Three things to Know: Mitchell goes off for 40, adds to growing Celtics’ concerns


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) Mitchell goes off for 40, adds to growing Celtics concerns

“There’s no moral victories in this s***. We got to win games. Period.”

That was Jaylen Brown after the Celtics dropped their third straight and fourth in five games Monday night, this time to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who outlasted the Celtics in overtime 118-114. Boston was without Jayson Tatum for this game (knee contusion), but the concerns are broader than that.

Whether they are bored waiting for the playoffs or a little tired (or both), the Celtics are scuffling a little right when teams should be flipping the switch and fine-tuning for a playoff run.

There are reasons for concern in Boston.

First, give the Cavaliers their due — particularly Donovan Mitchell, who dropped 40 on a team built to slow elite wings, and his dunk in OT was hellacious. Mitchell has been spectacular in Cleveland this season and this is just an extension of his play all season.

Evan Mobley had 25 points and 16 rebounds as he has found more of a groove the second half of the season, and Lamar Stevens gave the Cavs some clutch play. The Cavaliers are now 7-0 this season in overtime.

As for Boston, this feels more like an issue of focus and desire than systemic issues.

The Celtics have struggled of late with transition defense, which in their case is a matter of hustle and execution. Tied to that is defensive rebounding — the Celtics are the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA this season, but they have lapses in key moments (and did again Monday).

Then there are the player issues. Grant Williams missed free throws that could have avoided OT — after telling Mitchell he would make both — and has had his struggles lately. Brown and Jayson Tatum are playing at All-NBA levels (Tatum will end up in the top five in MVP voting), but they have not been consistent down the stretch of late. Marcus Smart looks a step slower on defense at points.

Last season, Ime Udoka knew how to get through to this team and had them hustling and executing at a high level by the end. Does Joe Mazzulla have that in him? Mazzulla has been fantastic as a coach all season, keeping the continuity and not letting the Udoka situation become a distraction, but can he get this team focused for a playoff run (and is he a good playoff coach)? His biggest tests are ahead.

These are first-world problems — the Celtics are 45-21 with the third-best record in the NBA despite the recent slip-ups. But this team is all-in, title or bust, and they are being tested.

There are no more moral victories, this team needs to win some games.

2) Where do things stand with Ja Morant and the Grizzlies? An update.

After a day of news updates and a lot of hand-wringing in the media, here is where things stand with Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies a few days after he flashed a gun on his own Instagram Live stream from a club Saturday morning.

• He remains “away from the team” following the incident, and tonight (Tuesday), he will miss his second game, this one against the Lakers (who will be without LeBron James).

• Morant likely will be out longer than the two games initially mentioned by the Grizzlies, with coach Taylor Jenkins saying, “There’s not a definitive timeline [for a return]. I mean, we have said that it’s gonna be at least these two games, you know, we’re taking it one day at a time. I mean, this is going to be an ongoing healing process.”

• Police in Glendale, Colorado (part of the Denver metropolitan area), where the gun-waiving incident occurred, are investigating to see if any laws were broken. Colorado is an open carry state, but there are some restrictions and many questions about whose gun it was and how it got to the club.

• The NBA is investigating as well, with the focus on whose gun it was and how it got to the club. The league has a policy against guns on team properties or having them while traveling on team business — if Morant is found to have brought his gun on a team plane, he will face some level of league suspension (could be a handful of games, could be more).

• Regardless of where the gun is from, there is speculation the league could add an official suspension on top of the Grizzlies just having him be away from the team. The difference is pay — Morant is still collecting checks while away from the team, a league suspension (or an official team suspension, phrasing the Grizzlies have yet to use) is without pay.

• The Grizzlies conducted a team meeting, led by veteran Steven Adams, about behavior and going out on the road — that was a couple of days before Morant went to the club and flipped on Instagram Live.

• Sponsors have plans to feature Morant in the coming months — a Powerade commercial will be all over your television/streaming device during March Madness, and his signature Nike shoe drops next month. That hasn’t changed, but you can be sure the sponsors have noticed (and likely had a conversation with him).

