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Three Things to Know: Knicks snap 18-game home losing streak, Spike Lee finds out at Oscars

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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) Knicks snap 18-game home losing streak, Spike Lee finds out at Oscars. The key to the Knicks winning their first game in Madison Square Garden since Dec. 1 apparently was to have superfan Spike Lee on the other side of the country.

Lee was at the Oscars in Los Angeles, winning one for Best Adapted Screenplay for ““BlacKkKlansman” (and not being thrilled with the “Green Book” best picture win) when Samuel L. Jackson informed Lee the Knicks won.

Lee appears to yell back “We’re trying to tank,” which is just what Adam Silver wants for the league on a national broadcast. Not that the tanking has gone great suddenly, the Knicks have now won 2-of-3. Don’t worry about lottery though, the Knicks still have the second-worst record in the NBA, which means a 14 percent chance of Zion Williamson and a 47.8 percent chance of picking fifth or sixth.

Early on Sunday it didn’t look like the Knicks would win, they were doing very Knicks things.

Then things turned around as the Knicks got good games from guys who could be part of whatever future is to come in New York. Damyean Dotson led the way with 27 points, knocking down eight 3-pointers along the way. New point guard Dennis Smith Jr. had 19 points and 13 assists (plus a spectacular missed dunk), and Mitchell Robinson added 15 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks.

Everyone talks about Sacramento and maybe the Lakers passing the Clippers for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Spurs are tied with the Clippers for the 7/8 seed and have lost 6-of-7 on the Rodeo road trip (with one game remaining, Monday in Brooklyn). They are the team in real danger of falling out in the West, although fivethirtyeight.com has San Antonio with an 85 percent chance of making the postseason. The Spurs remaining schedule is tougher than the Clippers and Kings, Gregg Popovich and company need o find some wins once they get back home.

2) Raptors fall to Magic, seem destined for the two seed… which may not be such a bad thing. Orlando is suddenly playing good basketball — they have won 8-of-10 and are now just a game out of the playoffs in the East. They have done it with the best defense in the NBA over the last 10, giving up just a point per possession, and the offense has been solid, resulting in a +13.6 net rating. Orlando has simply been good.

The latest victim, the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors — without Kawhi Leonard for the night — scored 98 points per 100 in Sunday’s game. Toronto just could not finish over Orlando’s length, shooting 46.2 percent in the paint for the night. While Marc Gasol (who started) showed some chemistry with Kyle Lowry, the big man the Raptors picked up at the deadline was wholly outplayed by All-Star Nikola Vucevic all game. The holes in Gasol’s game at this point in his career are showing up and being exploited.

Next up for the Raptors is Boston on Tuesday, that should be a real test.

With Sunday’s loss, the Raptors are two games back of the Bucks for the top seed in the East and seem unlikely to catch them. The Raptors are also 3.5 up on the three seed and hobbled Pacers, and 5.5 up on the four-seed Sixers. Which is to say, the Raptors seem destined for the two seed — and that could be a good thing, so long as the Pacers hold on to the three seed. If the standings stay in this order for the top five, the Raptors crush the Pistons/Hornets/Magic in the first round, while the Pacers get a gritty but beatable Brooklyn team, and the Celtics and 76ers have a brutal first-round matchup. In the second round, the Raptors would face the Nets/hobbled Pacers, while the Celtics/Sixers winner gets the Bucks. Suddenly the Raptors are through to the conference finals having avoided the most dangerous teams, they should be fresh. There are 23 (or so) games left and the standings can shift, but things could be lining up well for Toronto.

3) Ja Rule’s halftime show in Milwaukee did not go as planned. On the bright side, it went better than the Fyre Festival.

Ja Rule seems a pretty good get for Saturday night in Milwaukee and a far better option than most NBA halftime shows (not Gary The Amazing Sladek chair stacking good, but good). It didn’t work out that way.

Ja Rule came out on the court wearing a Bucks’ Ray Allen throwback jersey… and after that things got weird. When he wanted to start he turned to his DJ and said “Are we ready?” Then, when the music didn’t start, “I guess not.”

Later, Giannis Antetokounmpo came out and was taking warmup shots while he was still performing… this wasn’t exactly players racing out at All-Star to see J Cole perform.

When Timberwolves official Twitter chimed in, Ja Rule cursed them.

Not sure Ja Rule’s curse is anything worse than what Jimmy Butler already did to the Minnesota franchise this season. And he’s wrong about Karl-Anthony Towns, at least for a long while — KAT’s five-year max extension starts next season. He’s locked in for a while. Now, if Ja Rule could get Andrew Wiggins out the door….

LeBron James drops 31, leads Lakers comeback to beat Rockets

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HOUSTON (AP) — LeBron James had 31 points and 12 assists and the Los Angeles Lakers rode a big third quarter to a a 124-115 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

The Lakers bounced back after a loss to Orlando on Wednesday night that snapped their nine-game winning streak. The loss was the third straight for the Rockets, which ties a season high, and they have dropped four of five.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 20 for the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points for his fourth straight 30-point game and James Harden had 34 for the Rockets, who also lost three in a row in late November.

Los Angeles didn’t lead in the first half but used a 32-point third quarter to take a nine-point lead into the fourth.

Houston used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 10 with about seven minutes left, but the Lakers scored the next six points to extend it to 110-94 midway through the quarter. That sent many Rockets fans streaming for the exits and caused a large contingent of Lakers fans to start chanting, “Let’s go Lakers.”

