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) In very tight West, will any team go all in to win?
Talking to someone with the Clippers less than a couple of hours before Kawhi Leonard‘s return to play, they casually said one of the reasons they were comfortable being patient was nobody had run away with the West.
They are right. On Thanksgiving, nearly 20 games into the season, just three games separate the top-seeded Suns and the out-of-the-play-in 11-seed Warriors.
It’s not like that in the East, where Boston and Milwaukee have clearly looked like the two best teams, and there is already a six-game gap between the Celtics and the 11-seed Bulls. Out East, the bar has been set (and both the Bucks and Celtics are still without key players due to injury).
Out West, no team has run away with anything — five other teams are within a game of the top-seeded Suns. Or, look at it this way: The Suns are two games away from falling from the top seed to the play-in. With so few games played who a team played matters, strength of schedule factors in more, and the Kings, Clippers and Suns are among the seven easiest schedules in the league. Things will get tougher for them.
Will any team make a bold trade and make themselves the team to beat in the West?
There are rumors of deals, but they are not necessarily a conference changers. The Jazz have been rumored to have an interest in John Collins. The Suns have their eye on Bojan Bogdanovic in Detroit among other players (and they are sending out Jae Crowder in a deal at some point, looking for players who can help them win now in return). Will any team make a move for Myles Turner? (And will the Pacers trade him, after they have gotten off to a better-than-predicted start and Turner has been a beast protecting the rim?) Buddy Held? Will the Rockets finally trade Eric Gordon?
Those are all quality role players, but what about the superstars? The players that shift the balance of power?
Nothing is sure on that front. Yet. A lot of eyes have turned to Brooklyn where the Nets look flawed and Kevin Durant looks frustrated. Then there are questions about which teams might look at themselves in the mirror come Christmas and decide to pivot toward Victor Wembanyama and the lottery. The Heat and Bulls are right with the Nets in disappointing starts, might they become sellers? (It’s hard to imagine the Heat throwing in the towel on any season, but they could put quality role players on the market beyond Duncan Robinson if they want.)
Some team in the West is going to make a move. Maybe the Mavericks find a running mate for Luka Doncic. Maybe it’s internal, like the Clippers getting Paul George and Kawhi Leonard healthy and on the court together for an extended stretch (they did go 3-0 when Leonard returned, only for him to sit out in a loss to the Warriors Wednesday due to his ankle). Maybe Denver cleans up their bottom-five defense. Perhaps the Pelicans get Zion Williamson healthy for an extended stretch and look like a team ready to make the leap.
Or maybe it is the Suns, but after the way they exited the last playoffs, they will have to prove their mental toughness in May, not December.
The door is open in the West. Is any team going to be bold enough to walk through it?
2) Bulls finally win a game in the clutch, knock off Bucks 118-103
Last season, the Bulls were one of the best teams in the clutch in the NBA, largely thanks to DeMar DeRozan having a career year and hitting big shots. This season, the Bulls entered Wednesday 0-7 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes (not a perfect measure of clutch, but the one that has become the standard).
But Wednesday Coby White stepped up.
IT'S CLUTCH COBY WHITE 💦 pic.twitter.com/RsHTBLB8NC
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 24, 2022
The Bulls are not a team stacked with shooting that takes a lot of 3-pointers, but White is a guy that can get hot for them from deep. He had two threes in the final 90 seconds that were key, as was Alex Caruso drawing a late charge on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
DeRozan finished with 36 for the Bulls. Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, Brook Lopez added 20, but the Bucks turned the ball over 20 times and that did them in.
The Bulls have now beaten the Celtics — snapping Boston’s nine-game win streak — and the Bucks in back-to-back games. It’s a huge confidence boost for a team that stumbled out of the gate, now can they sustain and build on that momentum?
3) Trae Young puts up 36 and Kings’ seven-game win streak goes down
They can’t light the beam every night.
The Sacramento Kings seven-game win streak ended at the hands of Trae Young, who can be a one-man offensive machine and put up 36 on the Kings in a 115-106 Atlanta victory.
— NBA (@NBA) November 24, 2022
The Kings have been a great story, the second-best offense in the NBA (using the NBA.com numbers) with De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis leading the way and seemingly a different guy stepping up every night. But they have had this fun, 10-7 start against one of the softest, easiest schedules of any team so far. That’s about to change with the Celtics and Suns on the docket for their next two games (and a long road trip in December). The tests for the Kings are coming.