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

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) 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?

Fivethirtyeight.com 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

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.