Three things to know: Nets fall to 1-2 as Harden struggles to start season
LOS ANGELES — 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) James Harden is scuffling to start season, Nets fall to 1-2
The foundation of the belief the Nets would be fine without Kyrie Irving — in fact, that they would still be favorites to win the title without him — is they still had Kevin Durant and James Harden, two of the world’s top five players (depending on your ranking), two guys who can carry the team to wins on their own.
Durant has lived up to his part of the billing through three games, looking like an MVP.
Harden has not. And the Nets are 1-2.
It’s only three games, but Harden is shooting 19-of-49 (38.8%) overall, 9-of-23 (39.1%) on 3-pointers, but with 17 turnovers.
Then there is Harden not drawing fouls: He has attempted nine total free throws through three games. Last season he averaged 7.3 attempts per game. Harden has been one of the game’s true foul hunters the past few seasons, and Nets’ coach Steve Nash said his star has become the poster boy for the new rule interpretation not giving fouls to non-basketball moves. It’s led to Harden not getting calls on actual fouls, Nash said. Harden agrees.
Let’s for a moment bask in the irony of Nash making that claim. Last season, the Brooklyn coach said “that’s not basketball” when Trae Young was making non-basketball moves to draw fouls against the Nets, but now that it’s his guy not getting those calls, Nash thinks it’s not fair.
Back to Harden… he’s not himself. And he owned it, here are his postgame comments, via Brian Lewis of the New York Post.
“I’m just getting my confidence back. I’m a little hesitant. You guys can see it. Just going through a lot of ups & downs last year, then coming into training camp healthy, making sure my conditioning is where it needed to be”
Brooklyn’s early-season issues go beyond just Harden’s slow start (or even Kyrie Irving’s absence, although they could use him). Defensively, Brooklyn seemingly has no rim protection with many lineups, which has led to a bottom 10 defense in the league so far. Yes, it’s early in the season, but defense was a concern for Brooklyn going into the season and the fact Charlotte got both good looks from 3 and got to the rim seemingly at will is a big reason the Nets are 1-2.
Let’s give the Hornets some props; they are 3-0 this young thanks to an elite offense — LaMelo Ball appears to have taken a step forward, the Hornets are both bombing threes and aggressively driving the rim — and enough defense to earn those wins. Charlotte has looked sharp.
Still, this has not been the start to the season the Nets pictured, both on and off the court.
It’s far, far too early in the season to panic in Brooklyn. However, with no Irving, the Nets’ margin for error is gone, and to win they will need MVP-level Harden to return to Brooklyn.
2) Despite the Ja Morant show, Lakers play best game so far, get first win
Confession time: Ja Morant has become my single favorite player to watch in the league. He’s not the best player, but I can’t take my eyes off him — and neither could Lakers fans at Staples Center Sunday night. Morant had them buzzing with his acrobatic plays on his way to scoring 40. Plus, he’s developed a steady 3-ball now (5-of-7 against the Lakers), which makes him impossible to cover.
Those Staples Center fans also got to see the best Lakers performance of the season and the team’s first win, 118-115 over the Grizzlies.
A lot of things looked better. The Lakers played faster, pushing the ball even after makes, and attacking the rim in transition. In the halfcourt, the Lakers didn’t settle and started driving off kick-out passes rather than putting up contested jumpers, and Grizzlies didn’t have the rim protection to stop them — the Lakers got 20 points in the paint in the first quarter.
Then the 3-pointers started to fall. The Lakers hit 16-of-30 from 3 for the game, with LeBron James going 4-of-9 from deep and Carmelo Anthony hitting 6-of-8. With one of those 3s in the third quarter, Anthony passed Moses Malone for ninth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Anthony led the Lakers with 28 points for the night.
The other key offensive move for the Lakers was they finally had Russel Westbrook setting screens for LeBron, a 3-1 pick-and-roll, and Westbrook rolling/cutting to the rim worked because he is dangerous in that role (as opposed to standing at the arc like a jump shooter).
Los Angeles was tighter with their defensive rotations, and Anthony Davis was a wall inside with four blocks — Davis has been everything the Lakers need from him so far. He has been brilliant through three games this season and finished with 22 points. LeBron added 19. The Lakers bench, behind Anthony’s game-high 28 points, outplayed the Grizzlies’ bench.
It took all of that to get the win, and the Lakers are not going to sustain that level of shooting from 3 every night. Still, Vogel found good ways to use Russell Westbook in spots, and the team seems to have found a stride. There’s still a lot of work to do, but things look a lot better for the Lakers for a night.
3) Rockets’ rookie Jalen Green is putting on a show, drops 30
Jalen Green put on a show in Houston, which will likely be the first of many. He tries to end guys every time he attacks the rim, and he put up 30 against Boston on Sunday. Green is just a walking bucket.
Boston still got the win behind 31 from Jayson Tatum, but the Rockets and Green are entertaining to watch.
Highlight of the night:
Thunder fan Conner sinks the half-court shot — with some Kawhi Leonard bouncing on the rim action — to win $20,000.
Last night’s scores: