempting to draw a line from the item above — about Harden not playing and the 76ers being shorthanded without him or Seth Curry — to the Celtics blowing the doors off the 76ers on Tuesday night.

Don’t do it. This was just one of those games. Boston has been an elite defensive team of late (allowing less than a point per possession over the last 10 games), but Philly was also just off, shooting 28.8% on the night. On the other end, the Celtics shot an unsustainable 55.6% on 3-pointers. Jaylen Brown was red hot and had 29, Jayson Tatum added 28.

That’s nine straight wins for the Celtics, who (as we noted a couple of days ago) and looking more and more like a playoff threat with this defense. If you’re the 76ers, you flush this game and move on. Every team has a couple of these a season.

The one big concern for Boston: Marcus Smart rolled his ankle and had to be helped off the court, not to return. No details yet, but he could miss some time with this injury (I’d be surprised if he plays again before the All-Star break at the very least).

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like an MVP and drops 50 on Pacers

Centers Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic are dominating any recent MVP discussions.

Don’t leave Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the conversation — and he plays center, too (43% of his minutes this season). There should be a top three in the current MVP conversation (at the least, there are a lot more guys deserving of ballot consideration than there are spots this season).

Tuesday night, Antetokounmpo staked his case dropping 50 on the Pacers in another Bucks win.

The Bucks at 36-23 sit third in a tight top of the Eastern Conference, with a top 10 offense led by Antetokounmpo (the defense is just outside the top 10, they miss Brook Lopez). Those teams in Philadelphia and Brooklyn grabbed all the headlines lately, but the Bucks should still be the favorite to come out of the East. They have quietly cruised through the regular season, acted like champions (which includes being bored with the regular season at points), they are expected to get Lopez back…

And they have Antetokounmpo. He can drop 50 like this any night.

Highlight of the night: Bam Adebayo dunks off his own head

At full speed, it looks like Miami’s Bam Adebayo misses a dunk. The replay showed he just dunked on his own head and the ball bounces out.

Should that count? Not as I read the official rule, which is:

“A legal field goal or free throw attempt shall be scored when a ball from the playing area enters the basket from above and remains in or passes through the net.”

This did not remain in or pass through the net because Adebayo’s head got in the way. There are basket interference rules — the Mavs’ Dwight Powell could not run over and punch the ball out of the net — but Bam is so good at defense he blocked his own shot.

Yesterday’s scores:

Atlanta 124, Cleveland 116
Dallas 107, Miami 99
Boston 135, Philadelphia 87
Milwaukee 126, Indiana 119
Minnesota 126, Charlotte 120
Memphis 121, New Orleans 109
Phoenix 103, LA Clippers 96