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Three Things to Know: When good John Wall shows up and hustles, the Wizards can impress

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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) The Lakers go as LeBron James goes. When John Wall hustles, the Wizards go as he does. On Saturday, the Washington Wizards beat out the Los Angeles Lakers (and several other teams) to trade for Trevor Ariza.

Sunday, the Wizards just flat-out beat the Lakers.

Midseason trades can light a fire under a team, and while Ariza has yet to put on a Wizards jersey (again, he was with the franchise from 2012-14) something seemed to light a fire under John Wall and the Wizards. Maybe it’s the trade, maybe it was LeBron James coming to town.

Whatever it was, the Wizards played their best game of the season beating the Lakers 128-110. It was an impressive performance from a team that has looked like it’s thinking about postgame dinner reservations much of the season. The question is can Washington repeat Sunday’s effort? David Aldridge of The Athletic (and myself, and just about everyone who has watched Washington this season) has doubts.

The real take away from this game: The Lakers go as LeBron James goes, when John Wall hustles the Wizards go as he does.

Wall has been at the heart of the disappointing 12-18 start in Washington, often showing little effort on offense when the ball was not in his hands, looking disinterested on defense, and putting up good counting stats but not contributing the little things that help a team win. Sunday the Wall the Wizards need showed up — 40 points, 14 assists, six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Wall was a blur with the ball, making plays in transition, and tearing up Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, and anyone else Luke Walton sent to guard him.

With LeBron, he is the Lakers’ best playmaker and the focal point of everything they do — as he should be — and when he’s off Los Angeles is a different team. An unimpressive team. In Laker wins, LeBron has an insane true shooting percentage of 62.9; in losses that falls to a slightly above average 56.1 percent, plus in wins LeBron’s assists and rebounds are up. Put more starkly, in Laker wins the team out scores opponents by 18.6 per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the court, in losses they get outscored by 12.4 — a more than 30 point per 100 swing.

Sunday in our nation’s capital, LeBron had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting, had six assists but four turnovers, and was -18. The result was ugly, just a day after his triple-double in Charlotte had the Lakers humming as a team in a blowout win.

The Lakers are 2-3 in their last five away from home with a game in Brooklyn Tuesday closing out a string of road wins games.

2) The hottest team in the East? Indiana has now won seven in a row. Discussion of the best teams in the East tends to focus on Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, and if Philadelphia is on that level yet.

Don’t sleep on Indiana. The Pacers are 20-10, third in the East (ahead of the Sixers and Celtics) and after knocking off the Knicks Sunday they have won seven in a row. Much of that without Victor Oladipo, although he was back and dropped 26 points on just 13 shots on New York.

What has sparked the Pacers’ run is their defense, which has given up less than a point per possession in the last seven games, best in the NBA over that stretch. (Their offense has been middle of the pack, which has been enough.) Opponents are shooting a league-low 41.2 percent against the Pacers in the last seven, plus opponents are not moving the ball well (just 21.7 assists, third lowest in the league in those seven) and they are not getting to the glass. Myles Turner has played strong defense inside, helping key the run.

While much of the Pacers’ run has come against a soft spot in the schedule, they have knocked off the Bucks and Sixers in this stretch. December win streaks are not harbingers of playoff success, but ignore the Pacers at your own peril. This team can play.

3) Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox just ran right past Dallas on the way to 28 points. There is nobody in the league right now faster end-to-end with the ball than De'Aaron Fox. Watch this play from Sunday: What other players can get the rebound (away from a bigger player) and get end-to-end on a one-man fast break better than this? Russell Westbrook, sure. John Wall in the sporadic games he decides to hustle. Fox is with the NBA’s elite in that category?

Fox and backcourt teammate Buddy Hield each had 28 points in Sacramento’s road win in Dallas, spoiling Dirk Nowitzki‘s home debut. The Kings looked like a team with an elite backcourt and Dallas could do nothing about it. These games matter — the win moves Sacramento into a three-way tie for the 6/7/8 seeds in the West, while Dallas is now the 9 seed half-a-game back. When the season ends, these conference games are going to matter in the brutally tight West.

Also, well done Dallas welcoming Nowitzki home.

 

Khris Middleton drops career-best 51 on Wizards, Bucks win without Antetokounmpo

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Khris Middleton scored a career-high 51 points in the absence of injured teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo, leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 151-131 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

Middleton, hoping to be chosen an All-Star reserve for the second straight year on Thursday, helped the Bucks hold off a second-half Wizards rally. Middleton also had 10 rebounds and six assists while hitting 16 of 26 shots and 7 of 10 3-pointers.

