Three things to Know: Could Grizzlies’ road woes keep them from contending?

Memphis Grizzlies v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
0 Comments

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) Could Grizzlies’ road woes hold them back from contending?

In the FedEx Forum, the Memphis Grizzlies play like unquestioned title contenders — a 20-3 record, outscoring opponents by 11.2 points per game fueled by the league’s best defense.

However, take the Grizzlies out of the friendly confines and everything changes. They are 11-12 and have been outscored away from home after dropping back-to-back games on the current road trip to teams in the play-in mix (the Lakers and Suns).

Memphis is the only team in the Western Conference with a top-10 offense and defense — the traditional sign of a contender — but to make the Finals, a team will have to win big games on the road. Could the Grizzlies’ road woes keep them from contending?

“Got to look ourselves in the mirror. We gotta want to be better if we got to want change,” Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones said when asked about road woes after a come-from-ahead loss to the Lakers Friday night that snapped their 11-game winning streak. “You know, and if we don’t, it’ll be a long road trip for us.”

It might be a long trip. The Grizzlies came out after that loss and got their heads handed to them by the Suns in the first half, trailing 62-37 at the break. Part of the Suns’ energy was the return of Chris Paul after missing the last seven games, he finished the night with 22 points and 11 assists.

The Grizzlies came back in the second half, partly because Ziaire Williams hit the longest shot in Grizzlies history.

Memphis still fell short. Players still felt like they didn’t play Grizzlies basketball.

“If we just follow principles, follow our principles he would have won the game by 15,” Dillon Brooks said after losing to the Lakers. “Shifting, loading up to the ball in transition, making them take tough shots. And then rebounding.”

The one positive is this: The losing really bothers these young Grizzlies.

Not that any team in the NBA enjoys losing, but it seemed to eat at this team more than most. After the loss in Los Angeles, a group of 10 or so reporters were huddled in the corner of the visitor’s locker room waiting to talk to Brooks about his words with Shannon Sharpe courtside that became a thing. Usually after a team loses in Los Angeles (especially on a Friday night), players are moving fast to shower and get out the door to the club or their dinner reservations — even the best teams lose a fair amount in the NBA and let it roll off them. These Grizzlies stewed in it. A core of the group sat at their lockers, bothered by the loss, talking about officiating and what they felt they should have done differently. They were not racing to get out the door. They didn’t like the feeling.

It’s a good sign, although they followed that up with maybe their worst half of basketball of the season two days later. But at least they recognize the problem. That’s a good start. Still, if the Grizzlies are going to win the West, they must fix it. They will need big wins on the road.

2) Shorthanded Nets hand Warriors another loss at home

Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving have a long-running rivalry and history with games against each other on the NBA’s biggest stages, and they put on a show Sunday night — Irving scored 38, Curry 26.

So much for the Warriors flipping the switch. After a hard-fought loss to the Celtics last Thursday, the Warriors did win in Cleveland, but in a game Steve Kerr rested his core players except for Jordan Poole — it was a one-off win. Then they came home and lost to a Nets team without Kevin Durant, where Brooklyn won the second half 60-44 to secure the victory.

Kerr stuck with his new small-ball starting lineup — Jordan Poole starts at guard and Kevon Looney comes off the bench — and the result was Nets center Nic Claxton having a career night.

That’s four straight losses at home for the Warriors, where they had been juggernauts. On the flip side, that’s two quality road wins for the shorthanded Nets in a row, they beat Utah a couple of nights before. Brooklyn is starting to find its offense.

The first game home after a road trip is a traditional trap game in the NBA, the Warriors can explain away this loss that way. But they continue to explain away too many losses this season for a team that fancies itself a title contender.

3) Lakers comeback win over Trail Blazers snapshot of these teams now

Portland is in a tailspin. The Trail Blazers won the second quarter against the Lakers Sunday 45-13 and led by 25 at the half — close this game out, beat the Spurs coming up, and they could have snapped out of their recent funk. Instead, the Lakers roared back to get the win behind 37 from LeBron James, and in a defining part of their season the Trail Blazers have now gone 2-8.