The Rockets did not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

The Lakers opened the second half with a 10-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 69-68, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. James capped that run by making a basket and then added another one seconds later after JaVale McGee blocked a dunk attempt by Clint Capela. McGee beat his chest and screamed after in Capela’s direction after the play and received a technical foul for taunting.

There were about seven minutes left in the third when Westbrook and Anthony Davis, who missed the game with an injury, both received technical fouls for jawing at each other.

The Lakers led by three later in the third when Kuzma scored the first four points of a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 85-75.

Houston had a chance to cut the deficit at the end of the third quarter, but Westbrook missed two free throws to leave the Lakers up 91-82 entering the fourth.

 

Watch Kawhi Leonard’s 39 points spark Clippers rally past Pelicans 133-130

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 39 points and the Los Angeles Clippers rallied to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 133-130 on Saturday.

Lou Williams scored 14 of his 32 points during a dominant fourth quarter for Los Angeles, which outscored the Pelicans 31-20 in the final 12 minutes.

Williams’ 3 with 31.6 seconds left, after Patrick Beverley had rebounded Leonard’s miss, gave the Clippers a 133-127 lead and sent numerous fans toward the exits.

But JJ Redick hit a quick 3, and after Leonard ran down the shot clock and missed a 3, New Orleans had 2.4 seconds to attempt a tying 3 that Redick missed off the back rim.

Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points for the Clippers, who trailed by 10 in the final seconds of the third quarter, but turned a steal into two free throws and then opened the fourth with an 8-0 run to tie it at 110.

After shooting 58.5% (38 of 65) in the first three quarters, the Pelicans made just 8 of 21 shots in the fourth as the game slipped away from them.

Lonzo Ball had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, who were seeking their 11th victory in 15 games despite the recent absence of guard Jrue Holiday, who has missed seven games with an elbow injury.

Derrick Favors had 22 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, while Brandon Ingram had 21 points and Redick scored 19.

The teams combined for 152 points in a fast-paced first half, during which New Orleans tied a franchise record with 80 points.

Favors made his first seven shots and had 15 of his points in the opening 24 minutes, when the Pelicans shot 63.6%, including 11-of-21 shooting from 3-point range.

Ball hit three 3s in the first half, his last giving the Pelicans an 80-72 lead that stood at halftime.

Leonard has scored at least 30 points in each of his last five games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: NBA system wants you to flop, but ‘that’s not who I am’

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
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Giannis Antetokounmpo scores inside unlike anyone since Shaq.

Like with Shaquille O’Neal, Antetokounmpo has sparked a conversation about how much contacts he absorbs.

Antetokounmpo, via Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

“It’s kind of hard because in the NBA, the way it’s built, they want you to flop,” Antetokounmpo said of playing physically. “It wants you to be weak, kind of, because sometimes I think when you’re strong and you’re going through contact, they don’t call the foul. But when you’re flopping and kind of going into the contact and throwing the ball out, they’re just going to call foul, but that’s not who I am, that’s not what I’m gonna do.

“I’m just gonna try to power through contact. It’s going to be … where if a guy grabs me or pushes me, I’ve got to show it more, but I think I’ve done a better job of showing it more so the refs can see that the guys are holding me, pushing me and just being physical.”

James Harden and Antetokounmpo have traded barbs since last year’s MVP vote, which Antetokounmpo won over Harden. Was this another shot across Harden’s bow?

Harden isn’t the only player who flops. But Harden has earned a reputation as the NBA’s foremost flopper.

Antetokounmpo could do a better job of selling contact. But his tenaciousness sets a tone for the Bucks. His teammates see his determination and follow his lead. There’s a real positive effect to Antetokounmpo’s style.

Also, Antetokounmpo already averages 10.4 free throws per game. How many more fouls would he draw by flopping? Officials could be reluctant to give him even more whistles. Though each call should be evaluated independently, there can be a tendency not to call too many fouls.

Report: LeBron James views Jason Kidd as only living peer for basketball intelligence

LeBron James and Jason Kidd
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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LeBron James is a basketball genius.

That somewhat explains why, since becoming a superstar, he has clashed with all previous his coaches – Mike Brown, Erik Spoelstra, David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Luke Walton. Traditional roles make coaches the brains behind the operation. But what happens when LeBron is the smartest person in the room? At best, it creates complications.

So, of course there were questions about how LeBron would take to new Lakers coach Frank Vogel. Vogel is a coach. That’s enough.

But LeBron also previously spread word of his desire to be coached by a former player. Vogel never played professionally. However, one of his assistants was a Hall of Fame player with previous head-coaching experience – Jason Kidd.

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN:

One of those primary assistants would be Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd, whom two sources have independently said James regards as the only person alive who sees the game of basketball with his level of clarity.

This is probably hyperbolic. But Kidd was an incredibly smart player. His court vision, defensive recognition and ability to find ways to contribute all over the floor were elite. I can see why LeBron would enjoy talking basketball with Kidd.

But that alone doesn’t make Kidd a good coach. Playing ability doesn’t always translate to coaching ability. His record with the Bucks and Nets leaves a lot to be desired. Interpersonal issues were glaring. Dated thinking became even more apparent when Mike Budenholzer succeeded Kidd and immediately guided Milwaukee to the next level. Kidd’s record of player development is mixed.

Still, that level of endorsement from LeBron carries major weight.

Kidd has been trying to become an NBA head coach again. He lobbied for the Lakers job while Luke Walton held it and interviewed for it before Vogel got it.

Vogel said he wasn’t worried about Kidd undermining him and acted as if he truly isn’t. The Lakers are 33-8, and Vogel is endearing himself in Los Angeles. To better understand how he’s doing it, I highly recommend reading Arnovitz’s article.