Three Things is NBC’s five-day-a-week roundup of the day before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every morning of the week to catch up on what you missed the night before, plus the rumors, dramas, and dunks that make the NBA great.
1) Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the NBA
Ja Morant bet on this winning acrobatic game a few days ago to beat the Suns.
– NBA (@NBA) December 28, 2021
Last night, Morant used all that athleticism to dominate late, score 41 and help the Grizzlies beat the Lakers.
Right now, Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the NBA. His fearless and relentless attacks on the rim, his control of the body in the air, his passage – you just can’t take your eyes off him. He faced LeBron James on a night when LeBron hit a career-high eight to 3 points and won (granted, Morant has the best supporting cast). Morant is the man who beat Stephen Curry in a play-in game last season and then lit the Jazz in the first round (in a loss, but he was brilliant). He brings it in the big moments, but Morant brings it to every game. It would take a fool to say the Grizzlies were better off without him.
Morant is the player I would pay the most to see in the league today. Stephen Curry held that title for me, and it can still be breathtakingly good. Then for years I would have said Damian Lillard held the crown and was the player I couldn’t ignore on League Pass.
Now it’s Morant. There are others that I love to watch – Chris Paul as the general on the ground, Zach LaVine is another offensive goalscorer who can take your breath away, Nikola Jokic and his passing and skills are fascinating – but for the pure artistry and entertainment, give me Morant every day of the week.
As for LeBron and the Lakers, that pretty much sums it up right now.
LeBron is averaging 35/10/7 of 57/40/82% over the last 6 games.
The Lakers are 1-5 in those games.
It should be a crime. pic.twitter.com/GbvyBGO4Ye
– StatMuse (@statmuse) December 30, 2021
2) Kyrie Irving: “I knew the consequences. I was not prepared for them.
Kyrie Irving has been clear: he’s grateful to be back on the pitch, training with his teammates, and playing for the Brooklyn Nets soon. He only plays in road games because he refuses to be vaccinated and the New York City’s vaccination mandate is going nowhere. It’s still something. Irving has made it clear he will take it, speaking to reporters for the first time since Media Day to open training camp.
“I’m not going to lie,” Irving said via The Associated Press. “It was relatively difficult to watch from the sideline. … But if I have the opportunity to come on the pitch and play with some of my teammates, even if it’s only on the road for away games, I’m grateful for the opportunity.
Irving said sitting down and watching the Nets was more difficult than he expected.
“I knew the consequences,” Irving said of his vaccination decision. “I was not prepared for them by any stretch of the imagination before the season. I thought about the possibility of being a full time teammate, going out, having fun, and coming up with a great brand of basketball. But unfortunately, it didn’t turn out like that. Things happen for a reason and now we are here and I am grateful for it.
The Nets had decided as an organization that they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player and told him to get the shot and be full, or he was full.
Then two things happened. First, the Nets have been good this season – 23-9 with the best record in the East – but they haven’t looked (or statistically been) as elite as Golden State, Phoenix, or the legitimate title contenders of the. Where is. The Nets have the seventh best net score in the NBA, and that doesn’t improve if you filter out garbage time or adjust the strength of the schedule. Kevin Durant played like an MVP and it wasn’t enough.
Second, COVID has struck and the Nets – like most teams – have struggled to keep their roster full. It opened the door and the Nets front office changed their tone and asked Irving to come back.
Can the Nets make it work with a part-time player who is only there for road games (except those against the Knicks and Raptors)? May be. It has the potential to look like a college football team that has two quarterbacks and tries to switch between them (does that ever work?). Two different starting lines, two somewhat different styles of play at home or on the road, could be awkward. Or, maybe, because Irving is so talented, it works. Still, it looks like it would be especially difficult during the playoffs, if that experience lasts that long.
The Nets only have two road games by mid-January, but as of Jan. 17 they have 18 of 25 on the road, and Irving could play a big part in that streak.
After that? Who knows. The Nets haven’t made a commitment to keeping Irving as a part-time player all season, and you can predict what’s on Irving’s mind and his next move if you want, but good luck with that.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to watch it play.
3) Ricky Rubio out for the season with a torn ACL
The Cleveland Cavaliers – 20-14 with the best net score of any team in the East – were the biggest surprise of the NBA season. A lot of things that seem to go wrong – like starting a three 7-footer – do for the Cavaliers, and it was fun to watch, and a team the city can support.
Then came that punch in the guts:
Ricky Rubio ended the season with an ACL tear in his left knee, an injury that occurred late against the Pelicans on Tuesday. Rubio planted his right foot on the drive, he slipped, and after that his left knee flexed. It looked bad back then (don’t watch this video if you’re at all squeamish).
Rubio and Darius Garland had formed an impressive backcourt and the Cavaliers were at +16.6 percent as they were both on the court this season. With Collin Sexton also lost for the season due to a knee injury, the Cavs’ backcourt is a bit thin.
There was buzz around the league the Cavaliers could be aggressive and be buyers on the trade deadline before that happened. They were thinking of pushing and trying to do a deep run. We will see how this injury affects this thinking.
Highlight of the night: Chimezie Metu drains match winner, Kings beat Mavs
Two behind with 3.8 seconds left, the Kings handed the ball over to De’Aaron Fox near midfield, he led the way and three Mavericks defensemen collapsed on him, and Fox had him. sent back to Chimezie Metu wide open in the corner and… ball game.
METU FOR WIN pic.twitter.com/wKLWYQT1gF
– Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) December 30, 2021
Bonus highlight of the night: LaMelo Ball was a one-man climax package
LaMelo Ball was only showing off against the Pacers, and poor rookie Chris Duarte had the worst of it.
Ball finished the night with 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.
Last night’s scores:
New York 94, Detroit 85
Charlotte 116, Indiana 108
LA Clippers 91, Boston 82
Chicago 131, Atlanta 117
Memphis 104, LA Lakers 99
Phoenix 115, Oklahoma City 97
Utah 120, Portland 105
Sacramento 95, Dallas 94