Three things to know: In very tight West, will any team go all in to win?

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Three Things 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) In very tight West, will any team go all in to win?

Talking to someone with the Clippers less than a couple of hours before Kawhi Leonard‘s return to play, they casually said one of the reasons they were comfortable being patient was nobody had run away with the West.

They are right. On Thanksgiving, nearly 20 games into the season, just three games separate the top-seeded Suns and the out-of-the-play-in 11-seed Warriors.

It’s not like that in the East, where Boston and Milwaukee have clearly looked like the two best teams, and there is already a six-game gap between the Celtics and the 11-seed Bulls. Out East, the bar has been set (and both the Bucks and Celtics are still without key players due to injury).

Out West, no team has run away with anything — five other teams are within a game of the top-seeded Suns. Or, look at it this way: The Suns are two games away from falling from the top seed to the play-in. With so few games played who a team played matters, strength of schedule factors in more, and the Kings, Clippers and Suns are among the seven easiest schedules in the league. Things will get tougher for them.

Which leads to this question, one asked by Vincent Goodwill on Brother from Another on Peacock Wednesday:

Will any team make a bold trade and make themselves the team to beat in the West?

There are rumors of deals, but they are not necessarily a conference changers. The Jazz have been rumored to have an interest in John Collins. The Suns have their eye on Bojan Bogdanovic in Detroit among other players (and they are sending out Jae Crowder in a deal at some point, looking for players who can help them win now in return). Will any team make a move for Myles Turner? (And will the Pacers trade him, after they have gotten off to a better-than-predicted start and Turner has been a beast protecting the rim?) Buddy Held? Will the Rockets finally trade Eric Gordon?

Those are all quality role players, but what about the superstars? The players that shift the balance of power?

Nothing is sure on that front. Yet. A lot of eyes have turned to Brooklyn where the Nets look flawed and Kevin Durant looks frustrated. Then there are questions about which teams might look at themselves in the mirror come Christmas and decide to pivot toward Victor Wembanyama and the lottery. The Heat and Bulls are right with the Nets in disappointing starts, might they become sellers? (It’s hard to imagine the Heat throwing in the towel on any season, but they could put quality role players on the market beyond Duncan Robinson if they want.)

Some team in the West is going to make a move. Maybe the Mavericks find a running mate for Luka Doncic. Maybe it’s internal, like the Clippers getting Paul George and Kawhi Leonard healthy and on the court together for an extended stretch (they did go 3-0 when Leonard returned, only for him to sit out in a loss to the Warriors Wednesday due to his ankle). Maybe Denver cleans up their bottom-five defense. Perhaps the Pelicans get Zion Williamson healthy for an extended stretch and look like a team ready to make the leap.

Or maybe it is the Suns, but after the way they exited the last playoffs, they will have to prove their mental toughness in May, not December.

The door is open in the West. Is any team going to be bold enough to walk through it?

2) Bulls finally win a game in the clutch, knock off Bucks 118-103

Last season, the Bulls were one of the best teams in the clutch in the NBA, largely thanks to DeMar DeRozan having a career year and hitting big shots. This season, the Bulls entered Wednesday 0-7 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes (not a perfect measure of clutch, but the one that has become the standard).

But Wednesday Coby White stepped up.

The Bulls are not a team stacked with shooting that takes a lot of 3-pointers, but White is a guy that can get hot for them from deep. He had two threes in the final 90 seconds that were key, as was Alex Caruso drawing a late charge on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

DeRozan finished with 36 for the Bulls. Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, Brook Lopez added 20, but the Bucks turned the ball over 20 times and that did them in.

The Bulls have now beaten the Celtics — snapping Boston’s nine-game win streak — and the Bucks in back-to-back games. It’s a huge confidence boost for a team that stumbled out of the gate, now can they sustain and build on that momentum?

3) Trae Young puts up 36 and Kings’ seven-game win streak goes down

They can’t light the beam every night.

The Sacramento Kings seven-game win streak ended at the hands of Trae Young, who can be a one-man offensive machine and put up 36 on the Kings in a 115-106 Atlanta victory.