• Morant released a statement over the weekend: “I take full responsibility for my actions last night. I’m sorry to my family, teammates, coaches, fans, partners, the city of Memphis and the entire organization for letting you down. I’m going to take some time away to get help and work on learning better methods of dealing with stress and my overall well-being.”

• The Grizzlies players and organization have wrapped their arms around him and see this as an opportunity to help a young man find his path, not simply punish him. There had been concerns about his off-the-court behavior and the behavior of his associates, the Grizzlies see this as a chance to change that dynamic and to do so not simply through discipline.

• It’s ultimately on Morant. Those associates around him are there partly because he is the breadwinner of the group — if Morant says, “things are like this from now on” they will fall in line because he has the power. He is the man making choices now, and he is wise to take some time, reflect on everything and decide what he wants his path to be.

3) Joel Embiid, James Harden keep putting on a show for the 76ers

While Boston is scuffling a little, Philadelphia looks like a team finding its groove.

Joel Embiid scored 42 points on 11-of-16 shooting (with 19 free throws), while Harden added 20 assists (as well as 14 points and nine rebounds), and the 76ers pulled away from the Pacers late to win 147-143.

This was a fun game to watch and the kind of night that has coaches pulling their hair out — there was little-to-no defense. It was an old-school shootout, but the Sixers found a way to get a win. Tyrese Maxey scored 24 and Jalen McDaniels added 20.

The 76ers have won 3-of-4 on a tough road trip.

Watch Austin Reaves score career-high 35, lead Lakers past Magic


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Austin Reaves scored a career-high 35 points, D’Angelo Russell added 18 points and the Los Angeles Lakers hung on for a 111-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night.

Anthony Davis had 15 points and 11 rebounds on another rough shooting night, but Reaves carried the Lakers to victory with 13 points in the fourth quarter, including Los Angeles’ last 10 points over the final 1:33. The undrafted second-year pro has earned a vital role his star-studded team, and Reaves factored in almost every big play down the stretch as the Lakers snapped a two-game skid.

Lakers fans serenaded Reaves with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as he repeatedly earned trips to the line in the fourth quarter. Reaves shot a career-high 18 free throws, while the Magic shot 17.

“For them to recognize what I do – obviously I’m not an MVP-caliber player, those guys are really good – but for them to do that is special,” Reaves said. “It means a lot to me.”

The Lakers entered this game off back-to-back losses to Houston and Dallas, imperiling their tenuous position in the playoff race. This win put Los Angeles (35-37) back in ninth in the Western Conference, tied with Minnesota.

“I thought it was (Reaves) being his normal self,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “What he’s been all year. Coming up in clutch moments for us, trying to make plays downhill, putting the defense in uncomfortable situations with his ability to attack the paint and draw fouls. He was great. He ended up with 35, and we needed all of them.”

Rookie Paolo Banchero scored 21 points for Orlando, but got an unwise technical foul with 25.3 seconds to play after repeatedly arguing with officials during the night.

“It just puts you in a hard situation when they’re calling it like that,” Banchero said. “You want to defend without fouling, but we keep getting called. We keep fouling, I guess. We keep getting foul calls against us, so it just makes it hard, but we still had a chance to win. You can’t blame it all on that.”

Franz Wagner also scored 21 points in the Magic’s sixth loss in eight games to wrap up a four-game road swing. Wendell Carter Jr. had 16 points and 11 rebounds, but Orlando couldn’t repeat the dominance of its 39-point fourth quarter in a victory over the Clippers one day earlier in the same arena.

“It’s difficult, because I think we’re an aggressive, attacking team,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said. “We’ve got to just, I guess, continue to do a better job of defending without fouling, show our help early and earn the respect of being able to get those calls.”

Cole Anthony hit a tying 3-pointer with 2:37 left for the Magic, who had trailed throughout the second half. Banchero fouled Reaves on a 3-point attempt a minute later, and Reaves hit two free throws before Wagner tied it again.

But Reaves hit a mid-range jumper with 57 seconds left and then grabbed the long rebound of Wagner’s missed 3 before making two more free throws. Banchero missed a layup and got the technical foul that helped the Lakers to seal it.

