Three things to know: Westbrook’s 0-of-11 night highlights Lakers’ shooting woes

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LOS ANGELES — 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 must-watch.

1) Westbrook goes 0-of-11 highlighting Lakers continued shooting woes

There were reasons for optimism in Lakers nation out of Thursday’s game against the Clippers: The defense was improved and more aggressive, which led to 22 Clippers turnovers and Lakers transition buckets (22.3% of the Lakers possessions started in transition, an impressive number). On a team culture front, the Lakers showed some real fight, coming from double-digits down twice to make the Clippers earn their win.

“I’m super duper proud of our guys, they competed,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “I think we’ve seen improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, especially on the defensive end…

“We’re trending in the right direction.”

All of that gets short-circuited because the Lakers can’t shoot.

That’s why the Lakers fell to 0-2 on the season after a 103-97 loss to the Clippers (although, to be fair, the Lakers’ losses were to the two teams projected by many to be in the Western Conference Finals).

Russell Westbrook was the poster child for the Lakers’ shooting futility, going 0-of-11 on the night, including 0-of-6 from 3. Whenever Westbrook lined up to shoot a jumper, the Lakers’ home crowd inside the crypto.com Arena audibly groaned. It was ugly. LeBron James‘ only suggestion to Westbrook was to “flush it down the toilet” and move on and he’s right, Westbrook is not going to shoot this poorly every night.

It wasn’t just Westbrook, the Lakers shot 35.1% overall and were 9-of-45 (20%) from 3. For all the good things the Lakers started to do this game (it was a better outing than opening night), their shooting cut their momentum off at the knees. Look at the Lakers’ shot chart for the night.

 

There were bright spots for Lakers fans. Lonnie Walker IV was aggressive and led the Lakers with 26 points (9-of-21 shooting). Anthony Davis had another strong game with 25 points and eight rebounds, and he and LeBron ran some high-low actions that led to good looks. (Davis hurt his back in the third quarter after a hard fall to the ground, he came out of the game and was stretching it out the rest of the night, but said postgame, “I’ll be alright.”) The Lakers’ defense was much better and held the Clippers to under a point per possession.

LeBron had 20 points and a turn-back-the-clock dunk.

When the Lakers competed on defense, got stops then got out in transition, they made runs on the Clippers — they even took the lead early in the fourth. But the Clippers were deeper, bigger, and executed for longer stretches.

Ham is right, the Lakers looked better Thursday night than they did a couple of nights earlier. They showed some grit.

But until they start knocking down shots, it’s all moot.

2) Kawhi Leonard, John Wall make returns to court

Kawhi Leonard is the Clippers’ 11th man.

At least he was on Thursday, when he didn’t enter the game until 6:25 was left in the second quarter. It felt like a long wait to return after 493 days since he last played in an NBA game.

“I mean, it was long but I waited 82 games last year, so 15 minutes, you know, won’t be that long,” Leonard said. “But I did this before, this is how I started my career so, you know, that’s how I approached it mentally.”

Leonard came into the game and quickly drained two midrange jumpers over defenders, forcing the Lakers to call timeout. The long wait at the start of the game was intentional, it made it easier for him to stay warm for his 20 minutes the rest of the way, Leonard said. While there was rust, Leonard got to his spots and finished with 14 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with seven rebounds.

It was part of a balanced Clippers attack — five players had 14 or 15 points, and nobody had more than that.

John Wall, playing his first game in over a season, was one of the people with 15. He came in pushing the pace, hit a couple of midrange jumpers himself, and was a real connector for the Clippers in transition.

Wall made smart decisions with the ball, finding Leonard for a 3 on one play, being patient and finding a cutting Ivica Zubac on another.

All of it was part of the Clippers’ depth that wore the Lakers down. It wasn’t the Clippers’ best shooting night (9-of-29 from 3 as a team, 31%), but they were deeper and just bigger across the board than the Lakers and that led to good defense, plus that depth of scoring options became too much for the Lakers to stop when it mattered.

It’s a marathon of a season and the Clippers are easing Leonard and Wall back into action. The depth of the roster, which the Lakers couldn’t match, is what lets the Clippers do that and still win games. Like the one Thursday night.

