Three Things to Know: Durant drops 53, Nets becoming playoff team no top seed wants

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
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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) Durant drops 53, Nets becoming playoff team no top seed wants

The Brooklyn Nets’ path through the playoffs will be brutal. Even with a solid end to the season, they are almost certainly locked into the play-in (3.5 games back of the No. 6 seed Cavaliers and avoiding the play-in, with 14 games to play). That means needing to win one of two extra games just to get into the playoffs as the No. 7 or No. 8 seed — the reward for that is starting on the road against one of the Heat, 76ers, or Bucks. Brooklyn would start every series on the road and face a brutal path (maybe red hot Boston in the second round). It would be a gauntlet.

Then you watch the Nets over the weekend and think, “if any team….”

They are absolutely the team the top seeds want to avoid in the first round.

Friday night, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving sent a message to James Harden — and, by extension, new teammate Ben Simmons — in thrashing the 76ers. It was a game where Brooklyn and two-thirds of its stars reminded everyone why they were the clear title favorites preseason.

Then on Sunday — with Irving watching courtside, maskless, but unable to play — Durant took over and dropped 53 on the cross-town rival Knicks, including draining the tiebreaking 3-pointer in the final minute that put the Nets up for good.

Durant also had nine assists and six rebounds. That was the 60th time in Durant’s NBA career he scored 40+ points in a game.

There are still so many questions about these Nets — too many to consider them among the top title contenders right now. When will Ben Simmons play and how will he fit in? Will Kyrie Irving be able to play home games? Is their defense anywhere near good enough in matchups with elite teams? Do the Nets have the roster and scheme versatility to win a playoff series against the best teams, let alone multiple of them?

It’s asking a lot.

But if any team could…

2) Celtics retire Kevin Garnett’s No. 5 jersey

Kevin Garnett’s resume from his six seasons in Celtics Green is impressive: Defensive Player of the Year, All-NBA First Team, five-time All-Star, four-time All-Defensive Team member.

However, the most important thing is Boston does not come close to winning the 2008 NBA title without him.

Garnett deserved to have his No. 5 jersey retired, and that’s what happened on Sunday in an emotional ceremony.

The ceremony’s highlight was the big three from that 2008 title team — Ray Allen, Paul Peirce and Garnett — moving past the bitterness of how it all ended and hugging it out.

Garnett made sure the Celtics fans knew what he thought of them.

It was a moving and fitting ceremony and tribute to a Celtics great.

3) Video of LeBron James watching, not trying, on defense becomes a thing

There wasn’t much positive for Los Angeles in a 29-point blowout loss to the Suns Sunday, but the highlight the Lakers and LeBron James would like you to take away from the game is him getting his 10,000th career assist.

That is NOT the video everyone is talking about.

Instead, it’s this one of LeBron James not putting in any effort — not even getting back into the screen on a trip down the court — on multiple possessions in a row to open this game.

That’s in the first quarter and LeBron is already disengaged. To be fair, LeBron did challenge a shot at the rim in that first possession, and he got down to the offensive end. But still, we all see it.

LeBron had a couple of monster 50 point games last week. But watch the Lakers regularly and you see LeBron has largely checked out on defense in recent weeks. He’s got as high a hoops IQ as anyone in the game, and with that he knows what this Lakers team is and is not. They are not a match for a contender like the Suns (even without Chris Paul on Sunday). That knowledge seems to impact LeBron on the court at times.

LeBron isn’t alone. Plenty of Los Angeles fans have disengaged from this team as well, turning their focus to the Dodgers now that the Rams season has ended. Lakers Nation is talking more about offseason changes than play-in possibilities.

Highlight of the Night: Watch Trae Young drop 47 on Pacers

The Hawks have not lived up to expectations this season — but Trae Young has. The fourth-year guard has had his best and most efficient season, getting better in almost every aspect of his game. He should be an All-NBA guard this season (which team can be debated, but he makes the cut).

The latest evidence? Watch him drop 47 on the Pacers Sunday in a Hawks win

Yesterday’s scores:

Brooklyn 110, New York 107
LA Clippers 106, Detroit 102
Dallas 95, Boston 92
Philadelphia 116, Orlando 114 (OT)
Atlanta 131, Indiana 128
New Orleans 130, Houston 105
Memphis 125, Oklahoma City 118
Phoenix 140, LA Lakers 111

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

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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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.