Three things to Know: Players to watch on the buyout market


LOS ANGELES — Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out 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) Players to watch on the buyout market

The trade deadline has come and gone, but a few more transactions are coming — for some of the players traded, they were simply salaries to balance out the deal but their new team isn’t looking to get them on the court. Those players — along with some guys not traded that teams are ready to move on from — will be bought out of their contracts in the coming week or two and made free agents. (Traditionally, the player gives up a little bit of money to be set free from a situation neither he nor the team wants).

We make too much of this buyout market — rarely do these players move the needle for a team making a deep playoff run (Enes Kanter did for the Trail Blazers in their 2019 Western Conference Finals run when Jusuf Nurkic got hurt, for example). These are players teams were willing to trade, then another team was willing to let walk away. That happens for a reason. Still, there are solid point guards on the market, players who could help some, especially for what is left of the regular season.

Here are a few names to watch.

Russell Westbrook. Both the Lakers and Westbrook were ready to move on from that marriage, but Westbrook will not be playing games for the Jazz, he will get bought out. Will he get more minutes, more touches, and be happy somewhere else? Will he accept a sixth-man role again, or does he see something larger? There is some mutual interest with the Clippers and Paul George is reportedly recruiting him (but they have Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland, so how many minutes are there?).

Reggie Jackson. The Clippers sent him to Charlotte to get the backup center they wanted in Mason Plumlee. The Hornets plan to buy out Jackson, who is averaging 10.9 points a game this season and shooting 35% from 3.

John Wall. The other former Clippers point guard is not sticking around for a reunion in Houston, he will be bought out. His market as a free agent may be limited, but some teams may call.

• It is expected the Magic will buy out Patrick Beverley, the point guard they acquired from the Lakers in the Mo Bamba trade. He brings some grit and intensity that a team may need.

• While there was speculation, the Cavaliers are not going to buy out Kevin Love, he is sticking around for the Cavs’ playoff run.

2) Khris Middleton and the  Bucks are looking better every game

Khris Middleton returned to the Bucks from his knee issues on Jan 23. The Bucks haven’t lost since.

That win streak reached nine on Thursday night when the Bucks looked like their contending selves in the second half and bested a shorthanded but feisty Lakers team, 115-106. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like an MVP putting up an almost casual 38.

But the return of Middleton — even on a minute’s restriction — has fueled the Bucks’ run. Because his minutes are limited, he’s been aggressive and attacked when he’s had opportunities.

“I think Khris being aggressive opens up everything else for us,” Jrue Holiday said postgame. “I feel like he makes the game look easy, which he does. Especially scoring, how he gets to his spots, how he fades on people. He’s a tough guard. So for him, it’s like, he does what he does and then it kind of opens it up and, like we said earlier, kind of keeps that balance for everybody else. So him being aggressive makes our team a lot better.”

The Bucks are looking a lot better — and about to add Jae Crowder and his physicality and defense — should scare the rest of the league.

3) Spencer Dinwiddie is back in Brooklyn, puts up 25 in win

Kyrie Irving heading to Dallas and teaming up with Luka Doncic was the obvious headline of that blockbuster trade, but there was another interesting part to it:

Spencer Dinwiddie returned to Brooklyn, where he first made a name for himself in the NBA.

He looked at home in his first game back, scoring 25 for the Nets in a win over the Bulls, 116-105.

The Bulls made an interesting choice standing pat and not doing anything at the trade deadline. If the argument is they haven’t been whole this season without Lonzo Ball, look around the league at all the teams winning without their stars for stretches.

The Nets may be without their stars for the remaining 27 games, but they have a team of solid role players, a 3.5-game cushion to be in the top six and a 6.5-game cushion to make the play-in — the Nets are headed to the postseason. They are still going to make it. Brooklyn may not last long once it does get there (although making the top eight is very possible), but postseason games are in the Nets’ future.

Joel Embiid scores 46 but 76ers still fall short against Poole, Warriors


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Jordan Poole emerged as one of Golden State’s most dependable performers during the championship run last season.

He resembled that go-to guy once again Friday night when the Warriors needed everything he had, with the ever-reliable Draymond Green doing his thing, too.

“Opportunity,” Poole said of his stellar fourth quarter playing all 12 minutes.

Poole scored 33 points and swished a key 3-pointer with 1:18 to play off a pretty pass by Green, Stephen Curry added 29 points and eight rebounds, and the Golden State Warriors rallied past Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers 120-112 on Friday night.

“Tonight something about it felt like last year in that playoff run when Jordan was just attacking and knocking down shots but also getting to the line just giving us an entirely different dimension offensively,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s when he’s at his best. I thought he really competed down the stretch defensively as well. He was magnificent tonight.”

Embiid checked back into the game with 8:26 left and scored 13 straight on the way to 46 points.

But the Warriors came back from 11 down for their ninth straight home win — and one of the most important yet as they fight for playoff positioning.

Green noted: “Nobody wants to be in that play-in, the play-in is dangerous.”

Curry dribbled the baseline and around Embiid for a go-ahead jumper with 2:20 to play. Klay Thompson tied it at 104 with 5:05 left, only for Embiid to drive straight down the key for a dunk. He did miss consecutive shots in crunch time, too.

