Three things to know: Concerns about that other team in Los Angeles, too

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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) There are concerns about that other team in Los Angeles, too

The vibe around the Clippers early this season could best be described as “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

The Clippers see themselves as title contenders, and plenty of pundits agreed before the season, picking them as the biggest threat to the Warriors — a few even picked the Clippers to make the Finals. Those Finals are more than eight months away and Los Angeles was treating the start of the season like it was an obligation, a chore to be done on that road. The Clippers have rested players, been careless with the basketball, and generally treated the regular season like a team that already had won a ring or two and was waiting for the games that matter.

That attitude led them to drop a second straight game to the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thursday night, and after that loss both teams are now 2-3.

“It’s still early, still 2-3 but we have to have a sense of urgency…” John Wall said after Thursday. “We should never be outcompeted. No matter who we put on the floor we should always have a chance to win and I believe that and I think we kind of didn’t do that.”

The Clippers’ biggest problem is clear — they have the league’s worst turnover rate by a mile. Through five games, 16.5% of Clippers’ possessions have ended in a turnover (for comparison, the Thunder have the lowest turnover rate at 9.5% of possessions).

The Clippers are searching for their identity. That’s hard to find with the team’s offensive roles and rotations not close to set — Kawhi Leonard missed both games against the Thunder resting his knee after missing all of last season following ACL surgery. Paul George sat out the first game against the Thunder and was 4-of-12 in this one (after a 4-of-11 game against the Suns last Sunday). Wall and other players have missed time as well.

Meanwhile, the Thunder are playing with purpose and grit, moving the ball and making plays.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 24, Lu Dort 21, and the Thunder got inside for 54 points in the paint. It was also a strong night for Twitter favorite Aleksej Pokusevski, who had 15 points and six rebounds, with a couple of clutch 3-pointers late to help seal the win.

The Clippers have had stretches where you see the potential this season — they went on a 34-14 run in the second quarter Thursday night. They got inside against the Thunder and scored 68 points in the paint.

The Clippers just can’t sustain that success, and the turnovers are the primary reason.

Wall is correct, it is early, and things are not nearly as desperate for them as some other teams (like their crypto.com Arena roommates). But the Clippers need to find a way to take care of the ball, steady the ship, start to find that identity and turn things around, or they could spend much of the season looking up in the standings at the teams they are supposed to challenge.

2) Nets fall to 1-4 after Luka Doncic carves them up with 41-point triple-double

In the preseason and even the opening couple of games of the regular season, Steve Nash had tried to deploy Ben Simmons as a point forward — not unlike the distribution role he had in Philadelphia.

Those days are gone — it didn’t work, and Simmons spent most of Thursday night working off the ball, often in the dunker’s spot in half-court sets. His offensive role is limited, he’s averaging 5.6 points per game, and playing like a guy constantly trying to avoid getting fouled (he’s a 40% free throw shooter this season). Kyrie Irving stuck up for Simmons, saying after all the time he’s missed it’s going to take time for him to find his rhythm again and he deserves the space to do that.

Simmons’ shifting role is one sign that the Nets — like the Clippers mentioned above — are still trying to figure out their identity. So far, that identity has not included good defense, Brooklyn remains dead last in defensive rating this young season (120.2).

Luka Doncic exploited that defense to the tune of 41 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, using his gravity to set up teammates for open 3-pointers in overtime, leading to a 129-125 victory over Brooklyn Thursday night.

Doncic also may have had the best assist of the young season.

At least one Nets fan — or bettor who had the Nets on the moneyline — was mad enough at Doncic to throw a cup of ice at him during the overtime, delaying the game. Hopefully said person at least finished the drink first.

Kyrie Irving (39 points) and Kevin Durant (37) kept the Nets in the game, and Simmons did his part — a Simmons steal and assist to Durant for a dunk to tie it with :08.8, this play forced overtime.

In overtime, Doncic exploited matchups and made shots, and that was the ballgame.

The Nets are 1-4 and in danger of digging a hole they could spend the rest of the season climbing out of if they don’t find enough of an identity — and a defense — to turn things around in the coming weeks.

3) Stephen Curry too much for Heat late, Warriors pick up win

Considering Miami played a hard-fought game the night before in Portland, flew to the Bay Area and were on a back-to-back against a rested Warriors team, they deserve credit — they didn’t just lay down on what was a clear schedule makers’ loss. Jimmy Butler stepped up with 27 points, Bam Adebayo had 26 and eight rebounds, and the Heat kept the game within five points into the fourth quarter.

But in the end there was too much Stephen Curry for Miami to handle: 33 points with seven 3-pointers, nine assists and seven boards.

The 3-2 Warriors are cruising through the season so far, not top 10 in offense or defense, and (like the Clippers above) are treating the regular season as just a testing ground to work out the kinks before the games matter. However, unlike the Clippers, the Warriors have earned the right to do that — we saw last June the heights this team can reach. The Warriors can start the season working out kinks, with Jonathan Kuminga getting benched (and Steve Kerr saying he has to earn his minutes) and Klay Thompson still finding his rhythm. The Warriors got a fantastic 16-point first half from Andrew Wiggins and quality bench play Thursday.

Plus, the Warriors have Stephen Curry to fall back on when they need a win.

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.