Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: It’s Lillard time. Damian Lillard’s 19 in fourth buries Lakers


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 Lillard time. Damian Lillard’s 15 straight and 19 in fourth buries Lakers. The Lakers had quietly gone 17-8 in their past 25 games and have done so with a combination of good defense using their athleticism and length to challenge shooters, and playing at the fastest pace in the league and getting better in transition. It had the Lakers up double-digits over Portland at home on Monday night

Then suddenly it was Lillard time, and the Lakers had no answer.

Damian Lillard scored 15 straight points and 19 total in the fourth to spark a comeback and beat Los Angeles 108-103.

Portland is one of the teams fighting to stay off the playoff bubble in the West and this is their seventh-straight win, moving them all the way up to the three seed in the conference (as San Antonio and Minnesota stumble, but Portland is still just three games ahead of the nine-seed Clippers in the crowded West). Fivethirtyeight.com now has Portland with a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs, something that didn’t seem nearly as certain a couple of weeks ago.

Fueling that run is Lillard, who in his last 10 games is averaging 33.5 points and six assists per game, shooting 38 percent from three in that stretch. When Portland has needed him most this season, he has played at a near MVP-discussion level, and that — plus an improved defense this season — makes Portland a tough team in the first round come the playoffs.

2) Too much Bojan Bogdanovic (you read that right) lifts Pacers over Bucks in a key game for Eastern playoff seedings. This sums up Monday night in Indianapolis: In a game featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bojan Bogdanovic was the best player on the court.

On a night where both teams were on a back-to-back and it showed — both Victor Oladipo (14 points on 19 shots with 10 turnovers) and Antetokounmpo (18 points on 16 shots) were off their games — Bogdanovic’s dropped 29 points on 13 shots, hit 5-of-7  from three, and with the game in the balance stole a tip-off ball headed to Eric Bledsoe then drained clutch free throws to secure the Pacers’ win.

With the Pistons crumbling (keep reading down to item three) and the Hornets out of it, the playoff teams in the East are set, but the seedings are not and key games like this between Eastern playoff teams go a long way in determining the order. With the win, the Pacers remain the four seed, just half-a-game back of the Cavaliers for the three seed. Meanwhile, Milwaukee falls to the eight seed — they are tied with Miami record-wise but have lost all three head-to-head meetings so the Heat have the tiebreaker. Starting the playoffs on the road in Toronto would a tough way to go for Milwaukee.

3) Larry Nance Jr. goes off as Thompson-less Cavaliers get a win over crumbling Detroit. Tristan Thompson is out for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle, and with that Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue tweaked his starting lineup: Cedi Osman went to the bench and Larry Nance Jr. got the start at center with Rodney Hood also in the starting lineup.

It worked on Monday night — Nance had 22 points 22 on 9-of-15 shooting plus 15 rebounds, both career-best figures.

Now comes the real test for this Cleveland lineup: the team heads out on a six-game road trip without Thompson where they will face three teams fighting for the playoffs (Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers) plus a Lakers team playing well. Can they hold on to the three seed with a hot Pacers team just half a game back?

Meanwhile, Detroit has fallen apart. The team is 2-8 in its last 10 games, being outscored by 8.7 points per 100 possessions, with the 27th ranked offense and 23rd ranked defense in the league in that stretch. The Pistons have yet to beat a team not on the second night of a back-to-back since the Blake Griffin trade. In those 10 games Griffin is averaging 18.3 points on just 40.2 percent shooting overall and 30.2 percent from three — not exactly team leader numbers.

Bojan Bogdanovic leads Pacers over Bucks 92-89

Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic tied his season high with 29 points and grabbed a key jump ball late to lift the Indiana Pacers over the Milwaukee Bucks 92-89 on Monday night.

Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton stole Victor Oladipo‘s pass with 10 seconds left and Indiana leading 90-89. He rushed to the basket, but Cory Joseph chased him down and got a hand on the basketball before Middleton could attempt a shot. The ball rolled out of bounds, and referees called a jump ball after video replay. Bogdanovic came down with the tip off the jump ball and added a pair of free throws with six seconds left.

Thaddeus Young had 10 points and seven rebounds, and Oladipo finished with 14 points, five assists and five rebounds along with 10 turnovers.