Poole’s driving dunk with 8:27 left got Golden State back to 93-91 then Kevon Looney’s putback after Embiid blocked a layup try by Poole cut it to 102-101.

Embiid shot 13 for 23, made 19 of 22 free throws and had nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He helped Philadelphia take an 88-79 lead going into the fourth. He had his streak of scoring 30 or more points in a franchise-record 10 straight games snapped in Wednesday’s 116-91 win at Chicago but made up for it.

Golden State nemesis James Harden sat out with left Achilles soreness for the Sixers, who had won nine of 10 and 10 of 12.

Thompson added 21 points and six rebounds and Looney contributed six points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as the Warriors reached 30 home wins for the sixth time since 2014-15 and second in a row.

“You want to take care of home court as best as you can,” Poole said.

Green had 10 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for Golden State, which had some momentum from two straight wins on the road following an 11-game skid away from Chase Center.

“I feel good. It’s that time of year you’ve got to turn everything up a notch,” Green said. “I love this time of year.”

Philadelphia, which had won the last two matchups, made 10 of 17 shots to start the game but missed its first eight 3-point tries before Georges Niang connected at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter.

Luka Dončić fined for money gesture toward referee after loss


The Mavericks were livid about the officiating in their loss to the Warriors, particularly the miscommunication about a third-quarter out-of-bounds play that gave Golden State an uncontested bucket in what ended up being a two-point game.

Frustrated or not, everyone knew Luka Dončić crossed a line and would get fined when he made a gesture suggesting the referees were paid off.

Friday the NBA came down with a $35,000 fine for Dončić “for directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture toward a game official.” While that’s a steep price it could have been much worse — the referee did not give Dončić a technical foul at the time, which would have been his 16th and triggered a one-game suspension without pay.

Dončić wasn’t the only person fined by the league for snapping at the officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 on Friday “for public criticism of the officiating.” Williams was frustrated after losing to the Lakers on a night where Los Angeles got to the line 46 times to Phoenix’s 20.

“Where do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team?” Williams said after the game. “That’s just not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It is happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same call, and I’m tired of it. It’s old… I’m over it. Been talking about the same thing for a while. Doesn’t matter what team it is.”

It doesn’t matter what team it is for a reason. First, the Suns do not draw a lot of fouls because they are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the rim (especially without Kevin Durant), they settle for jump shots. Second, they have the highest foul rate in the league — they foul a lot. Those two things will lead to a free throw disparity nightly (they had players who could draw fouls, Mikal Bridges is doing it now in Brooklyn, but the Suns didn’t put the ball in his and ask him to attack as the Nets have, Phoenix used him as a shooter and cutter off the ball more often).

The tensions between players and referees feel ratcheted up this season, and these are just the latest examples.

Report: Kevin Durant targeting March 29 return vs. Timberwolves


When Kevin Durant sprained his ankle during warmups, the Suns said he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. It turns out it may be more than a re-evaluation.

Durant is targeting a return almost three weeks to the day from when he injured himself, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

There has been no official update from the Suns, but Durant’s camp has always been optimistic about a return.

The Suns have gone 2-5 without Durant and slid into a virtual tie with the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the West. If Durant returns Wednesday, Phoenix would have seven games left to hold off Los Angeles and retain home court in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, they could generate some chemistry before the postseason begins.

Durant averaged 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game with a ridiculous 80.8 true shooting percentage in his three games with the Suns, and the team won all three games. The fit seemed almost seamless and if the Suns can get back to that they are a threat to win the wide-open West.

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the West.

Where’s the beef? Anthony Davis says ‘Me and Bron have one of the best relationships’ in NBA


Whispers and reports of a split in the Lakers’ locker room and a beef between Anthony Davis and LeBron James gained momentum after Davis’ reaction to LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record went viral. Talking Lakers drama is always an excellent way to get clicks/eyeballs/listeners and so once a rumor like a beef between the team’s two biggest stars begins rolling down the hill it does not stop.

Even if Davis says there is nothing to it, everything is good between him and LeBron. Here’s the quote he gave to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Me and Bron have one of the best relationships I think in the NBA as far as duos or teammates, regardless,” Davis said. “But they don’t see that. They don’t see the stuff we do off the court and time we hang out with each other. They see on-court stuff.”

The reality is it doesn’t matter if LeBron and Davis are buddies, hanging out together drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and laughing behind Frank Vogel’s back. What matters is whether they can get along and thrive on the court. There’s a banner hanging in Arena that says they can if they stay healthy and management puts the right kinds of role players around them.

The healthy part is in the way right now, with LeBron out for at least a couple more weeks with a tendon foot injury (whether he returns before the season ends is up in the air). The Lakers are 7-5 in the dozen games he has missed with this injury thanks to a defense — anchored by Davis — that is third-best in the NBA over that stretch. That has kept their head above water, but the Lakers are in a tight race where six teams — from the 7-12 seeds, making up all the play-in teams and a couple that will miss out — are tied in the loss column at 37. The Lakers need more wins, including Friday night in a critical game against the Thunder.

The Lakers will need LeBron back — and LeBron and Davis to rekindle their on-court chemistry — if they are going to make any kind of a playoff run. First they just have to get to the postseason, which will fall more on Davis. Of late, he has looked up to the task.