Three Things to Know: Durant is still very good at basketball, for Nets that’s not enough

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LOS ANGELES — 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) Kevin Durant is still very good at basketball, for Nets that’s not enough to win

Kevin Durant has a reputation for impressive returns from injury. The man tore his Achilles, missed a year, yet in the first 12 games of his return he averaged 31.3 points a game. He did the same thing last season, missing a couple of months then coming back scoring more than 26 points a game and shooting better than 50% from 3 in his first dozen games.

Friday night, his first game back after missing 21 games with a sprained knee, Durant dropped 31 on the fifth-best defense in the league. There was a little rust, Durant was 2-of-7 from 3, but not much. Durant walked back in the door ready to lead this Nets team.

For these shorthanded Nets, that’s not enough.

Not against the East-leading Heat, who have the balance to both defend the Nets and exploit Brooklyn’s defense. The Nets focused on taking away Heat 3-pointers — Miami took six fewer than its average — but that gave Bam Adebayo space to operate inside and he finished with a team-high 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting, plus pulling down 11 boards.

Tyler Herro added 27 for the Heat, who were on the second night of a back-to-back following a heartbreaking loss to the Bucks.

Maybe the big turning point was when Erik Spoelstra leaned into using a zone defense — Brooklyn could not consistently solve it. The Heat don’t zone a lot, but they played it well and the Nets did not have an answer.

This was no playoff preview — no Jimmy Butler for Miami, no Kyrie Irving or Ben Simmons for the Nets. These teams could meet in the first round — Miami as the No. 1 or 2 seed, Brooklyn as No. 7 or 8 — and they both will look very different.

Part of that is Durant will have found his groove by then. The question is will he have enough help — the Nets’ potential has been discussed by everyone all season, but can they ever get near it?

2) Give the Clippers their due after they sweep season series from Lakers

“They’re a better team.”

That was LeBron James‘ frank and accurate assessment of the Clippers after they throttled LeBron and his Lakers 132-111, led by Reggie Jackson going off for 36. With that win, the Clippers swept the season series with the Lakers 4-0.

It was another dispiriting loss for a broken Lakers team. However, we’re not going to write yet another story about what’s wrong with the Lakers and whether to blame Pelinka/Vogel/LeBron/Westbrook/’Melo/Buss/Kareem/West/Mikan or whoever. Instead, we’ll let Flea sum up the mood of Lakers fans.

We need to spend a minute praising the Los Angeles team that respects the game — the Clippers.

No Kawhi Leonard or Paul George or Norman Powell. Yet, when Clippers are faced with adversity — like when the Lakers closed out the first half with a 14-0 run — the team digs down and responds. The Clippers answered the Lakers by opening the third on a 19-2 run that grew into a 32-6 sprint, and by the end the Clippers had dropped a 40-spot on the Lakers that quarter. That was the ballgame.

This was Reggie Jackson’s game as he scored 36 and was clowning Russell Westbrook as part of their long-standing feud and rivalry. The point guard has become the Clippers’ clutch player this season and the guy they lean on to spark them, he did that in the third.

What did Tyronn Lue say at halftime that fired the team for that third quarter run?

“T-Lue just kind of comes in calm, smiles and he’s like, ‘Hey, we’re in a great place,'” Jackson said. “‘If we stop turning the ball over, we’re in a great place.'”

Lue will not win Coach of the Year with his eighth-seeded team in a season deep with impressive candidates for the award, but he deserves mention. Through all the absences and setbacks the team has faced, he has the Clippers focused and prepared every night, has them executing, has them buying into roles, and the Clippers are respecting the game and playing hard. That’s no small thing. The Clippers could have folded this season at more than a few points; instead, they have won five in a row, are three games over .500 and 5.5 games up on that team down the hall.

It’s a real contrast with what we see from the more storied and star-studded team in L.A.

3) Luka Doncic drops 41, hunts Curry to rub it in during Mavs win

Luka Doncic loves to go right at the other team’s star late in games. A few nights ago he intentionally hunted LeBron in the fourth when the Mavs beat the Lakers.

Thursday it was Stephen Curry‘s turn.

Doncic hunted Curry like a Cavs/Warriors Finals game from last decade. Doncic finished with 41 points and was one assist shy of a triple-double in the Mavericks 122-113 win.

The Warriors miss the secondary playmaking and defense of Draymond Green badly — they are not threatening the Suns and contending for a ring without him at 100%. Dallas focused on not letting Curry beat them — he didn’t even have a shot from the field in the fourth — and nobody else stepped up. Green was not there to set them up.

Dallas is going to be a problem in the playoffs the way Doncic is playing

Highlight of the Night: Ja Morant is just ridiculous

I’ve been saying it all season and I will double down now: Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the NBA right now.

Yesterday’s scores:

Atlanta 130, Chicago 124
Boston 120, Memphis 107
Miami 113, Brooklyn 107
Detroit 108, Toronto 106
Dallas 122, Golden State113
Sacramento 115, San Antonio 112
LA Clippers 132, LA Lakers 111

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

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NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.