3) James Harden is putting up numbers, but 0-2 76ers have some work to do

The good news for Philadelphia? James Harden is in shape and putting up numbers: 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds against one of the best defensive teams in the league in the Bucks. That on the heels of a 35/8/7 season opener.

The bad news: The 76ers are 0-2 as Harden dominates the ball, at the same time he and Joel Embiid are still trying to find a rhythm together.

The 76ers came close to picking up a win Thursday against a shorthanded Bucks team (Khris Middleton remains out and missed). A P.J. Tucker free throw put the Sixers up 88-86 with 32.7 seconds left, but Wesley Matthews answered with a 3-pointer that proved the game-winner for Milwaukee.

A Brook Lopez free throw gave us the 90-88 final score.

Philly did a respectable job on Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he still had 21 points and 13 rebounds, coming close to a triple-double. Lopez added 17 for Milwaukee.

The 76ers offense right now sees too much Harden pounding the ball, waiting for opportunities to attack — it looks more like the heliocentric Rockets offenses that Harden led than what Doc Rivers wants. A stat flashed on the broadcast by TNT summed it up: Harden dribbled the ball 525 times in the opener against the Celtics, the rest of the team combined was at 411.

Milwaukee’s defensive strategy was to let Embiid take any shot he wanted that wasn’t at the rim, make him more of a jump shooter, and he shot 5-of-18 on 2-pointers. Harden has to find a way to get Embiid the rock more in places he can thrive.

The Sixers again struggled when they went to their bench — they scored just 13 points, and DeAnthony Melton had nine of those. When the bench is on the court, the 76ers have had scoring lulls. Another concern, the 76ers have been outscored by 18 points in the third quarters through two games.

It was always going to be a bit of a process (so to speak) to get Embiid, Harden, and Tyrese Maxey all at their peak (both Embiid and Maxey had 15 points against the Bucks). Facing Boston and Milwaukee to start the season is a tough way to break in that young relationship.

But that’s the bar — the Bucks and Celtics are the Eastern Conference favorites. If the 76ers want to make it to the NBA Finals, those are the teams they need to be able to beat come May.

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

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

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.

Watch Pacers rookie Nembhard drop 31, outduel Curry, lead Pacers past Warriors

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SAN FRANCSICO — Rookie Andrew Nembhard outshined the Splash Brothers on their home court.

Nembhard scored a season-high 31 points and added 13 assists and eight rebounds to lead the undermanned Indiana Pacers to a 112-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night.

A second-round draft pick, Nembhard made a key 3-pointer with 4:26 to go and another jumper less than two minutes later.

“He was masterful tonight … 31 and 13, those are high lottery numbers,” coach Rick Carlisle said.

Indiana played without starting point guard Tyrese Haliburton for a second straight game as he nurses soreness in his left groin.

Klay Thompson scored 28 points and made eight 3-pointers, moving up the NBA’s career 3-point list on the six-year anniversary of his 60-point masterpiece against the Pacers.

Thompson finished 9 of 23, but Stephen Curry was held to 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting. Jordan Poole scored 23 starting in place of Andrew Wiggins, who sat out with tightness of the adductor muscle in his right leg.

“No matter what we do, it’s going to be hard to guard these guys. We had some good fortune with them missing some shots they may normally make,” Carlisle said. “But our guys played with a lot of presence to start the game. We were switching a lot and everyone was tied together.”

Nembhard hit five 3s while Buddy Hield added 17 points, nine rebounds and five assists as Indiana snapped a three-game losing streak with just its second win in six games.

Nembhard and the Pacers hardly looked like a team playing the second game of a road back-to-back.

“He was hoopin’ and I think that starts in the first half for us,” Golden State’s Donte DiVincenzo said. “The guards have to get into it a little bit more.”

Golden State had its 10-game home winning streak snapped.

Curry went 1 of 7 in the first half, missing all four of his 3-point tries and was 2 for 10 from deep overall. Curry finally connected from long range with 5:13 left in the third after missing his first five.

The Pacers, missing six players with injuries or illness, jumped out to a 22-12 lead as Golden State started 5 for 17.

