Three things to know: Nash out in Brooklyn; loss to Bulls shows problems remain

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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) Nash out in Brooklyn; loss to Bulls shows problems remain

How insane did things get Tuesday in Brooklyn? The guy with the most leverage in the locker room, the guy who called for Steve Nash to be fired over the summer, was “shocked” Nash was fired.

That response is both funny and sad. Someone was going to pay the price for the Nets’ slow start and Nash became that scapegoat on Tuesday, with Brooklyn and Nash saying it was a mutual parting of the ways. Maybe it was. Maybe Nash realized his life would be better without the Nets in it.

After all, Brooklyn is an organization where Kyrie Irving can Tweet out a link to a movie widely considered anti-Semitic (among other things), have the team and the owner disavow everything to do with the film and say that’s not what they stand for, then turn around and play him 40 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls. Because they need him to have any shot at winning.

That’s the Nets’ culture in a nutshell. This is the same organization that took the moral high ground last season and said if Irving wasn’t vaccinated he couldn’t play on the road with the team (not just the home games, where the New York City vaccine mandate stopped him from coming to work). Well, the Nets took the moral high ground until they lost too many games and Durant wanted Irving back, then they pivoted to letting Irving play on the road.

It’s the same culture that reportedly is close to replacing Nash with Ime Udoka, the coach who led the Celtics to the NBA Finals a season ago and then violated so many team rules/regulations, crossed so many lines around a sexual relationship with a woman in the organization that the team investigated then suspended him for the season. Take that in for a minute: While the Celtics and CAA (Udoka’s agents) have been able to keep a lid on the details of the accusations, it was serious enough for Boston to say its culture and people mattered more than what a winning coach brought on the court.

The Nets are close to saying “no worries here, come on in.” Reportedly because it’s what the Nets’ star players want him (Udoka is a former Nets assistant who has a good relationship with Durant). What is the message to women working in that organization?

No coach will solve all the Nets’ issues — this roster has fundamental problems. Nash was not the solution to the Nets’ issues, but he wasn’t the cause of them, either. Nash was not to blame for the lack of rim protection on defense, Ben Simmons being afraid to shoot, injuries to the guys who can shoot, or Irving being Irving.

All those flaws were on display Tuesday night. Zach LaVine outscored the Nets 20-19 in the fourth quarter, leading Chicago to a 108-99 win in Brooklyn. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 32 (and had to defend 7-footer Nikola Vucevic for long stretches because nobody else could), while Irving had a rough night.

With that loss, the Nets are 2-6. It’s not some impossible hole for Brooklyn to find its way out of, but it’s a sign of the issues — teams usually win “the coach was fired” game because they hustle more, play with some emotion. Didn’t happen in Brooklyn.

Whatever is next in Brooklyn, you can bet it’s going to be dramatic and a little insane. It makes for great reality television, just not always great basketball.

2) Warriors fall to 3-5 with loss to Heat

It wasn’t the f****** championship Butler promised, but it is a quality win and a step in the right direction.

The Warriors are the team with the reputation for having shooters everywhere, but it was the Heat 3-pointers that were falling Tuesday night: Duncan Robinson hit 5-of-8 and Max Strus 4-of-10 off the bench, while Kyle Lowry drains 3-of-8. With those falling, it let Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo get downhill against the Warriors’ defense.

Miami closed the game on a 7-0 run to take the 116-109 victory, and both teams are now 3-5 on the young season (and both are disappointed with that number). Butler had the dagger.

Miami won for a few reasons, and while Warriors fans will argue it was an overturned call, the actual biggest issue was the Warriors never really figured out how to punish the Heat’s zone defense. Butler stepped up against the Warriors and that’s a positive; the bad news is Tyler Herro left the game after 10 minutes with a bruised eye (that’s why there were so many Duncan Robinson minutes).

Stephen Curry put on a show and dropped a triple-double of 23 points, 13 boards and 13 assists.

The Warriors are 0-3 to start their five-game road trip, with Orlando and New Orleans back-to-back Thursday and Friday to close it all out.

3) Suns beat Timberwolves and Minnesota’s schedule gets tougher

The Timberwolves’ first seven games this season had three against the Spurs, two against the Thunder, and one each against the Jazz and Lakers — preseason, Los Angeles was seen as the best of those squads. Minnesota went 4-3 in those games.

Now the schedule gets real, and it started with Phoenix — the Suns put up a 116-107 win behind 29 points from Cameron Johnson.

The Suns are the hottest team in the West, winners of five in a row and are 6-1 to start the season with a top-five offense and defense. It’s a long season, but the signs are promising early in the Valley of the Sun.

The Timberwolves still have a lot of puzzle pieces to figure out how to fit together, starting with Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns — lineups with both have a -2.4 net rating so far this season.

The schedule does not get any easier for the Timberwolves, who have the Bucks up next.

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.