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 great.
1) Kyrie Irving can play home games. It doesn’t make Nets title favorites.
Kyrie Irving got his wish — he will soon be able to play home games in Brooklyn.
Not because Irving did the mature thing and got vaccinated, but because New York Mayor Eric Adams will officially announce Thursday he’s exempting athletes and performers from the city’s vaccine mandate for private workers (but if you work in government and other jobs covered by the mandate, you still have to be vaccinated). Adams had echoed players like Kevin Durant, who had said the exemption for visiting players/performers made it unfair: unvaccinated players from other teams could play at the Barclays Center, but not Irving. Adams is changing that.
Now Irving can take the court for the Nets’ final nine games, plus playoff games (except any in Toronto, where he cannot travel because he is unvaccinated).
Are the Nets back to being title favorites?
Without question the Nets just got much better and more dangerous with the Mayor’s move. Brooklyn just got a top-15 player in the world and its second-best player back for every game, not just half of them. They become a bigger playoff threat.
It’s not enough to make them favorites in the East, and Wednesday’s loss to the shorthanded Grizzlies is a reminder of why.
Irving scored 43 points on 15-of-27 shooting, with six 3-pointers and eight assists in Memphis.
Kevin Durant added 35 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists. Brooklyn scored 120 points and had an efficient 119.6 offensive rating for the game. With those two stars on the floor, Brooklyn will be an offensive force.
Brooklyn still lost to the Grizzlies by a dozen points. A Grizzlies team without Ja Morant.
And therein lies the biggest problem for the Nets — they are not a good defensive team. They are bottom 10 defense in the league this season, a 114 defensive rating via Cleaning the Glass. When Durant and Irving are on the floor together this season, the defense is slightly worse (-0.6 worse in net rating; if you want to argue that’s basically the even as the season rating, fine, it’s still bottom 10).
Memphis attacked and got the shots it wanted, with seven players in double figures scoring and three with 20+ (Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, and De'Anthony Melton). Without Ben Simmons on the court — and he is not currently doing any on-court work — there are multiple places to attack the Nets defense.
Now project ahead to the postseason (likely without Simmons, but if he returns, fitting him in will not be simple). The Nets are the No 8 seed and coming out of the play-in tournament. As of today, they would have to travel to Toronto for the first play-in game (where Irving cannot go), but the Raptors could pass the slumping Cavaliers and send Cleveland to the play-in. If the Nets lose that first game they will host a win-or-book-your-flight-to-Cancun game against the winner of Hornets Hawks.
The Nets will win one of those two play-in games, probably the first one.
Their reward for winning that first game would be the 76ers, or — much worse for the Nets — Celtics or Bucks in the first round. Without Simmons, Brooklyn doesn’t have the defender to stop Jayson Tatum, let alone Tatum and Brown and a Celtics team with the best offense in the league since the All-Star break (Durant is a good defender, but how much can be asked of him carrying a massive offensive load, too). The Nets don’t have the defenders to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
We saw the Nets beat the 76ers recently (Philly has its own defensive issues, and James Harden would need to show out big in this series for the 76ers to win). Miami’s halfcourt offense can bog down and they need a lot out of Jimmy Butler (like they did in the bubble). Brooklyn against Miami or Philadelphia would be a great series, but it’s a toss-up. Miami can defend. Philly has Joel Embiid. Both could beat the Nets.
Botton line: Even with Irving the Nets have not shown themselves to be good enough to be considered title favorites.
But the Nets did get better on Wednesday.
2) What does Butler/Spoelstra/Haslem incident on Heat bench mean?
That bubbled over to an altercation on the bench between the firey and opinionated Jimmy Butler and coach Erik Spoelstra, with Udonis Haslem in Spo’s corner.
After the game, as expected, the Heat played it off as just run-of-the-mill stuff. Spoelstra joked it was an argument about postgame dinner reservations. Bam Adebayo said this is what Heat practices look like. Other players said it was frustration from losing and nothing to worry about.
Lowry, "We got great leadership, it won't affect us at all."
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 24, 2022
Does this bench blowup mean anything?
Probably not. Lowry and his teammates are not wrong; this is a veteran group capable of putting it behind them and moving on, focusing on the playoffs. This loss should have frustrated Miami. Still, the Heat are the No. 1 seed in the East and will enter the playoffs that way.
However, the last three Heat games against quality opponents — Warriors, 76ers, and Timberwolves — are all losses. The Heat are a title contender, but they haven’t played like the Bucks or Celtics in recent weeks. Miami’s halfcourt offense can get stagnant. There are issues to work out before the playoffs.
3) Karl-Anthony Towns, Jae Crowder get into it, but Suns just do what they do
Minnesota has been a dangerous team of late, Karl-Anthony Towns has been playing at an All-NBA level, and he was feeling it as the Timberwolves jumped out in the first half on the Suns.
Towns threw down a poster dunk on Jae Crowder and let him know about it, and the veteran forward was not going to take it.
KAT and Crowder getting chippy after the poster 🍿 pic.twitter.com/rrRpGeIx6F
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 24, 2022
Minnesota led for the vast majority of three quarters, then in the fourth the Suns did what they always do: executed. Devin Booker was 3-of-3 shooting for 11 points, Landry Shamet came off the bench and hit a couple of 3-pointers and had 10, and Deandre Ayton scored 11 of his 35 on the night in the fourth. Towns and the Timberwolves could not stop Ayton inside as he added 14 rebounds to the mix on the night.
Ayton outscored Towns by 20 and his team got the win. Without their All-NBA point guard Chris Paul. Consider this your 3,547th reminder the Suns are the best team in the NBA.
Highlight of the Night: Damian Jones with game-winning tip for Kings
That left Damian Jones as the starting center, and he was up to the task — he had the game-winning tip-in.
DAMIAN JONES WITH THE GO AHEAD SCORE 🙌 pic.twitter.com/jjq8oR1Z1M
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) March 24, 2022
It was not exactly the revenge game Tyrese Haliburton hoped for, he shot 4-for-14 for 13 points but did have 15 assists. Davion Mitchell had another strong game for the Kings, 25 points and seven assists, that’s a couple in a row for the rookie.
Knicks 121, Hornets 106
Pistons 122, Hawks 101
Kings 110, Pacers 109
Celtics 125, Jazz 97
Warriors 118, Heat 104
Grizzlies 132, Nets 120
Suns 125, Timberwolves 116
Thunder 118, Magic 102
Mavericks 110, Rockets 91
76ers 126, Lakers 121
Spurs 133, Trail Blazers 96