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Three things we learned on Monday: Otto Porter, Wizards figuring out how to win

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We know you didn’t keep up on all 11 NBA games Monday night because you were busy checking on a meat pie floating out in space, so we’ve got you covered with the big stories.

1) Otto Porter drops 32, Wizards win and starting to look like a playoff team. This July, you will be able to tell people who follow the NBA closely from the casual fan by how they react to what Otto Porter gets paid. Because he’s going to get PAID. Like north of $20 million a year, near the $24 million max number. People who follow the league closely know it’s coming.

Porter is having a breakout season, averaging 14.1 points per game, shooting 43.5 percent from three, and grabbing 7.1 rebounds a night. His PER has jumped to 18.1. He’s become the steady glue guy on a Wizards team where John Wall is the star and Bradley Beal is paid to get buckets.

Monday night Porter was the man keeping the Wizards close to the Bucks for three quarters — he had 26 points in the first 36 minutes of the game, and with that the Wizards hung around with a team that blew them out just before Christmas. Porter was getting most of his looks (13 touches) as a floor-spacing spot up guy, and he’s a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat from three, but he also now has the handles to spend time as a pick-and-roll ball handler (as he did eight times Monday, according to Synergy Sports). Porter was also the guy guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo most of the night and he did as good a job as could be expected (the Greek Freak finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists). Milwaukee stretched their lead to double digits early in the fourth — the Wizards bench strikes again — but Beal had 10 of his 22 in the fourth, Wall was dishing out assists (16 for the game and was mostly driving and kicking in the fourth), Porter added another six — including a key three — and the Wizards got the 107-102 win.

That was exactly the kind of win the Wizards need if they are to make the playoffs, beating one of the teams they are chasing in the crowded third tier of the East — just three games separate Charlotte as the four seed and Orlando at 12. Washington has won 7-of-10 and at 14-16 on this season has turned around their slow start to be just half a game out of the playoffs. The Wizards are all offense right now, but the defense has picked up to average, and that has been good enough most nights.

Washington can be a playoff team if they can stay healthy and keep playing this way. And if Porter can continue to be the glue that holds the odd-fitting Wizards roster together.

2) Jeremy Lin injures hamstring again, but Randy Foye steps up and saves the day.
Jeremy Lin had played seven-of-eight games for the Nets since returning from a left hamstring injury that sidelined him for 17 games.

Which is why Nets fans (and Lin fans) got a punch to the gut when Lin left the third quarter of the Nets game against Charlotte with a left hamstring problem. Lin had driven the lane, was fouled, and landed awkwardly in the third and limped after that point. He stayed in the game for a play, but quickly took himself out of the game. There are not a lot of details yet, but expect Brooklyn to be cautious with their star point guard, not rushing him back.

Lin on the sidelines meant Randy Foye was getting run and was in on the final play of the game, with the Nets down one to Charlotte. Foye had taken and missed one shot all game, until this happened.

The Nets have scored more than 100 points in 11-of-12 games (and they scored 99 in the other) but haven’t been winning because they struggle so much on the defensive end. For one night, that didn’t matter and Brooklyn celebrated.

3) DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid mutual admiration society expressed through butt slaps. It was some old school basketball down low in Sacramento Monday — DeMarcus Cousins and Joel Embiid where pushing, bodying up, and going at each other in the post. Cousins likes what he sees in the young Sixers star.

Cousins and Embiid expressed that admiration through slapping each other’s behind.

Of course, when it mattered Cousins was sinking threes.

And blocking Embiid’s attempted game winner (Embiid and the Sixers wanted a whistle on this one, they may have a point).

Bonus thing we learned, stat of the night: ESPN’s researchers with an interesting nugget pointing to LeBron James’ importance (after the Cavaliers lost with him resting Monday).

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.