Three things to know: Donovan Mitchell looks like trade of summer, Cavs win sixth straight

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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) Donovan Mitchell looks like trade of summer, Cavs win sixth straight

Donovan Mitchell unleashed has been something to behold.

Mitchell put up All-Star numbers in Utah, but Quin Synder ran a system that was more about creating opportunities through player and ball movement. In Cleveland, Mitchell has the rock in his hand and is freed up to create all he wants.

Wednesday night that meant he and the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum were trading buckets down the stretch of a tight game, and Mitchell stood toe-to-toe with a potential MVP candidate and looked like he belonged.

Mitchell had 25 points, Darius Garland dropped 29 in his return from an eye injury, and the Cavaliers got the kind of overtime win against a top team in the Celtics that would be a statement win if you believe in statement wins in November.

Cleveland went big to get Mitchell — bigger than New York was willing to go — throwing in three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) and the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028), plus players Lauri Markkanen and Collin Sexton (Markkanen is reviving himself in Utah, but that’s another story).

It was worth every penny for the Cavs — it’s the kind of move small- to mid-market teams need to make if they are going to contend. Mitchell is unleashed and averaging 31.1 points and 7.1 assists a game, shooting 43.8% from 3, and is playing at an All-NBA level to open the season. He reminded Knicks fans what they didn’t get by dropping 38 points and 12 assists on New York (whether the Knicks made the right call or overplayed their hand will depend on their next big move and if they can land another, better star; the jury is still out on that).

Mitchell also has been big in the clutch for the Cavaliers.

No team has played more clutch minutes than the Cavs this young season, 33 of them in six games — three of the victories in Cleveland’s six-game winning streak came in overtime. Cleveland is 5-1 with a +16.9 net rating in those clutch minutes (game within five points in the final five minutes or OT). Mitchel and his ability to create shots is a big part of that (the Cavs also are playing great defense in the clutch, giving up less than a point per possession).

Mitchell in Cleveland has been a perfect fit so far — the Cavaliers look like a threat, and as young Evan Mobley matures this season and over the next couple, the Cavs could become perennial contenders. It’s just seven games, but Mitchell looks like the summer’s best move so far.

2) Insane Matt Ryan corner three forces OT and eventual Lakers win

The Pelicans had this in hand. They were up three, 1.7 seconds were remaining in the game, and the Lakers had just fouled New Orleans rookie point guard Dyson Daniels. Just make one free throw and this game is over.

He missed both. That left the door open, and in walked Lakers rookie Matt Ryan. The Lakers’ Austin Reaves threw a cross-court pass to the corner where Ryan made a ridiculous, fading-out-of-bounds 3-pointer to force overtime.

The Lakers went on to get the 120-117 win in overtime. For a struggling Lakers team, this was the kind of energizing win they needed.

Lonnie Walker IV led the Lakers with 28 points, Anthony Davis and LeBron James each had 20 (LeBron added 10 rebounds and eight assists). Russell Westbrook came off the bench with 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Zion Williamson led the Pelicans with 27 points and seven assists — the improved passing in his game makes him so much more dangerous. New Orleans continues to miss Brandon Ingram, who remains out in concussion protocols.

Bonus game-winner: Tyler Herro with the shot that beats the Kings

Tyler Herro’s move to the Miami starting lineup has not been completely smooth. Combine him with Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry and that’s three guys who like to create with the ball in their hands, but it limits the shooting around them, and it doesn’t help the Miami defense. Plus, the Heat bench could use more shot creation (the role they hoped Victor Oladipo would fill, but he has yet to be healthy).

However, what Herro is unafraid to do is take — and make — big shots, like this game-winner against the Kings.

Herro finished with 26 and Lowry 22 in a game Butler sat out. Domantas Sabonis and Kevin Huerter each had 22 for the Kings, who were without De'Aaron Fox (knee).

The win moved Miami to 4-5 as they enter a soft part of the schedule where they can get their feet under them after a rough start.

3) Kyrie Irving, Nets combine to donate $1 million to groups working to “eradicate hate and intolerance”

The Nets hope this gesture will end — or at least quiet the noise from — the latest Kyrie Irving distraction around the team. I’m not sure it will be that easy.

Irving, the Nets organization, and the Anti-Defamation League released a joint statement where Irving said he “took responsibility” for his tweet promoting an anti-Semitic movie, and both Irving and the Nets promise to donate $500,000 each “toward causes and organizations that work to eradicate hate and intolerance in our communities.”

“I oppose all forms of hatred and oppression and stand strong with communities that are marginalized and impacted every day,” Irving said in the statement. “I am aware of the negative impact of my post towards the Jewish community and I take responsibility. I do not believe everything said in the documentary was true or reflects my morals and principles. I am a human being learning from all walks of life and I intend to do so with an open mind and a willingness to listen. So from my family and I, we meant no harm to any one group, race or religion of people, and wish to only be a beacon of truth and light.”

“At a time when antisemitism has reached historic levels, we know the best way to fight the oldest hatred is to both confront it head-on and also to change hearts and minds,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, said in the statement. “With this partnership, ADL will work with the Nets and Kyrie to open dialogue and increase understanding.”

Nets GM Sean Marks said Irving would not speak to the media for a few days until things “simmer down.” But he will eventually speak, and it feels like this issue is not quite done.

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
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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.