Three Things to Know: Nets need Durant-fueled comeback on Knicks to keep No. 8 seed

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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) Nets need Durant-fueled comeback on Knicks to hold on to No. 8 seed

In Atlanta, Trae Young was doing his thing, dropping 30 on the Wizards and the Hawks won going away.

That meant to hang on to the No. 8 seed in the East, the Brooklyn Nets needed to win as well — the Hawks and Nets entered the night tied for eighth, but Brooklyn has the tiebreaker.

The Nets trailed by as much as 21 to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, and with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter the Knicks were up by 18. That’s when Durant started to take over: He played the entire second half scoring 23 points, including eight straight points during one key stretch in the fourth, and he finished the night with 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

The Nets got the win, 110-98. Kevin Durant has not lost a game to the Knicks in nine years.

Kyrie Irving added 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and also played the entire second half of this game, a sign the Nets knew how important this win was.

The four teams in the East play-in are set; here is where they stand as of Thursday morning:

7. Cavaliers (43-37)
8. Nets (42-38, 1 game back)
9. Atlanta (42-38, 1 game back)
10. Charlotte (40-39 2.5 games back)

The big game is Friday night when Cleveland comes to Brooklyn — if the Nets win, they will move into the No. 7 seed (and can hold it by beating a tanking Pacers team in the season’s final game). If the Cavaliers win that game, they keep the No. 7 seed and open the door for the Hawks to move past the Nets into the No. 8 slot (Atlanta closes the season at Miami then at Houston).

In the play-in: The No. 7 seed hosts the No. 8 seed for one game, winner enters the playoffs as the No. 7 seed. The No. 9 and No. 10 seeds play and the loser is done for the season, the winner stays alive. Finally, the loser of the 7/8 game plays the winner of the 9/10 game for the right to be the No. 8 seed in the playoffs, the loser is on vacation.

2) Jaylen Brown is on a tear: 10 straight 25+ point games

While Jayson Tatum has been drawing all the “Should he be in the MVP race? Where does he fit in All-NBA?” attention, Jaylen Brown has been tearing it up.

Brown had a game-high 25 points on Wednesday as the Celtics cruised past the Bulls, 117-94.

That is 10 straight games with at least 25 points, going back to before St. Patrick’s Day (the first game of the streak was March 16 at Golden State). Brown is only the fourth Celtics player to reach this mark.

Boston vs. Chicago is one possible first-round playoff matchup (out of many, seedings in the East are not close to set), but it might be the ideal one for the Celtics.

3) Adam Silver says the NBA’s star players still are out too much

It’s one of — if not THE — biggest problem in getting fans interested in the NBA regular season:

The league’s stars sit out a lot of games — this year more due to injuries and COVID, but load management is a thing (teams tend to use that term less and name a bump or bruise a player needs to rest). Two players near the front of the MVP race — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid — will play fewer than 70 games. The same is true for Luka Doncic, while LeBron James and Ja Morant will not get to 60 games.

Injuries are a big part of that, but the trend of teams making sure their star players are well rested is still there — because sports science and math show them players perform better with more rest. It helps lengthen their careers and has them closer to their peak for the playoffs. But it’s not ideal for the NBA from a marketing standpoint, rarely do we see two elite teams play a regular season game at full strength. Especially after Christmas (which is when more casual fans start to pay attention).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league and the players’ union need to discuss the issue. He spoke after the Board of Governors (read: owners) meeting this week. From the Associated Press:

“I also have said in the past, if we have too many games, that’s something we should look at as well. It’s something, as we sit down and we’re looking at new media deals and looking at a new collective bargaining agreement, we will be studying,” Silver said.

“There wasn’t any banging of the table or anything like that. From my discussions with players, they recognize it’s an issue, too. The style of the game has changed in terms of the impact on their bodies. I think we’ve got to constantly assess and look at a marketplace going forward and say, what’s the best way to present our product and over how long a season?”

There are too many regular season games, but cutting back on them becomes a financial issue. There are no easy answers, but the league needs to look into it, what they are doing now isn’t working.

Highlight of the Night: Luka Doncic is a wizard

How is anyone supposed to stop this? Luka Doncic drives his way into the lane, spins, gets himself in position for a contested but quality shot in the paint, then throws the no-look, backward over-the-head pass to a wide-open Dorian Finney-Smith for the 3.

That man is a wizard.

Yesterday’s scores:

Mavericks 131, Pistons 113
Nets 110, Knicks 98
Hawks 118, Wizards 103
Celtics 117, Bulls 94
Jazz 137, Thunder 101
Clippers 113, Suns 109

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.

NBA plans for 2023-24 include in-season tournament (if approved)

2022 NBA Finals - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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The NBA is planning for the inaugural version of its in-season tournament – should it become reality – to begin early next season, according to a memo sent to teams.

If the tournament is approved, 80 regular-season games for each team would be announced in August, with two more games set to be scheduled depending on which eight teams make the tournament’s knockout stage. Those games would be added in-season to the schedule.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for the past several years for the in-season event to be added. Talks have gone on about it since at least 2016, and in 2019 the league even created a proposal in which teams would play eight divisional games in the group stage, followed by quarterfinals for the top eight clubs and then semifinals and finals at a neutral site in December.

That evidently remains the footprint. Teams, in Wednesday’s memo, were told to plan for tournament quarterfinal games in early December 2023 – again, the caveat being that the event has yet to be approved.

“It’s something that I remain excited about,” Silver said in September. “I think it continues to be an opportunity within the current footprint of our season to create some more meaningful games, games of consequence, during an otherwise long regular season. … I think fans might really ultimately enjoy another competition during the season, some sort of cup competition. Certainly not rising to the level of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, yet something else significant to play for.”

Silver has often compared the notion of an in-season tournament to what is commonly seen in European soccer.

“It’s all about fan interest,” Denver coach Michael Malone said Wednesday night. “I know they do this a lot in soccer around the world, these in-season tournaments. I don’t know how it’s going to work, the details of it. But if it’s good for the game and the league supports it, obviously all 30 teams and all 30 head coaches will be on board as well. ”

The scheduling process for next season starts with teams telling the league what dates their home arena is available. The NBA wants that list by Dec. 9; the process continues for the next several months.

Wednesday’s memo included clarity on several key dates for the 2023-24 season. Training camps will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 3 for most teams, except those participating in overseas preseason games; they can open camp on Saturday, Sept. 30.

The season begins Oct. 24 and ends April 14, 2024. The play-in tournament will be April 16-19, 2024, and that means that season’s playoffs would begin on April 20.