Malik Monk led Sacramento with a season-high 27 points, but this wasn’t their night. Clint Capela added 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Hawks.

The Kings have been a great story, the second-best offense in the NBA (using the NBA.com numbers) with De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis leading the way and seemingly a different guy stepping up every night. But they have had this fun, 10-7 start against one of the softest, easiest schedules of any team so far. That’s about to change with the Celtics and Suns on the docket for their next two games (and a long road trip in December). The tests for the Kings are coming.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Bucks on top of Thanksgiving edition

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It’s the Thanksgiving edition of the NBC Sports weekly NBA Power Rankings, and in this one we talk a little about what each fan base should be thankful for this year. Spurs fans, you should be thankful for Gregg Popovich.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (13-4, Last week No.1). Boston has to be thankful for coach Joe Mazzulla, who has struck just the right tone with this team after being thrust into the head coaching position days before training camp. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, trusted what had been built and what these players had worked on, and struck the right tone. The Celtics are now home for six straight with some interesting tests: Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (Wednesday) and the red-hot Kings on Friday.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (12-4, LW 2). Milwaukee has to be thankful for the return of peak Brook Lopez, who leads the NBA in total blocks (44) and blocks per game (2.8), and who has played at a Defensive Player of the Year level. He is the reason they have the second-best defense in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game, but some people don’t see him as a top-five MVP candidate so far because his two-point shooting has fallen to 57% this season. Really?

 
Suns small icon 3. Suns (11-6, LW 4). Phoenix fans should be thankful Devin Booker is their anchor. This team has gone 4-3 without starters Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson because Booker has been phenomenal this season, averaging 27.6 points a game, shooting 38% from 3, and dishing out 5.8 assists daily. Cameron Payne also deserves credit for stepping up with CP3 nursing a sore heal. The Suns get the two upstart teams in the West, the Jazz and Kings, in some interesting tests this week.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (11-6, LW 6). Be thankful for a front office with Koby Altman (and an owner) willing to go all in on Donovan Mitchell because it has worked out (29.8 points and 6 assists a game). He has been better than advertised, and with Darius Garland (23.9 points and 7.8 assists), the Cavs may have the best backcourt in the league. The one thing that would keep them from that crown is Garland’s turnovers. A couple of good tests to see where this team really stands in the East coming up with games in Milwaukee and Toronto.

 
Jazz small icon 5. Jazz (12-7, LW 10). A little wind has come out of the sails as the Jazz have dropped 4-of-6 but Jazz fans have to be thankful that Lauri Markkanen has found himself and been maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA this season. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, shooting 36.1% on 3-pointers, and he looks like the hometown All-Star in Salt Lake City. It’s not the offense that has been the issue of late, it’s the 28th-ranked defense over the last six games. Will Hardy has to come up with a way to get some stops for this team.

 
Mavericks small icon 6. Mavericks (9-7, LW 5). Dallas has taken its foot off the gas — and Luka Doncic has looked a little low on gas — in some ugly losses lately (Pelicans without Zion Williamson, Magic without Paolo Banchero, Wizards without Beal or Porzingis). It’s concerning long term that this team needs an MVP night from Doncic to have a chance against the best teams. Mavericks fans need to be thankful that Spencer Dinwiddie is doing as much as he is to be the No.2 shot-creating option on this team (17.1 points and 5.1 assists a game, shooting 40.7% from 3), as Jason Kidd clearly isn’t leaning into Christian Wood because of defensive concerns.

 
Clippers small icon7. Clippers (11-7, LW 13). The Clippers are thankful Kawhi Leonard is back, and they are 3-0 since he returned to the starting lineup. They are top 10 in the league in offense and defense in those games (Leonard is out Wednesday night with an ankle issue). Tyronn Lue has said he wants to build an offensive identity of” drive, touch the paint, kick, swing” and we started to see that when they hit 21 3-pointers against the Spurs. Their front office and coaches talked about the return of Leonard as meaning it was time to drill down and start building good habits, and even with Paul George and Luke Kennard out there are some promising early returns.

