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Three Things to Know: Clippers falling apart, Sixers hand them sixth straight loss

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while trying to figure out a coffee puzzle

1) What is wrong with the Clippers?Joel Embiid puts up 32 as Sixers hand them a sixth straight loss. The Clippers were a great story when the season tipped off, Chris Paul was gone, and they still won four straight and looked like a team, led by Blake Griffin, that was going to be a playoff team. The offense was great led by Griffin knocking down threes — he’s still doing that at 36 percent and taking a third of his shots out there, no longer living on long twos — and the defense was good enough.

Since then the Clippers are 1-7 and after the Sixers came into Staples and beat them Monday 109-105, Los Angeles has lost six in a row.

What happened? They stopped defending.

During the six tame losing streak, the Clippers still have a solid offense (scoring 106.1 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA in that stretch) but they have the NBA’s worst defense (113.8 per 100). Teams are shooting 49.9 percent against the Clippers, and while the Clips are forcing midrange shots they are not contesting them enough. The defensive issues start with DeAndre Jordan, who has been an All-NBA level anchor on the defensive end for the past few seasons but has been a step slower this season. Monday night, Joel Embiid had far more energy and dropped 32 points and 16 rebounds on DJ (and backup Willie Reed, who got in a tussle with Embiid and motivated him). Another sign of his Jordan’s rim protection not being the same — and the Clippers rotations being lax — is Ben Simmons having seven dunks on the night.

Putting on a show… @bensimmons throws it down seven times in the @sixers W!

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We shouldn’t let the Clipper offense entirely off the hook, there has been a lot less player movement and a lot more isolation than there was, the ball is not switching sides of the court anymore, it’s just that Griffin and the Clippers are talented enough to keep scoring with the ugly ball. They just can’t get stops.

Injuries are part of this. Three starters have been out: Milos Teodosic with a plantar fascia injury since the second game of the season, Danilo Gallinari with a strained left glute, and Patrick Beverley, who has a sore right knee that was drained of fluid last week. Their team doesn’t have the depth to survive injuries for long. But that’s still not an excuse for the defensive effort.

The Clippers head back out on the road for five straight, starting Friday in Cleveland. Things could get worse before they get better.

2) LeBron James, Kyle Korver turn it on for one quarter, and that’s enough to beat Knicks. The Knicks thought they were going to have a statement win — they were up 23 points in the third, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, and Madison Square Garden was rocking and climbing all over LeBron (both for his pregame comments and then having words with Kanter during the game).

Then the Cavaliers woke up and played one hard quarter — Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the fourth, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks.

All of that got the Cavaliers back in it, then LeBron isolated against Kristaps Porzingis and put Cleveland up for good.

This was an ugly win for the Cavaliers, but it pulls them up to .500 at 7-7 so they will take it. For the Knicks, improving in the NBA as a young team comes with some hard lessons. This is one of them, but at 7-6 and with Porzingis playing well this looks like a playoff team. Just not on the level of the Cavaliers when the Cavs care.

3) Pelicans get Rajon Rondo back… and win over Hawks thanks to Darius Miller. Two of the most significant questions coming into this season in New Orleans were how well Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could pair along the front line, and how well Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo could mesh in the backcourt? The answer to the first question is very well — the Pelicans were +7.7 points per 100 possessions when both Davis and Cousins are on the court together coming into Monday night’s game against the Hawks.

We don’t know how well Rondo and Holiday will pair yet because Rondo has been out all season following a sports hernia surgery. But answers to that question is coming soon as Rondo was back on Monday night — on a minutes limit where he only played 4:55, but at least back. Rondo entered in the middle of the first quarter and made his one shot, and the Pelicans were +6 in the just over one minute he was paired with Holiday. It’s a start.

Atlanta somehow kept Anthony Davis in check despite Luke Babbitt being his opposite number most of the night, but New Orleans came back thanks to five threes from Darius Miller, who had 14 points in the fourth quarter to spark the win. It’s not a win the Pelicans should celebrate — they struggled with a bad Hawks team at home — but you take the wins where you can get them in the NBA.

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.