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Three Things to Know: LeBron James, Lakers will almost certainly miss playoffs

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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 lost a big game to the Clippers. With a chance to gain ground on the team they were chasing for the playoffs, the Lakers had all their usual problems – shooting, defense, injury – in a loss to the Clippers last night. Kurt Helin was there and wrote about it.

The fact this was a big game is a tribute to LeBron James.

This loss has the Lakers’ postseason pursuit nearly completely unraveled. But they were barely hanging on by a thread, anyway. They’re now 5.5 games and two teams out of playoff position with 18 games remaining. They’re as close in the standings to the 14th-place Grizzlies as the eight-place Spurs. Most struggling teams get written off even before last night’s loss.

But LeBron demands attention and respect. Look at the Cavaliers team he carried to the NBA Finals last year. It was tough to rule out the possibility he’d drag these Lakers at least to the playoffs. Somehow, someway.

That he almost certainly won’t is a huge blow to the NBA. The league’s premier teams – Lakers and Knicks – are now each going on six straight years without making the playoffs. That leaves a lot of revenue on the table.

It seemed LeBron would be the antidote to Los Angeles’ struggles. That hasn’t happened as quickly as hoped.

Maybe Kevin Durant will straighten out New York next year.

2) The Clippers are good and feeling good. Before the season, Patrick Beverley declared the Clippers the best team in L.A. After last night’s win, he took an earned victory lap.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

Jovan Buha of The Athletic:

The Clippers are in transition. They’ve kept their books clean to chase stars like Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant next summer. They traded their best player, Tobias Harris, shortly before the trade deadline for primarily draft picks. They owe the Celtics a first-round pick if they make the playoffs.

But this starless team has remained competitive. The Clippers feisty and take advantage of their depth by always playing hard.

Credit owner Steve Ballmer, who set the tone for a playoff push amid directional uncertainty. Credit Doc Rivers for getting a team full of players on expiring contracts to pull the same direction. And credit these players – including Danilo Gallinari, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Beverley – for being tougher, harder-working and just plain better than so many of their opponents.

3) Dwyane Wade brought a new element to his jersey swaps – surprise. In his final season, Wade has swapped jerseys with an opponent after most games. Usually, these photo-ops seem pre-arranged. Wade has already picked and informed the opposing player before the game.

But after the Heat’s win over the Hawks last night, Wade swapped jerseys with rookie Kevin Huerter, who wears No. 3 because of Wade. Both Wade and Huerter said the Atlanta guard had no idea in advance, and Huerter looked thrilled. It was an especially fun moment:

Report: Luke Walton sued for sexual assault

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Luke Walton is being sued by a female reporter claiming sexual assault from a hotel room incident that dates back to before he was hired as the Lakers’ head coach (he was recently let go from that position and is currently the coach of the Sacramento Kings).

Kelli Tennant was writing a book and wanted Walton to write the forward, according to a lawsuit obtained by TMZ. The two had a business relationship and she agreed to meet him in a Santa Monica hotel to discuss him writing the forward to the book, according to the report. We’ll let TMZ take it from there:

In the suit, Tennant says when she arrived at Walton’s hotel, he convinced her to come up to his room so they could discuss the book. She claims when they got up to his room, Walton suddenly pinned her to the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body.

In the docs, Tennant claims Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. She claims she screamed for him to stop and tried to free herself, but he held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.

She says he eventually relented and let her get up from the bed, but as she was walking towards the door to leave he grabbed her from behind and again forced his body up against hers.

The lawsuit goes on to say Walton and her would interact after that, because of her job, and he would give her exaggerated hugs, kisses, and would make lewd comments to her.

Walton took over coaching the Lakers for the 2016-17 season. The alleged incident took place while Walton was still an assistant coach with the Warriors.

Walton has yet to comment on the lawsuit. The Kings and Lakers also have not commented.

NBA fines Brooklyn part-owner Joe Tsai for Tweet backing his GM challenging referees

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I just hope he can afford this.

Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks was suspended and fined by the league for breaking a taboo and going into the officials’ locker room after the Nets’ Game 4 loss at home to challenge the referees. Marks — along with pretty much every Nets’ fan — was livid about how Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has been officiated in the series.

Brooklyn minority owner (for now) and alternate governor Joe Tsai Tweeted this about Marks.

The NBA has fined Tsai $35,000 for “making public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Tsai is the second-largest shareholder of online shopping powerhouse Alibaba and is worth an estimated $10.2 billion. He owns 49 percent of the Nets.

Virginia’s Kyle Guy staying in NBA draft, not returning to Virginia

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Virginia is going to lose three starters from its national championship team. De'Andre Hunter is a likely top-7 pick that a lot of teams think can be a good “3&D” NBA player. Ty Jerome is a bubble first-round pick expected to stay in the draft. Mamadi Diakite also has his name in the mix.

Now it’s official, Kyle Guy says he is keeping his name in the mix.

Guy had 24 points in the title game against Texas Tech and was named the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player for leading the Cavaliers to a title.

What he brings is shooting — he hit 42.6 percent from three this past season. He moves well off the ball and can catch-and-shoot, skills that NBA teams want. However, while he was a playmaker in college his handles and passing need work to be NBA ready, according to scouts. There also are concerns about his athleticism at the next level, and with that how well he can defend.

Guy is likely a second-round pick if taken at all, but he’s all in and going to take his shot while at the hight of his college career.

Hawks’ Lloyd Pierce replaces Pacers’ Nate McMillan as Team USA assistant coach

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is taking over Team USA, and he has assistant coaches for the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics:

  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr
  • Pacers coach Nate McMillan
  • Villanova coach Jay Wright
  • Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce

USA Basketball release:

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce was named to the USA Basketball Men’s National Team coaching staff today. Pierce replaces Indiana Pacers head coach Nate [McMillan] who withdrew because of scheduling conflicts.

This is a pretty big honor for Pierce, who just completed his first season as an NBA head coach. He guided Atlanta to only a 29-53 record.

But the young Hawks, especially Trae Young, improved throughout the season. Atlanta pushed the pace, hoisted 3s and defended aggressively (though not well). An identity is forming.

Though it’s far too early to say much about Pierce’s head-coaching acumen, he acquitted himself well in his first year.

Working with Team USA could even help Pierce ingratiate himself with stars. This could eventually pay off for the Hawks in free agency.