Three things to know: Curry drops 50 yet Warriors still winless on road

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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) Curry drops 50 yet Warriors still winless on road

0-8.

The Warriors have a defensive rating this season of 113.6, 25th in the NBA.

The Warriors’ winless road record and the fact they can’t get a stop go hand-in-hand — and not even a 50-spot from Stephen Curry can change that.

That was Curry’s 11th 50-point game.

Curry was epic, but the Suns put up 130 at home and not even Curry’s greatness could match that. Phoenix is without two starters — Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson — but is doing what elite teams do: trust their depth and find wins. Cameron Payne had 29 points including six 3-pointers filling in for CP3, Devin Booker added a smooth 27, and the Suns shot 21-of-40 from 3 as a team to pick up the win.

A frustrated Steve Kerr referred to the team’s play as a pickup game — code for individual play and no commitment to defense. Kerr didn’t hold back after the loss.

“If somebody helps on a rotation, crack back and help on the big guy. If things aren’t going well, somebody call the group into the foul line, get everybody together and motivate the group.

“All that stuff is missing right now. I saw a lot of hanging heads tonight. I think we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Everyone can’t wait to play us and kick our ass. We’ve had a lot of success and a lot of fun, a lot of joy beating people over the years and teams don’t forget that. So they’re having their fun now, as they should.

“I’ve always felt the game rewards you if you commit to the game. If you really compete together, shots go in, calls go your way, breaks fall your way. We’re not earning any of that stuff. That’s why we’re winless on the road. It’s a pickup game.”

Most of the Warriors’ struggles have been in the half-court defensively, where they are bottom 10 in the league (via Cleaning the Glass), but the offensive struggles are letting teams run on them more than the Warriors might like as well. However, as Kerr noted, the larger issue is the commitment in the half-court right now.

There are other concerns in Golden State, such as the inconsistent play of Jordan Poole (0-of-5 against the Suns) and Klay Thompson still trying to find his shot (6-of-17). But the Warriors’ four rings are built on an elite defense — last season they entered the playoffs with the best defense in the NBA. If the Warriors have dreams of a repeat — or just winning a game on the road — it has to start on the defensive end of the floor.

2) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drains stepback game-winner against Wizards

We wrote a few days ago that we’re not talking enough about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

We’re talking about him today after he drained a game-winning stepback 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to cap off a career-high 42-point night, lifting the Thunder past the Wizards 121-120.

Bradley Beal looked like he might have hit the game-winner with his midrange jumper with 6.1 seconds left, putting the Wizards up 120-118 on the road. But that left enough time for Gilgeous-Alexander to get one last chance.

Beal finished with 25 points in his first game back after missing five (three when in the league’s health and safety protocols), while Kristaps Porzingis added 27. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 of his points in the second half.

Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an All-NBA/bottom of the MVP ballot level this season, and we’ll be talking a lot about him and the 7-8 Thunder.

3) Celtics win streak up to 8, Cavaliers losing streak reaches 5

The streaks for two of the East’s top teams continue: The Celtics upped their win streak to eight, while the Cavaliers dropped their fifth straight.

Boston got a comfortable 126-101 win over the Hawks. The Celtics won this one with depth. Jayson Tatum (19 points) and Jaylen Brown (22) had off shooting nights, and the Celtics were already without Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon.

So the role players stepped up: Grant Williams had 18 points with four 3-pointers, Derrick White finished 16 points and 10 assists, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet each had 15 points, while Payton Pritchard chipped in with 14 points. That balanced scoring was too much for the Hawks.

For Cleveland, no Jarrett Allen (sore left ankle) and this team continues to struggle when all its stars are not on the court. Evan Mobley could not slow Brook Lopez (29 points, including seven 3-pointers), Giannis Antetokounmpo was getting anywhere he wanted to go, and it was all too easy for the Bucks.

Allen is the defensive lynchpin for the Cavaliers and without him they’re not near the same team on that end.

On the bright side for the Cavaliers, Mobley had a better, more fluid offensive game with 20 points — he has struggled to find his offensive fit playing with Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell (both guards and 23 in this game).

Next up for the Cavaliers is the injury-riddled Charlotte Hornets. Cleveland needs to break its streak there because things get tough after that (Hawks and Heat back-to-back).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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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.