Kyrie Irving can play at home. That doesn’t make the Nets favorites.
Three Things is NBC’s five-day-a-week roundup of the previous night in the NBA. Check NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the day before, plus the gossip, drama and dunks the NBA is famous for.
1) Kyrie Irving can play at home. That doesn’t make the Nets title favorites.
Kyrie Irving got his wish – he will soon be able to play at home in Brooklyn.
Not because Irving has come of age and got vaccinated, but because New York City Mayor Eric Adams will officially announce on Thursday that he is exempting athletes and entertainers from the city’s vaccination mandate for private workers (but if you work in government and other jobs covered by the mandate, you still need to be vaccinated). Adams had echoed players like Kevin Durant, who said the exemption for visiting players/performers made it unfair: unvaccinated players from other teams could play at Barclays Center, but not at Irving. Adams changes that.
Now Irving can play the field for the Nets’ final nine games, as well as playoff games (except those in Toronto, where he can’t travel because he’s not vaccinated).
Have the Nets become title favorites again?
Without a doubt, the Nets have become much better and more dangerous with the mayor’s decision. Brooklyn just picked up a top-15 player in the world and their second-best player for every game, not just half of them. They become a bigger threat in the playoffs.
That’s not enough to make them favorites in the East, and Wednesday’s loss to the shorthanded Grizzlies reminds us why.
Irving scored 43 points on 15 of 27 shooting, with six 3-pointers and eight assists at Memphis.
Kevin Durant added 35 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Brooklyn scored 120 points and had a 119.6 effective offensive rating for the game. With these two stars on the ground, Brooklyn will be an offensive force.
Brooklyn still lost to the Grizzlies by a dozen points. A Grizzlies team without Ja Morant.
And therein lies the biggest problem for the Nets – they’re not a good defensive team. They are the league’s bottom 10 defensemen this season, a defensive rating of 114 via Cleaning the Glass. When Durant and Irving are on the floor together this season, the defense is slightly worse (-0.6 worse in net rating; if you mean that’s basically the same as the season rating, okay, c is always the last 10).
Memphis attacked and got the shots they wanted, with seven players scoring in double figures and three with 20+ (Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton). Without Ben Simmons on the field — and he’s not currently doing any on-court work — there are multiple places to attack the Nets’ defense.
Now project yourself into the playoffs (probably without Simmons, but if he does come back, getting him in won’t be easy). The Nets are the No. 8 seed and come out of the qualifying tournament. Starting today, they’re expected to travel to Toronto for Game 1 of the play-in (where Irving can’t go), but the Raptors could overtake the plummeting Cavaliers and send Cleveland to the play-in. If the Nets lose that first game, they’ll set up a “win or book your flight to Cancun” game against the winner of the Hornets Hawks.
The Nets will win one of those two playoff games, probably the first.
Their reward for winning that first game would be the 76ers, or – much worse for the Nets – the Celtics or Bucks in the first round. Without Simmons, Brooklyn doesn’t have the defenseman to stop Jayson Tatum, let alone Tatum and Brown and a Celtics team with the best offense in the league since the All-Star break (Durant is a good defenseman, but how much can you ask of him carrying a massive offensive charge, too). The Nets don’t have the defenders to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo along with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
We’ve seen the Nets beat the 76ers recently (Philly has its own defensive issues, and James Harden would have to show big in this series for the 76ers to win). Miami’s midfield offense can bog down and they need a lot of Jimmy Butler (like they did in the bubble). Brooklyn versus Miami or Philadelphia would be a great series, but it’s a draw. Miami can defend. Philly has Joel Embiid. Both could beat the Nets.
Botton line: Even with Irving, the Nets haven’t been good enough to be considered title favorites.
But the Nets improved on Wednesday.
2) What does the Butler/Spoelstra/Haslem incident mean on the Heat bench?
The Miami Heat players should have been frustrated and pissed off – they were being kicked out of the gym by a sitting Warriors team of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
It turned into an altercation on the bench between the fiery and opinionated Jimmy Butler and coach Erik Spoelstra, with Udonis Haslem in Spo’s corner.
After the game, as expected, the Heat played it like a trivial thing. Spoelstra joked that it was an argument over post-match dinner reservations. Bam Adebayo said that’s what Heat practices look like. Other players said it was frustration to lose and nothing to worry about.
Lowry, “We have great leadership, it won’t affect us at all.”
—Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) March 24, 2022
Does this bench explosion mean anything?
Probably not. Lowry and his teammates are not wrong; it’s a group of veterans capable of putting it behind them and moving forward, focusing on the playoffs. This loss should have frustrated Miami. Still, the Heat are the No. 1 seed in the East and will enter the playoffs that way.
However, the Heat’s last three games against quality opponents – Warriors, 76ers and Timberwolves – have all been losses. The Heat are title contenders, but they haven’t played like the Bucks or the Celtics in recent weeks. Miami’s half-court offense may stagnate. There are issues to resolve before the playoffs.
3) Karl-Anthony Towns, Jae Crowder get in on it, but the Suns do what they do
Minnesota have been a dangerous team lately, Karl-Anthony Towns have been playing at an All-NBA level, and they were feeling it when the Timberwolves jumped in the first half against the Suns.
Towns threw a poster dunk at Jae Crowder and let him know, and the veteran forward wasn’t going to take it.
KAT and Crowder get chippy after the poster 🍿 pic.twitter.com/rrRpGeIx6F
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 24, 2022
Minnesota led for the vast majority of three quarters, then in the fourth the Suns did what they always do: run. Devin Booker was 3 of 3 shooting for 11 points, Landry Shamet came off the bench and hit a few 3-pointers and scored 10, and Deandre Ayton scored 11 of his 35 on the night of the fourth. Towns and the Timberwolves couldn’t stop Ayton on the inside as he added 14 rebounds to the mix on the night.
Ayton edged Towns by 20 points and his team took the win. Without their All-NBA point guard Chris Paul. Consider this your 3,547th reminder that the Suns are the best team in the NBA.
Highlight of the night: Damian Jones with winning advice for Kings
No Domantas Sabonis for the Kings, he was out against his old team. No Richaun Holmes either.
That left Damian Jones as the starting center, and he was up to the task – he had the winning tip.
DAMIAN JONES WITH GO AHEAD SCORE 🙌 pic.twitter.com/jjq8oR1Z1M
– Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) March 24, 2022
It wasn’t exactly the rematch Tyrese Haliburton was hoping for, he shot 4 for 14 for 13 points but had 15 assists. Davion Mitchell had another solid game for the Kings, 25 points and seven assists, that’s two straight for the rookie.
Knicks 121, Hornets 106
Pistons 122, Falcons 101
Kings 110, Pacers 109
Celtics 125, Jazz 97
Warriors 118, Heat 104
Grizzlies 132, nets 120
Suns 125, Timberwolves 116
Thunder 118, Magic 102
Mavericks 110, Rockets 91
76ers 126, Lakers 121
Spurs 133, Trail Blazers 96