Associated Press

Three Things to Know: LeBron James takes over and Denver has a front row seat

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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.

1) It’s good to be the King: LeBron James owns final minutes, lifts Cavaliers past Nuggets. There’s not a lot more the Denver Nuggets could have done. Nicola Jokic went off for 36 points of 14 shots, plus had 13 rebounds and six assists. Gary Harris gave them a boost going 4-of-6 from three on his way to 18 points. The Nuggets played hard on both ends, something they have not done consistently enough all season.

The Cavaliers have LeBron James. Ballgame.

LeBron had 39 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, but that doesn’t tell the story. He imposed his will on this game, and in the final two minutes of the game single-handedly outscored the Nuggets 9 to 6, securing the 113-108 win.

After the game, in his walk-off interview on ESPN, LeBron said is game is “Probably (at) an all-time high. Just because of my body, my mind, the way I go out and approach the game.”

It’s hard to argue. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is averaging 27 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting, with 9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per night, with a PER of 28.1. He’s playing at an MVP level (although his rough and disinterested at points January likely costs him the award to James Harden). Energized with a younger, more athletic roster around him — one that will add Kevin Love to the mix in the coming weeks, a big boost for this team — this is still the team to beat in the East. Toronto and Boston will have a shot, but they have to dethrone the King. And he is not just giving that crown away.

On the other side, with the loss, Denver fell out of the playoffs in the West by percentage points to the Clippers. In reality, the Nuggets, Clippers and Jazz are all in a virtual tie for the final playoff slot, just 1.5 games back of Oklahoma City and 2.5 back of stumbling Minnesota (without Jimmy Butler). The Jazz have the easiest schedule of all of them the rest of the way, but the Nuggets are close. Every game matters, and Denver needs to play more like from Jokic and others, and a couple more stops. But some nights, LeBron happens and there’s nothing you can do.

2) What an ending — Raptors beat Pistons in one of the most entertaining games of the year (and Toronto clinched a playoff berth). Detroit finally played a game with the desperation of a team that needs a lot of wins (and a little help) to climb back into the playoffs. They just picked the team with the best record in the East to do it against. And on a night DeMar DeRozan decided to make his case for All-NBA team consideration with 48 points on 28 shots, just going to work on Detroit in the midrange with a combination of footwork and confidence that looked like his boyhood idol Kobe Bryant.

The final couple minutes of this game were as entertaining as any all season. DeRozan — who had 9 points in the final two minutes of regulation — and Blake Griffin went back-and-forth to force overtime.

First, DeRozan hit one of those midrange shots that even good defense could not stop to make it 111-109.

Griffin answered with an and-1 bucket in the lane — he was too big and too strong for Toronto defenders all night. The Pistons were up 112-111 after Griffin’s free throw, but DeRozan then answered with the play of the game, an and-1 of his own.

Then Griffin responded with the power move and baby hook that forced OT.

Overtime went back-and-forth, but it was a DeRozan drive-and-dish to Fred Van Vleet that led to the game winner with 1.1 left.

The Raptors clinched a playoff berth with the win (and they likely will be the No. 1 seed), and this loss may have sealed the fate of the Pistons. It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Detroit.

3) Anthony Davis goes down with sprained ankle, X-rays are negative, and Pelicans win 10th straight anyway. Anthony Davis has inserted himself into the MVP conversation with his play since DeMarcus Cousins went down (he’s not in front of Harden, or shouldn’t be, but he’s on the ballot), leading the Pelicans to nine straight wins coming into Wednesday night against the Kings.

Then this happened, and all of New Orleans held its breath.

Davis did not return in the second half. The good news?

That said, X-rays don’t tell a lot on sprained ankles. How much it swells up overnight — and what they find on the MRI that will certainly be done Thursday — will tell us a lot more. Hopefully Davis is not out for long.

Even without him, the Pelicans were able to hold on and beat the tanking “playing their young players to develop them” Sacramento Kings 114-101. Nikola Mirotic had 26 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans in the win. The Pelicans are currently the four seed in the West, but just 3.5 games ahead of the Denver/Utah/L.A. Clippers trio where two teams will be out of the playoffs. New Orleans has the Wizards, Jazz, Rockets, and Celtics as four of their next five games, they can’t afford to be without Davis for too long.

