Three things to know: O’Neal tips in game-winner, now Nets get Irving back
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 that make the NBA must-watch.
1) O’Neal tips in game-winner, now Nets get Irving back
Everyone in the building, everyone watching at home (including Kyrie Irving), knew what the Nets’ wanted to do with 6.7 seconds left in a tie game: Get the ball to Kevin Durant.
They did — and he missed.
But Royce O’Neal was there to save the day.
In a sloppy game the Nets got a quality win — winning on the last night of a road trip against a 10-4 (now 10-5) Trail Blazers team, with Kevin Durant recording his 16th straight 25+ point game to start the season (tying him with Michael Jordan for the sixth-longest streak to open a season in NBA history).
Maybe more importantly, the Nets got the best game of the season out of Ben Simmons, who finished with 15 points on 6-of-6 shooting, 13 rebounds, and seven assists. He fouled out, he never took a shot outside the paint, but he made a real impact. That was different.
And things are about to get better for the Nets — Kyrie Irving should return for the team’s next game on Sunday.
Multiple reports say Irving has cleared protocols and is expected to play Sunday when the Nets host the Grizzlies. He and the Nets found steps that made everyone happy and he did enough to satisfy the powers that be following a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and a defiant first reaction to the backlash to his Tweet). Irving apologized in an Instagram post, met with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and met with Nets’ owner Joe Tsai and his wife, among other steps.
A couple of days ago Durant was frustrated enough to tell Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report, “Look at our starting lineup. Edmond Sumner, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, [Nic] Claxton and me. It’s not disrespect, but what are you expecting from that group?”
But with the group the Nets roll out Sunday, with Irving back, more than 7-9 will be expected.
2) Kawhi Leonard returns but now the real work begins in Los Angeles
For the first time since Game 4 against the Jazz in the 2021 playoffs, Kawhi Leonard started a basketball game.
Just look at the box score and you’d think Leonard didn’t impact the game much — six points on 2-of-8 shooting, five rebounds, four assists in just under 25 minutes— but that would miss the critical number: he was +26 in a five-point Clippers win over the Pistons.
“I don’t know if a lot of people knew it, but how he took over the fourth and just a calm demeanor, the way he wanted the ball, the way that he got us in positions,” Reggie Jackson said of Leonard’s impact on the game. He later added that the attention Leonard and Paul George draw opened the door for him and Ivica Zubac to run simple pick-and-rolls that got him open for Bucks.
Jackson was the Clippers’ best player on the night, finishing with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, and in the first half of as sloppy and ugly a basketball game as has been played in the NBA this season, Jackson felt like the only Clipper who could make a shot. George and Marcus Morris Sr. each added an inefficient 16 points in the Clippers’ 95-91 win.
Both teams scored under a point per possession in this slog of a game, but the Pistons have more of an excuse with Cade Cunningham and Isaiah Stewart out.
The Clippers have played a lot of “bet the under” games this season — they have the second-best defense but the worst offense in the league statistically. With Leonard back, it’s time for the Clippers to stop treading water and start moving forward.
“I feel like we need to be better at everything,” Leonard said. “Out of timeouts, defensive rotations, definitely the offensive end, we’ve got to start getting better shots. Just everything. I feel like we’re behind and we need to start focusing up.”
The Clippers are 9-7 but light years away from looking like the contenders they believe they are. With Leonard back from knee stiffness that limited him to 42 minutes over the first 15 games of the season, Los Angeles can start that journey.
3) Light the beam, Kings win fifth straight
You knew the new Kings tradition of lighting up four purple lasers that shoot out of the top of the Golden One Center after a Kings win has taken on a life of its own when fans started chanting “light the beam” near the end of the game Thursday night.
The fans got their wish after a 130-112 Kings win over the Spurs powered by 28 points from De’Aaron Fox and 26 off the bench from Malik Monk. Chimezie Metu got the honors Thursday.
Devin Vassell had 29 to lead the Spurs, although the play of the night belonged to Jeremy Sochan — the rookie can dunk.
After starting the season 0-4, the Kings have won 8-of-10 and the positive vibes are flowing in the California capital. Sure, Sacramento has done this against the third easiest schedule in the league so far, but the best teams — playoff teams — beat the teams they are supposed to beat. Thursday night the Kings did that, and they should celebrate.
Keep playing like this and they will be lighting the beam a lot more this season.