Three Stars of the Night: LeBron’s milestones steal the night

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Every night in the NBA offers some sort of impressive performance. Three Stars attempts to filter through them and give you, the reader, a chance to know who did what the best.

But on some nights, it’s about more than one game’s worth of work that makes up a performance. Tonight is one such night.

Because while some guys went for season highs (we’ll tell you about one in a second) and another became unguardable by catching fire from mid-range (we’ll tell you about him too), tonight was more about a decade’s worth of work coming to a head in a single night and culminating with some eye popping numbers.

Without further ado, here are our three stars:

Third Star: Russell Westbrook (32 points, 12-20 FG’s, 4 assists)

At first glance, Westbrook’s numbers are impressive but don’t necessarily stand out. And then when you realize that he only played 28 minutes in this game and was part of a hot start that helped to bury a very good Denver Nugget team, it becomes more impressive. Westbrook started out hot, scoring 16 points in the first period (the Nuggets as a team had 18) and 25 in the first half. Westbrook absolutely blitzed Denver with his mid-range jumper and then exploited a defense worried about that shot by getting all the way to the rim to score there too. On nights like this, Westbrook shows why he’s one of the elite players in the league and mutes his critics.

Second Star: Carlos Boozer (36 points, 12 rebounds, 16-24 shooting)

It’s not been discussed very much, but lately Carlos Boozer has been playing very well and tonight he continued that trend against the Raptors. In what ended up being a very close game that Bulls tried to give away, Boozer was the main reason the Bulls were up big in the first place and the key they didn’t fall all the way behind and lose this game in regulation. By bullying his way close to the basket, Boozer set up shop in the paint and scored easily. When he wasn’t camping down low, he hit his mid-range jumper to keep the Raptors off-balance. His 36 points represent a season high and when combined with his work on the glass, the Bulls surely would have been on the wrong end of the scoreboard without him tonight. I guess the only extra thing Boozer could have done was hit the game winner, but that honor belonged to Luol Deng:

First Star: LeBron James (25 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds)

Ho-hum. Just another night at the shop for LeBron, falling 3 rebounds shy of a triple double while putting his imprint on the game in every way imaginable. Dominant defense? Check. Great shot making? Check. Setting up his teammates for easy shots close to the rim and wide open jumpers from behind the arc? Check. But it wasn’t just LeBron showing off his versatility that made tonight special. No, it was the fact that in the process of manhandling the Warriors, LeBron scored his 20,000th career point and handed out his 5,000th assist. James became the youngest player to break the 20K barrier (besting Kobe Bryant). A special night for a special, special player.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.