Three things to know: Trey Murphy is perfect, Pelicans make statement

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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) Trey Murphy is perfect, he and Pelicans make statement in West

The real problem for teams with playoff aspirations off to slow starts in the Western Conference — we’re looking at you, every franchise in Los Angeles — is that the West is deep with impressive teams. What seems like a little stumble out of the gate the first couple weeks of the season could put a team far enough back it becomes tough to catch up mid-season.

One of those impressive teams made a huge statement Tuesday night:

No Zion Williamson (right posterior hip contusion), no Brandon Ingram (concussion protocols), no Herbert Jones (right knee hyperextension), and yet the Pelicans still went out and beat Luka Doncic and the Mavericks 113-111. Trey Murphy, scoring 22 on perfect 8-of-8 shooting, led a balanced Pelicans attack that saw eight players score in double digits.

What told the tale in this game was defensive execution, particularly in the clutch — while neither team had a great night on that end, the Pelicans were making smarter plays late.

The Pelicans had the depth to throw a couple of long defenders at Doncic in the form of Naji Marshall and rookie Dyson Daniels, although they got a lot of help. Luka was Luka and had 33 points after 3 quarters, but his legs were not there in the fourth as he shot 2-of-6 overall and 0-of-4 from 3, including an attempted game-winner (which looked to be on target but bounced off the front of the rim).

Meanwhile in crunch time, Dallas made poor rotations — at one point doubling CJ McCollum and leaving Devonte' Graham wide open, at other points there was a lack of effort to close out or contest strongly at the rim (Doncic was part of that). It was just an undisciplined defensive night for the Mavericks all around, the kind that will drive Jason Kidd mad.

Doncic finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Spencer Dinwiddie had 24 points for the Cavs, Christian Wood continued to play well off the bench with 23. Dallas falls to 1-2 with the loss.

It was a gritty win for the Pelicans, one where Jose Alvarado was setting the tone early and McCollum was as much a distributor as a scorer (he finished with 14 points on 20 shots but dished out 11 assists). Good teams find ways to win when their best players are out — the 3-1 Pelicans made a statement that they are among those good teams.

Add the Pelicans and the 4-0 Trail Blazers to the list of good teams in the crowded West. Teams stumbling out of the gate should be concerned, those teams don’t look like they are going anywhere.

2) Klay Thompson ejected, Warriors fall to impressive Suns

The Phoenix Suns are very good.

If there was any doubt the Suns belong in the mix of top teams in the West, it should be put to rest as Phoenix pulled away late to beat the Golden State Warriors 134-105.

Stephen Curry was pedestrian (by his standards) in this one, with 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting. The bigger problem remains the Warriors’ defense to start the season — their 114.8 defensive rating so far is 22nd in the league. This is not the defense that won them the rings handed out on opening night.

Devin Booker exploited that defense and continued his red-hot start to the season with 34 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

Plus, Booker was the guy who got under Klay Thompson’s skin and got him ejected for the first time in his career.

Thomson and Booker were going back and forth all game (they were guarding each other for stretches, Booker got a lot of his buckets on Klay). Midway through the third when the game was still in doubt, all the words became a chest-to-chest mini-confrontation, but the referee stepped in and gave the standard double technical to attempt to calm things. Booker just walked away.

Thompson didn’t. The usually easy-going Thompson lost his cool, he kept barking at Suns, and then referee Ed Malloy, which earned a second T and an ejection.

The underlying cause of Thompson’s frustration: He shot 1-of-8, missing all five of his 3-pointers. He couldn’t get rolling and he couldn’t stop Booker.

After Thompson was ejected the Suns went on a 20-5 run and that’s your ballgame.

It’s a long regular season that the Warriors aren’t going to take overly seriously, there is plenty of time to get the defense right. The Warriors have a long track record, they get the benefit of the doubt just a week into the season. Eventually they will need to build good habits at that end, but right now the Warriors” defense is getting exposed.

3) The Wizards are 3-1 and turning some heads out East

The conventional wisdom on the Wizards coming into this season was it was a pretty good roster if Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis could stay healthy.

