Three things to know: Celtics’ second straight loss highlights absence of Williams, Horford

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LOS ANGELES — 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) Celtic’s second straight loss highlights absence of Williams, Horford

For the second-straight game, the Boston Celtics faced an opponent comfortable defending when they go smaller and more switchable. The Clippers are physical, their rotations tight, and they are maybe the only team in the league who can match the wing duo Jayson Tatum and Jaylen BrownPaul George and Kawhi Leonard.

For the second straight game, the Celtics’ historically-great offense to start the season stumbled. The Clippers became the first team to hold the Celtics under 100 points for the game, and the first to keep Boston from scoring more than a point per possession (97.8 net rating).

“We made a conscious effort to make sure Tatum and Brown played in a crowd all night,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said.

Celtics’ coach Joe Mazzulla saw something different.

“When we’re healthy, when we’re fully healthy, I don’t think we have that problem,” Mazzulla said.

Mazzulla is right, and it’s what was most evident in the Clippers’ 113-93 win over the Celtics Monday night in Los Angeles. Blake Griffin is giving his best effort at center in the wake of Robert Williams (knee surgery) and Al Horford (personal reasons) being out, but it’s not near the same.

On defense, Griffin can’t play at the level of the ball anymore and the Clippers repeatedly torched his drop coverage and got to the rim. It was part of what got Leonard going on his best game of the season — 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting, nine rebounds and six assists. Leonard looked like a player getting his legs back under him after missing all of last season and a chunk of this one with knee issues.

“Only my ninth game, you can’t rush it,” Leonard said. “Yeah, just got to keep moving.”

“Kawhi Leonard came out really aggressive, I think that’s the best he’s looked all season,” Brown said. “They did their job, give credit to the Clippers.”

George added 26 for Los Angeles.

On offense, Griffin is not the athletic roll threat that Williams is, and he’s not the floor-spacing shooter Horford is. Both the Warriors and Clippers were able to take advantage of that and be aggressive defensively without paying the price.

Boston also just missed shots they usually make. The Celtics finished the game 9-of-39 from 3 (23.1%) and those misses were the other obvious turning point.

For the Celtics, it’s a reminder that as great as they have looked to start the season — they are still 21-7 and with the best record in the league — there is work to do. Part of that is getting healthy, and Williams could return as early as Tuesday night against Anthony Davis and the Lakers in the same building (he is questionable). The fact the Celtics have a high-profile back-to-back (it’s a TNT game) made it surprising Mazzulla left his starters in until the 3:16 mark of the fourth quarter in a game his team trailed by more than 20 with six minutes to go. (Mazzulla said he thought his team was starting to find a better rhythm late and he wanted them to get that feeling back.)

There are games like this with the Clippers where you see the outline of the contender some predicted before the season. It’s games like this that make you think “maybe.” The Clippers are deep, athletic, and are now 6-2 when both George and Leonard play. There’s a lot of season left for the Clippers to stay healthy and build chemistry, but games like this show the blueprint of what they might be.

2) Damian Lillard ties Blazers record with 11 3-pointers

There may be nothing more entertaining in the NBA than a red-hot Damian Lillard.

He was that Monday night as Lillard tied the Trail Blazers franchise record knocking down 11 3-pointers.

Lillard came out of the game with :34 seconds left in the third quarter and, because Portland was up around 20 the rest of the way on the Timberwolves, he never re-entered. That despite some calls to put him back in to get the record.

Jerami Grant pitched in 24 for the Blazers, who cruised to the 133-112 win.

3) Cunningham to undergo season-ending shin surgery

If they weren’t all-in on the “brick for Vic” Wembanyama sweepstakes before, the Pistons are now.

Detroit’s star young point guard Cade Cunningham will undergo season-ending surgery on his left shin, which was expected but made essentially official by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Cunningham is rumored to have been dealing with a stress fracture in his shin, he tried resting it for the last 17 games, but that was not enough. This is a long recovery, as noted earlier by Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, but Cunningham should be back next season.

The No.1 overall pick in 2021, Cunningham has an impressive rookie season and started this season hot — 19.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and six assists a game – until the shin pain forced him to the sidelines.

The Pistons already had the worst record in the NBA before this news, so focusing on playing their young guys — and accepting the losses that come with that — is the natural next step. That also makes it more likely the Pistons trade Bojan Bogdanovic and other veterans at the deadline, with the Lakers and other teams already interested.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
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Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The question about how long this can last comes later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their unprotected 2029 first-round pick their 2027 and 2029 second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return players it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go off for 42, Thunder blow out Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder took what coach Mark Daigneault called a “bloodthirsty mentality” into Saturday’s rematch with the Houston Rockets.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points to help the Thunder blow out Houston 153-121.

They were disappointed in losing at Houston on Wednesday and responded by setting an Oklahoma City record for points in a game, surpassing the 150 they scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

“Just (wanted to) be the aggressors,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Play our style, our brand of basketball. I think we got away from that a little bit in Houston, and we just wanted to get back on track.”

Daigneault was most pleased that the approach was player-led.

“It wasn’t like I was giving motivational speeches,” he said. “But, you know, as a team, they kind of banded together and decided that they were going to come out and play the way they did. And they were impressive because of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone by scoring 20 points in the first quarter.

“I thought tonight was, like, a pretty big leadership statement game for him,” Daigneault said. “I think when you need a response like we needed tonight coming out of the other night, you rely on your guys that are most experienced, who play the most minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 from the field in the first matchup, but bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals on Saturday, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists for the Thunder, despite not playing in the fourth quarter because the Thunder led by 42 points at the end of the third.

Mike Muscala scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Giddey added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Oklahoma City.

“We’re a team that’s growing in confidence, and I think our habits are growing,” Daigneault said. “And I think a lot of things are moving in the right direction.”

Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points and Tari Eason added 18 for the Rockets.

The Rockets were playing without Eric Gordon (sore right knee) and Jae'Sean Tate (right ankle injury).

Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t want to hear it.

“You’ve got to step up in these situations, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We succumbed to back-to-back, three-in-four, no Eric, no Tate, all that stuff. … We succumbed to it. That’s not – we’re talking about winning habits. That’s not one.”

Oklahoma City led 79-53 at the break after shooting 55% from the field. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points in the first two quarters, a career high for him in a first half.

The Thunder continued to roll in the third quarter, making 16 of 26 field goals in the period to go up 123-81 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City set the Thunder single-game scoring record on a 3-pointer by Darius Bazley that banked in during the final minute.