Thompson knocked down three straight 3-pointers – all from the right wing – to tie the game at 42 with 4:51 left in the second quarter before a Pacers timeout. Thompson also dished out an assist on Jonathan Kuminga‘s layup before his trio of 3s and nearly had another when Kuminga was fouled and made both free throws to cap a 20-2 run 3:40 before halftime.

Three things to know: On night of returns Harden rusty, Leonard hits game-winner

Philadelphia 76ers v Houston Rockets
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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 must-watch.

1) James Harden was rusty, Joel Embiid fouled out, 76ers fall to Rockets in 2OT

Philadelphia picked a soft landing spot for the return of James Harden, on the road against his young and struggling former Houston team, followed by coming home for seven in a row.

This was not what Doc Rivers and company pictured.

For example, remember Harden was going to be a minutes limit? Rivers had him out there for 38 minutes in a double-overtime game, throwing him back into the fire in the overtimes because he had little choice.

Harden made four 3-pointers but was understandably rusty after missing 14 games with a strained tendon in his right foot, and he was 0-8 inside the arc. He missed an open potential game-winner at the end of the first overtime. Still, he made some passes and a shot or two that reminded everyone what he can do when he gets his legs back under him — and why the 76ers need him.

Combine that with Joel Embiid feasting early on the undersized Rockets inside, and Sixers fans could see a path to a comfortable win.

However, the underlying problem that did them in was looming — Houston was attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and living at the line. The Rockets got 15 free throw attempts in the first quarter, a trend that would continue much of the night.

The Rockets hung around and hung around, getting 27 points from Jalen Green, while Kevin Porter Jr. added 24. And they kept drawing fouls, eventually fouling out Joel Embiid in the first overtime. When the Rockets hit a couple of 3-pointers to open the second OT, they took control and got the win, 132-123.

Harden’s return should eventually boost the 76ers bottom 10 offense, but what this team really needs is to get healthy (Tyrese Maxey remains out with a foot injury) and to string together a few wins. They start a seven-game homestead Friday against the Lakers (not the best time to catch Anthony Davis and company) and that would be a chance to right the ship. And get out of the play-in level they are at right now.

2) Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return, until the game was on the line

The Clippers followed the 76ers model for the return of their stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both returned to the lineup against an injury-plagued and struggling Hornets team. A nice soft landing spot…

That turned out not to be as soft as imagined.

As expected playing just his sixth game of the year, Leonard looked rusty in his return, starting the night 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

Then he hit two buckets in the final minute that got the Clippers the win.

The first was set up by an impressive hustle play from Paul George, who saved a ball going out of bounds to Leonard under the basket for a shot that tied the game.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner. That is vintage Leonard, using his strength to get to his spot and then calmly draining the shot.

If you’re looking for positives in Los Angeles, the Clippers showed some resilience and grit in getting the win. Leonard finished with 16 points and George looked sharper with 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. Clippers’ role players stepped up.

The Clippers need their stars to stay healthy and on the court, and to build some chemistry. Traditionally 20 games into the season we know who a team is, but this year’s Clippers are the exception to that rule. Their role players and a strong defense have kept the team’s head above water (14-11 on the season), but they need their stars back to turn around their 29th-ranked offense. Then we can see if they have the potential to be a threat in the West or not.

3) Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard outduels Stephen Curry, Pacers win

Yes, you read that right.

While Bennedict Mathurin has been the Pacers’ rookie garnering most of the attention (and some early Rookie of the Year talk), Andrew Nembhard has been showing out of late. Monday night he had 31 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and hit some key shots late to fuel the Pacers’ 112-102 upset win over the Warriors.

With Tyrese Haliburton out (groin injury), Nembhard — the four-year college player from Gonzaga who was taken No.31 in last year’s draft — showed he knows how to run a team and knock down a 3 (he’s shooting 42.9% from deep this season).

The Pacers also won because it was just an off night for Stephen Curry: 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting overall and 2-of-10 from 3. It felt like a night where the Warriors looked at the Pacers’ inactive list for the game — Haliburton, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte, T.J. McConnell, Daniel Theis, James Johnson — and thought they would cruise to a win. Do that against NBA players and you pay the price.

Because guys like Andrew Nembhard can flat-out play.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Today is Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 28th birthday. What does he want? What are his plans? And why is he doing his postgame media session with Homer J. Simpson? There are a lot of questions.