Pacers honor favorite ‘uncle’ at Mel Daniels’ memorial

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mel Daniels’ former teammates will always remember him as a fighter.

Cindy Simon Skjodt will always treasure his breath-taking bear hugs, and Reggie Miller will always consider Daniels his favorite uncle.

On Thursday, Daniels, the former Indiana Pacers star, was remembered as everything from a tough-talking enforcer to a cowboy-loving poet to a gentle giant who captured the hearts of so many fans in this basketball-rich state. He died Friday at age 71, less than 24 hours after attending Indiana’s home opener against Memphis.

“We started out as a family and that family grew and grew and grew,” former coach Bob “Slick” Leonard said during a public memorial held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I look out and see Jeff Foster, I look out and see Reggie, and I look out and see Derrick McKey and they all became part of that family, and it all started with that original band of buddies.”

Daniels was the unquestioned leader of the group that won three ABA titles.

At 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, he owned the post. The Detroit native who never played the sport until his junior season in high school finished a Hall of Fame career as the ABA’s career leader in rebounds, No. 4 in league history in scoring, with two MVP awards and the 1967-68 Rookie of the Year Award.

He was never afraid to mix it up on the court.

In his first pro game, with the Minnesota Muskies, he got into a fight and was ejected. Another time, later in his career, Daniels was got knocked down in the first half and responded by following the opposing team to its locker room before being detoured to his own.

Teammates were often treated the same way.

“He did not like me in the paint, that was his house,” former Pacers forward Darnell Hillman said. “If you came in his house, you paid a price. I paid a price, too.”

Age didn’t change that.

Foster told a story about the one time he convinced Daniels to ditch the cowboy boots so he could go at it on the court. After dribbling about 20 times, Foster said he started complaining and Daniels turned and immediately hit a shot that sent him sprinting away yelling “yee-hee.” Daniels never let Foster forget that it was the last basket of his career.

Away from the court, though, Daniels had a big heart and plenty of fatherly advice.

Miller recounted the time Daniels told him there were only three places he needed to drive in Indianapolis – Market Square Arena, his own house and the bank to cash his paycheck. Eventually, Miller said, Daniels relented and added one more acceptable place to the list – the drive thru at Steak-N-Shake.

But it was their first encounter in the fall of 1987 that turned Miller, a California kid accustomed to temperatures in the 80s, into a lifelong fan of no-nonsense, baritone-voiced man he called Uncle Mel.

“He looked at me and said, `Son do you know you where you are? It gets cold around here. Where’s your jacket, fool?” Miller said, drawing laughter from a crowd estimated at a little less than 1,000. “I said, `I never had a jacket, what kind of jacket should I have? He said, `Look dummy, one that keeps you warm.’ That was Mel and I said from that moment, `I love this man.”‘

His presence resonated far beyond the locker room, too.

Around town, Daniels was known for his strong handshake, his love of horses and a down-to-earth demeanor who enjoyed mingling with fans.

But there were two things about Daniels that weren’t well-known.

“You’ve read the last few days about his handshake, but his hugs were equally bone-crushing for the ladies,” said Simon Skjodt, the daughter of late team co-owner Mel Simon. “We were always fearful he would squeeze the breath right out of us. But you always wanted one.”

The other was his love of poetry.

Throughout the 90-minute ceremony attended by Daniels’ family members, several of the thousands of poems Daniels scribbled on napkins, the backs of receipts and other assorted papers were read. One that appeared on the video, read by Daniels, was written for Miller as a polite way of prodding him not to come out of retirement.

Not surprisingly, Miller got the message.

But Leonard’s summation was the most fitting.

“I’m going to miss this guy. Like all of us, I’m going to miss him,” he said. “I know how tough he was, I know how committed he was. He would give you the shirt off his back, he had a heart of gold. There’s not much more to be said.”

Rozier, Washington, Ball help Hornets rally past Heat 122-117

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Terry Rozier scored 31 points, P.J. Washington had 27 and the Charlotte Hornets stopped Miami’s three-game win streak with a 122-117 victory over the Heat on Sunday.

LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte improved to 7-16 at home. Gordon Hayward was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field for 20 points.

Rozier also had seven assists and six rebounds. He was 11 for 19 from the field, including a 5-for-11 performance from 3-point range. He made two buzzer-beater 3s at the end of quarters.

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Miami, and Tyler Herro had 24.

The Hornets, who have been hampered by injuries all season, have won four of six for the team’s best stretch of the season. Washington believes it’s a reflection of the team getting healthier.

Charlotte’s projected starting five to begin the season is finally back on the floor and appears to be starting to mesh.

“Everybody is back and everybody is healthy – and that is a major difference,” Washington said. “At the end of the day we have to keep going the way we are right now.”

Hayward has struggled with shoulder and hamstring issues, limiting the team’s highest-paid player to just 24 games.

Sunday marked his best game in months.

“He’s playing confident and getting easy baskets and just bullying guys down low,” Washington said. “He’s playing great basketball and I expect that of him every night.”

Whether a now healthy Hornets team can make a playoff push remains to be seen, but coach Steve Clifford remains optimistic.

“Getting ‘Melo and Gordon back, obviously you’re a different team,” Clifford said. “If we can get into playing set groups then we’ll have a good chance to hopefully put some good stretches together. (It helps) when they know who they’re playing with and they know where the shots are coming from.”

The Heat led 62-58 after Rozier banked in a 3 from the midcourt logo to close out the first half.

Miami went on a 10-1 run to start the third quarter. Herro knocked down two 3-pointers to help the Heat open a 13-point lead.

But Charlotte came storming back behind Washington and Rozier, who began knocking down shots from deep.

Charlotte pushed the lead to 12 with 5:54 left on a turnaround jumper by Rozier.

Miami rallied with a 10-0 run. Kyle Lowry found Bam Adebayo inside for a layup to cut the lead to 108-106.

But Charlotte had another burst as Mason Plumlee got the ball after Rozier won a jump ball and drove to the basket for a score. Ball canned an open 3-pointer to put Charlotte back up 114-106 with 1:50 left.

Washington’s rebound and score off his own miss kept Charlotte up by seven and Plumlee dunked off a pass from Washington to put the game away in the final minute.

Charlotte shot 54.2% from the field and scored 25 points in transition. The Hornets also outrebounded Miami 47-36.

“They have had a lot of injuries but when they have been fully healthy, this team can score much different than their numbers may suggest for the season,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not step up defensively, they got a lot of easy run-ups that quickly changed the momentum of the game.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”