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Three things to know: ‘Pickup game’ Warriors can’t get stops, fall to 3-4

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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) “Pickup game” Warriors can’t get stops, fall to 3-4

“I think it looks like a pickup game out there.”

Unlike the teams in Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the Golden State Warriors have more than earned the benefit of the doubt — maybe they are off to a slow start, but the team that just held a parade through the streets of San Francisco last June. Cut them some slack.

Steve Kerr sounds done with that mindset — that’s his pickup game quote. The Warriors’ 115.2 defensive rating to start the season is 23rd in the league, and Sunday the Pistons had a 127.8 rating on their way to a 128-114 win at home, dropping the Warriors to 3-4 on the season.

The reality is that while Stephen Curry has come out putting up low-key MVP numbers — 31 points a game, shooting 39.5% from 3, plus 6.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game — the Warriors’ core six players are treating the early regular season like champions often do. That core — Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney, and Jordan Poole — is playing in second gear, if not outright coasting, for stretches.

That coasting is what gets the defense in trouble — the Warriors get the other team’s best shot nightly. Opponents are attacking and Golden State doesn’t consistently match that intensity. The young stars asked to pick up the slack and provide that intensity — Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman, Moses Moody — have not been up to the task so far. Veteran addition Donte DiVincenzo has been in and out of the lineup and JaMychal Green has been fine but not elite.

Detroit’s young stars showed when many pundits had them in the mix for a play-in spot this season. Cade Cunningham controlled the show and finished with a near triple-double — 23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Detroit got huge nights from Saddiq Bey (28 points) and Isaiah Stewart (a career-high 24 points plus 13 boards and quality defense in the paint).

It’s a quality, confidence-boosting win for the Pistons.

It is a long season, and it’s far too early to sound any alarm bells about the Warriors. They will be fine.

But they have coasted through the first couple of weeks of the regular season, and it’s got them below .500. Expect Kerr to put his foot on the gas soon.

2) Lakers’ jump shots finally fall, they pick up first win of season

The Lakers’ jump shots finally showed up for a game.

Los Angeles entered Sunday night averaging less than a point per possession on the season, but put up a 124.7 offensive rating — or, in the numbers on the scoreboard, 121 points — and that was enough to earn its first victory of the season.

Their stars drove it: LeBron James had 26 points, Anthony Davis 23, Russell Westbrook 18 (with eight rebounds and assists) and 18 points from Lonnie Walker IV.

The reason for the Lakers’ win was pretty simple: Their jumpers finally fell. Los Angeles was 15-of-40 on 3-pointers (37.5%) and they were 9-of-15 shooting from the midrange (outside the paint but inside the arc, for our purposes here).

Nikola Jokic was good but human with 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Jamal Murray added 21 points, but backup point guard Bones Hyland was out (hip strain) and Ish Smith left the game with a calf strain, and suddenly the Nuggets were light on secondary shot creation. Denver fell to 4-3 on the young season with the loss, and their defense continues to be bottom 10 in the league (it’s holding the team back so far).

For the Lakers, it’s not a win that erases the previous five games or the issues and concerns those losses exposed — this roster isn’t suddenly filled with good shooters, but it takes the pressure off for a night.

3) Zion returns, powers Pelicans past still-struggling Clippers

Zion Williamson was back on the court and showed the Clippers he is more than straight-line drives and dunks —he’s always had soft touch around the rim, but now he has improving craft. His passing stood out Sunday afternoon, dishing out seven assists and making the right play — he’s not just a guy using brute force to get to his spots anymore. He finished with 21 points, too.

Combine that with the floor general leadership of CJ McCollum and the Pelicans will put up points — 112 points on Sunday against the Clippers.

The Los Angeles offense could not begin to keep up — leading to its fourth loss in a row, this time 112-91.

“Either we gotta get better at it or we gotta do something different,” coach Tyronn Lue said after the game. “I’m not to that point yet, but we just gotta do some things better. We’re not a very good basketball team right now. We gotta change that.”

For a team loaded with shooters, the Clippers aren’t taking that many 3-pointers — they came into the game taking the second fewest per game in the league, and were bottom 10 in the percentage of their shots that are from deep. They did better against the Pelicans getting up 36 from beyond the arc, but hit just 11 (28.2%).

The Clippers don’t move the ball as crisply (third fewest passes per game in the league coming into Sunday) and at points Sunday that led to them dribbling into contested shots (against a sneaky long Pelicans team). However, the Clippers were missing the open ones, too:

Paul George 5-of-19
Reggie Jackson 4-of-12
Marcus Morris 5-of-12
Nicholas Batum 1-of-5.

That and a slow-paced offense from Los Angeles resulted in 91 points on a 48.3 true shooting percentage for the night. That is not going to get the job done.

The Clippers fell to 2-4 on the young season. There is no panic with the Clippers, they are treating this season as a marathon. Lue said pregame, “I think, it’s gonna take us some time, a couple of months to, you know, get up to speed offensively.”

The Clippers need to find a little more urgency now. A team can fall far enough back in a marathon it’s impossible to catch up — losses now count just like the ones later in the season, and the Clippers could be playing themselves into a tougher postseason matchup.