The Lakers, on the other hand, are suddenly looking up. They beat the Grizzlies on Friday night to snap that team’s 11-game winning streak, and now they have an epic comeback against the Trail Blazers led by LeBron’s 37 and 11.

That’s two quality wins in a row for the Lakers, who likely will get Anthony Davis back this week. With the win, the Lakers moved past the Trail Blazers in the standings (although only to 12th), and a path to the playoffs seems possible. Next up for the Lakers are the Clippers back at home.

Another note from this game: Thomas Bryant scored 31 for the Lakers.

It is a sign of an ongoing problem for the Trail Blazers — they are too small, and opposing bigs are feasting. Bryant, a true stretch five, is a problem for Jusuf Nurkic and the Portland defensive system.

The Lakers need this Bryant when Davis returns if they are going to climb up into the postseason.

By the way, LeBron is now 244 points away from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time passing record.

Five teams most likely to trade for Kyrie Irving before deadline

0 Comments

Kyrie Irving wants a trade out of Brooklyn. Now. Before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

It’s no sure thing a massive trade like this comes together in less than a week, but it has spiced up what was a relatively flavorless trade deadline to this point (with all due respect to Rui Hachimura).

Irving’s trade request asks some tough questions of the team’s interested in him. The incentive to make a deal is obvious — landing one of the game’s biggest names and an elite shot creator averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 37.4% from 3. On the other hand is the long list of disruptions he has caused the Nets and other teams he’s been on, combined with the fact he is asking out in Brooklyn partly because they would not give him a four-year max contract extension. Does a team trading for Irving look at his track record and want to lock him up for that long? (To be clear, a team that trades for him is limited two a two-year, $78.6 million extension; he might want to re-sign with the team as a free agent, a risk for the team acquiring him.)

What may best sum up the trade market for Irving: Teams calling are more interested in what this means for Kevin Durant than Irving (according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN).

Still, teams will be interested. Here are the top five worth watching.

1) Los Angeles Lakers

When reaching out to league sources in the wake of the Irving bombshell, the Lakers were the first name off everyone’s lips. Which makes sense because the sides discussed the idea last summer but never pulled off the trade. Now, more than halfway through the season, with the Lakers three games below .500 and sitting outside even the play-in tournament, there is a sense of desperation to do something so as not to squander an All-NBA season from LeBron James. Is that enough to get a deal done?

LeBron is trying to add some pressure.

The trade would, at its core, involve Russell Westbrook and the Lakers’ two available first-round picks (2027 and 2029), likely unprotected (although Wojnarowski reports the Lakers “privately expressing limitations on offering significant trade assets for Irving”).

That doesn’t mean Westbrook is headed to Brooklyn, the sides likely will engage a third team in the deal (San Antonio has cap space, and the Lakers have talked to the Jazz) to take on Westbrook in exchange for draft compensation. However, putting together a trade that works for everyone gets difficult, which is why one never happened this summer.

It’s obvious why the Lakers want to do this trade. Irving playing next to Lebron and Anthony Davis makes the Lakers potential contenders in a West where nobody has run away with the conference (even if Denver is trying).

It’s less obvious why this is the best option for the Nets.

In a direct swap, Westbrook — even with the added depth of a quality young role player — is a dramatic drop-off from All-Star starter Irving. Plus, in a straight-up Westbrook for Irving deal the Nets take on more salary, adding $56 million to a luxury tax bill already at $109 million (numbers via Bobby Marks of ESPN). Whether the Nets would be more enticed by a three-team trade depends on the other team and players involved, but if the Nets are going to hold on to Durant they need to find a way to stay a contender, and that won’t be easy to do in any trade with the Lakers.

