Three things to know: Suspensions are coming, will LeBron get one?
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) Isaiah Stewart will get suspended for Lakers/Pistons fight, will LeBron?
This much is certain: The Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart will get suspended for the Lakers/Pistons fight Sunday — and this was almost a real fight. Stewart wanted it to be (he grew up boxing and wanted to hurt LeBron James). There is more actual fighting in West Side Story than most NBA “fights” — “you’re lucky this smaller teammate/coach is holding me back” — but Stewart genuinely wanted to go.
Stewart was triggered by the blood running down his face and it took nearly a full team of guys and multiple efforts to keep him away from going at LeBron. Cade Cunningman tried, the rookie was in the right place with the right intentions, but he isn’t strong enough to stop “beef Stew.” DeAndre Jordan did his job protecting the team’s best player. Stewart will get a suspension for this — despite Dwane Casey saying he shouldn’t — and the only question is how many games.
The bigger question is will LeBron get a suspension as well? It may have been unintentional — it appears he was trying to use his elbow to get Stewart’s arm off him, and LeBron did come over and try to apologize — but this is still a closed-fist shot to the face. That has led to suspensions in the past.
My guess? Stewart gets two games, LeBron gets a fine. But the NBA’s roulette of justice is often random and impossible to predict. We’ll see what is decided by the suits in Manhattan.
Both Stewart and LeBron were ejected for their part — and the Detroit crowd loved the LeBron result.
Pistons fans probably shouldn’t have been so happy — the incident lit a fire under the Lakers, who finally played with the urgency LeBron has wanted to see. Russell Westbrook (who got a technical for his part in the fight) caught fire, Anthony Davis blocked Cunningham twice, and the Lakers went on a 37-17 fourth quarter run to win the game and even their record at 9-9.
If this becomes the incident that somehow galvanizes these lackluster Lakers, LeBron will gladly take any punishment coming his way.
2) Luke Walton fired by Kings, now team needs to find actual solution to problems
It is not Luke Walton’s fault the Kings are 6-11, have lost 7-of-8, and are sitting 12th in the West. He was handed a “Chopped basket” of ingredients, an imbalanced core of a roster that went 31-41 last season, and was told to make it better. Walton was faced with decisions such as “should we start Chimezie Metu or Moe Harkless at the three?” (It’s been Metu, as of late.)
Walton also was not the solution in Sacramento. He was not the chef who could turn that mismatched basket into something worthwhile.
That’s why Walton was fired on Sunday, replaced in the interim by veteran NBA coach Alvin Gentry. However, GM Monte McNair will want his own guy in the big chair, either later this season or during the following offseason.
The Kings have missed the playoffs for 15 straight years, tying them for the longest streak in NBA history (with the Donald Sterling Clippers, a group you never want to be in the same sentence as). That streak started at the disastrous trying-to-sell-an-move-the-team end of the Maloof ownership era, but Vivek Ranadive took over in 2013 and has presided over more than half the streak. Gentry makes the 11th coach the Kings have had in those 15 years (and his replacement will make it an even dozen).
The Kings’ questions start here: What is the backcourt of the future? It was supposed to be anchored around De’Aaron Fox, but he has struggled this season since getting his contract extension, and he has never translated his game into becoming a halfcourt force that drives the offense. Tyrese Haliburton is good and has fundamental pick-and-roll skills, but he’s not a No. 1 offensive creator. Buddy Hield comes off the bench and can score, but is more likely to be traded than become the core of the future Kings. Davion Mitchell has played well as a rookie, but his offense still has a long way to go.
The Kings have four nice players in the backcourt, but not a player who can drive the offense consistently among them.
Harrison Barnes has been surprisingly impressive this season. Richaun Holmes is the most underrated center, and maybe player, in the game today, but he’s not driving the offense.
The Kings are a nice roster without a true No. 1 scoring option at the NBA level, and that’s not going to change no matter who is coaching.
3) Nuggets Michael Porter Jr. could miss rest of season with back issue
The basketball gods do not smile on Denver.
They have been the “if they can get Jamal Murray back healthy” possible contenders all season, but now comes this news: Michael Porter Jr. has a nerve issue in his back that could cost him the season.
Medical red flags about his back were why MPJ slid down to 14th in the 2018 NBA Draft. He had a microdiscectomy at Missouri that limited him to just three games played in college. After the Nuggets drafted him, Porter Jr. had another back surgery and missed an entire season trying to get right.
When he’s right, he’s a No. 2 (or maybe No. 3) option on a Nuggets team looking to contend. His potential to be that player nightly is why Denver gave him a five-year, $172 million contract extension last offseason (the fifth year is only partially guaranteed, but still that’s $145 locked in).
His back has clearly been behind Porter’s slow start to the season— 9.9 points a game on 35.9% shooting overall and 20.8% from 3.
Murray may return to the Nuggets rotation once the calendar flips to 2022, but will Porter join him? Without both of them, the Nuggets are not the contenders they otherwise might be.
Highlight of the Night: Paul George recreates his poster dunk
In 2013, Paul George did this to The Birdman in a playoff game against Miami.
Paul George recreated that dunk Sunday, with Dwight Powell in the Birdman’s place.
Last night’s scores:
LA Clippers 97, Dallas 91
LA Lakers 121, Detroit 116
Chicago 109, New York 103
Phoenix 126, Denver 97
Golden State 119, Toronto 104