Three things to know: Kerr is honest about Warriors after blowout loss, 1-5 road trip

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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) Kerr is honest about Warriors after blowout loss, 1-5 road trip

The Golden State Warriors are not a good basketball team right now.

We all know Stephen Curry is out with a shoulder injury, and there have been flashes this season that reminds us these Warriors won the championship six months ago and can reach those heights again.

But that’s not who they are today, is it coach Steve Kerr?

“You are what your record says you are,” Kerr said in his postgame press conference, echoing a Bill Parcells line. “It was a bad road trip. We are 15-18, so we’re a below-.500 team, and we’ve got to find a way to reverse that.”
The Warriors

Kerr’s comments came after the Brooklyn Nets put up 91 points on the Warriors Wednesday night — in the first half.

Is everyone excited about the Warriors playing on Christmas Day now?

The Nets didn’t set the record, that’s the third most points scored in half an NBA game in league history. As bad as the Warriors’ defensive effort was, everything went right for the Nets in those first 24 minutes: they shot 71.4% overall, 13-of-19 from 3, had 19 fast break points and 30 points in the paint.

The Nets fans were even on point Wednesday.

Kevin Durant scored 23 and led nine Nets in double figures as Brooklyn went on to win 143-113.

There are reasons for this uninspired Warriors outing: The last game of a road trip, one where they rested Klay Thompson in addition to Curry being out, plus there was a real “let’s just get through the week before Christmas” energy. On top of all that, the Warriors ran into a hot Nets team that is healthy and putting things together.

We keep giving the Warriors the benefit of the doubt — and with good reason, we saw what the core of the Warriors can do back in June. But this is not the same team. It lost some of its depth — Otto Porter, Gary Payton II, Juan Toscano-Anderson — and the Warriors’ younger generation has not been able to step up and fill those spots in the rotation. Beyond that, these Warriors have not taken the first third of the regular season seriously, they have not built good habits, and the team with the best defensive rating in the league last season is 24th this season.

Nobody is running away with the West this season, but the Warriors’ slow start — not likely to get better in the coming weeks with Curry still out — is going to leave the Warriors fighting for a middle-of-the-pack playoff spot if/when they do turn it around, and the path from there to the Finals is much more difficult. Nobody is counting the Warriors out, but they and their fans have to know their path to repeating gets tougher and tougher with every ugly loss.

2) Cavaliers take a step forward with win over Bucks

Like the Warriors mentioned above, when it gets to the playoffs we’re going to trust the Milwaukee Bucks. They have done it before and have a ring. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have experience and are not using their top gears in December (but they may shift up one for Boston on Christmas Day).

The Cavaliers are good and young but have not yet earned that level of trust.

However, Cleveland took care of business against Milwaukee on Wednesday night and showed some maturity, looking like a team taking a step forward toward being a real postseason threat to the top two teams in the East. The Cavs built an early lead and then held off the Bucks’ second-half runs to pick up the 114-106 win behind 36 from Donovan Mitchell.

There are no statement games in December and this win will be forgotten if the Bucks and Cavaliers meet in the playoffs, but this was a confidence-boosting win for a Cleveland team that looks more and more dangerous with each step forward. It’s a good sign.

That said, Antetokounmpo was the best player in this game and would be a serious problem in a playoff series.

3) NBA shows it does not care about tampering

This year there were 38 new contracts agreed to and seven contract extensions signed on the first day of NBA free agency — nearly half of them the first 90 minutes after the free agent window opened. That is a lot of tampering, using the NBA’s by-the-book definition.

Teams shrug. That’s how the game is played. Every GM in this league would give up a future second-round pick to land an All-Star level player.

That’s the price the NBA set when it slapped the Knicks on the wrist for tampering. The NBA’s nearly five-month investigation into the Knicks’ recruitment of Jalen Brunson concluded that New York “violated league rules governing the timing of this season’s free agency discussions.” Meaning the Knicks tampered with Brunson.

The price: The Knicks lose their 2025 second-round pick.

The Knicks will gladly pay it. Brunson is averaging 20.8 points and 6.2 assists a game, has been the steady floor general the Knicks need and has played like an All-Star.

