Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Derrick Rose is back but Bulls are not

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while casting your ballot for a dead man

1) Derrick Rose is back, but Bulls lose ugly while Toronto passes them in standings. Derrick Rose is back. That should have been good news for Chicago — Paul George returned to Indiana and you saw every other Pacer player pick up their game in respose. The Bulls with Rose? Not even close. First off, Rose was settling for jumpers and ended up scoring 9 points on 9 shots, going 1-of-6 from three. But nobody else picked up their game for the Bulls — Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol got outplayed by Nikola Vucevic, who had 22 points and 7 boards. Nikola Mirotic was 3-of-11. The Bulls led by 15 in the second quarter but their defense still isn’t Thibodeauesque and they just can’t hold those leads. Chicago’s habit of playing to the level of their competition caught up with them again, capped off by Victor Oladipo hitting the game winner.

Meanwhile, Toronto trounced fading Charlotte, and with that the Raptors and Bulls are tied for the 3/4 seeds in the East — with Toronto having the tie breaker. Toronto does not have an easy schedule in its final four (three on the road), and the Bulls got Rose back, but unless that translates into better play the Bulls may fall into a tougher first round matchup.

2) Cleveland is locked in to the two seed in the East. Milwaukee was hanging with Cleveland on Wednesday night; they are not a team that rolls over and were within two (99-97) with :30 seconds left. Then LeBron stuck the dagger in the Bucks, hitting a contested three over Jared Dudley. Ballgame. With that, the Cavs locked up the two seed. Cleveland has 50 wins, enough to have them home against everyone in the East save Atlanta. However, they are not going to have home court in the Finals against anybody in the West, unless the Pelicans surprise us all.

3) New Orleans falls flat in Memphis, now tied with Oklahoma City for final playoff spot in West. Tuesday night the Pelicans had us believing — they beat Golden State and jumped up to the eight seed in the West. But a back-to-back against the stingy defense of Memphis brought the Pelicans crashing back to reality — the Pelicans shot 28-of-80 as a team (35 percent) and that ended about as well as you’d expect. With the loss, the Pelicans are tied with the Thunder for the last playoff spot in the West. New Orleans has the tie breaker but OKC has one team over .500 left on their roster, New Orleans has two. This could go down to the final day.

4) Brooklyn stumbles, Boston wins and the race for eight out East gets even tighter. Brook Lopez keeps putting up numbers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks — but they couldn’t get stops against the Hawks. Joe Johnson missed a three and a chance to force OT, so the Nets fell to the Hawks 114-111. Meanwhile, Boston got 34 points from Isaiah Thomas and picked up a key win. So here is where we stand as of today: Boston and Brooklyn are tied for the 7/8 seeds at 36-42, with both Miami and Indiana one game behind them. This remains one of the best races to watch the final week of the season (along with 2-6 in the West and the Pelicans/Thunder).

5) The Spurs just keep on rolling right into the playoffs. San Antonio would like to say all your playoff seeding and efforts are moot — they have won nine in a row, all by at least 12 points. Since the end of the rodeo road trip, they are 17-3 (and two of those losses were in OT). Kawhi Leonard is playing like a Top 10 guy. Tony Parker is getting in the lane. They rolled James Harden and Houston on Wednesday. The defending champs are back, and Gregg Popovich is having fun on the sidelines.

LeBron becomes oldest player with 39 points, 11 boards, seven 3-pointers (he’s also the youngest)

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The first question after LeBron James put up 21 and 8 to help the Lakers beat the Spurs Friday night was whether he would play in the back-to-back Saturday. He had just missed five games with a groin strain, after all.

Not only did LeBron play Saturday, he had a historic night.

LeBron had 39 points, 11 rebounds, and shot 7-of-12 from 3 — making him the oldest player in the history of the NBA with a 35+, 10+ with seven 3-pointer game.

The youngest player ever to put up that stat line? Also one LeBron James.

The 39 points were also the second most points ever scored by a player in his 20th NBA season, trailing only Kobe Bryant gunning his way to 60 in his final game.

The Lakers got the second straight win over the Spurs on Saturday behind LeBron, 143-138, a game more likely to be remembered for Zach Collins getting ejected for a foul that left Russell Westbrook bloody. The Lakers have won three straight and 5-of-6 but have done it against a very soft part of the schedule (three of the wins were over the tanking Spurs). Los Angeles beat the teams in front of it and started to show signs of life this season, but now they have to carry that over into a stretch against better teams, beginning Monday against the Pacers.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX (AP) — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied. Westbrook bounced back up and LeBron James had to hold him back from going after Collins.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.