Three Stars of the Night: LeBron makes history

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It seems like we should just rename this the LeBron James and two other guys of the night award, given the tear the league’s reigning MVP has been on over the last six games. We’ll get to that shortly, but first, a couple of other performances that are more than worth mentioning.

Third Star: Dwight Howard (19 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocked shots, 41 minutes in win over Suns)

Dwight has been at the center of the Lakers firestorm recently, for reasons that are partially justified and some that are not. But he came through on this night, and seemed to be actively working to have better on-court chemistry with Steve Nash. On a night where Kobe Bryant didn’t even take a shot until three and a half minutes had gone by in the third quarter, and didn’t make one until there were just over two minutes remaining in the game, L.A. needed someone else to step up offensively, and Howard did that in this one.

Second Star: Rudy Gay (17 points in 25 minutes, including the game-winner)

The Raptors lost a ton of close, heart-wrenching games in the first part of the season, largely because they didn’t have anyone they could give the ball to with the game on the line who could be counted on to produce in the clutch. After trading for Gay, Toronto seems to have found someone to fill that role. It was already the second time since joining the Raptors that Gay has come through with a game-winning shot.

First Star: LeBron James (30 points, nine assists, 11-15 shooting, NBA record set)

LeBron continued his insane shooting run on Tuesday, and did so to the point where he made history. He became the first player ever to score 30 or more points in six straight games, while shooting better than 60 percent from the field in each. During that six-game stretch, James has managed to shoot 66-85 from the field, good for a blistering mark of 77.6 percent. Simply ridiculous.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.