Monday night NBA grades: Masked LeBron James is a bad mutha (Shut your mouth)

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while watching Lionel Messi be Lionel Messi….

source:  Masked LeBron James, Miami Heat. The rest of the teams may petition the NBA asking that LeBron not be allowed to wear any mask again. In the three games since coming back and wearing a mask he is shooting 67.1 percent and has scored 31, 20 and on Monday night 61 against the Bobcats. And that’s a good defensive team in Charlotte — seventh best in the league this season (in points allowed per possession) and a couple nights ago Kevin Durant shot just 8-of-24 against them. LeBron hit 22-of-33 and had eight three pointers in a vintage efficient night. This was just his night.

source:  Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats. He had a really good game against LeBron and company — 38 points on 18-of-24 shooting plus 19 rebounds. It just got overshadowed. Jefferson scored 26 points in the first half and completely worked Chris Bosh and others. Jefferson has played well for much of the season, but like this game it just got overshadowed.

source:  Mike D’Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers coach. He takes an unholy amount of abuse from Lakers fans — and he deserves some of it, but he’s also the coach of what was not a great roster to start with then has lost more man games to injury than any other team. He deserves a pat on the back for the Lakers win in Portland — down one with six seconds left he drew up the inbounds play that won the game. It’s a play the Lakers have used before (in Detroit) where Jordan Farmar runs a little misdirection then sets a back pick that freed Wesley Johnson to sprint to the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge got hung up on Farmar’s pick just enough that he was a step behind and Johnson was able to catch the lob and lay it in. Portland’s response (they had six seconds left) was to run a Damian Lillard isolation that led to a contested 24-foot shot that had no chance. D’Antoni had the better late play — the Lakers ran an actual play.

source:  Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks. Ilyasova had complained lately about the way the Bucks had a playoff team last season but rather than build on it they tore it down (they needed to, the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis combo didn’t work). He took those frustrations out on the court Monday night and dominated the Utah Jazz, dropping 31 on 13-of-14 shooting to lead a blowout Bucks win. He was doing it all, driving the lane and knocking down threes. He tends to have strong second halves to the season, this seems to be a sign of another one.

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. It was a vintage Minnesota win — they didn’t play a lick of defense but were able to get the win with a flood of offense. Love led the way with 33 points on 10-of-21 shooting, plus pulling down 19 rebounds. It’s amazing how numbers like this can seem unremarkable from him; he just does it so often. With the win Minnesota went 4-1 on its road trip, they continue to make a late (but likely futile) push to make the playoffs.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

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Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

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Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

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During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.