Chris Paul’s game-winning miss helps Rockets end Blazers’ 13-game streak

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Tuesday night at Moda Center was electric. It was a game of switches, both between opposing big men on the pick-and-roll and as the lead batted between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

It was all we could have asked for between two of the best teams in the NBA.

The Blazers were aided by a hot start from Al-Farouq Aminu from beyond the arc. The defensive stalwart hit four threes in the first quarter alone for Portland as the Blazers took a four point lead into the second period. Houston, accustomed to playing in Rip City when their arena is at its loudest, wasn’t phased by the atmosphere.

James Harden went off — he finished with 42 points and seven assists — and looked unstoppable. At one point, after nailing a 3-pointer in the first half, Harden turned around and gave the Portland sideline a look. The leading MVP candidate was there to play, and the rain of boos that came down from the 300 level at the Moda only fueled his fire.

On the other side of the court, Portland’s star point guard seemed just off of center. Perhaps it was anticipating the soon-to-be birth of his child or just the stress that comes with upholding a 13-game winning streak, but Damian Lillard‘s aim was poor and he wasn’t as large a factor as he’s been all winter. In fact, both Lillard and C.J. McCollum were quiet on the night. McCollum, the other half of the second-highest scoring duo since the All-Star Break, had just eight points on a night where he shot 4-of-15 from the field.

But the story of these two teams, and why they remain top playoff contenders, is their defense. That showed all night, with the margin between the two staying razor thin until the final seconds. The Blazers’ strategy was to force switches, often getting Moe Harkless, Jusuf Nurkic, or Evan Turner on smaller Rockets players while hoping to either attack the basket or swing the ball after the Rockets’ excellent help defense reacted.

Houston countered brilliantly, often guarding Nurkic with either Luc Mbah a Moute or PJ Tucker as they forced the issue of small ball on Portland. Much of the game rode on the offensive decision-making from Blazers in the post or the ability of the Rockets guards to burn past the likes of Nurkic and Ed Davis off the switch.

Chris Paul was the other factor for Houston — no shock as he loves going against Lillard — especially from beyond the 3-point line. Five of Paul’s six made field goals were from beyond the arc, and he dismantled slower Portland defenders as he snaked, shaked, and flailed his way around pick-and-rolls.

Despite the close play, Houston appeared to have struck a defiant blow when Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer with 1:55 to go, giving the Rockets a nine-point lead. But Portland rallied, with Lillard quickly drawing a three-shot foul to push the Blazers closer. Portland scored twice more in quick succession, and they were once again within striking distance for the win.

The game came down to a final Houston possession with five seconds left as Paul missed long on a floater in the middle of the lane. Miraculously, the ball hit off the back of the iron, out of reach of any Blazers rebounder (although a crafty hold by Paul on Aminu certainly helped).

Houston recovered the rebound, and closed against a heated rival.

Meanwhile the story for both teams at the end of the game was clear: both are for real.

The Rockets, leaders of the West even before the Golden State Warriors were bitten by the injury bug, showed they could come into a hostile environment against a team that badly wanted to win in Portland. Houston’s resolve was clear; while the Blazers never looked unfocused, the Rockets did feel like the senior team and the leadership from Harden and Paul was a preview for what we should expect come playoff time. That’s big, especially when you consider Paul’s playoff demons and the hovering expectation that the Warriors are somehow going to come charging back and blow everyone out come spring.

For the Blazers, the sadness of the 13-game streak will linger but for a moment. Portland, who was essentially a .500 team until Christmas, looked like they were ready for the big moment. Many of the Blazers’ players, including Nurkic, Aminu, and Harkless, have struggled with inconsistency all season long. But as they took on the Rockets, all three were the ones keeping Portland in it when Lillard and McCollum struggled. I had my doubts about the Blazers perhaps longer than most, but even in defeat Portland’s showing against Houston makes them look like a solid favorite in any first round playoff series they draw, and not just because of seeding.

