Three things to Know: Lakers got the full Russell Westbrook experience

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LOS ANGELES — Three Things To Know 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) Lakers got the full Russell Westbrook experience Sunday

There are more positives than negatives with the Russell Westbrook experience lately in Los Angeles… but oh, those negatives leave a mark.

Westbrook brings energy off the bench the Lakers need nightly. Sunday night against Philadelphia he had his fourth triple-double off the bench this season (20 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists). He’s had improved chemistry with LeBron James of late, which showed with two key buckets late in the first half Sunday.

Even defensively, Westbrook made a play. With the 76ers up one and less than :30 seconds remaining in the game, he got switched onto Joel Embiid and played solid defense, not getting bullied in the paint and pushing Embiid to take a fade-away jumper that hit the front of the rim.

Then came the negative.

Westbrook got the rebound off that Embiid miss, brought the ball up, and never looked to LeBron — who was the best player on the floor in the game, scoring 35 points with 10 assists — instead deciding he would isolate in a cross-match against Joel Embiid (a guy who gets mentioned in Defensive Player of the Year conversations). Westbrook fumbled the ball a little, gathered it, then time was running out so he drove left, couldn’t get by Embiid and the help defense of Georges Niang, and put up what he said was a shot but almost looked like he wanted to skip pass to Troy Brown Jr. in the opposite corner. Whatever it was, Niang was officially credited with a block and, for the second straight game, the Lakers lost in the clutch.

Westbrook said he was fouled on that final shot attempt, even showing a few reporters around his locker a photo as evidence.

“I was trying to attack and get to the basket. Unfortunately, he was grabbing my wrist. I couldn’t get the ball up,” Westbrook said. “But it’s all good.”

Embiid denied that he fouled Westbrook (and countered that Westbrook had fouled him on the other end, but these things don’t get called late in games).

It may have been a foul by the book, but it was a subtle one in real-time and the kind of thing rarely called in the final seconds of a game. The bigger question was the decision to let Westbrook isolate on Embiid in the first place — why didn’t LeBron James touch the ball? Why didn’t Lakers coach Darvin Ham call a time-out (the Lakers had one) and set up a play?

“Just being down one point in the ball in Russell Westbrook’s hands, I’m comfortable with that. I don’t know how much I can reiterate that,” Ham said postgame. “If that was Bron it’d be the same thing, and we don’t want to bring an extra body over… if we got cross-match within Embiid in front of us again, we just got to make it. We just got to finish the play. That’s it.”

It was the second straight game the Lakers could not get a stop when they needed it, couldn’t get a last bucket when they needed it, and lost in the clutch. The previous loss was to Dallas, this one to Philadelphia — both top-five teams in their conference — but the Lakers are past the point in the season where they can have moral victories. Los Angeles is five games below .500 and sits 13th in the West.

“I know when we have our team together, when we locked in, we’re a really good team,” Westbrook said.

The Lakers’ biggest highlight of the night came in the first quarter, when with a 20-foot straight-on jumper LeBron became only the second player in NBA history to reach 38,000 points.

After this game LeBron is just 364 points shy of the once thought unbreakable NBA all-time scoring mark of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron is on pace to set the record around the All-Star break in February.

2) Nikola Jokic drains wild game-winner to beat Magic

It wasn’t pretty. Not the Nuggets’ second half (they led by 15 at halftime), nor the final play itself.

It didn’t matter — Nikola Jokic bailed the Nuggets out with a step-back 3 game-winner to beat the Magic on Sunday.

It was a league-leading 12th triple-double for Jokic, who finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists. Aaron Gordon led the Nuggets with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

In his revenge game against his former team Bol Bol had 17 points off the bench for the Magic.

3) Great slate of MLK day games

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day about things far more important than basketball — a chance to reflect on one of the great leaders America ever produced, and the ongoing struggle for the justice and equality he preached.
But it is also a day the NBA has embraced and celebrates with an impressive slate of games.

There are nine games on the day, but three that should draw your focus in particular.

Pelicans at Cavaliers (3 p.m. Eastern, NBA League Pass). New Orleans will be without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, but CJ McCollum and company have still been finding ways to keep their head above water and win some games until their stars return. Getting a win will not be easy against the second-best defense in the NBA (led by Jarrett Allen) and the unleashed scoring machine that is Donovan Mitchell in Cleveland.

Miami Heat at Atlanta Hawks (3:30 p.m. Eastern, TNT). Atlanta is a special place on MLK Day, the city where he was born and raised (if you’re there, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is must visit). The Hawks celebrate that legacy well — and they need a win. This is a struggling franchise that has seen a front office shakeup, they are trying to trade one of their stars (John Collins), and the fit of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray has not been smooth all season. Into town comes a Heat team that has won three in a row — sweeping a couple of games against the Bucks — and looks like it is finally starting to find its footing (if they can just stay healthy and keep their stars on the court).

Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies (6 p.m. Eastern, TNT). Memphis is where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and it’s home to the National Civil Rights Museum — another city where the MLK Day events are not to be missed. Memphis is also home to Ja Morant, the most entertaining player in the NBA today, and a Grizzlies team that is finally mostly healthy and starting to play like a contender. They host a Suns team that has struggled mightily without Devin Booker (who remains out), but still can be a threat when Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton get rolling.

The other games on the NBA slate today are Celtics at Hornets, Pacers at Bucks, Raptors at Knicks, Jazz at Timberwolves, Rockets at Lakers.

LeBron, other NBA players react to Kyrie Irving trade to Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets
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Is there going to be a football game of some kind next weekend? You’d never know the way the NBA trade deadline can dominate the headlines.

Kyrie Irving is getting traded to the Mavericks, which has blown up the NBA world — Dallas looks like a threat in the West, and there is a countdown clock over Kevin Durant‘s time in Brooklyn. It wasn’t just fans and pundits stunned by the news, NBA players past and present took to Twitter and social media to react and give their thoughts on the Irving trade. Starting with LeBron James and one of the guys in the trade.

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

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
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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).

Irving reportedly will land in Dallas Monday, take the standard post-trade physical, and could be available for the Mavericks on Wednesday against the Clippers.

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
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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.