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Eighty percent of LeBron James is enough to get Lakers critical win against Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — There was unquestionably rust.

“The first quarter was just kind of a feel out quarter to see how my groin would react,” LeBron James said of his return to the court after a 17-game absence due to a strained groin, a stretch where the Lakers went 6-11 and fell out of playoff position. “I didn’t really run as hard as I’m accustomed to on breaks. I had a couple of drives, just trying to mentally get into it….

“I’m not there all the way, as far as physically. My timing, like I (said during a postgame television interview) is 80 percent right now, but it felt good to be 80 and be back on the floor and put on a Lakers’ uniform again.”

That 80 percent was enough to have a true LeBron effect — he settled them. In the fourth quarter Thursday night, the Clippers went on a 7-0 run that cut the lead down to six. LeBron stepped up and hit a three. It was like that all night.

More importantly, the Laker halfcourt offense was just smoother, with better passing and spacing. When he sat during this game, the looks the Lakers got were more often difficult ones.

That LeBron effect turned into 24 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists leading the Lakers to a 123-120 overtime win against the Clippers.

This was not only a big win because LeBron returned, but also because the Lakers have 7-of-8 on the road coming up (their toughest stretch of the schedule all season). Also because the Clippers are the team the Lakers are chasing for the final playoff spot in the West. With the win, the Lakers are just one game back of the eight seed Clippers.

The Laker halfcourt offense struggled with LeBron out since Christmas, it had a much better flow on Thursday (even with LeBron’s rust).

“He made the right plays, he got guys open, he finished when he had to,” Laker guard Josh Hart said. “He’s just so smart. He’s such a good veteran player. He gets guys in their spots to get easy buckets. His basketball IQ is just through the roof.”

LeBron also got some help — good Lance Stephenson showed up (you never know which one you will get), and he had 20 points off the bench plus hit 5-of-8 from three. Brandon Ingram added 19 on 12 shots.

The Clippers got 24 points from Lou Williams off the bench, and beyond that we saw their usual balanced attack — six other players were in double figures. However, late in games, the Clippers lacked someone beyond Williams they could count on to create and make plays. It led to sloppy offense.

The Lakers had no such questions, they knew who they wanted to run the offense through.

LeBron played 40 minutes — and the Lakers needed every one to get the win. But there’s a price for that.

“I’m not feeling particularly great right now,” LeBron said of his condition after the game….

“It’s a little bit of everything. The groin is a little sore right now, but I already knew that. I hadn’t played an NBA game in over a month, so I knew that was going to be a bit of a problem. My wind wasn’t going to be where I wanted it to be, the timing on my shots (was off)…

“I’m looking forward to see how I feel tomorrow. It’s going to be a tell-tale sign of all the rehab, work, everything I’ve been putting in for the past five weeks.”

LeBron gets a day to rest, the Lakers are off on Friday but fly up to the Bay Area for a nationally televised game against the Warriors on Saturday. LeBron plans to suit up for that one — the playoffs have essentially started for the Lakers, they need to make a push to get in starting now, and he’s not going to sit out any longer.

“I love clothes. I love suits. But I didn’t come here to put on a suit every day, I came to put on a jersey,” LeBron said.

LeBron James finishes Rajon Rondo alley-oop to close out half (VIDEO)

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One of the reasons LeBron James leads the league in assists — other than the fact he can do anything on the basketball court he wants — is that he was the Lakers’ only quality playmaker to start the season. He had to set guys up.

Until Rajon Rondo returned recently from injury.

Now Rondo is setting up everyone — including LeBron for this monster alley-oop just before the half Tuesday night.

LeBron can still finish with the best of them.

Just don’t ask him about doing the dunk contest.

 

New Orleans spoils Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut in 115-104 Pelicans win

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jrue Holiday had 22 points and 10 assists, Brandon Ingram added 21 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans spoiled Carmelo Anthony’s Portland debut with a 115-104 victory over the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Anthony finished with 10 points while Portland leading scorer and four-time All-Star Damian Lillard missed his first game of the season with back spasms.

