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Three things to know: Through everything, Nets sit atop East after beating Knicks

Yahoo's Vincent Goodwill joins Brother From Another to discuss James Harden's recent play with the Brooklyn Nets and if the star playmaker has regressed over recent seasons.

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) Through everything, Nets beat Knicks to improve to 15-6, lead East

Kyrie Irving is off thinking he’s making a statement or something. James Harden has been slow to round into form again this season. Joe Harris is out with ankle surgery. Blake Griffin has fallen out of the rotation. They start seemingly every game slow and have terrible first-quarter numbers. All of this has meant Kevin Durant is forced to take on a ridiculous load with Brooklyn.

It’s been a rough first quarter of the season for the Nets. Nothing seems to go according to plan.

They are still 15-6 and sit in first place in the East after beating the Knicks in a thriller Tuesday night, 112-110.

The game seemed to sum up the Nets season in a way.

“On the one hand, it felt it was closer than it needed to be. On the other end, we found a way,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We got some stops, got some rebounds, and made plays.”

The Nets defense has been pretty average: 12th in the league for the season, 16th in the NBA over the past six games (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which filters out garbage time).

The offense is nothing complex — they run more isolation than any other team in the NBA this season. Which makes sense because they have two of the best isolation player in the game today — and two of the best ever — in Harden and Durant. The Nets force you to send help, are willing to move the ball to the open man, and count on a veteran team to make the high IQ play and finish. It works. The game-winning play against the Knicks on Tuesday is a perfect example.

It’s all working and the Nets keep on winning. Brooklyn can be a lot better than the team it is today, and it has three-quarters of the season to get there, but it’s still working. The Nets are still winning.

Tom Thibodeau’s decision to move Kemba Walker out of the rotation and start Alec Burks in his place was justified after his new point guard led the team with 25 points in the loss. The starters still were outplayed and it was still the bench — led by a combined 28 from Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley — that got the team back in the game. The script remained the same for the Knicks, but this looked better.

However, there are no moral victories in the NBA; this loss dropped New York to 11-10 on the season and 4-6 in their last 10.

Julius Randle and Thibodeau were hot after the game — after watching James Johnson draw the foul that led to the game-winning free throws (and he was fouled by Mitchell Robinson, who came across Johnson’s arm — at the free throw disparity. Randle took just two free throws all game despite playing inside a lot, and the Knicks shot 12 as a team to the Nets’ 25.

The Knicks need a little more Nets in them and to just find a way to win games, but the lineup changes are a step in the right direction.

2) Versatile, clutch Suns too much for Curry and Warriors

In a battle of two of the top-three defenses in the NBA this season, it was the Suns “D” — and their versatility, and their great clutch play — that was the difference in this one.

Mikal Bridges and a swarming Suns defense forced Stephen Curry into a 4-of-21 shooting night overall, and he was 3-of-14 from 3. To be fair, Curry missed some shots he usually makes and this was also just one of those nights, but Bridges and the Suns defense seemed to speed him up just a little, and it threw him off.

It’s part of what the Suns do well — they are the most versatile team in the NBA, they can beat you so many different ways, and every night they can find one. They found ones against the Warriors, picking up a 104-96. It was a defense that forced 23 Warriors turnovers — 24% of Golden State possessions — that was the difference in this game. That and the Suns are clutch and again cranked it up in the final minutes to pull away.

For more on this game, check out the Three Reasons the Suns Beat the Warriors and Are Contenders.

That would be 17 straight wins for the Suns. Don’t use the words “Suns” and “fluke” in the same sentence ever again.

3) LeBron James enters league’s health and safety protocols, out 10 days

LeBron James, who has already missed half of the Lakers games this season coming into Tuesday night, was out against the Kings and will miss a few more games after going into the league’s health and safety protocols.

LeBron is vaccinated but has tested positive — based on the time he will miss, not an official announcement — making this another breakthrough case for the league. The most important news is that Davis said he has spoken to LeBron and said he is asymptomatic. Vaccinated people are far less likely to get sick or be hospitalized if there is a breakthrough case.

LeBron can return in either 10 days if he doesn’t show symptoms or if he has two negative tests 24 hours apart (which could come sooner than 10 days). LeBron is going to miss a little time, but how much remains to be seen.

The Lakers are 7-4 when LeBron plays and now 5-7 without him after beating the Kings on Tuesday night. Los Angeles has a -2.2 net rating this season when LeBron is off the court. Unfortunately, the Lakers are used to playing without him this season. They will need to do it at least three more games.

Highlight of the Night: Klay Thompson is back… in the G-League

Klay Thompson is working out with the Warriors G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz as he nears a return, but he is still Klay. He took part in a team scrimmage on Wednesday and drained the game-winner. Because’s he’s Klay Thompson.

Last night’s scores:

Brooklyn 112, New York 110
Memphis 98, Toronto 91
Phoenix 104, Warriors 96
Portland 110, Detroit 92
LA Lakers 117, Sacramento 92