Three Things to Know: Embiid? Jokic? Antetokounmpo? NBA MVP race closest in years

0 Comments

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) Embiid? Jokic? Antetokounmpo? MVP race closest in years

I have no idea who will get my NBA MVP vote in a month. The only thing I know for sure is that I will lose sleep figuring it out.

In a normal year, this race would feel decided by now and sports talk debate shows would have to argue even more about what Aaron Rodgers should have done. The NBA MVP race would be all but over. Joel Embiid would have the trophy locked up by now. There would be no argument when voters looked at his statistical case combined with the eye test of watching him dominate opponents.

It isn’t a normal year.

Nikola Jokic should have that exact same lock on the award right now with his play and statistics — he won the MVP award last season and has been better this season (especially on defense). Instead, Jokic is step-for-step with Embiid.

The same is true of Giannis Antetokounmpo, even if he gets overlooked a little by the race handicappers. More than the others, watching him control the flow of a game on both ends in person is almost necessary to appreciate his greatness, it’s not simply highlights.

For the first time in five years — since the Westbrook/Harden/Leonard year of 2017 — the NBA MVP race is legitimately up for a three-way debate with just over a month left in the season. As John Hollinger noted yesterday at The Athletic (and others have as well), the trio of Embiid, Jokic and Antetokounmpo are all having historic NBA seasons, the kind that would have them clearing out space in the trophy case for their new hardware. This season, it’s too close to call between the three of them.

Here is just a quick and dirty outline of a few statistics to compare the trio (this uses PER, true shooting percentage, and the estimated +/- comes from Dunks and Threes, all stats with flaws but they help paint a picture). It’s almost a toss-up.

The dominant seasons from that trio has left guys with impressive seasons — DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic — battling it out for the last two spots on the five-player ballot. (Chris Paul would have been in that conversation, but his thumb fracture will have him missing too much time.) I have yet to do a deep enough dive to decide who I will vote in those final slots, and with a month to go in the season that vote could change as well. It is up in the air.

If I had to vote today, the top of my ballot would be:

1. Nikola Jokic
2. Joel Embiid
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

I put a lot of weight on the “valuable” part of MVP — how much did this player mean to his team’s success. Again this year this is splitting hairs. First, while Philadelphia is the No. 2 seed out East and Denver is “just” the No. 6 seed out West, in reality, 1.5 games separate the 76ers, Bucks, and Nuggets in the standings. Again, almost a toss up.

With Jamal Murray Michael Porter Jr. out basically the entire season in Denver, Jokic has had to do more, carry more — Denver outscored opponents by 9.3 per 100 when he is on the court and gets outscored by 7.3 when he sits. Jokic means everything to Denver.

Embiid was without Ben Simmons all season, but he did have Tyrese Maxey step up (his growth at the point this season let Daryl Morey wait out James Harden). Antetokounmpo has been forced to play more center and vary his role with Brook Lopez out, but he still has Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Both the 76ers and the Bucks get outscored when Embiid and Antetokounmpo are off the court, and it’s not fair to punish them because their teams are deeper, but in this tight race it’s a matter of degrees and Jokic has had to do more.

I don’t know who I am going to vote for in a month. This race will evolve and my thinking (and vote) will change along with it. The only thing that is certain is myself and a lot of other voters are literally going to lose sleep trying to figure out who is on top between Jokic, Embiid, and Antetokounmpo. There is no runaway winner this year.

2) Kyrie Irving drops 50 on Hornets in “master class”

I’m in the camp willing to write Brooklyn out of title contention this season. The Nets have dropped 6-of-8 and are just 1-2 since Kevin Durant returned from injury. Their defense is not good enough and Jayson Tatum poked big holes in it over the weekend. Maybe Ben Simmons helps plug some of those holes, but he is weeks away and we don’t know how he is going to perform. And the Nets are just 6-11 with Kyrie Irving in uniform this season.

Then Kyrie Irving just takes over a game, drops 50 as he dominates the Hornets to get the Nets a win, and you’re reminded of the ridiculous potential of this team.

“That was master class,” Kevin Durant said, via the Associated Press.

Irving hit nine 3-pointers, shot 15-of-19 overall. and lifted the Nets to a win that snapped their four-game losing streak. Irving also was 11-of-13 from the free throw line.

It was a dominant performance. Does anyone believe the Nets can have that kind of performance four times in a seven game series? I’m not there yet. But with Irving and Durant, this team still has the talent to overwhelm anyone on any given night.

3) Darius Garland drops 41 with 13 dimes to get Cavaliers win

Darius Garland is exceptional and speaking of awards he has to get mentioned in the Most Improved Player discussion.

He made his case for the award on Tuesday night with a career-high 41 points, plus he had 13 assists and was clutch with a pair of free throws with :14 seconds left, leading Cleveland past Indiana for a much needed win.

Evan Mobley (speaking of awards, he is still your Rookie of the Year) scored 22 points, including a putback to tie the game in the final minutes, plus had 12 rebounds on the night.

Cleveland, which had lost 6-of-7, has now won a couple in a row and may have righted the ship.

Highlight of the Night: Jackie Moon inspires Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson continues to search for his groove since returning to action — he scored 20 points against the Clippers Tuesday, but needed 23 shots to get there. It’s not a surprise after more than two years off, but Thompson is not his vintage self yet.

Thompson got some inspiration from Will Ferrell Jackie Moon, the legendary Flint Tropics owner/coach/starting forward/pregame announcer who helped the ABA team win the MegaBowl on Tuesday.

Jackie Moon from the logo — Love Me Sexy that man can shoot.

Yesterday’s scores:

Brooklyn 132, Charlotte 121
Cleveland 127, Indiana 124
Phoenix 102, Orlando 99
Memphis 132, New Orleans 111
Milwaukee 142, Oklahoma City 115
Golden State 112, LA Clippers 97

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

0 Comments

It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. 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 had praise for Doncic as well.

“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.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.

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

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves
David Berding/Getty Images
0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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
0 Comments

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.