Three Things to Know: Celtics loss of Williams hurts more than one to Raptors

Minnesota Timberwolves Vs Boston Celtics At TD Garden
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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 that make the NBA great.

1) Celtic loss of Robert Williams hurts more than one to Raptors

Boston was not going to sweat losing to Toronto Monday — you could tell because Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford all stayed home on the second night of a back-to-back (all three are expected to play in a showdown with the Heat Wednesday) — but the Celtics reserves played well and made the Raptors sweat out an overtime win.

However, it’s not the loss to Toronto that has Boston faithful sweating heading into the playoffs — defensive anchor center Robert Williams has a torn meniscus and likely will undergo surgery.

The Celtics will not put a timeline on his return — it depends on the tear and what is done in surgery — but usually, the early timeline is still about 4-6 weeks. Williams is certainly out for the remainder of the regular season. The questions are, when can he come back in the playoffs, and can the Celtics can stay alive long enough for Williams to return and make an impact?

Williams has been an All-Defensive Team level player this season and the Celtics will have a hard time replacing what he brings in the paint.

Put in numbers, the Celtics preferred starting five — Marcus Smart, Tatum, Brown, Al Horford, and Williams — has a defensive rating of 94.8, giving up less than a point per possession this season (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time). Remove Williams from that group and replace him with anyone else, and the defensive rating jumps to 114.1. So much of Boston’s success is based on its defense, which is not the same without Williams in the paint.

As for the game Monday night, Pascal Siakam has quietly put together an All-NBA level season — not sure he makes it, but he has to be considered at the forward spot — and he was the best player on the floor, dropping 40.

The Raptors still needed overtime to get the 115-102 win over the Celtics reserves, who played well. Not the most impressive win but it moves the Raptors into a tie with the Bulls for the No. 5 seed in the East (Chicago continued to stumble and lost to the Knicks on Monday). Chicago and Cleveland are both one game ahead of Cleveland (who also won Monday) in the race for the 5/6/7 seed in the East and avoiding the play-in.

2) It wasn’t just Williams, other injuries all over the league Monday

Robert Williams’ injury was just the first of a rash of them announced — or that just happened — on Monday.

Most impactful could be the Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley. The frontrunner for Rookie of the year for most of the season (and likely still), plus a defensive anchor for the Cavs, sprained his left ankle and did not return to the team’s win Monday. X-rays were negative, according to reports, but there is no word yet on the severity or how long he will be out. With Jarrett Allen already out with a fractured middle finger left hand, the strong defensive backline of the Cavaliers is sidelined, with the play-in just a couple of weeks away.

The Cavaliers’ bad injury news doesn’t stop there. Dean Wade, who was a starting forward with the team until he injured his knee, had surgery on the meniscus in his right knee and is out for the rest of this season, the team announced.

The Detroit Pistons have lost forward Jerami Grant out for the rest of the season, the team announced. Grant has one more year on his contract at just shy of $21 million next season, but he wants an extension (the max would be four years, $112 million) and he wants to be in a place where he is a primary offensive option. That may not be Detroit, teams have interest in him, including Portland.

Oklahoma City point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury, the team announced. Gilgeous-Alexander has sat out three of the team’s last four games due to a sore ankle, and coach Mark Daigneault said they didn’t see a reason to bring him back with so few games left in the season.

The Pacers made it official and said center Myles Turner would be out for the rest of the season. He has been out since Jan. 14 with a foot injury, but he will love playing with Tyrese Haliburton next season.

3) Grizzlies beat Warriors to take firm grip on No. 2 seed in West

It was a longshot Golden State was going to suddenly make a run without Stephen Curry and catch Memphis for the No. 2 seed in the West, but that dream all but officially died on Monday night when the Grizzlies — without Ja Morant — easily handled the Warriors, 123-95.

The Grizzlies are a ridiculous 17-2 with Morant out. The reason is guys like De'Anthony Melton keep stepping up — he threw down a dunk of the year candidate on Kevon Looney.

The Warriors need to look over their shoulders. Golden State is just two games up on surging Dallas for the No. 3 seed in the West, the Warriors need to find some wins to hold off falling further down the standings.

Highlight of the Night: Rockets had a shot to force OT… oh that hurts

It’s understandable if you chose not to watch the Spurs vs. Rockets, but you need to see this ending. Kenyon Martin Jr. had a good look to send this game to overtime and… the basketball gods are cruel sometimes.

With that win, the Spurs are just half-a-game back of the Lakers for the No. 10 seed and final play-in spot in the West, and San Antonio has the tiebreaker with LA.

Yesterday’s scores:

Nuggets 113, Hornets 109
Cavaliers 107, Magic 101
Hawks 132, Pacers 123
Heat 123, Kings 100
Knicks 109, Bulls 104
Raptors 115, Celtics 102
Spurs 123, Rockets 120
Grizzlies 123, Warriors 95
Thunder 134, Trail Blazers 131 (OT)

Doncic’s 30, Mavericks’ 17-0 run lift them past Knicks at MSG

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NEW YORK (AP) — Luka Doncic had a game-high 30 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in 28 points against his former team, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the New York Knicks 121-100 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 17 points for Dallas, which outscored New York 69-41 in the second half for just its second win seven games.

“I think it’s great that everyone’s in the locker room smiling,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody saw the ball go in, we shared the ball, we played the right way. … We’re a team that lives or dies by the 3, and today we made them.”

Forward Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points, and Immanuel Quickly chipped in 23. Leading scorer Jalen Brunson had 13 points playing against Dallas for the first time since he signed with the Knicks on July 12, but New York fell for the sixth time in its past eight games.

“To be honest, not fun,” Brunson said when asked what it was like playing against his former team. “They played great tonight. You got to give them credit. No matter who is on the floor, my approach stays the same. But to see them after the game and shake their hands, that was pretty cool.”

Hardaway exacted revenge against his former team, with whom he played 254 games over parts of four seasons. Hardaway had 17 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers, during a 27-6 run. He credited familiarity in New York – and Dallas’ previous game in Detroit – as keys to his third straight 20-plus point game.

“This road trip, when you have family and friends in both cities, it lightens you and brings some positive vibes and some positive energy,” Hardaway said. “To come here, to Detroit and to New York, both places where I used to play college and professionally, was a great atmosphere. I was comfortable, and my teammates (were) keeping me positive.”

Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had just 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he took over in the third, scoring 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dallas outscored New York 41-15 in the third quarter, turning a tight game into a rout.

“The first half I wasn’t really participating,” Doncic said. “It was a challenge to come out of the locker room with more energy.”

The Knicks shot 55% in the first half, including 63% from the field in the first quarter. Randle had 14 of his 21 first-half points in the first quarter, including seven on a 9-0 run that gave New York an early 14-5 advantage.

The Knicks led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and cut New York’s lead to seven, 59-52, at halftime.

“The start of the game, I thought we were pretty good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We built the 15-point lead, then we sort of lost traction mid-second quarter.”

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

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It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.