They are healthy right now and the Wizards are off to a 3-1 start after a 120-99 win over the Pistons.

Beal was limited in this game with back tightness (although he did play some in the second half), but it was  Kyle Kuzma (25 points, 6 rebounds) and Kristaps Porzingis (20 points) who carried the load for the Wizards. With Beal limited, Will Barton got more run and stepped up with 16 points.

We’re reserving judgment on the Wizards, whose three wins have come against the Pacers, Bulls, and Pistons (the best team they played, the Cavaliers, beat them in overtime). Things get tougher starting Sunday when the Wizards face the Celtics, followed by a couple of games against Joel Embiid and the 76ers. Those games will tell us much more about how good the Wizards are.

76ers blow 9-point lead in final :34 seconds, then hang on to beat Lakers in OT

Los Angeles Lakers v Philadelphia 76ers
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images
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It was almost a legendary comeback win for the Lakers — and a legendary blown lead for the 76ers.

Philadelphia had the game in hand, up 18 in the fourth quarter, and while Los Angeles staged a comeback the 76ers were still up by nine inside :45 seconds. And yet…

The 76ers took care of business in overtime — aided by the Lakers settling too much and going 0-of-5 outside the paint but also 1-of-5 in the paint in OT — and picked up the 133-122 win.

In a battle of two teams that have been inconsistent all season, they lived up to that billing – both teams had huge lapses and stretches of impressive play. It led to streaks, including the wild final minutes.

Joel Embiid started out hot scoring 13 of the Sixers’ first 15 points and finishing the night with 38 points on 14-for-19 shooting and 12 rebounds.

James Harden looked better than his first game back and finished with 28 points and 12 assists.

However, Philly’s breakout star of the night was DeAnthony Melton, who grew up a Clippers fan and said he wanted to take it to the Lakers — he scored 33 points with eight made 3-pointers.

Anthony Davis finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds for the night. Austin Reaves came off the bench and hit 4-of-6 from 3 on his way to 25 points, while LeBron James had 23 points on 9-of-22 shooting.

NBA owners, players union reportedly agree to push back CBA opt-out date

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NBA owners and players are both making too much money to risk screwing things up with a labor stoppage, right? RIGHT?

Don’t be so sure.

In a sign the two sides have a lot of work to do to reach terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — primarily because of an internal dispute among the owners — the NBA (representing the owners) and the players union have agreed to push back the opt-out date for the CBA from Dec. 15 (this would end the current CBA on July 1, 2023). Marc Stein reported this earlier in the week (covered here) and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added details today.

Talks on a new CBA are ongoing, and a formal ratification of an extension — likely into February — is expected to come at a virtual board of governors meeting Wednesday, sources said.

What’s the stumbling block? A group of owners — bothered by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — is pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams. Call it whatever they want, that’s a hard cap and there is no chance the players will sign off on any form of a hard cap. 

The NBA has used a punitive and progressively intense luxury tax to rein in the spending of some owners. However, some owners — how many is unclear, but enough that the NBA has put the issue on the table — feel the tax isn’t doing its job in the wake of new, even wealthier owners. 

Unquestionably some owners are unbothered by the tax. To use the example I have used before, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are on track to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, which will result in a $144.7 million luxury tax bill (leading to a payroll and tax total of $336.6 million). The Warriors and Nets will be in the same ballpark. The Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll. Two-thirds of NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less, not much more than the Clippers’ tax bill.

Recently, the same NBA owners approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the financial arms of generally oil-rich countries such as Qatar or Saudi Arabia — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team as a silent partner. That has not happened yet, but the door is open. It’s part of a pattern of wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — entering the playing field for the NBA.

All that has some of the more established, older owners feeling squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That has the older owners pushing for a hard cap to stop what they see as an increased willingness to spend.

Again, there is no chance the players approve a hard cap. The owners know this, but some seem willing to play brinksmanship with a lucrative, growing business (particularly internationally) to protect their bottom lines.

If you read all that and thought, “this isn’t about the players really, it’s an owner vs. owner issue,” you’re spot on. The league and players are giving the owners more time to work out their internal issues.

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.