Three Things to Know: Doncic shreds Jazz pick-and-roll defense. A playoff preview?

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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) Luka Doncic shreds Jazz pick-and-roll defense. Is that a playoff preview?

There is no good way to defend Luka Doncic in the pick-and-roll. Go under, and he steps back and drains threes. Switch and he blows by big men for layups. And the real problem starts if a team does a good job to slows Doncic — he is more dangerous as a passer out of the pick-and-roll than as a scorer.

A look at the Synergy stats — as Andy Larsen shows at the Salt Lake Tribune — says the best strategy is to have a defender fight over the pick while a big is in his path so there is no straight line drive to the rim, then have everyone else on high alert to cut off passes and rotate.

Here’s the problem for Utah — and one that could be a real issue come the postseason as right now this is the 4/5 playoff matchup in the West — the Jazz don’t really have a guy good at fighting over picks, and they can’t switch Rudy Gobert on him every play (it’s a good crunch-time strategy, though). Royce O’Neal is Utah’s best on-ball defender, but he’s not the small and agile type that fights over picks all that well.

Doncic carved up the Jazz for 35 points and grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds Monday night, leading the Mavericks to a 111-103 victory over the Jazz. The win puts the Mavericks just half-a-game back of the Jazz for the four seed and home court in the first round (Dallas has won five in a row).

Things got a little heated between Doncic and Gobert when Doncic drew a foul with a flop.

Gobert and his elite defense have caused the Mavericks problems in the past because he can stay back and protect the rim (or switch onto Doncic) and let the other defenders stay home on shooters. That didn’t work Monday as Dorian Finney-Smith scored 21, and recently acquired Spencer Dinwiddie added 23. Dallas shot 17-of-46 (37%) from 3, and when those fall they are tough to stop.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 points for the Jazz, and Donovan Mitchell had 17 but needed 19 shots to get there.

The Jazz and Mavericks are not locked into the 4/5 first-round playoff game — the Nuggets could climb into the conversation, the slumping Warriors could fall back into it — but it is the likely outcome. Utah has a lot riding on this postseason and making a run, and Luka Doncic could throw a wrench in that. He and the Mavs are a tough matchup for the Jazz.

2) Victor Oladipo returns and the Heat look just a little bit better

Miami just got deeper, adding a 6’4″ combo guard who can impact the game on both ends of the floor. The Heat are going to be a real problem in the East.

Victor Oladipo made his return and scored 11 points in just 15 minutes, his first game action since a second surgery last April to repair a right quadriceps tendon issue. It was a long road back, but he made it in time to be part of the Heat’s playoff run.

Oladipo may make more of an impact on the defensive end, at least at first, and his first big play for the Heat on the night was drawing a charge. By the end of the game he had the Miami crowd roaring when he threw down a dunk.

Maimi beat Houston the night after Tyler Herro scored 21 of his 31 points in the second quarter. Jimmy Butler added 21.

Should the Heat be the favorite in an East with no single dominant team? Maybe. We know for sure that they got a little better on Monday night, which should worry the other teams in the conference.

3) Gregg Popovich ties Don Nelson for most regular-season wins by a coach

Gregg Popovich wouldn’t address it. Which isn’t a surprise. Him ignoring a personal achievement is about the most Popovich thing he can do.

But when the Spurs beat the shorthanded Lakers 117-110 on Monday, it was Popovichs’ 1,335th career regular-season win, tying him with Don Nelson for the most in NBA history. Popovich could pass Nelson Wednesday night when the Spurs host the Raptors.

Players said Popovich didn’t address it with the team, saying at shootaround he was more focused on getting the team to be more physical. Spurs All-Star Dejounte Murray had 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson each added 18 points.

This was a shorthanded Lakers team, without LeBron James due to a sore knee (he could miss multiple games) and Anthony Davis (still out for weeks). Talen Horton-Taylor led the Lakers with 18 points.

Highlight of the Night: Harden tied, passed Reggie Miller for made 3s

The suddenly healthy and motivated James Harden continued his hot streak on Monday night, and with this first quarter stepback 3, tied Reggie Miller for third on the all-time 3-pointers made list.

Of course, he passed Miller later. Harden is one of the great bucket getters the game has ever seen.

Yesterday’s scores:

Detroit 113, Atlanta 110 (OT)
Philadelphia 121, Chicago 106
Miami 123, Houston 106
Minnesota 124, Portland 81
Dallas 111, Utah 103
San Antonio 117, LA LAkers 110
Denver 131, Golden State 124
New York 131, Sacramento 115

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.