The Lakers improved to 6-5 during the latest injury absence for LeBron James, who has been out for three weeks with a sore right foot. Ham reiterated before the game that Los Angeles expects James to return before the regular season ends in three weeks.

Ham on LeBron return: ‘We anticipate him coming back at some point’ during season


The Lakers have kept their heads above water in a tight bottom half of the West, going 5-5 since LeBron James went out with a tendon issue in his foot. However, if they are going to be any kind of postseason threat, the Lakers need peak LeBron back.

With rumors swirling he might be out for a while, Lakers coach Darvin Ham gave the most concrete update yet on a LeBron return.

“At some point” is vague, but at least it means the team expects him to return.

LeBron has hinted on social media he is close to a return and will come back recharged.

In a West without a dominant team, Lakers fans — and players — can dream of a playoff run despite their 34-37 record. They looked good for the five games this team was healthy after the trade deadline, and it’s not inconceivable if the Lakers could get everyone back they could beat any team in the West in a best-of-seven. Whether a team with no margin for error (even when healthy) and health issues could string together three series wins to reach the Finals appears too big an ask, but do you think Denver/Memphis/Sacramento want to see LeBron and Anthony Davis in the first round?

Dillon Brooks, Klay Thompson beef gets fun as Grizzlies beat Warriors


Dear basketball gods: We need another Warriors vs. Grizzlies playoff series this April. Please. (It’s lining up for a possible 2/7 or 6/3 matchup.)

Mainly because we need more of the Klay Thompson and Dillon Brooks beef, which was on full display Saturday.

The Grizzlies easily handled the Warriors — who have now lost 11 straight on the road — and Brooks was savoring the moment and talking trash, so Thompson went Kobe and reminded him about the ring count.

Brooks laughed it off after the game (hat tip Evan Barnes at the Commercial Appeal).

“He’s got four rings. That’s all he was saying. It’s motivation to us,” Brooks said. “We want a ring as well. Being able to go through the process of steps that we did last year, we keep going and learning from it all.

“It’s friendly trash talk, but I just hold a lot of real estate over there in San Francisco.”

Thompson responded:

“I don’t care about Dillon Brooks,” Thompson said. “When he retires, I don’t think anyone will ever talk about Dillon Brooks ever again. I promise you. It’s sweet right now, but wait 10 years.”

Brooks enjoys being the antagonist, particularly against the Warriors, he’s already got a beef going with Draymond Green. While Brooks can take it a little too far at points, he is at the heart of what NBC Sports’ Corey Robinson describes as the “punk rock” attitude of Memphis — which is both part of what fuels them and part of what can at times undercut their discipline.

As for the Warriors, the four in the past can’t help them this season if they can’t figure out how to win some games on the road.

Whatever the outcome, seven games between these sides is what we need this postseason.

Celtics blown lead to Jazz, plus another Embiid-fueled 76ers win, drops Celtics to third in East


The Boston Celtics led by 19 in the first half in Utah. They led by four with 1:19 remaining. But the Celtics have played lately like a team that is comfortable — plus they miss Robert Williams III — and that led to another loss, this time 119-118 to the Jazz on the road.

This one came dramatically when Grant Williams — who was hot and hit seven 3-pointers in the game — broke off a play designed to be a dribble hand-off for Jayson Tatum and went to the rim, only to get rejected by rookie Walker Kessler.

Despite the loss, the Celtics clinched a playoff spot with the Heat’s loss to the Bulls. Utah’s Lauri Markkanen was hot and led all scorers with 28.

Earlier in the day, the 76ers had little trouble with the Pacers and picked up their eighth-straight win while Joel Embiid scored 31 points — his ninth straight game with 30+ points as he makes an MVP push.

The 76ers’ win and the Celtics’ loss moves Philadelphia percentage points ahead of Boston into the No. 2 seed in the East.

The Celtics and 76ers are destined to finish as the two and three seeds in the East, setting up a second-round clash (barring any first-round upsets). The seeding matters mostly for home court in that series and that could make a difference in what will be a physical, intense match-up that likely goes at least six games.

Meanwhile, the Bucks sit as the top seed with a two-game cushion and would love to watch the Celtics and 76ers beat each other up in the second round before having to face either.

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