Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Ryan Saunders gets win for “Flip,” is 1-0 as Timberwolves coach

1 Comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Ryan Saunders gets the win for “Flip,” is 1-0 as Timberwolves coach after victory over Thunder. Minnesota needed that. After the firing of Tom Thibodeau as coach and GM, the Timberwolves came out in their first game under coach Ryan Saunders — the son of legendary coach Flip Saunders, and Ryan wore a “Flip” pin on his lapel through the game — and played like the Timberwolves fans had hoped they would see all season.

Andrew Wiggins stepped up with a difference-making — not just stat stuffing — 40 points and 10 rebounds, he took over the offense with Karl-Anthony Towns battling foul trouble. Wiggins was aggressive, hit his free throws, and played one of those (all too rare) games from him where he looks like a max player.

After the win, the Timberwolves celebrated like a young team finding some joy in the game again.

I’m not sure that there is a run in the Timberwolves (especially with Robert Covington and Derrick Rose out injured), but for a night things looked better and this team is just two games out of the playoffs.

That was not the biggest news out of this game.

Oklahoma City’s Nerlens Noel took an unintentional elbow to the face from Wiggins then had a nasty fall and had to be stretchered off the court.

We don’t know much. Noel was held overnight at the hospital for evaluation. Our thoughts are with him and the Thunder.

2) Good night for the Warriors: Klay Thompson drops 43 in a win, DeMarcus Cousins target return date set. While we continue to watch a disinterested Warriors team coast through the regular season, there are nights we’re reminded how much talent this team has and why most expect them to just flip the switch sometime after the All-Star Game and dominate again.

Tuesday night it was Klay Thompson’s turn, he dropped 43 on the Knicks on 18-of-29 shooting, including 7-of-16 from three.

Klay Thompson is back: In his last five games he’s shooting 55.1 percent overall and 51.3 percent from three.

The other bit of good news for the Warriors: The target dates for DeMarcus Cousins’ return has been set, on the road in Los Angeles either Jan 18 (Clippers) or Jan. 21 (Lakers). The Warriors have been lacking at the five spot all season — they miss JaVale McGee far more than they thought they would — and they hope that Cousins can fill that need. (If not, look for them to target Robin Lopez or other centers expected to be available on the buyout market.)

3) Nikola Jokic drains game-winner for Nuggets in Miami. “The floater is kind of my game. I love that shot just because I cannot dunk.”

That was how Nikola Jokic described his game-winner in Miami Tuesday. It was a simple pick-and-roll with Jamal Murray, Jokic rolled, got the ball in the lane, and showed off his floater skills.

The Nuggets defense has not been great of late (although it was better in Miami Tuesday) but an elite offense has kept the Nuggets on top of the West. Plus it helps to have shots like that from Jokic, who should be an All-Star reserve this season.

Karl-Anthony Towns posterizes JaVale McGee with vicious dunk

Leave a comment

Karl-Anthony Towns has played with newfound aggressiveness since the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler. We’ll see how Minnesota firing Tom Thibodeau affects the center, but Towns still had everything clicking yesterday afternoon.

He had 28 points, 18 rebounds, four blocks and this powerful dunk on JaVale McGee in the Timberwolves’ win over the Lakers.

LeBron James once again playing Christmas game at home of defending NBA champ

AP Photo/John Locher
4 Comments

OAKLAND, Calif. — LeBron James will make what has become a regular Christmas visit to the home of the reigning NBA champion when he leads his new team, the Los Angeles Lakers, against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

The Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, led by James, have won the last four NBA titles, with the champion each of the first three times earning the right to host the runner-up in a rematch on Christmas.

But it’s only half-true this year, with the NBA opting to invite James and his new team rather than the Cavaliers.

The Warriors beat the Cavaliers in their last two Christmas rematches in Oakland following their first two championships in 2015 and 2017. James had 20 and 25 points in those losses.

The Warriors had not yet signed Kevin Durant when they beat the Cavaliers 89-83 on Christmas of 2015, with Stephen Curry scoring 19 points and Klay Thompson 18.

After the Cavs beat the Warriors when the clubs met in Cleveland in 2016 — because the Cavaliers had won the championship six months earlier — the Warriors prevailed again at home last Christmas despite Curry sitting out with an injury. Kevin Durant (25 points) and Thompson (24) led the way.

The Warriors and Lakers are meeting for the first time since James moved west in the offseason. They currently sit second (Warriors, 23-11) and fourth (Lakers, 19-14) in the Western Conference standings, creating the possibility they will meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

The last time the Warriors won a playoff series from the Lakers, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were on the losing end of a 3-0 sweep in the 1967 Western semis when the opponent was known as the San Francisco Warriors.

The Warriors will take the floor Tuesday having won seven straight over the Lakers and having dominated them to the tune of 13-3 in the Steve Kerr era.

They are coming off two nail-biting home wins on back-to-back nights — 120-116 over Dallas on Saturday and 129-127 over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.

“It will be fun,” Kerr said upon turning his attention to the Lakers after Sunday’s win. “I love Christmas games, as long as they are at home. We are lucky we’re at home.”

The Lakers have lost three of their last four games, including a 107-99 defeat at home against Memphis on Sunday night.

They likely once again will be without center JaVale McGee, who has missed four straight games as he has battled pneumonia.

McGee felt good enough to make the trip north, and will receive his 2018 championship ring in a pregame ceremony.

