Three Things to Know: Suns make statement in clinching playoff berth vs. Heat


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out 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) Suns make statement in clinching playoff berth vs. Heat

It’s just one regular season game. Go ahead and dismiss this win if you want. The Heat were without Jimmy Butler, the Suns were without Chris Paul. If these two conference-leading teams fight their way through to meet in the Finals, both teams will look and play very differently than they did Wednesday night.

However, the Suns were not dismissing this rematch of conference leaders. Rarely do teams admit they wanted to make a regular season statement, but the Suns did.

“We just wanted to prove a point,” Devin Booker said postgame. “They’re playing the best basketball over here in the East and we’re doing the same in the West so it was a heavyweight matchup.”

Miami had come into Phoenix and stomped the Suns by 23 in mid-January. That game felt like a “take us seriously” statement for the Heat.

Wednesday night, it was Phoenix’s turn:

The Suns are the best team in basketball this season and the championship road goes through Phoenix.

The Suns, on the second night of a back-to-back and the third game in four days (also the final game of a road trip), made their statement and beat the Heat 111-90 behind 23 from Devin Booker, who returned after missing four games due to COVID protocols.

With the win, the Suns become the first team to officially clinch a playoff spot. When it’s all said and done, they will have the top seed in all the playoffs.

The Suns were not racking up highlights in this game, they were their usual, solid, deep selves. Booker combined with Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges to score 63 points. Part of what makes the Suns dangerous is that depth combines with ball movement — they trust anyone on the floor to beat you. JaVale McGee had 11 points off the bench. Landry Shamet got buckets. Other nights of late its been Cameron Johnson (who was out with a right quad contusion in this one).

The Suns are that good. There are questions that can be asked of them in the playoffs — do they have another gear? How will they deal with a team of multiple elite wings — but the Suns are the team to beat this season. We’ll see if they can live up to that billing and take the final step in the playoffs.

2) Young Rockets run past old Lakers, hand L.A. another embarrassing loss

It’s not effort, despite the cries of some fans on Twitter. It’s not coaching.

The Lakers are just bad. They are a poorly constructed team with weaknesses even rookies know how to attack — Jalen Green said the quiet part out loud and admitted postgame the overtime strategy was to isolate Carmelo Anthony and go at him. The Rockets started overtime on a 13-0 run.

On a night LeBron James had a 23/242/12 triple-double and efficient Russell Westbrook showed up — 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting against his old team — it was not enough. The Lakers lost 139-130 to the team with the worst record in the West, letting the 27th-ranked Rockets offense put up a 119 offensive rating for the game (almost 12 points higher than Houston’s season average).

It wasn’t all on ‘Melo — even with LeBron kicking to him for a potential game-winner in regulation and ‘Melo missing it. Green said they targeted rookie Austin Reaves as well. More importantly, the Lakers were terrible in transition defense all night and the young Rockets just ran right past them.

Not to beat a dead horse, but the Lakers chose a roster path that steered away from the “surround LeBron and Anthony Davis with quality defenders and shooters” model — which won them a title in the bubble — and traded that depth to get a third star in Westbrook who was never a natural fit next to LeBron. When Davis is out — as he is right now with a sprained foot — the Lakers lack anyone who can consistently and effectively protect the rim, or a big who can switch a pick-and-roll. They don’t have stoppers on the perimeter.

The young legs of rookie Green took advantage and put up a career-high 32 points (he’s been finding a groove of late).

Do the Lakers even make the playoffs? predicts the Lakers to finish 34-48 and be the No. 10 seed in the West. That means Los Angeles would need to beat both New Orleans and the loser of the Timberwolves vs. Clippers game — the Clippers swept the season series from the Lakers — just to make the playoffs.

Do that and their reward is the Suns (see item No. 1 above).

The Lakers are just bad. Laker fans are ready to jump to the offseason and watch this roster get rebuilt.

3) Simmons is going to sit on the Brooklyn bench in Philly tonight and it will get ugly

Tonight’s spectacle is brought to you by the quest for more money.

The 76ers fined Simmons more than $19 million while he sat out this season, then traded him to the Nets in a blockbuster deal. In the coming weeks, Simmons and his agent will file a formal grievance against the Sixers and try to get that money back (the issue goes to arbitration).

Simmons’ argument is he wasn’t mentally ready to play for the 76ers, and his mental health should be treated like a sprained knee or other physical injury — he should get paid for rehab. 76ers president Daryl Morey said he believed Simmons had mental health issues preventing him from playing. The 76ers will argue Simmons sat out as part of a trade demand, not simply mental health concerns.

This brings us to tonight. Simmons will show it wasn’t about not playing in Philly by sitting on Brooklyn’s bench during a game against the 76ers in Philadelphia and getting booed and heckled. Simmons is not playing Thursday due to back issues, but he will be there in the building. You can watch it all unfold on TNT.

Does Simmons sitting on the bench prove anything about his mental health? Not really. But he’s going to sit there anyway. It will be dramatic.

The person I really feel sorry for? Whoever the arbitration judge is in this case.

Highlight of the Night: Terrence Ross throws down 360 slam

Terrence Ross still has some serious hops.

Watch that one more time and enjoy how Tony Snell sizes up the situation and makes a business decision to get out of the way.

Yesterday’s scores:

Boston 115, Charlotte 101
Chicago 114, Detroit 108
Phoenix 111, Miami 90
Milwaukee 124, Atlanta 115
Houston 139, LA Lakers 130 (OT)
Minnesota 132, Oklahoma City 102
Orlando 108, New Orleans 102
New York 107, Dallas 77
Toronto 119, San Antonio 104
Utah 123, Portland 85
Denver 106, Sacramento 100
LA Clippers 115, Washington 109

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.