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Three Things to Know: LeBron James’ triple-double earns Lakers first significant win

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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) LeBron James’ triple-double earns Lakers’ first significant win. The Lakers picked up their first win of the season in Phoenix on Wednesday, but that felt more like a “we better beat this struggling young team” relief than a giant step forward.

Thursday night against Denver was more like the way the Lakers are going to win games this season: LeBron James was brilliant as both a facilitator and aggressive scorer when needed; the ball movement found capable finishers such as Kyle Kuzma (22 points); and while the Lakers are not a great defensive team they have players who can make defensive plays at times (Lonzo Ball on Jamal Murray at times, for example). It was enough. Los Angeles came back from eight points down midway through the fourth and got its first significant win of the season while handing Denver its first loss, 121-114.

It all started with LeBron, who did anything and everything asked of him on the night with 28 points (on 17 shots), 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It’s his first triple-double as a Laker.

There was more to it than that for Los Angeles. Lance Stephenson was a fourth-quarter spark off the bench with a couple of threes and a key look-ahead pass to LeBron for a dunk (Stephenson has played surprisingly well for L.A. this season). The Lakers once again forced the pace — 105 possessions in this game, and 24 percent of Lakers possessions started in transition (they scored at an impressive 112 points per 100 possession pace on those, via Cleaning the Glass). The Lakers may have found their best five-man lineup is Ball, Josh Hart, LeBron, Kuzma, and JaVale McGee (+11.6 per 100 possessions so far this season).

This was not peak Nuggets. Their offense was not the incredibly efficient machine it is typically, and they do miss Will Barton. Nikola Jokic had good bottom-line stats — 24 points and 11 rebounds — but in a sign of how the Nuggets’ offense didn’t flow he had three assists to six turnovers. Jamal Murray went right at Lonzo Ball early (this is one of the NBA’s more fun beefs, and will be for a decade), but Lonzo was the one getting five steals and making some key plays late. And, Denver struggled to find an answer for LeBron.

The Lakers are counting on a lot more teams struggling to do that as they move through the schedule.

2) Did Boston find its offense in a second-half comeback? It’s become a topic of conversation around the NBA: What happened to the Boston Celtics’ offense? Not that it was a force of nature last season (18th in the NBA, basically middle of the pack) but it was timely behind Kyrie Irving (until he had to sit due to injury), it involved good player and ball movement, and combined with an elite defense it got the Celtics the two seed and then to the conference finals.

This season, the Celtics were the second-worst offense in the NBA coming into Thursday night’s game (just ahead of the team they were playing, the Thunder). The problems were everywhere, but they started with the fact the Celtics just could not knock down shots — they were generating a lot of open looks but hitting them at the lowest rate in the NBA. Boston was not driving the lane or getting to the rim and drawing fouls (and Irving was a big part of that problem). Gordon Hayward has not been his vintage self and players are still adjusting to new roles. We could go on and on, but you get the idea — the Celtics offense was broken and without flow.

That continued in the first half Thursday in Oklahoma City, where they put up just 34 points and went 0-of-11 from three.

Then came the second half.

Boston put up a 40-point third quarter, sparked by Al Horford knocking down three shots from beyond the arc in only 41 seconds.

Suddenly the Celtics seemed like they could not miss — Marcus Morris had 19 second-half points on six shots. The Celtics exploded for a 142 offensive rating in the second half, erased a 16-point deficit, and picked up the 101-95 win. Irving explained the transformation this way to NBC Sports Boston.

“Stop overthinking about how we’re supposed to be playing,… It’s a hard thing to hold onto of being a certain way for a certain amount of time in your career and then when you come into a situation like this where you’re playing with a lot of good players sometimes you can dim down how special you are or over think how you’re supposed to be playing. So I think for us we just all wanted to come out and just really have fun.”

Will this carry over to the Celtics’ next game Saturday versus the Pistons? By the way, about Detroit…

3) Detroit is the season’s surprise team, improving to 4-0. The Pistons have had a soft schedule to start the season — Brooklyn, Chicago, and on Thursday night Cleveland (Philadelphia is the one impressive win) — but they have executed well, Blake Griffin has been a 33.8 points a game beast, Reggie Jackson is knocking down threes (40 percent so far this season), Andre Drummond is dunking and grabbing rebounds (17.5 a game) and the Pistons just keep winning behind a top-10 offense.

Thursday night Drummond became the latest center to thrive against the Cavaliers, scoring 26 points and grabbing 22 boards, his second 20-20 game of the season. Griffin had 26 and 10. That said, this win may have been less about “damn the Pistons look good” and more “wow, the Cavaliers are terrible.” For example, nice spin move here by Griffin but look at the Cavs’ defense.

Saturday night the Pistons face the (possibly) rejuvenated Celtics. That should be a better test. The Pistons, however, have beaten the teams in front of them on the schedule, and plenty of good teams stumble in these kinds of stretches. That the Pistons are winning speaks to them looking like a playoff team early in this season.

Portland reportedly applies for disabled player exception after Rodney Hood injury

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Rodney Hood‘s season coming to an end because of a ruptured Achilles was a real blow to Portland — he had become a critical part of their rotation. That has led to a lot of speculation about already shorthanded Portland jumping into the trade market soon looking for someone to absorb those minutes, as well as hitting the buyout market hard next February.

Portland is now looking for a little more money to spend to bring someone in, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The “disabled player exemption” allows a team over some space to go after a replacement for a player lost due to injury. This is a fairly standard process and likely will be approved. Portland can use that money on a free agent (Iman Shumpert is available again) or someone bought out by another team.

Portland is 10-16 on the season, set back in part due to injuries to the front line. The Blazers knew Jusuf Nurkic would miss most of the season, and he was vital to them, but they were counting on Zach Collins to step up and absorb those minutes. Then he needed shoulder surgery. Portland eventually turned to Carmelo Anthony to help along the frontline, and he has performed well enough for them to guarantee his contract for the season.

Portland is going to be active, both looking at free agents and on the trade market. Just don’t expect a Kevin Love deal (he may want it but his contract makes that nearly impossible).

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

Chris Paul and Dwight Howard
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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
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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.