 
Kings small icon 8. Kings (10-6, LW 16). Kings fans need to be thankful for The Beam — it’s a rallying point the team has bought into, and it has them winning six in a row. The other reason for the winning streak (and another reason for Kings fans to be thankful) is the team has gone against the easiest schedule in the league so far this season. That will change, but right now the Kings are doing what playoff teams do and beating the teams they are supposed to beat. And they are lighting the beam.

 
Pelicans small icon 9. Pelicans (10-7, LW 12). So much of the focus on this team is whether Zion Williamson is in or out of the lineup, but even with the changes New Orleans has the fourth-best net rating in the NBA for the season. It helps to pick up quality wins when the Warriors sit everyone you can name in both games in the Big Easy, but still those count as wins. New Orleans fans should be thankful for Brandon Ingram finding his 3-point shot — 48.2% on 4.3 attempts per game this season, a big leap for him that helps open up the court.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (10-7, LW 7). Losers of four in a row and now they will be without Damian Lillard a while longer (while heading into a tough road stretch: at Cleveland, then both New York teams, then the Clippers at home). Trail Blazers fans should be thankful for Jerami Grant, who has fit in beautifully playing next to Lillard and is scoring 19.6 points per game while shooting an unsustainable 47.1% from 3. Grant remains a much-needed plus defender on this team as well. He has been worth every penny as a pickup.

 
Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (10-7, LW 3). Denver stumbled with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in health and safety protocols, but the bigger questions are how long they can keep winning with a bottom 10 defense. Nuggets fans should be thankful for the play on that end of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who remains a much-needed plus defender on the wing. Fun measuring stick game Friday at home against the Clippers, who are surging of late.

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (10-8, LW 9). Memphis fans should be thankful for the health and return of Jaren Jackson Jr. — it’s only been three games but their rim protection is much better, plus he has provided some offensive versatility scoring 18 a night. Ja Morant missed only one game with his Grade 1 ankle sprain, and clearly he was fine dropping 34 in the loss to the Kings. One of the biggest long-term questions the Grizzlies have to answer is how to strike a balance that can keep Morant on the court — he’s an aggressive, attacking player with insane hops and history suggests though kinds of players battle injuries (think Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose). Morant will push through, but the Grizzlies must find a way to keep him healthy long-term.

 
Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (10-6, LW 19). This might be too low a ranking for a Pacers team where everything is going well (winners of four in a row heading into Wednesday). They are playing at one of the fastest paces in the league (18% of their possessions start in transition), they have a potential Rookie of the Year in Bennedict Mathurin, and Pacers fans should be thankful the team held on to Myles Turner because he is having one of the best rim protection seasons of any big in the league. With Tyrese Haliburton running the offense, there is no reason this team can’t sustain a playoff level this season.

 
Hawks small icon 14. Hawks (10-7, LW 8). Atlanta fans should be thankful for this optimistic sign: Two of the Hawks wins have come against the Bucks, which both times did have Antetokounmpo in the lineup. The surprising stat about this team is the lack of 3-pointers a game, they are making 9.2 a night, tied for last in the league with the Lakers. The Hawks aren’t taking them (28.7 a game, second-fewest in the league) and not making the ones they take (32% as a team). Trae Young is part of the problem, hitting just 30.4% of his 3s this season. The Hawks are 2-3 in their last five, but this bucket by A.J. Griffin gave them a dramatic victory.

 
Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (10-7, LW 18). Washington fans should be thankful for Kristaps Porzingis‘ health, he has played in all but one game so far this season and is giving them 20.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. They don’t win games like the one against the Heat without him. While Bradley Beal has been in seemingly constant trade rumors for years, there is some buzz around the league that the name teams are calling Washington about now is Kyle Kuzma. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 assists a game this season, and he has a player option for next season he is not expected to pick up, making him a free agent. If the Wizards aren’t going to pay up and re-sign him this summer, they may have to consider a trade.

 
Sixers small icon 16. 76ers (9-8, LW 11). Tuesday’s win against Ben Simmons and the Brooklyn Nets — done without Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey or James Harden — is something this team can build upon, a win that was about culture and depth, not top-end talent. The Sixers just played harder than the Nets. With three games on the road this week but against Charlotte, then two against the Magic, the 76ers could keep racking up wins and start to turn around a season that has been slow to start and gotten Doc Rivers seat warm. Embiid should be the first of the big three to return to the court, but the 76ers will not rush him.

