Three Things to Know: Ja Morant is NBA’s most entertaining player
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 going that make the NBA great.
1) Ja Morant is NBA’s most entertaining player
Ja Morant banked in this acrobatic game-winner a few days ago to beat the Suns.
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 body control in the air, his passing — you simply cannot take your eyes off him. He faced down LeBron James on a night LeBron hit a career-best eight 3-pointers and won (granted, Morant has the better supporting cast). Morant is the man who out-dueled Stephen Curry in a play-in game last season then lit up the Jazz in the first round (in a loss, but he was brilliant). He brings it in the big moments, but Morant brings it every game. You’d have to be a moron to say the Grizzlies were better without him.
Morant is the player I would most pay to see in the league today. Stephen Curry held that title for me, and he can still be jaw-dropping good. Then for years I would have said Damian Lillard held the crown and was the player I could not just flip past on League Pass.
Now it is Morant. There are others I love to watch — Chris Paul as a floor general, Zach LaVine is another attacking scorer that can take your breath away, Nikola Jokic and his passing and skill are mesmerizing — but for pure artistry and entertainment, give me Morant every day of the week.
As for LeBron and the Lakers, this pretty much sums it up right now.
2) Kyrie Irving: “I knew the consequences. I wasn’t prepared for them.”
Kyrie Irving made it clear: He is grateful to be back on the court, practicing with his teammates, and soon playing for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s only playing in road games because he refuses to get vaccinated and the New York City vaccine mandate is not going anywhere. Still, it’s something. Irving made it clear he would take it, talking to reporters for the first time since Media Day to open training camp.
“Not going to lie,” Irving said, via the Associated Press. “It’s been relatively tough to watch from the sideline. ... But if I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with some of my teammates, even if it’s just on the road for away games, I’m grateful for that opportunity.”
Irving said sitting out and watching the Nets was tougher than he expected.
“I knew the consequences,” Irving said of his vaccination decision. “I wasn’t prepared for them, by no stretch of imagination coming into the season. I had my thought process on being able to be a full-time teammate and go out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball out there. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that. Things happen for a reason and now we’re here and I’m grateful for this.”
The Nets had decided as an organization they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player and told him to get vaccinated and be all-in, or he was all-out.
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 legit title contenders out of the West. The Nets have the seventh-best net rating in the NBA, and it doesn’t get better if you filter out garbage time or adjust for schedule strength. Kevin Durant has played like an MVP and it hasn’t been enough.
Second, COVID hit and the Nets — like most teams — have been scrambling to keep their roster full. That opened the door and had the Nets’ front office changing their tune and asking Irving to return.
Can the Nets make it work with a part-time player who is only there for road games (except the ones against the Knicks and Raptors)? Maybe. This 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 lineups, two somewhat different styles of play home or road, could be awkward. Or, maybe, because Irving is so talented, it just works. Still, it seems like it would be especially difficult come the playoffs, if this experiment lasts that long.
The Nets have just two road games between now and mid-January, but starting on Jan. 17 they have 18-of-25 on the road, and Irving could play a significant role in that stretch.
After that? Who knows. The Nets have not committed to keeping Irving as a part-time player all season, and you can predict what is in Irving’s mind and his next step if you want, but good luck with that.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to watch play out.
3) Ricky Rubio out for season with torn ACL
The Cleveland Cavaliers — 20-14 with the best net rating of any team in the East — have been the biggest surprise of the NBA season. A lot of things that seem like they shouldn’t work — like starting three 7-footers — do for the Cavaliers, and it’s been fun to watch, and a team the city can get behind.
Then came this punch to the gut:
Ricky Rubio is done for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury that happened late against the Pelicans on Tuesday. Rubio planted his right foot on the drive, it slipped, and after that his left knee buckled. It looked bad at the time (don’t watch this video if you are at all squeamish).
Rubio and Darius Garland had formed an impressive backcourt and the Cavaliers were +16.6 per 100 when both were on the court this season. With Collin Sexton also lost for the season due to a knee injury, the Cavs backcourt is a little thin.
There was buzz around the league the Cavaliers might be aggressive and be buyers at the trade deadline before this happened. They were thinking about making a push and trying to make a deep run. We’ll see how this injury impacts that thinking.
Highlight of the Night: Chimezie Metu drains game-winner, Kings beat Mavs
Down two with 3.8 seconds left, the Kings got the ball to De’Aaron Fox out near midcourt, he drove the lane and three Mavericks defenders collapsed on him, and Fox kicked it out to wide-open Chimezie Metu in the corner and… ballgame.
Bonus highlight of the Night: LaMelo Ball was a one-man highlight package
LaMelo Ball was just showing off against the Pacers, and poor rookie Chris Duarte got the worst of it.
Ball ended 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