Three Things to Know: How did top NBA prospects fare in first weekend of NCAA tournament?

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Portland - Gonzaga vs Memphis
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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) How did top NBA prospects fare in first weekend of NCAA tournament

Any well-prepared NBA front office already has a pretty complete picture of players they are considering drafting by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. It’s not going to move a team’s big board much at all — unless the owner comes in and changes everything because he fell in love with a player.

But there are great matchups that can help solidify — or have a team rethink a little — its evaluation of a player. So how did the biggest names in the draft do opening weekend? Here are just a few notes.

• Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren vs. Memphis’ Jalen Duren was an interesting matchup, the potential No. 1 pick going up against an NBA-level athlete and top-10 pick in Duren. Holmgren had nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks in a game that was a mixed bag for him, but he showed off his motor, resiliancy, and he impacted winning (as his Bulldogs pulled off an impressive comeback with their depth).

• The Gonzaga player who may have helped himself most is Drew Timme, considered a mid-second round pick, he took over the second half against Memphis.

• Auburn’s Jabari Smith had an ugly outing in the second round: 3-of-16 shooting finishing with 10 points and being -20. He did show off his athleticism and shooting in the first round, but still not a great way to end his college career (I know he said he hasn’t decided, but what is he going to say in that moment?). Auburn went home early screwing up a bunch of brackets. Smith will still go top two (if you think this game impacted his standing, go up and re-read the first paragraph/Tweet in this section).

• Yes, Paolo Banchero had a strong game for Duke hitting 3s off the catch and making passes (even if it was against Cal State Fullerton… sorry Marc Stein). However, the Blue Devil that really stood out was late first-round prospect Mark Williams.

• Tennessee may be out (again, screwing up a lot of brackets), but freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler helped himself with 19 points, nine assists and just three turnovers. He’s expected to go in the late teens, after the lottery, and helped his cause with this outing.

• Arizona’s Ben Mathurian — destined to be a lottery pick, a prototype NBA wing build and whose floor is a quality 3&D player — looked like a player who could be well above that floor on the first weekend. He helped keep my pick to win it all alive and into the Sweet 16.

2) Keldon Johnson‘s putback after wild ending keeps Spurs play-in hopes alive

Usually at the end of games, the referees swallow their whistels a little and let the players decide the game. Not in the Warriors vs. Spurs game Sunday.

After a series of soft foul calls late that almost had the game decided at the line, it was a Keldon Johnson putback off a missed Jakob Poeltl free throw proved to be the game-winner.

For the Spurs, this keeps the door open to them catching the Lakers for the final play-in spot (2.5 games back with 11 to play).

For the Warriors, welcome to life without Stephen Curry — the Warriors struggled to generate threes or good looks through the first quarter (falling behind by 11), and at other key points in the game. Draymond Green getting tossed in the third quarter for talking back to the official (again, a little thin skinned it seemed) didn’t help. Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson combined for 52 points, but the Warriors need to play with more urgency from the opening tip.

The Warriors are the No. 3 seed but the Jazz at No. 4 are just two games back. The Warriors need some wins.

3) Toronto’s defense shuts down Philadelphia in playoffs-paced game

Toronto has been playing good defense of late, they are a long and athletic team that can be tough to play against.

They went out against Philly on Sunday and slowed the pace down — 91 possessions (via Cleaning the Glass) and the 76ers scored less than a point per possession in a loss to the Raptors. Philly fans can complain about the last call — James Harden drove the lane but got his elbow up and caught Chris Boucher in the face, earning Harden a Flagrant One offensive foul — but the Sixers struggled much earlier than that. Harden and Joel Embiid combined to go 11-of-32 from the floor.

Another game adding to the concern about what these 76ers will look like in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, Pascal Siakam scored a game-high 26 and was clutch.

Great game from Precious Achiuwa as well. He was asked to be the defensive stopper late and made some plays, plus scored 21.

Highlight of the Night: The Indiana Pacers go Showtime on the break

The game wasn’t much — the Pacers are better than their record indicates and the Trail Blazers are actively trying to lose — but it came with a spectacular highlight on the break from Indiana.

However, the most talked about thing from this game. After it was over, Jusuf Nurkic (who did not play) walked over and threw the phone of a fan.

Why is not clear, although you can bet the NBA will be investigating (and likely assessing a fine).

Yesterday’s scores:

Pacers 129, Trail Blazers 98
Grizzlies 122, Rockets 98
Pelicans 117, Hawks 112
Magic 90, Thunder 85
Suns 127, Kings 124
Jazz 108, Knicks 93
Celtics 124, Nuggets 104
Raptors 93, 76ers 88
Spurs 110, Warriors 108

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers


CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”


Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.