 
Raptors small icon 17. Raptors (9-8, LW 14). Toronto has kept its head above water with Pascal Siakam out, having gone 4-4 so far in his absence. Despite a rash of injuries — which has become an unfortunate Toronto tradition — this team has the net rating of a 10-7 team, something that holds promise for what they might be if they can just get everyone healthy at the same time. They are home for three this week but no easy ones with the Nets, Mavericks, and Cavaliers coming north of the border.

 
18. Timberwolves (9-8, LW 24). After a disappointing start to the season, the Timberwolves have rattled off four wins in a row (including solid wins against the Cavaliers, 76ers and Heat) and they are playing better on both ends of the floor (top 10 offense and defense over those four). Anthony Edwards is attacking again and Minny is getting stops. With a relatively soft schedule coming up (Pacers, Hornets, Warriors, Wizards) a hot Minnesota team could get on a run and climb the ladder in the West that remains very compact (the Timberwolves sit at No. 10 as of this writing but are just two games out of first place).

 
Warriors small icon 19. Warriors (8-10, LW 17). It seems obvious, but Warriors fans should be thankful for the throwback, vintage, MVP-level season Stephen Curry is having so far: 32.3 points, 7.1 assists, 6.7 rebounds a game shooting 44.7% from 3 and carrying a ridiculous workload. Those Warriors fans can also be frustrated with the rest of the franchise for squandering his play, but there have been a couple of positive signs. They picked up a road win, for one. Second, a couple of strong games from Klay Thompson as he seems to be getting his legs back under him. They are not out of the mix in a tight West, but it will be challenging to string together wins this week against the Clippers, Jazz, Timberwolves and Mavericks.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (9-9, LW 20). Knicks fans should be thankful that Jalen Brunson has been even a little better than advertised, not just in raw numbers but in providing a steady hand guiding the offense and getting guys in position. As discussed in my podcast this week with Tommy Beer, the Knicks still feel like a team that needs to do something to shake up the roster at the trade deadline and that could mean shopping Julius Randle. Although the market for him may be limited.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (8-10, LW 21). The Nets got Kyrie Irving back, strung a couple of wins together and you started to think “maybe this team can figure it out,” Then they have maybe their ugliest loss of the season to the shorthanded 76ers on Tuesday. The Nets tried to build a contender, went through pain this summer to keep this potential contender together, and for what? Watching them now, we can all just forget them getting to the level of the Bucks and Celtics, instead we need to ask if they even get to the level of the Cavaliers? Hawks? Raptors?

 
Thunder small icon 22. Thunder (7-10, LW 23). Thunder fans need to be thankful for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — forget the need to tank for a franchise cornerstone, the Thunder already have the kind of player other teams tank and hope for. Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an All-NBA, maybe bottom-of-the-MVP-ballot level averaging 31.1 points and 6 assists a game, shooting 39.1% from 3. His play this season may have Sam Presti and company speeding up the timeline for turning this team around, which is not a bad thing.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (7-10, LW 22). Billy Donovan called out his players before Friday’s game against Orlando, then benched Zach LaVine for the final 3:43 of it, with the game in doubt, trying to send a message. It worked the Bulls played maybe their best game of the season Monday beating the Celtics, snapping a four-game losing streak. Now Chicago heads out on a six-game road trip and if they don’t bring that Boston energy things could get ugly fast.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (7-11, LW 15). Miami has been ravaged again by injuries this season and it makes it difficult to say where this team truly stands — we haven’t seen them whole long enough to have an idea. Who is the only Heat player to start every game? Kyle Lowry (I didn’t see that one coming before the season). Their preferred starting five hasn’t started together since Nov. 1. What’s different from last season is that when guys went down the Heat leaned into players such as Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the guys nobody knew about who Erik Spoelstra and company turned into solid role players. This season, there haven’t been those new guys. The other thing that is clear now, the Heat need the shot creation of Tyler Herro in the offense or they are a bit predictable.

