Three things to know: Nets go for stability, hope for progress with Vaughn hire

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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) Nets go for stability, hope for progress with Jacque Vaughn hire

It came down to this: Maybe Ime Udoka would have been an ideal fit as the Nets’ coach, but the tsunami of a backlash for the franchise hiring a coach another team suspended for the season for his actions around an inappropriate relationship with a female staff member would have been too much. Especially in the wake of all things Kyrie Irving.

So the Nets leaned into stability. They made Jacque Vaughn the new head coach.

Brooklyn did the right thing — a sentence we haven’t been able to say often enough in the past 12 months.

Vaughn has been with the Nets since 2016, when Kenny Atkinson was hired to help establish a new culture in Brooklyn. He gets what GM Sean Marks is trying to build — Vaughn comes out of that same Spurs culture as Marks (and Udoka, for that matter). Vaughn is relentlessly positive, will do a solid to good job (maybe he will surprise me and do more than that in his second go around in the big chair), and will settle things down.

Vaughn is what the Nets needed right now.

Whether he is what the franchise needs down the line depends heavily on where this team is headed over the next four months, and then next offseason — are Irving and Kevin Durant back? Vaughn can handle whatever is thrown at him — and with the Nets that could be a lot.

What the Nets hope for now is progress. As in this Nets roster, still loaded with talent, making progress toward being a competitive team in the East.

They looked more like it in Vaughn’s first official game in the big chair, the Nets throttled their crosstown rivals, picking up a 112-85 win over the Knicks. Durant had a triple-double of 29 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists, and said after the game he was “excited” for Vaughn.

Vaughn will settle things down in the locker room, whatever happens with the Kyrie Irving situation, whatever happens with Ben Simmons trying to find his game. Vaughn is the voice the Nets need, a guy who gets the franchise, who gets the players, and who can steer the team toward some progress.

The Nets did the right thing. It’s a start.

2) LeBron leaves early with groin injury, but not before dropping 30 in loss

As if things already didn’t look bad enough for the 2-9 Lakers this season…

LeBron James had a slight limp as he walked off the court with 5:41 left in the game Wednesday night against the Clippers. He went straight to the locker room, not to return. After the game, coach Darvin Ham called it leg soreness, but LeBron said it was a tweak to his groin. The play where it happened didn’t seem to be much at the time.

LeBron will get an MRI on Thursday to determine the severity, although he added it this was not as severe as the 2018 groin injury he suffered on Christmas Day, which kept him out for 17 games.

“I feel good, besides the injury,” he said postgame via the Associated Press. “We’ll get pictures on it tomorrow and go from there. Didn’t do anything strenuous on the play. When I landed, I felt a little spasm or strain in my groin. Immediately I asked to come out on the next play down.”

Any LeBron absence is bad news for a struggling Lakers team — Los Angeles has been outscored by 8.8 points per 100 possessions this season when LeBron is off the floor.

Before he left the game, LeBron was one of the few bright spots for the Lakers, scoring 30 points to lead the team and shooting 4-of-9 from 3 against the Clippers.

It wasn’t enough, the deeper and more balanced Clippers had Paul George scoring 29 to lead seven players in double figures, and the Clippers led almost the entire game, and by enough that the outcome was never really in doubt. The win jumps the Clippers to 7-5 on the season, and they are still without Kawhi Leonard.

3) D'Angelo Russell leaves Timberwolves playing 4-on-5

If you’re looking for a video that sums up the 5-7 Timberwolves, let me help you out.

Here are the Timberwolves having to play a possession 4-on-5 because D’Angelo Russell forgot to check in and step on the court.

The Timberwolves lost to the Suns 129-117 and have yet to find a rhythm this season. It’s getting concerning.

BONUS STAT OF THE NIGHT: There were 13 NBA games last night and 13 players scoring 30+ points.

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.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

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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) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?