Milwaukee (41-6) scored a franchise-record 88 points in the first half, finished with its highest total of the season and won its ninth straight game despite the absence of Antetokounmpo, who sat out with a right shoulder injury.

Bradley Beal led the Wizards (15-31) with 47 points, his second straight 40-point game and sixth of the season.

Milwaukee led by as many as 32 points but the Wizards rallied in the third quarter, putting up 41 points to cut their deficit to 117-104 entering the fourth. Washington got within seven points in the final period but could not get closer.

Eric Bledsoe had 34 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for the Bucks. Donte DiVincenzo added 16 points.

Middleton responded with 13 points in the fourth quarter as he scored the most points by a Bucks player this season. He pounded home a dunk to go over 50 points and give the Bucks a 13-point lead late in the final quarter.

Antetokounmpo had 50 points on Nov. 25 against Utah.

The Bucks came out firing from deep, hitting eight of their first nine attempts from 3-point range. Milwaukee converted 14 of 22 shots in the first quarter on the way to a 42-28 lead.

And they kept going in the second quarter. Middleton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half to give the Bucks a 69-43 lead with 5:46 left. Middleton nailed two more 3s to finish the half 6 for 6 from 3-point range and with 28 points.

The Bucks sank 14 of 24 3-pointers in the half and established a franchise best for points in a half as they grabbed an 88-63 lead at intermission.

The previous mark for points in a half was 87 set against New Orleans on March 14, 1979.

Joel Embiid’s Kobe tribute: 24 points while wearing uniform No. 24; 76ers’ win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Wearing No. 24 in honor of Kobe Bryant, Joel Embiid scored 24 points in his first game in three weeks, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 115-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

Embiid and the rest of the Sixers wore No. 24 and No. 8 Bryant jerseys in warmups in honor of the Los Angeles Lakers star, who was killed Sunday in a helicopter crash. Embiid was granted permission from Hall of Famer Bobby Jones to wear the retired No. 24 instead of his usual 21 for his first game since he tore a ligament in a finger in his left hand.

The Sixers went 6-3 without Embiid, the first Sixer to be voted to three straight All-Star Games since Allen Iverson.

Embiid had averaged 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season. Against the Warriors, Embiid played with a splint on his hand that didn’t affect him when he buried a 3 that sent the Sixers into halftime with a 59-54 lead.

Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons had “Mamba Forever” and “RIP Gigi” (for Bryant’s daughter, among the nine killed in the crash) on each sneaker and scored 17 points.

The Sixers were the latest team to honor Bryant in a pregame ceremony. Bryant led suburban Lower Merion High School to the Class AAAA state title at Hersheypark Arena in 1996, the school’s first since 1943. His framed No. 33 Aces jersey was displayed at midcourt and the Sixers held a 33-second moment of silence of Bryant and the other eight victims in Sunday’s crash. The Sixers rang a bell nine times and shone nine lights on the court during the solemn remembrance. The Sixers skipped pregame introductions for both teams and instead played a video of Bryant’s last introduction in Philadelphia in a December 2015 game and images of him with Allen Iverson and Julius Erving.

Yes, all teams have been affected by Bryant’s death, but it struck particularly hard in Philly, where the former NBA star had a turbulent relationship with Philadelphia. His high school coach Gregg Downer spoke to the media for the first time earlier in the day, and wore Bryant’s No. 33 Lower Merion warmup jacket.

The mood in the building also was tempered, in part, because the 10-win Warriors gave the Sixers a serious challenge. The Sixers were 12-point favorites but D'Angelo Russell, who scored a team-high 28 points, kept the Warriors within single digits for most of the fourth quarter.

Al Horford buried a 3 and Shake Milton followed with another to push it to a 16-point lead and send the Sixers on their way to a whopping 22-2 record at home.

 

A tearful Shaquille O’Neal talks about his time, relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Shaquille O’Neal told Justin Tasch of New York Post: “I’m not doing well. I’m sick” about the death of his former teammate Kobe Bryant (along with eight others, including his daughter Gianna).

A lot of people can relate to that, but Shaq pulled it together enough to talk about his former championship teammate.

When it came to what he could no longer tell Kobe, Shaq teared up.

Shaq and Kobe had legendary feuds back in the day, but in later years made up and were friends.

Like many people, Shaq is still trying to process all of it. That’s going to take a long time.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

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Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.