 
Lakers small icon 25. Lakers 5-11, LW 27). Anthony Davis is on a tear — four straight games of at least 30 points and 15 rebounds — and that combined with a soft part of the schedule as the Lakers going 3-1 in their last four. LeBron James is set to return to the lineup Friday, and with the next two games against the Spurs, Los Angeles has the chance to go on a little run and start to turn their season around. If that happens, and Rob Pelinka looks at a West where no team has run away and hid, might he be more likely to go all-in on a move and try to give his team a puncher’s chance in the postseason? Should he?

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (4-14, LW 28). The basketball gods are cruel. LaMelo Ball gets back on the court for three games before injuring the same ankle on a fluke play stepping on a fan’s foot. That happened just as the Hornets were getting Gordon Hayward back from his injury (he has 33 points across two games, shooting 50%). There have been other bright spots for Charlotte, such as the play of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Dennis Smith Jr., but it hasn’t been enough to earn more than one win so far in November.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic 5-13, LW 25). Orlando has gone 3-4 with Paolo Banchero out due to a sprained ankle (he could return on Friday), but that includes having dropped 4-of-5. Still, Magic fans need to be thankful their front office went with Banchero because he is unquestionably the real deal, the kind of shot-creating franchise cornerstone they need. Franz Wagner also continues to play well, averaging 19.3 points per game (we’ll see how he responds emotionally to the German’s loss to Japan in their opening World Cup game).

 
Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (3-14, LW 29). On the bright side, the Rockets are forcing more close games this season, they have 10 clutch games (within 5 points in the final 5 minutes). The problem is they have the worst offensive net rating of any team in those minutes (71.9) — the young stars in Houston have not yet figured out how to score against focused defenses). The bright side, the thing to be thankful for in Houston, is the play of Alperen Şengun and Kenyon Martin Jr. so far this season. There is real promise there.

Pistons small icon 29. Pistons (4-15, LW 30). It may just be the silver lining, but Pistons fans should be thankful for the deep draft coming up next June. This team hoped to be thinking postseason not lottery, but with Cade Cunningham now out for an extended period of time, the Pistons may be the first team that had play-in aspirations to fully pivot to “Brick for Vic” (or whatever we’re calling the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes). The Pistons had lost eight in a row until they beat the Nuggets, but still have the Jazz and Suns left on this road trip.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (6-12, LW 26). Gregg Popovich on getting his team through a rough season focused on player growth: “You have to assess an individual’s development based on where they started from, and how much they continue to glean from whether it’s you know, practice or film or shootarounds, game situations, that sort of thing. So it’s about values and goals and that’s how you get through it. And beyond that, you kind of slap yourself. It’s really a tough life. I can’t pay my electric bill. The players can’t pay their gas bills and gas is too expensive for them to buy — come on, give me a break. You know, it’s the greatest job in the world. So if you complain, you’re an idiot.”

After hard fouls to Antetokounmpo, Bucks’ Budenholzer says NBA needs to protect players

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In Philadelphia, the Bucks’ Antetokounmpo took a hard foul from Joel Emnbiid, but there was little discussion of it after the game because there was a ladder on the court.

Monday night, he took another hard foul, this time from the Trail Blazers’ Jerami Grant (Justise Winslow tries to help ease the fall but maybe makes it worse).

The officials reviewed the play and kept it a common foul. After the game, Bucks’ coach Mike Budenholzer said the league needs to do more to protect players, via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“You guys have pool reporters, you can ask again,” he said. “The shot the other night in Philly was a significant shot, they don’t upgrade that. I just think sometimes the hits that Giannis is taking, the league needs to look at, the league needs to protect him. It’s not just him, anybody takes those hits, the league needs to protect players…

“So live it definitely looked like they wrapped him up, they went above his head, they hit him across the forehead,” Budenholzer said. “Live, it looked like a flagrant foul. Even though it’s going to the other end of the court, live and as it happened I don’t see how that’s not a flagrant one. If the arena showed replays I didn’t see the replays and I haven’t seen any replays since. But when you go high, above the shoulder and wrap someone up — looked like a non-basketball play, looked like a clear flagrant.”