After Bogdanovic’s free throws, Milwaukee had a chance to tie it, but Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 3-pointer from the wing hit the front of the rim as time expired.

The Pacers and Bucks got off to a slow, sloppy start. Indiana led 20-17 at the end of the first quarter. Both teams were playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

Milwaukee took a 46-44 lead into halftime, and then both teams came alive in the second half. The Pacers opened up the third quarter with a 19-5 run that gave them a 65-50 run. The 15-point lead was Indiana’s largest of the game. But Milwaukee wasn’t done. The Bucks put together a 19-5 scoring run to pull within four points at the end of the third quarter, setting up a back-and-forth fourth quarter.

Antetokounmpo finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Eric Bledsoe led the Bucks with 26 points.

After going scoreless in a win over Charlotte on Jan. 29, Bogdanovic has scored in double figures in 13 straight games. In six of those contests, Bogdanovic has scored 20 points or more. The 13-game streak is the longest of Bogdanovic’s career.


Tyronn Lue says Cavaliers will be without Tristan Thompson for two weeks

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Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. moved into the Cavaliers’ starting lineup on Monday night against the Pistons, with Cleveland starting Larry Nance Jr. at center due to Tristan Thompson‘s ankle injury. It worked, the Cavaliers won 112-90 (albeit against a struggling Detroit squad).

Get used to it, the Cavaliers are going to have this rotation for a couple of weeks.

In the move, Lue is now bringing Cedi Osman off the bench because he wants Nance’s energy and defense, and Hood’s shooting, in the starting five. Again, it worked for a game, but that was against a Detroit team coming apart at the seams.

The Cavaliers now head out on a six-game road trip without Thompson where they will face three teams fighting for the playoffs (Nuggets, Clippers, Trail Blazers) plus a Lakers team playing well. It’s going to put this roster configuration to a real test.

Did Jason Terry blow in Lance Stephenson’s ear?

Associated Press

This is savage… if it is what it looks like.

Lance Stephenson is remembered in part for being the guy who blew in LeBron Jamesear during the 2014 playoffs.

Monday night after a made three for the Bucks, Jason Terry looks like he returns the favor.

Jason Terry blows in Lance’s ear after hitting the 3. 😂

A post shared by House of Highlights (@houseofhighlights) on

From that camera angle, it is possible Terry was just talking smack, but I want to believe in the ear blowing.

The Pacers went on to win a dramatic game 92-89 when Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a game-tying three at the buzzer. The win keeps the Pacers as the four seed, just half a game back of the Cavaliers for the three slot (Cleveland also won Monday) while the Bucks fall to the seven seed (and they will be tied with the Heat for the eight seed after Miami finishes off beating Phoenix Monday).

Report: Charlotte gets permission to talk to three young assistant GMs

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The most likely outcome remains the Charlotte Hornets hire Mitch Kupchak as their GM. Kupchak has been around, has the resume (even if he was pushed out in Los Angeles for good reason), was a good soldier in Los Angeles for years standing up for the organization, and has the old boys’ network connection with owner Michael Jordan through North Carolina.

However, the Hornets are branching out to look at three up-and-coming GMs — a couple out of teams that lean more on analytics than Kupchak — according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Charlotte has received permission to speak with Philadelphia 76ers VP of Player Personnel Marc Eversley, Houston Rockets Vice President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas and Miami Heat assistant general manager Adam Simon, league sources told ESPN.

For some background, Eversley has been with the Sixers for a couple of seasons, and was with the Wizards and Raptors before that. Rosas has been with the Rockets since 2000, helping build the Rockets’ current contending roster alongside Daryl Morey (he also spent three months as the Mavericks GM in there but did agree on a defined role that worked for everyone). Simon has been with the Heat for 23 seasons learning with and under Pat Riley, and he has been the GM of their D-League team in Sioux Falls for a few years.

Whoever gets the job will work with Buzz Peterson, who is running day-to-day operations with the Hornets right now.

This is all a good thing — Jordan needs to consider hires outside his organization and outside his comfort zone. The Hornets are team about to miss the playoffs who are capped out, never a good sign. Keeping things comfortable may not be the best option to turn the franchise’s fortunes around.