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Three Things to Know: LeBron James takes over and Denver has a front row seat

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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 good to be the King: LeBron James owns final minutes, lifts Cavaliers past Nuggets. There’s not a lot more the Denver Nuggets could have done. Nicola Jokic went off for 36 points of 14 shots, plus had 13 rebounds and six assists. Gary Harris gave them a boost going 4-of-6 from three on his way to 18 points. The Nuggets played hard on both ends, something they have not done consistently enough all season.

The Cavaliers have LeBron James. Ballgame.

LeBron had 39 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, but that doesn’t tell the story. He imposed his will on this game, and in the final two minutes of the game single-handedly outscored the Nuggets 9 to 6, securing the 113-108 win.

After the game, in his walk-off interview on ESPN, LeBron said is game is “Probably (at) an all-time high. Just because of my body, my mind, the way I go out and approach the game.”

It’s hard to argue. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is averaging 27 points per game on 54.5 percent shooting, with 9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per night, with a PER of 28.1. He’s playing at an MVP level (although his rough and disinterested at points January likely costs him the award to James Harden). Energized with a younger, more athletic roster around him — one that will add Kevin Love to the mix in the coming weeks, a big boost for this team — this is still the team to beat in the East. Toronto and Boston will have a shot, but they have to dethrone the King. And he is not just giving that crown away.

On the other side, with the loss, Denver fell out of the playoffs in the West by percentage points to the Clippers. In reality, the Nuggets, Clippers and Jazz are all in a virtual tie for the final playoff slot, just 1.5 games back of Oklahoma City and 2.5 back of stumbling Minnesota (without Jimmy Butler). The Jazz have the easiest schedule of all of them the rest of the way, but the Nuggets are close. Every game matters, and Denver needs to play more like from Jokic and others, and a couple more stops. But some nights, LeBron happens and there’s nothing you can do.

2) What an ending — Raptors beat Pistons in one of the most entertaining games of the year (and Toronto clinched a playoff berth). Detroit finally played a game with the desperation of a team that needs a lot of wins (and a little help) to climb back into the playoffs. They just picked the team with the best record in the East to do it against. And on a night DeMar DeRozan decided to make his case for All-NBA team consideration with 48 points on 28 shots, just going to work on Detroit in the midrange with a combination of footwork and confidence that looked like his boyhood idol Kobe Bryant.

The final couple minutes of this game were as entertaining as any all season. DeRozan — who had 9 points in the final two minutes of regulation — and Blake Griffin went back-and-forth to force overtime.

First, DeRozan hit one of those midrange shots that even good defense could not stop to make it 111-109.

Griffin answered with an and-1 bucket in the lane — he was too big and too strong for Toronto defenders all night. The Pistons were up 112-111 after Griffin’s free throw, but DeRozan then answered with the play of the game, an and-1 of his own.

Then Griffin responded with the power move and baby hook that forced OT.

Overtime went back-and-forth, but it was a DeRozan drive-and-dish to Fred Van Vleet that led to the game winner with 1.1 left.

The Raptors clinched a playoff berth with the win (and they likely will be the No. 1 seed), and this loss may have sealed the fate of the Pistons. It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Detroit.

3) Anthony Davis goes down with sprained ankle, X-rays are negative, and Pelicans win 10th straight anyway. Anthony Davis has inserted himself into the MVP conversation with his play since DeMarcus Cousins went down (he’s not in front of Harden, or shouldn’t be, but he’s on the ballot), leading the Pelicans to nine straight wins coming into Wednesday night against the Kings.

Then this happened, and all of New Orleans held its breath.

Davis did not return in the second half. The good news?

That said, X-rays don’t tell a lot on sprained ankles. How much it swells up overnight — and what they find on the MRI that will certainly be done Thursday — will tell us a lot more. Hopefully Davis is not out for long.