Antetokounmpo is one of the strongest and most relentless players in the league at attacking the rim, and with that teams see hard fouls as one of the only tools to slow him down. But it’s a fine line to walk between allowing that kind of physical play — which Antetokounmpo helps initiate — and saying it’s gone too far and could lead to serious injury. On this play, the Grant foul was hard but was it more clumsy or a flagrant?

Portland didn’t have much success slowing Antetokounmpo down as he dropped 37 on 16-of-24 shooting to lead the Bucks to a 119-111 win.

Three things to know: LaVine, Bulls bounce back to snap Celtics win streak

Boston Celtics v Chicago Bulls
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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Three Things 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) LaVine, Bulls bounce back to snap Celtics win streak

The Boston Celtics came into Monday night having won nine in a row and looking every bit the best team in the league.

The Chicago Bulls entered the game having lost four in a row and having star player Zach LaVine benched for the final 3:43 of their most recent loss following a 1-of-14 shooting night.

Monday night the tables flipped. Chicago played with desperation and couldn’t seem to miss from 3 (LaVine and DeMar DeRozan combined to go 8-of-13 from deep), while the Celtics seemed flat. The Bulls’ offense was just flowing on Monday night.

The result was a 121-107 Chicago win that the Celtics can shake off and call a bad night, but something the Bulls needed.

It was just that kind of night. The Celtics followed the playbook that has worked for a lot of teams, such as dropping off Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso and daring that duo to shoot 3-pointers. They combined to hit 5-of-8 from deep. It was just that kind of night.

Important for Chicago, Zach LaVine had a bounce-back night scoring 22 and looking active on both ends of the floor. It appears benching him for the closing stretch against Orlando worked, both firing him up and sending a message to the team.

One other note out of this game: Jaylen Brown addressed his Tweet around Kyrie Irving‘s return to Brooklyn saying he did not endorse the protestors.

Those protestors bringing “energy” were members of Israel United in Christ, a group that endorses many of the things in the movie Irving Tweeted about that got him in hot water in the first place. They distributed flyers to people walking into Sunday’s game called “The Truth About Anti-Semitism” and “The Truth about Slavery.”

Brown addressed the issue, courtesy of Jamal Collier of ESPN.

“I saw a large group of our people from our community showing support for [Kyrie] and his return,” Brown said Monday. “Me being proud of that support and being proud of our community for doing that does not mean I endorse or celebrate some of the things that were being done or being said.

“My instinct when I saw this was I didn’t notice which group it was. I just noticed the support, and that’s what I commented on. I reemphasize that I don’t think that everything that is said or being done or being said is something I endorse or represent.”

Both Irving and Brown are on the players’ union executive committee.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo dominates, drops 37 in Bucks win

In a season with a lot of stars having incredible years — Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, Jayson Tatum and others — somehow Giannis Antetokounmpo gets taken for granted. He’s the best player in the world but he doesn’t even make everyone’s top-five MVP ballot.

As a reminder, Antetokounmpo dominated and dropped 37 on 16-of-24 shooting to lead the Bucks past the Trail Blazers 119-111.

Milwaukee is 12-4 on the season playing without their best ball handler in the halfcourt, Khris Middleton, plus starter Pat Connaughton. Antetokounmpo averages 30.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game, and if you’re knocking him because his two-point shooting has fallen to 57% this season, that seems like hunting a reason to go against him.

It’s far, far too early to have a serious MVP conversation, but if you have it Antetokounmpo has to be in the mix.

3) For second time this season, Warriors sit stars in New Orleans

Imagine you live in New Orleans and you decide you want to see your team take on Stephen Curry and the defending champion Golden State Warriors. You would have had two chances, Curry and company came to town on Nov. 4 and Nov. 21.

Except Nov. 4 was the second night of a back-to-back and the final game of a five-game road trip for the Warriors, so Steve Kerr rested Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins. Anthony Lamb started and played 36 minutes for the Warriors, and the Pelicans won.

