Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: James Harden with bounce back game

Associated Press
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Wednesday was a day with a couple of unexpected outcomes around the NBA — Toronto beating San Antonio, Charlotte easily handling Miami. Here are five things you should know from a busy night around the Association.

1) James Harden drops 42 in Rockets victory over Wizards. Harden was terrible on Tuesday night against Brooklyn, shooting 2-of-9 on his way to 10 points while turning the ball over seven times. He took that performance personally and turned it around Wednesday against the Wizards scoring 42 points on 23 shots, including hitting 5-of-9 from three. He still had seven turnovers, but he dished out seven assists as well. The Rockets have won six-of-eight and can get to .500 with a win over the Lakers Saturday. Are the Rockets back? Well, they are playing a little better and are finally getting healthy, but they have hit a soft patch in the schedule. One of those six wins — Dallas — was against a team currently over .500, and the next four Rockets games are against sub-.500 teams. They can get into the black in wins, they are the eighth seed in the West right now, but the real tests are ahead.

2) Matt Barnes drains ill-advised, half-court game winner for Grizzlies. Teams with winning records have lost three games this season by at least 30 points. The Grizzlies have suffered all three defeats, the latest a 37-point drubbing by the Thunder on Tuesday.

Already down about that, Memphis faced its first two-game losing streak in a month, trailing the Pistons late. So, when Matt Barnes hit his way-too-early halfcourt shot, Marc Gasol had a simple reaction.

“We needed it,” Gasol said.

The Grizzlies nearly didn’t get it.

Memphis coach Dave Joerger clearly called for a 20-second timeout as soon as Barnes grabbed the rebound. Point guard Mike Conley said he, upon seeing Joerger, also requested a timeout.

“Everyone was calling timeout but me,” Barnes said. “But I didn’t see it or hear it. I just went for it.

“Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Lucky?

“The play that we had called if they missed was to dribble three times and shoot it with four seconds on the clock from halfcourt and end the game,” Joerger said. “So, we executed very well.”

—Dan Feldman

3) What team is second in the East behind Cleveland right now? Charlotte. Winners of three in a row and eight-of-10 (after a Nicolas Batum triple-double led a comfortable win over Miami Wednesday), the Charlotte Hornets are the No. 2 seed in the East as you read this. This isn’t some fluke. At +5.4 per 100 possessions, Charlotte has the best net rating (point differential per 100 possessions) in the Eastern Conference. The best. Better than Cleveland, Chicago, Boston and everyone else. Al Jefferson being out — right now with an injury and then with a five-game drug suspension for lighting up like Snoop Dog — won’t hurt too much, their defense is elite and 10 points per 100 possessions better when he is out. That Charlotte is playing this well despite Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being out for the season injured is a surprise.

4) The Timberwolves beat the Lakers — but at least the Lakers’ looked like they were developing their young players for a night. Minnesota earned this win, and Karl-Anthony Towns showed why he (not the tall, skinny kid in New York) is the early leader in the Rookie of the Year race — Towns had 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting, plus pulled down 14 boards and was the focal point of much of the Timberwolves attack. Plus he played solid defense inside.  

Lakers’ fans, here is why you should feel good about this loss (aside the fact you’re all on team tank now to keep your top three protected pick): Kobe Bryant didn’t play after the third quarter while D’Angelo Russell finally got the chance to close out a game. Russell had a career-high 23 points, which included the shot to tie the game at the end of regulation and force OT. This is what the Lakers should be doing nightly; this is how you bring along young players. Just know it wasn’t all Byron Scott’s idea.

5) DeAndre Jordan with maybe the best dunk of the season so far. You cannot give him that big a lane and that much room to gain speed and take flight or you end up like Greg Monroe in this poster.

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. 4 at the New Orleans Pelicans.

However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the record fall when LeBron returns to Los Angeles on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9.

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

• 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.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.