2) Phoenix Suns

The Suns can make a trade work in a couple of different ways, but they all center around Chris Paul heading to Brooklyn — a big name but a player whose game has fallen off this season at age 37. The trade likely would involve either Jae Crowder or Cameron Johnson — both of whom need to be paid after this season — plus some picks headed to Brooklyn.

The Suns need half-court scoring, and an Irving and Devin Booker backcourt would be a force that could get Phoenix back in the mix at the top of the West. Would soon-to-be new owner Matt Ishbia be willing to pay big and go into the tax for Irving in future years? Would the Nets consider CP3 and some depth at the four enough to pull the trigger?

3) Dallas Mavericks

It’s no secret the Mavericks are desperate to find a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić, who is wearing himself out carrying this team. It’s also no secret that coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. Is that enough?

A trade can be constructed by sending former Net Spencer Dinwiddie back to Brooklyn along with just made available Dorian Finney-Smith, plus draft picks (there are reports the Mavericks are also hesitant to go heavy on draft picks in an Irving trade). Marc Stein reports that Dallas might want to unload one of its longer contracts in a trade, such as Tim Hardaway Jr. or Dāvis Bertāns.

Would some combination of those players plus a few picks be enough to interest Brooklyn? Is Dallas interested in signing Irving for the long-term, a four-year deal this offseason? Those questions could hold up the deal.

4) Miami Heat

Miami was on Irving’s leaked “places I would be willing to be traded” list last summer. Considering the Heat have struggled this season (despite the better play of late) and their struggles at point guard, it’s easy to see Miami’s interest.

However, it’s difficult to make a trade work. The Heat would want to send back Kyle Lowry, but there likely is little interest from Brooklyn in taking him on (he has a fully guaranteed $29.7 million on the books for next season). The Nets might want Tyler Herro, but he is in the poison pill year between signing his extension and it kicking in (the trade numbers going out and coming back are different for Herro under the CBA, making a trade very difficult to pull off).

Would the Heat want to sign Irving long-term? Is he a fit with the Heat culture?

You know Pat Riley will make the call, he’s always aggressive and wants to win now. But he’s not putting a player over the franchise, and he won’t give up too much to get a deal done.

5) Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are always aggressive as a front office, they need point guard help (someone who can create in the backcourt), and the owner is more than happy to spend if it means winning. The Clippers are loaded with mid-level salaries — Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Robert Covington, Reggie Jackson, Nicholas Batum — who can be packaged to make a deal work. They also have good young players to temp the Nets, such as Terance Mann and Brandon Boston Jr.

Is another high-priced mercurial star prone to missing time what the Clippers need right now? They will make calls, but it feels like a long shot.

Brooks given one-game suspension for shot to Mitchell (who was fined)

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
Jason Miller/Getty Images
0 Comments

Dillon Brooks did earn a suspension for hitting Donovan Mitchell in the “groin,” but he got off light.

Brooks was suspended one game and Mitchell got a $20,000 fine for their altercation during the Cavaliers’ win against the Grizzlies on Thursday night, the league announced.

“Brooks initiated the altercation by striking Mitchell in the groin area in an unsportsmanlike manner,” the NBA said in a release announcing the fine. “Mitchell then escalated the situation by throwing the game ball at and pushing Brooks, after which both players continued to physically engage with one another.”

Both Brooks and Mitchell were given Flagrant 2 fouls and ejected.

Brooks will serve his suspension Sunday against the Raptors. The one-game suspension is going to cost Brooks $78,621 in salary.

It’s difficult to watch the video of the altercation and not think that it was an intentional act by Brooks. As such, a one-game suspension seems soft and certainly isn’t sending a message of deterrence to other players. After the game Thursday, Mitchell fired shots at Brooks for the act.

The two teams do not meet again this season.