Rarely will there be cases with such blatant evidence of tampering — there were multiple reports the sides had agreed to terms before free agency officially opened. Also, the Knicks hired Brunson’s father, Rick Brunson, as an assistant coach (although he has been on Tom Thibodeau’s staff before). Then there was Knicks executives William “World Wide Wes” Wesley and Allan Houston, as well as forward Julius Randle, sitting courtside for a Mavericks-Jazz playoff game in Dallas (to be seen by Brunson). And the list goes on and on.

The recruitment worked and Brunson agreed to sign with the New York Knicks for four years, $104 million early in free agency.

There is an easy fix here: Allow free agents to be to talk to teams once their season ends. To use Brunson as an example, why shouldn’t the Knicks or other teams have been able to contact him once the Mavericks’ season ended? We all get why the NBA wants to stop teams from tampering with players still under contract — reaching out to Kevin Durant or Luka Doncic, for example — but for a free agent to be in the lame duck last month of their deal? Who cares.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Bulls’ Ayo Dosunmu with the putback game-winner

The Bulls and Hawks were tied 108-108 with :04 left, the Bulls were inbounding the ball and got it to DeMar DeRozan, who faked left and then spun back toward the baseline for a fadeaway. Four Hawks were around the basket to get a rebound but none of them put a body on the Bulls’ Dosunmu, who slid past all of them to get the rebound and hit the putback game-winner for Chicago.

Rozier, Washington, Ball help Hornets rally past Heat 122-117

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Terry Rozier scored 31 points, P.J. Washington had 27 and the Charlotte Hornets stopped Miami’s three-game win streak with a 122-117 victory over the Heat on Sunday.

LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte improved to 7-16 at home. Gordon Hayward was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field for 20 points.

Rozier also had seven assists and six rebounds. He was 11 for 19 from the field, including a 5-for-11 performance from 3-point range. He made two buzzer-beater 3s at the end of quarters.

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Miami, and Tyler Herro had 24.

The Hornets, who have been hampered by injuries all season, have won four of six for the team’s best stretch of the season. Washington believes it’s a reflection of the team getting healthier.

Charlotte’s projected starting five to begin the season is finally back on the floor and appears to be starting to mesh.

“Everybody is back and everybody is healthy – and that is a major difference,” Washington said. “At the end of the day we have to keep going the way we are right now.”

Hayward has struggled with shoulder and hamstring issues, limiting the team’s highest-paid player to just 24 games.

Sunday marked his best game in months.

“He’s playing confident and getting easy baskets and just bullying guys down low,” Washington said. “He’s playing great basketball and I expect that of him every night.”

Whether a now healthy Hornets team can make a playoff push remains to be seen, but coach Steve Clifford remains optimistic.

“Getting ‘Melo and Gordon back, obviously you’re a different team,” Clifford said. “If we can get into playing set groups then we’ll have a good chance to hopefully put some good stretches together. (It helps) when they know who they’re playing with and they know where the shots are coming from.”

The Heat led 62-58 after Rozier banked in a 3 from the midcourt logo to close out the first half.

Miami went on a 10-1 run to start the third quarter. Herro knocked down two 3-pointers to help the Heat open a 13-point lead.

But Charlotte came storming back behind Washington and Rozier, who began knocking down shots from deep.

Charlotte pushed the lead to 12 with 5:54 left on a turnaround jumper by Rozier.

Miami rallied with a 10-0 run. Kyle Lowry found Bam Adebayo inside for a layup to cut the lead to 108-106.

But Charlotte had another burst as Mason Plumlee got the ball after Rozier won a jump ball and drove to the basket for a score. Ball canned an open 3-pointer to put Charlotte back up 114-106 with 1:50 left.

Washington’s rebound and score off his own miss kept Charlotte up by seven and Plumlee dunked off a pass from Washington to put the game away in the final minute.

Charlotte shot 54.2% from the field and scored 25 points in transition. The Hornets also outrebounded Miami 47-36.

“They have had a lot of injuries but when they have been fully healthy, this team can score much different than their numbers may suggest for the season,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not step up defensively, they got a lot of easy run-ups that quickly changed the momentum of the game.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”