Even without him, the Pelicans were able to hold on and beat the tanking “playing their young players to develop them” Sacramento Kings 114-101. Nikola Mirotic had 26 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans in the win. The Pelicans are currently the four seed in the West, but just 3.5 games ahead of the Denver/Utah/L.A. Clippers trio where two teams will be out of the playoffs. New Orleans has the Wizards, Jazz, Rockets, and Celtics as four of their next five games, they can’t afford to be without Davis for too long.

Rumor: Dwight Howard and Chris Paul stated intent to join Mavericks until Howard backed out

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Mavericks went from winning the 2011 NBA championship to missing the playoffs within two years.

Somewhat by choice.

Of course, they wanted to remain competitive. But they were willing to accept a lower floor to maintain financial flexibility. They let key players – most notably Tyson Chandler – leave in order to chase bigger stars.

Dallas was repeatedly linked to Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, who could’ve become free agents in 2012 but opted in. They finally hit the market in 2013, but once again spurned the Mavericks. Paul re-signed with the Clippers, and Howard left the Lakers for the Rockets.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

I really think that they, Chris and Dwight, basically wink, wink said they were going to Dallas, from what I’ve heard, and that Dwight backed out.

Word on the street. But we hear a lot of stories. That’s one story I’ve heard.

This is the peril of making arrangements in underground free agency. They’re unbinding. That was especially true with Howard, who waffled through the Dwightmare with the Magic. The Mavericks might have proceeded in the smartest way, but it backfired. Dallas is only now re-emerging upward with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.

This also creates a fun “what if?” How good would Dallas have been? Paul remained elite, but Howard and Dirk Nowitzki were slipping. Where would the Clippers have gone with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan but without Paul? Would they still have held the credibility required to lure Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer? Where would Houston have turned without Howard as the star to pair with James Harden?

Serge Ibaka says he nearly goaltended Kawhi Leonard’s iconic shot: ‘I would’ve retired’

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Kawhi Leonard hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history – a buzzer-beater that bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced in during Game 7 of last year’s second-round Raptors-76ers series and propelled Toronto toward an eventual title.

Raptors forward Serge Ibaka, via Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

“I didn’t think it was going in. I was under the basket trying to go for the offensive rebound. The ball was bouncing and one time I was so close to going [for it]. Thank God I didn’t because it could have been goaltending. That would’ve been bad. I would’ve retired. If that had happened I would have retired.”

In hindsight, that would’ve been catastrophic. It would have been been bad at the time, too – but only so bad.

The Bucks, Toronto’s opponent in the Eastern Conference finals, looked better than the Raptors. The Western Conference-winning Warriors were widely viewed as invincible. Few would have thought Ibaka’s goaltend would’ve cost Toronto a championship.

Thankfully for him and the Raptors, we now know better.

Chris Paul refutes report that Michele Roberts is no longer leading union

Michele Roberts, Chris Paul and Luol Deng
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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Michele Roberts got a new four-year term as executive director of the National Basketball Players Association in 2018.

Yet, Peter Vecsey tweeted:

The NBPA responded with a statement on behalf of Chris Paul:

NBPA President Chris Paul’s response to the false information tweeted earlier this evening regarding NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts:

“Michele Roberts has been and continues to be our fearless leader. The Twitter post that is circulating suggesting Michele is no longer the NBPA Executive Director is untrue. A Search Firm has been hired to advise on union hiring and succession planning, which has not yet begun. In the meantime, the Executive Committee is proud to report that Michele remains the NBPA Executive Director, is very much “in power,” and continues to enjoy the support of our members!”

Roberts led the union through Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations in 2016. She appears active in running the union now.

Controversially, Roberts rejected cap smoothing when the new national TV deals sent revenue soaring. That adversely affected many union members, though benefited others.

Roberts and Paul have also sometimes prioritized stars, to the dismay of the rank-and-file.

But the overall health of the union appears strong, and Roberts and Paul remain in charge.

‘Off the Dribble’ names All-Sneakerhead team (video)

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On the latest episode of “Off the Dribble,” Jacque Slade named his All-Sneakerhead team. Spoiler alert: The NBA’s shoe king – Rockets forward P.J. Tucker – made it.

Watch to see who else earned a spot.