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Three things to know: Jaren Jackson Jr. game-winner helps Grizzlies keep covering up defense

Memphis Grizzlies v Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 22: Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates a three point basket during the game against the Utah Jazz on November 22, 2021 at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

Three Things 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 going that make the NBA great.

1) Jaren Jackson Jr. game-winner helps Grizzlies keep covering up defense

Jaren Jackson Jr. has been shooting a pedestrian 33% on above-the-break 3s this season and was 3-of-10 on them in the game Monday night against Utah. But all that is forgotten because he hit the one that matters — Jackson won jump-ball against Rudy Gobert (after a controversial basket interference call ruled an inadvertent whistle after replay) then drained the game-winner to give the Grizzlies a 119-118 win against Utah.

That shot was set up by the threat of Ja Morant scoring inside — Morant leads the NBA in buckets at the rim, as Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN points out. Not Giannis Antetokounmpo or some big man like Nikola Jokic, it’s skinny 6'3" Morant who gets to the rim and finishes more than anyone.

In the closing seconds Monday, it was the threat of Morant scoring at the rim that forced a scrambling Jazz defense to collapse in the paint, opening up the kick-out to JJJ, who drained the game-winner. Utah led by six with less than 90 seconds remaining in this game, that is a tough loss for it.

Morant has Memphis at 9-8 on the season and in the mix to avoid the play-in games in the West, which is amazing for a team with the worst defense in the NBA. The Grizzlies have a 115.8 defensive rating, worse than rebuilding Orlando (113.9) or just bad New Orleans (113.2). The Jazz had a 119.2 offensive rating in Monday night’s games, it was just the usually stout Utah defense couldn’t get the stops it needed.

If the Grizzlies want to avoid the play-in the defense has to improve. They are the worst halfcourt defense in the NBA so far this season, and they have struggled in transition defense as well. They have suffered from some bad shooting luck — teams are shooting 40.1% on 3-pointers against them, a ridiculously high number that will come back to earth some over the course of the marathon NBA season — but a lot of this is on the Grizzlies. There is no grit and grind in their defense.

There are moments with Morant the Grizzlies look like a team on the rise, but the question of who can be the No. 2 next to Morant, and if the team can get stops, is holding them back. The Grizzlies have been the luckiest team in the NBA this season — their -4.7 net rating suggests they should be 6-11, not above .500. That luck will run out unless the Grizzlies change it by getting some more stops.

2) LeBron earns one-game suspension, Isaiah Stewart gets two

The way Isaiah Stewart did his Earl Campbell imitation — running over anyone and everyone who got in his way — the only question was whether he would get a two- or three-game suspension for the league after the Pistons/Lakers dust-up.

The bigger question was: Would the league suspend LeBron James? It may have been inadvertent and unintentional (don’t expect Pistons fans agree with that), but LeBron still punched Stewart in the face.

The answer to those questions:

Stewart got a two-game suspension without pay

LeBron was suspended one game without pay for “recklessly hitting Stewart in the face and initiating an on-court altercation.” This is the first suspension of LeBron’s career and will keep him out against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. It will also cost him $284,000.

In the end, this seems fair… unless you’re a Knicks season ticket holder. LeBron could not get off with just a fine here; that was a punch to the face that drew blood and required stitches. That earned a suspension.

Stewart… he got a reputation he will like out of this.

3) New coach, same problems for Kings in loss to shorthanded 76ers

Maybe it was time for Luke Walton to go — he wasn’t the solution. He wasn’t solving the problems of this imbalanced Kings’ roster.

However, the Alvin Gentry era in Sacramento didn’t look any better in its debut.

Sacramento lost 102-94 to a Philadelphia team without Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Danny Green, or, of course, Ben Simmons. That’s four-fifths of the pre-season projected 76ers starting five in street clothes, and Philly was still the better team in crunch time.

After the game, Gentry used the one tool he could to light a fire under his team, threatening to bench guys who aren’t competing. Via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“We’ve got to find the combination of guys that are going to play. Don’t really care what the hell the back of the jersey says, we’re going to play the guys that are going to play hard and do what we try to ask them to do. If you don’t want to run and you don’t want to get out and play in the open court, then we’ve got to find somebody that will…

“The one message I said from Day 1 is that the only thing and the only one that’s going to rescue us from this is us. There’s nobody in this league, not in the 35 years I’ve been in it, that has any sympathy for us. So you have to come together and you have to find a way to bail yourself out of this.”

Tristan Thompson was again blunt about this team.

The Kings are 6-12 and sit 12th in the West, 2.5 games back of even making the play-in. Watch this team play and it’s hard to see any identity — what kind of team do they want to be, and who is their leader? De’Aaron Fox looked better on Monday (23 points on 7-of-15 shooting), but he is working off the ball in crunch time because their bread-and-butter halfcourt play is the Tyrese Haliburton/Richaun Holmes pick-and-roll. Harrison Barnes has been good this season but was 2-of-8 shooting against the 76ers.

Maybe Gentry can instill an identity in this team, and maybe they can get a little nasty. The Kings can be better.

But the real fixes to turn this team around fall on GM Monte McNair and the front office — it doesn’t matter who the coach is if he doesn’t have the talent to win games.

Highlight of the night: Iman Shumpert is the “Dancing” king

Iman Shumpert can dance.

The 10-year NBA vet couldn’t land a contract this season, so he took his leg and championship ring to “Dancing With The Stars” and became the first NBA player to win the contest, and he did it with this dance.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 117, Cleveland 112
Charlotte 109, Washington 103
Atlanta 113, Oklahoma City 101
Boston 108, Houston 90
Indiana 109, Chicago 77
Milwaukee 123, Orlando 92
Minnesota 110, New Orleans 96
Phoenix 115, San Antonio 111
Memphis 119, Utah 118
Philadelphia 102, Sacramento 94