A key contributor to the Warriors last season when he made nine playoff starts, McGee admitted Sunday he was just happy to be back at the arena and working up a sweat after being hospitalized.

“It felt good, man,” he said of his pregame warmup, something he hopes to build upon Tuesday. “Just getting back to the routine. For the past eight, nine days, my routine has been laying in bed. And that’s it. So it’s real refreshing.”

Three Things to Know: D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold hearted against Lakers

Getty Images
5 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold-hearted against Lakers. Do you remember what Magic Johnson said after the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets?

“We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader.”

Russell remembers. And Tuesday night against the Lakers he played with all the swagger Magic and the Lakers thought he lacked (and we haven’t seen all that consistently in Brooklyn). Russell was every bit a leader. And a scorer. And an assist man. Russell had 22 points, 13 dimes and the Nets got the win, 115-110.

There are two takeaways from this game.

First, the Nets are scrappy and have some talent — they have won six in a row for a reason (with wins over the Raptors, Sixers, and Lakers in there). The streak has revived the question “could the Nets make the playoffs?” They are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed out East. The Nets have done that with an elite offense (117.6 points per 100 possessions in the streak, third best in the NBA) covering up for a still bottom 10 defense. More than that, the Nets are a walking life lesson: Grit and effort will beat out unmotivated talent. Brooklyn is beating teams that look better than them on paper because they want it more and execute better — and that speaks to what coach Kenny Atkinson has built. It speaks to the right culture, one that will thrive as the talent increases.

The second takeaway? The Lakers need JaVale McGee. Which is a weird thing to type, especially considering Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo both missed the game as well. But the reality is the Lakers are thin up front — remember the start of the season when JaVale looked like a defensive force and the Lakers fell apart when he had to sit, meaning Kyle Kuzma or LeBron James had to play center? Then Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler and suddenly the Laker defense looked top 10 in the league. McGee has missed the last two games, Laker losses to Washington and Brooklyn, with flu-like symptoms. That moved Chandler into the starting lineup, but when he sits the Lakers are thin again. The Lakers may be 18-13 but they are built on thin margins — LeBron needs to play like an MVP and the Laker depth has to be good enough to support him to win. LeBron had 36 in this game, but in the 6:48 he sat in this game the Lakers were -9 and lost. The depth was not there.

Plus, Jarrett Allen did this to LeBron and became the hero of NBA Twitter for a night.

In the end, Russell made sure he got his revenge, sinking the dagger over Kyle Kuzma — the guy taken with the pick the Lakers received when they sent Russell East.

That’s cold. Just the way Russell wanted to serve it up.

2) Larry Nance Jr. tips in the game-winner and Cleveland stops Indiana’s win streak. The Indiana Pacers had won 7 in a row and came into Tuesday night as hot as any team in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers were scuffling without Kevin Love, Jordan Clarkson and Tristan Thompson.

So what happens? The Pacers seemed to be looking ahead to a showdown with the Raptors Wednesday and came out lifeless. The ball movement and offensive spark that was at the heart of the win streak came to a screeching halt — Indiana shot 39.8 overall and a dreadful 18.2 percent from three. Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans combined to shoot 9-of-36 on the night.

That let the Cavaliers hang around, and then this happened — Larry Nance tipping in the game winner.

Cleveland hasn’t had a lot to celebrate this season, so they did.

If you’re one of the Pacers fans complaining that in wrestling for position to get off the game-winning tip that Nance fouled Oladipo… come on. First, you’re never going to get that call in that situation, the refs are going to let them play. Also, THAT’S NOT WHY THE PACERS LOST. Go rewatch the first 47 minutes of the game. Or, just go re-read the second paragraph of No. 2 of our three things to know. That’s why the Pacers lost.

At least they shouldn’t be tired against Toronto on Wednesday.

3) Denver has won four in a row, leads the West, and Nikola Jokic is getting MVP mentions. What a world. In a West where the Warriors have gotten healthy, it is Denver that is still sitting atop the West and riding a four-game win streak — over Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and now Dallas — despite a rash of injuries robbing them of their depth.

After Tuesday night’s win over Dallas, Denver has won four in a row and is 21-9 on the season. How? At the heart of the matter is the big man playing at an All-NBA level who is getting some fringe MVP buzz — Nikola Jokic. He had 32.

Denver is legit people. In a West where we have no idea which team will come out of the pack and take on the Warriors next May in the conference finals, Denver has a real shot at it. They have the star player in Jokic, a good supporting cast, the fourth best defense and the seventh best offense in the league. It will come down to health and matchups in the West in the end, but Denver has as good a shot as anyone to dance with the Warriors in May.

Warriors’ starting center Damian Jones undergoes surgery for torn pectoral

Getty Images
Leave a comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Warriors center Damian Jones underwent surgery for a torn left pectoral muscle.

Golden State said Friday that Jones had the procedure Wednesday in Chicago, performed by Dr. Benjamin Domb. Jones is expected to begin the rehab process in six weeks with a timetable to be determined based on his progress.

Jones, a third-year pro out of Vanderbilt who developed in the G League last season to emerge as the starter for the two-time defending NBA champions, was injured Saturday at Detroit.

The 23-year-old Jones started in 22 of his 24 games, averaging 5.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in 17.1 minutes. Golden State had an opening at center following the offseason departures of JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West.