Houston beat the Blazers, 115-111.

Let’s do this again sometime soon. Say, in mid-May?

It’ll make sense when you watch it: Steven Adams uses Al Horford to scratch his head

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Look, Steven Adams is a weird guy. He’s always answering questions with weird, unrelated scientific terms or calling former teammates “dicks” with a smirk on his face. Adams has a subtle and fun personality.

This? This isn’t so subtle.

As the Boston Celtics took on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, it was time for a regular old free throw. The kind that happens all the time during NBA games. But Adams, apparently bored with how they usually go, wanted to mix up his routine on the lane line for this one.

That’s when he apparently decided to use Al Horford‘s right forearm as a means to scratch his own head.

Just … just watch the video:


I don’t know either.

Meanwhile, Marcus Morris beat the Thunder with 1.8 seconds to go. Oof.

Marcus Morris hits game-winning shot to send Celtics over Thunder (VIDEO)

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On a night without Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics still found a way to grind out a win.

As the rising Oklahoma City Thunder came to Massachusetts, a slow-scoring game evolved as a game of the NBA’s best defenses came together. Still, the Thunder were in the lead and looked to be on their way to their 44th win of the season.

But despite having a six-point lead with 24 seconds left, Oklahoma City choked an important game away late down the stretch.

It started with Jayson Tatum hitting a quick bucket with 17.6 seconds to go. Russell Westbrook was fouled, but missed one of his two free throws. That set the stage for Terry Rozier to hit a 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds left.

Then, astonishingly, Carmelo Anthony missed two straight free throws.

That’s when Marcus Morris stepped in:

Oof. You don’t expect Oklahoma City to come out flat like that against a depleted Celtics squad, and you certainly wouldn’t think they could clunk away the victory from the free-throw line.

It was a gutsy win for Boston and one of the worst losses of the season for the Thunder since the righted the ship around Christmas.

Royce White critical of how Rockets handled his mental health situation


Royce White had an NBA story that was up-and-down, and complex. White, drafted by the Houston Rockets 16th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, has a well-documented anxiety condition that disallowed him from flying with the team to games.

Things didn’t work out in Houston, and the last time White was in the NBA was during the 2013-14 season. He played a total of nine minutes in three games for the Sacramento Kings, and then White’s career was over.

Now, with the sudden influx of players making public their owns struggles with mental healthDeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love most recently — White has suddenly been thrust back into the conversation. While Ron Artest might be one of the first players of the modern era to openly speak about mental health, White is the go-to guy for comparative statements these days.

And, what White has to say isn’t all that great for the NBA or the Houston Rockets.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Devine, White said recently that he doesn’t believe the NBA truly cares about mental health just yet. Even further, White said he felt the Rockets and GM Daryl Morey were trying to guard themselves from a liability standpoint when the player and the team negotiated a deal to try to make things work with the Rockets.

Via Yahoo! Sports:

White says that Rockets personnel told him in 2012 that establishing a comprehensive written plan for managing his anxiety disorder would be “impossible,” because doing so would set a precedent “for any league-wide issue regarding mental health.” He says that, after negotiating with the Rockets and the NBA over allowing White to take a bus to certain games to reduce the number of flights he’d have to take in a season — a compromise he was told the league initially rejected because it would constitute an illegal circumvention of the salary cap — Houston deactivated him for the first preseason game he took a bus to, as a punishment for pressing the issue.

White says that, in a later meeting in which he and a team of medical professionals planned to present a draft of a mental health policy to be added to his contract, Houston general manager Daryl Morey said he didn’t know that White suffered from generalized anxiety disorder before drafting him.

It also made him feel like the Rockets might be trying to set up a way to void his guaranteed contract if he didn’t comply with their requirements.

“[Morey] was in a mode where he thought that he could bully me,” White said.

According to Devine, White also says he doesn’t think the most recent stories of mental health awareness will be the triggering factor in a new wave for the league. “White expressed skepticism that revelations by DeRozan, Kevin Love, Kelly Oubre and others would really lead to a sea change in the way the NBA addresses issues of mental health,” wrote Devine.