Monday night was the second time the Warriors came to town — and again it was the second night of a back-to-back the third game in four days and Kerr rested all his stars (Lamb played 34 minutes). The Pelicans cruised to an easy 128-83 win behind 34 points from Brandon Ingram.

This is bad for the fans in New Orleans. It’s not Steve Kerr’s fault, he has to do what’s best for the long-term health of his team, they are title contenders (despite the slow start to the season) and he has to look at schedule-maker losses and get his guys some rest.

The league has to do better by cities. By fans. Unquestionably there are going to be nights where players get rested at the end of a long road trip and it will disappoint fans, there is simply no way around it (you could lessen the impact by playing fewer than 82 games, but good luck going down that road). But the NBA can’t give a city two of these games, essentially telling fans “you’re not going to get to see the best version of the defending champs because we’re got a schedule to keep and money to make.”

It’s not fair to the fans in New Orleans and many other cities hoping to see the best players in the world.

Antetokounmpo argues with Harrell, Philadelphia arena worker, then knocks down ladder postgame

Milwaukee Bucks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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It all started because Giannis Antetokounmpo shot 4-of-15 from the free throw line in the Bucks 110-102 loss to the 76ers Friday night in Philadelphia.

After the game ended and players had gone back to the locker room, a frustrated Antetokounmpo came back onto the court to practice shooting free throws. It’s not uncommon for some players to workout a little on the court after the game, although usually it is members of the home team.

That’s when things got weird, as described by Joe Varden at The Athletic.

While the Greek Freak worked on his free throw form — he often in warmups wants to hit 10 free throws in a row before he stops — Sixers reserve big man Montrezl Harrell came back out to get his own workout in with Philadelphia coaching staff member Jason Love. Antetokounmpo and Harrell had a verbal altercation.

Harrell grabbed the ball away after one free throw, and at that point Love said Antetokounmpo could not practice in the arena.

“This isn’t f****** Milwaukee,” Harrell barked at Antetokounmpo, as witnessed by The Athletic. “Get that s*** out of there.”

Harrell defended his action saying he had asked for the court to work out and Antetokounmpo would not step aside.

Antetokounmpo’s response to Harrell taking his ball? He went back and got two basketballs so he could continue shooting.

Except while Antetokounmpo was off the court, a Wells Fargo Arena worker had moved a ladder near the basket as part of his work preparing the building for the next event. Antetokounmpo walked over and moved the ladder so he could continue shooting, then the employee moved it back, as video of the incident shows. The two had a few heated words, then at that point Antetokounmpo shoved the ladder to move it again and knocked it to the ground.

Harrell reportedly yelled at Antetokounmpo telling him not to disrespect the arena worker.

Antetokounmpo explained his side later, as relayed by Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“I respect every player,” Antetokounmpo said. “I know some players don’t play now, they want to get some extra work, want to work on their skills and stuff, and I said, obviously we can shoot together. They said, they told me no, this is their court, I should leave. I was like, I have three more free throws, I was at seven, I want to try to make 10 in a row. I shot my eighth one. Came and took the ball away from me and I was very surprised. I feel like it’s very unprofessional. I would never take the ball away from a professional athlete when he’s trying to do his job…

“I went back out there to shoot and there was a ladder in front of me,” Antetokounmpo said. “And I said, ‘Can you please move the ladder? And they said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Can you guys please move the ladder?’ They said, ‘No.’ I was like, ‘Guys, I have two more free throws, can you please move the ladder?’ And they said, ‘No.'”

Antetokounmpo said he didn’t mean to push over the ladder, he was just trying to move it and it fell.

“At the end of the day, people are going to make things look the way they want it to look,” Antetokounmpo said of the video of him pushing the ladder…”I don’t know if I should apologize because I don’t feel like I did anything wrong, except the ladder just fell. I feel like it’s my right for me to work on my skills after a horrible night at the free throw line.

While the incident itself is not that big a deal, from a PR perspective, it’s not a great look for Antetokounmpo — it’s going to be called a tantrum. He may have had reasons to be frustrated, but his actions put a smudge on his squeaky-clean, Disney-movie reputation and persona.