Three Things to Know: Can we get seven games of Bucks vs. Heat?

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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) Dear basketball gods: Can we get seven games of Bucks vs. Heat?

For most of the second half Wednesday, the Miami Heat made the case for why they are serious title contenders.

However, during a 21-6 run to close out the game, the Bucks showed why they have a ring and exposed a hole in the Heat plan.

In a game that felt as much like a playoff game as a regular season game can, the Milwaukee Bucks came from behind in the final minutes and got the win over Miami 120-119 on Jrue Holiday‘s coast-to-coast game-winning bucket.

Miami still sits atop the East standings after the loss and most of this game showed why they both belong there and have a shot at a ring. They have versatile, switchable defenders who are disruptive and their rotations are sharp. In Bam Adebayo — playing the best basketball of his career in recent weeks — they have maybe the best one-man defender against Giannis Antetokounmpo there is in the league. Miami got Antetokounmpo in foul trouble, limiting him in the first half. Finally, the Heat have shooting everywhere — Tyler Herro scored 30 off the bench — plus guys like Jimmy Butler, who know how to make tough shots. This is a team built for playoff basketball, and this was a playoff-like game against the Bucks.

The Heat led by 14 points, 113-99, midway through the fourth quarter.

Miami’s Achilles heel is they can struggle to create good looks in the halfcourt down the stretch of a game, especially against a good defense like Milwaukee’s. Add in Kyle Lowry still being away from the Heat — family reasons — and things get worse (Gabe Vincent is a gamer, but these final seconds were too much for him). Milwaukee was able to overwhelm = Butler all game (2-of-14 shooting) and the rest of the Heat down the stretch, leading to bad shots late in the clock, and the Heat scoring just six points over the final 7:13 of the game.

Then, when it mattered most with 9.9 seconds left, the Bucks denied an inbounds play and forced a dangerous pass from Vincent and a jump ball between Antetokounmpo and Butler. (Yes, Heat fans, there could have been a foul call on that play, a couple of whistles didn’t go your way late, welcome to playoff basketball. Life ain’t fair. The best teams find a way to execute and win despite that.)

The Bucks themselves have struggled with late-game execution this season but got the ugly baskets they needed in this game. They were tough shot makers late, with Antetokounmpo getting to the line and Khris Middleton hitting a key 3-pointer.

For much of the game, Miami looked like the deep, versatile contender they are and can walk away saying if Butler shoots like he usually does, or Lowry plays, or they get a call late, this game ends differently.

But this is what playoff basketball looks like — it’s not pretty, it’s about resilience and grit as much as talent, all things Miami has in its bag but the Bucks had more of on Wednesday.

The Heat vs. Bucks has been an entertaining but short playoff series the past couple of years, this season it feels like it would go seven. And if it is the Eastern Conference Finals again this season, nobody is complaining.

2) Kevin Durant set to make return Thursday

The Heat go from the defending champs to Kevin Durant’s return game. Lucky them.

Durant was not listed on the Nets injury report for Thursday, but if you want more evidence there is this.

For all the focus on Kyrie Irving‘s vaccination status (he will not play Thursday because it’s in Brooklyn) and the Ben Simmons trade, this is Durant’s team. He is their best player, and they go as he goes. Durant played at an MVP level and averaged 29.3 points before Bruce Brown got knocked backward into KD’s knee. The Nets went 5-16 with him out.

It’s good to see him back on the court.

It’s the first step needed in the Nets starting to approach their incredibly high ceiling this postseason.

3) James Harden feels the brotherly love in Philadelphia

James Harden played his first game in Philadelphia and he felt the love from the fans.

Harden finished with 26-9-9, Joel Embiid had 27 points, Tyrese Maxey is locked in as the third option on this team and scored 25. The 76ers were sloppy and choppy for the first half of this game, got yelled at by Doc Rivers at halftime (we assume), came out playing focused basketball in the second half and pulled away for the 123-108 win over the Knicks.

The honeymoon is over and the real tests for the 76ers come now; their next four games are the Cavaliers, at the Heat, Bulls, and Nets. Miami, in particular, is a good measuring stick game on Saturday.

Highlight of the Night: Donovan Mitchell goes Showtime with no-look pass

Donovan Mitchell isn’t just a scorer. Magic couldn’t have done it better himself.

Yesterday’s scores:

Hornets 119, Cavaliers 98
Indiana 122, Orlando 114
Philadelphia 123, New York 108
Utah 132, Houston 127 (OT)
Milwaukee 120, Miami 119
New Orleans 125, Sacramento 95

Oklahoma City 119, Denver 107
Phoenix 120, Portland 90

Three things to know: The Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves
David Berding/Getty Images
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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) The Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again

About that slow start in the Bay Area…

Over their last 11 games, the Golden State Warriors are 8-3 with a top-10 in the league offense and defense and a +4.5 net rating (fourth best in the league over that stretch). The latest win was Sunday’s destruction of the stumbling Timberwolves, 137-114, a game that saw the Warriors up by more than 20 in the first quarter and never truly threatened again.

“I think we’re starting to put it together and if we can keep building at this rate, you know, we’ll be poised for a run pretty soon here,” Draymond Green said.

All season long the Warriors have had Stephen Curry playing at an MVP level, carrying the team. So what has changed over the past few weeks that has the Warriors rolling? Three things.