Reports: Kyrie Irving demands trade before Feb. 9 deadline

New York Knicks v Brooklyn Nets
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kyrie Irving‘s agent tried to spark contract extension talks with the Nets recently, but Brooklyn felt no rush to dive into those talks, and the offer they did make — not for a full four years and filled with guarantees for Irving to meet — increased Irving’s frustration with the organization. The Nets, wisely, wanted to see more out of Irving before talking about the future, while Irving has felt everything with Brooklyn has been conditional.

Irving responded with a bombshell, demanding a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic was first with the news, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have since confirmed it.

 

So much for a quiet trade deadline.

There are so many angles to this bombshell, but the sense of Irving feeling disrespected by Nets management and ownership is not new. Charania added this detail in his story at The Athletic:

The Nets recently offered Irving an extension with guarantee stipulations, according to league sources, an offer which was declined.

Irving wants a four-year, full max extension, no stipulations, Charania reports. That’s also what he wanted when he pushed for a contract extension with the Nets last summer, but after a couple of seasons of disruptions and him missing a lot of games due to his COVID vaccination status, the Nets were not interested in cementing their relationship long-term (Irving did look around for a new home, but that went nowhere).

The disruptions carried over into this season when Irving was suspended for what became eight games due to a Tweet promoting an antisemitic documentary. Through all this, the Nets fired Steve Nash as coach.

Whatever has happened off the court, when Irving has been on the court he has been his elite playmaking self, averaging 27.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. Fans voted him in an All-Star starter, and he has carried the Nets while Kevin Durant has been out.

While the Nets don’t want to give away Irving in a trade, if he’s gone this summer as a free agent they need to find a deal to get something in return (and ideally keep their status as a potential, maybe fringe, contender in the East). The Nets are not wrong that all the places Irving would want to go as a free agent will require a sign-and-trade, which gives Brooklyn some leverage. Irving has some leverage here, too: If Team X comes up with a trade the Nets like but Irving lets it be known he won’t re-sign there as a free agent, it limits what teams will offer.

When checking with league sources,  the first name on everyone’s lips are the Lakers, with a package centered around Russell Westbrook and both of the Lakers’ unprotected future picks (a trade that was discussed last summer). The Lakers likely have to sweeten that pot a little with another young player. Adding Irving to the mix with LeBron James and Anthony Davis does make the Lakers a threat to come out of a West with no dominant team, and Los Angeles might be willing to extend or re-sign Irving to a longer deal, they are all in on winning now.

Other teams that come up in conversations are the Heat (a team looking for point guard help and a spark, but does Irving fit the Miami team culture?), the Mavericks need another star next to Luka Dončić, and the Clippers are always active and aggressive at the trade deadline. Shams Charania of The Athletic reports the Suns are interested. Other teams looking to make the leap up to contender status may try to throw their hat in the ring. Considering Irving’s reputation as a challenge for coaches and front office staff, it will be interesting to see how many teams are interested in Irving’s extensions/contract demands.

Whatever direction this goes expect the Irving trade rumors to fly for the next six days.

 

Damian Lillard reportedly to take part in 3-point contest All-Star weekend

Atlanta Hawks v Portland Trail Blazers
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

The All-Star Saturday night 3-point contest has passed the Dunk Contest in watchability because the stars still do it. Look at this year’s Dunk Contest, there are some interesting athletes involved, and maybe it becomes a memorable event. Still, there will be no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Anthony Edwards (the way that Jordan, Kobe, and other greats took part in the contest back in the day).

However, the stars turn out for the 3-point contest. This year, that starts with Damian Lillard, according to Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and TNT.

The coaches selected Lillard as one of the All-Star Game reserves, he was already headed to Salt Lake City. This is Lillard’s third time in the 3-point Shootout.

Over the coming week, expect a lot more big names to jump into the 3-point contest — the best shooters in the game want to do this event (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have each done it multiple times, although whether they will this year is unknown).

All-Star Saturday night: Come for the 3-point Shootout, hang around for the Dunk Contest.