Starting at forward and playing across the street from where he led Syracuse to the 2003 NCAA championship over Kansas, Anthony scored the Blazers’ first points of the game on a 3-pointer from 26 feet out. However, he wound up missing 10 of 14 shots in what was the first game of his 17th NBA season.

Ingram looked spry in his return from right knee soreness that sidelined him four games, particularly on an authoritative, driving, one-handed dunk that got the crowd roaring in the opening quarter.

J.J. Redick hit 4 of 9 3-pointers and scored 14 points for New Orleans, which has won two straight and three of four. Kenrich Williams, who got the start at forward, filled the stat sheet with hustle plays, grabbing 14 rebounds to go with three steals and a blocked shot. He also scored eight points.

Holiday highlighted his night with a spinning dribble around Nassir Little for a driving dunk. In the second half, he scored on an unusual play in which he remained under his own basket, re-tying his shoes while his team advanced 4-on-5 into the offensive end. Holiday then came sprinting down court, took a handoff from Nicolo Melli near the 3-point line and exploded toward the rim for a layup.

C.J. McCollum led Portland with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside added 14 points and 14 rebounds.

Anthony wasted no time getting his first shot off. His miss from 20 feet came within the opening 30 seconds and was Portland’s first shot of the game. Anthony also took Portland’s second shot, hitting his first of two made 3s.

But when Anthony tried to rise for a two-handed dunk in the first half, he was met with resistance by a member of the NBA’s rookie class when eighth overall draft pick Jaxson Hayes rejected the attempt.

Hayes closed out the half with his third block, swatting away a driving floater by Anfernee Simons to keep Portland’s lead at 54-53.

New Orleans seized momentum in the third quarter, going up by 13 on a sequence that began when Melli hit a 3 and then got the ball right back in a largely vacated Portland back court after Nickeil Alexander-Walker dove to swipe the ball away from McCollum. Melli went straight in for a dunk that made it 83-70.

Portland responded with three quick 3s — two by Kent Bazemore — during a 9-2 run that trimmed New Orleans’ lead to six before Alexander-Walker, who had hit 11 3s in his previous two games, ended the period by banking in a straightaway 3 to make it 88-79.

Watch Carmelo Anthony’s first bucket as a Trail Blazer

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That Carmelo Anthony started the first game he played for Portland speaks to why they signed him in the first place — this team is so shorthanded along the front line that the guy they just signed got thrown into the fire.

Anthony responded with a solid level of play. His first bucket was a wing three where both defenders went to CJ McCollum and left ‘Melo wide open.

Anthony played 12 minutes in the first half and had 7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block, and three fouls. The team was looking to keep him at around 20 minutes for his first game back.

Portland led New Orleans 54-53 at the half.

How a single computer folder and dogged HR official exposed former Kings executive’s $13.4M embezzlement scheme

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Just how close did Jeff David come to getting away with embezzling $13.4 million from the Kings while working for them? He already secured a new job with the Heat and was in the process of moving from Sacramento to Miami.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

On this Monday, walking through the Davids’ new front door is a dizzying procession of cable guys, utility workers and movers. Amid all of this, Jeff receives a phone call from a former co-worker with the Kings. Her name is Stacy Wegzyn, and she works in HR. Jeff last remembers sitting in her office in Sacramento just months earlier, being told that the Kings were going to eliminate his position. After a few pleasantries, she gets down to business. She tells Jeff she’s been going through his old files, and in doing so she found one labeled “TurboTax” that references an entity called Sacramento Sports Partners.

“I was just curious what that is and if those are documents that should go to somebody else,” Wegzyn says.

It’s a seemingly innocuous inquiry from an HR lifer. But it’s one that will dictate the rest of Jeff David’s life. If he knows that — or senses it — he doesn’t let on.

“No, no, no,” Jeff responds. “That was a … man, this is taking me back. Maybe 2015?”

Wegzyn presses on. She asks Jeff whether the documents contain anything that anyone with the Kings needs to see. Jeff assures her they can trash them because the entity isn’t around anymore. A few minutes after he hangs up, his mother-in-law, Nancy, is standing at the front door when an FBI investigator appears, asking to speak to Jeff.

If you like the NBA or true crime – let alone both – I HIGHLY recommend reading Arnovitz’s full piece. It’s riveting!