First, Steve Kerr started staggering the rotation and separating Green’s and Curry’s minutes some, something he tried not to do much in the past. It’s one way Kerr dealt with the fact the Warriors’ bench has struggled (getting Donte DiVincenzo healthy helped as well). Curry now stays in for the entire first quarter, while Green gets his first rest about the five-minute mark, then Curry sits to start the second and Green returns to play with more of a bench unit (both stars finish the quarter together on the court).

“I’ve said for years Draymond is kind of the heartbeat of our team,” Kerr said. “He’s the guy who kind of makes everything go and he’s the motivator, he’s the bully, he protects his teammates on the floor, talks trash. But this guy is just so good at basketball.”

Second, the other way the Warriors dealt with the bench issue was Kerr scaled back the “two timelines” experiment. The idea was that the roles Otto Porter and Gary Payton Jr. filled last season could be filled by the young trio of James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga. That plan failed spectacularly. Wiseman is now down in the G-League, while Moody is out of the rotation. Kuminga is getting his shot — he played well against the Timberwolves — but has been up and down this season.

“I think we’ve settled into some roles, guys are comfortable now with when they’re gonna play who they’re gonna play with. So I think that’s been helpful,” Kerr said.

Third, Klay Thompson found his legs. He kept saying he needed more time, and whether it was a spark lit by Charles Barkley or Thompson getting off of social media and out of his own head, it’s worked. In his last 10 games Thompson is averaging 20.8 points a game and shooting 46.2% from 3. He is not defending like his old self (and may never again), but he’s back to being a No.2 scoring option on an elite team.

Green would throw in one more reason, the Warriors’ defense is back.

“Most importantly our defense has picked up which allows us to push the pace more,” Green said. “Like it’s one thing to push off makes, which we want to do, but when you’re pushing off a miss and getting a rebound then going, that’s tough to guard because it creates a lot of cross-matching.”

There was no magic bullet for Kerr to fire, it took a number of things to turn for the Warriors to get back to being themselves. But they have now, and the rest of the West should be worried.

2) Doncic says Antetokounmpo is “the best player in the NBA right now”

The Dallas Mavericks had no answers. Not that teams really ever do.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was a force of nature Sunday and dropped 30 with 11 boards on the Mavericks, leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

After the game, Luka Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the game. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo returned the compliment.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

Antetokounmpo and Doncic are two of the guys in the early MVP conversation, along with Curry, Jayson Tatum and a few others. It turns out, those first two also have a mutual admiration society going.

3) Clippers Ivica Zubac put up a monster 31 and 29 line against Pacers

No Kawhi Leonard, no Paul George, but the Clippers picked up another win on Sunday knocking off the Pacers 114-100.

Thank Ivica Zubac, who had a monster 31-point, 20-rebound game.

After the game, Zubac was made he fouled out before he could get his 30th rebound and have a 30-30 game.

Quietly, Zubac is having a fantastic defensive season for the Clippers, but like the rest of the team his offense has been up and down as they try to adjust to ever-changing lineups. That Clipper defense locked down the Pacers in the second half, plus Indy was just off shooting 9-of-42 from 3.

Zubac found his offense, the Pacers had no answer for him, and the Clippers have a win and improved to 12-9 because of it.

Curry drains 7 3-pointers, Nets start homestand with win over Blazers

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NEW YORK — Kevin Durant scored 31 points, Seth Curry added a season-high 29 off the bench and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-94 on Sunday.

Curry was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers and had his highest point total with the Nets and the most by a Brooklyn reserve this season.

“I’ve always felt like if I get good shots I’m going to make them at a high clip,” Curry said. “Our offense was flowing pretty well. Guys found me open early on to start the game and I felt pretty good, aggressive.”

Kyrie Irving added 22 points for the Nets. Ben Simmons took just three shots but had 12 rebounds and eight assists.

“Ben did a great job of getting downhill,” Curry said. “He’s a great passer (and) he knows how to find me out there on the floor.”

Jerami Grant scored 29 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Anfernee Simons added 15 points and Justice Winslow had 14.

The Nets have won four of their last six games, while the Trail Blazers, who are playing without Damian Lillard, have dropped five of six.

“Tough little stretch that we’re in right now,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It is what it is. Every team goes through it.”

Brooklyn made 52.6% of its shots from the field overall, and 42.9% from 3-point range, in the second matchup between the teams in 10 days.

“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Durant said. “It’s about baskets.”

With the Nets leading by four entering the fourth, Curry scored Brooklyn’s first eight points of the quarter. Royce O'Neale‘s free throw gave the Nets a 93-87 lead and following a Portland turnover, Curry made a 3 that extended the advantage to nine.

Nurkic sandwiched a hook shot and free throw around two free throws by Irving to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 98-90. However, after a timeout, Durant hit a 3 to push the lead to 101-90.

Brooklyn led 58-57 at halftime, and 84-80 after the third quarter.

T.J. Warren targets Dec. 2 for return to court for Brooklyn Nets

2022-2023 Brooklyn Nets Media Day
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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T.J. Warren was a breakout star in the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers.

Warren has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

The Nets signed him this season hoping he could get healthy and provide some depth off the bench at the four. We’re about to find out if that can happen on Dec. 2, with Warren targeting his return then Toronto, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets have not confirmed this timeline. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has recently talked up Warren’s workouts and hinted that a return is getting close.

A healthy Warren could be a big boost for a Nets team looking for more of a spark off the bench.

 

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.