Three Things to Know: This is now a Ja Morant stan page

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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) This is now a Ja Morant stan page

Is there anything Ja Morant can’t do?

Early this season, I was saying Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the league. He is that, but he is also so much more than that. In his second season, Morant is an All-NBA level player, a “think about me for your MVP ballot” player. He has made a massive leap.

He is still the most entertaining player in the league. He almost ended Jakob Poeltl with the Dunk of the Year on Monday night. Then, just 2:17 later, he may have topped it with the Buzzer Beater of the Year off a Stephen Adams length-of-the-court pass.

Morant has set a career-high in his previous game with 46 points, then topped it Monday night with 52 against the Spurs — and the Grizzlies got the win.

If you’re not loving Ja Morant this season, you just don’t love the game.

Unless you’re Jakob Poeltl, he gets a pass.

2) Scottie Barnes makes first 11 shots in Raptors win over Nets

This will not be another “just wait until they get healthy” Brooklyn Nets story — we’ll write that when we see it.

This is a “damn, Scottie Barnes could be very special” story.

Barnes has flown a little under the Rookie of the Year radar, but he has probably had the second-best season of any rookie, and with nights like this he could give Evan Mobley a run for his money.

Barnes made every shot he took in the first half — 10-of-10, the first rookie to have a 10+ shot perfect first half since Derrick Rose in 2009 — and ultimately his first 11 shots on his way to 28 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. What is impressive is the versatility of his game, he can hit from three…

Or post up inside.

The Raptors blew out the Nets 133-97.

Barnes became the first rookie since Shaq with 25+ points, 15+ rebounds and 5+ steals in a game. He could be something special for the Raptors.

3) Lakers waive DeAndre Jordan (headed to 76ers) to pick up D.J. Augustin

This move by the Lakers was not about DeAndre Jordan, even though he’s the biggest name in the transaction.

It’s really about a bigger name: Russell Westbrook.

Monday, the Lakers waived Jordan to create a roster spot to bring in veteran point guard D.J. Augustin.

Augustin can shoot the rock from 3, hitting 40.6% this season in Houston, and the Lakers need that.

At age 34 (the Lakers got older with this move) and in his 14th NBA season, Augustin can be a solid floor general but mostly looked like Father Time was winning the race with the Rockets this season (who waived him to create roster space for Dennis Schroder). The Lakers need a player like him coming off the bench behind Westbrook — a shooter and a solid enough playmaker who historically hasn’t turned the ball over a lot (this season in Houston is the exception) — more than they need another traditional big on the roster.

Jordan is going to land on his feet, with Adrian Wojnarowski reporting the 76ers having strong interest. (The reports the 76ers might claim him off waivers is a Lakers’ fantasy, it would cost Philly an extra $2.3 million in luxury tax to do that, so why would they? They will wait a day and sign him as a free agent.)

One thing clear during the two game James Harden honeymoon in Philly is the 76ers need help at the backup five, Paul Millsap is not the answer. Jordan has not looked like the answer at all in Los Angeles, but desperate times call for desperate measure, so…

Highlight of the Night: Markelle Fultz is back on the court

After more than a year out with a torn ACL, Markelle Fultz was back on the court for the Orlando Magic, and that was simply good to see. This is a player who went through a lot in Philadelphia but put in the work out of the spotlight in Orlando to become a solid NBA point guard. Then he tore his ACL

Monday night, he was back.

And he was getting some buckets, he finished with 10 points.

Yesterday’s scores:

Minnesota 127, Cleveland 122
Orlando 119, Indiana 103
Toronto 133, Brooklyn 97
Miami 112, Chicago 99
Memphis 118, San Antonio 105
Milwaukee 130, Charlotte 106
Sacramento 131, Oklahoma City 110

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”

 

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Adam Hunger/Getty Images
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
Al Bello/Getty Images
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.