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 passes childhood idol Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list. “[Michael Jordan] is somebody I looked up to and always believed was the greatest. It’s pretty cool. I have no idea how I’ve been able to do it.”
That was LeBron James during All-Star weekend. On Thursday night, he did it — LeBron James passed Michael Jordan to become fourth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
At the next timeout (as mandated by the league), LeBron was celebrated for his accomplishment with a video tribute.
It was an emotional moment for LeBron, who all but said 12-year-old him would not believe where he is now.
LeBron, at age 34, is not done, he has several more years of high-level basketball in him. If LeBron can stay healthy, he likely moves past Kobe Bryant into third on the scoring list next season. Jordan averaged more points per game than LeBron — career averages of 30.1 points per game to 27.1 — but LeBron has played more games. Longevity is part of it — that’s why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is on top of this list, because at age 40 he was averaging 14.6 points per game (starting on a championship team).
The GOAT conversation is a fun bar stool argument that we’re not going to get into, but here is the thing that shows why these two have to be part of the conversation — they are 1-2 all-time in player efficiency rating (PER). We can pick apart the flaws of Hollinger’s stat, but it’s a good offensive snapshot of a player and these two are the tops ever. Jordan was the better scorer, LeBron the better passer and playmaker.
In what has been one of LeBron’s roughest seasons (the Lakers fell to the Nuggets on Wednesday and are now five games below .500) this is a reminder he belongs on the league’s Mount Rushmore, and he is in the GOAT conversation. LeBron is an all-time great. Nothing is ever going to take that away from him.
2) While nobody’s been watching, the Bulls have become good, beat Sixers on Zach LaVine game-winner. Early in the season, the Bulls were a mess. Chicago went 3-12 in November being outscored by 9.6 points per 100 possessions (second worst in the NBA), with an offense scoring less than a point per possession. December wasn’t much better (-8.4 net rating).
Things slowly started to change. The most significant difference was Lauri Markkanen got healthy and returned to action. Zach LaVine scored at a high rate all season but he started to become efficient. Fred Hoiberg was out as coach after going 5-19, Jim Boylen was in. The Bulls traded for Otto Porter at the deadline to give them another athletic wing.
The Bulls are a good team now — 8-7 in their last 15 games with a +1 net rating. It’s the kind of massive improvement in a season young teams hope to see, it provides hope for the future.
But the Bulls can win now, too. Just ask the Sixers, a team that needs wins because they are in the middle of a playoff seedings chase (they and Boston don’t want to finish 4/5 and face off in the first round). Jimmy Butler put Philadelphia up by a point with two free throws with 4.8 seconds left, but then Zach LaVine capped his 39 points on the night with this.
That was some bad defense by Philly — how much do they miss Joel Embiid in the middle? He was out a seventh straight game resting a sore knee, he hasn’t played since those 21 minutes in the All-Star Game.
The Bulls got the win — after they re-played the final 0.5 seconds a couple of times, the second one without Porter. The Bulls aren’t making the playoffs this year, in fact they will be drafting high again thanks to those first few months. But they are a solid team right now and there is genuine reason to feel warm about the Bulls during this cold Chicago winter.
3) Gordon Hayward gets redemption in game-winner to beat Kings. Boston was set up to lose: Second night of a back-to-back against the fastest pace team in the NBA in Sacramento, and Kyrie Irving was out with a bruised thigh.
Hayward almost blew it for the Celtics, who were up three late after a couple of Jayson Tatum free throws. Then on the next play Hayward fouled Buddy Hield on a three-point attempt and a trio of free throws later, the game was tied.
Then Hayward saved the day.
The question after Boston’s impressive win in Golden State was can they build on it? Just one game, but so far so good.
BONUS THING TO KNOW: Miami moves into eight seed in East with a win against Charlotte. Can they hold it? There’s a real battle to make the playoffs at the bottom of the East, with three teams — Miami, Charlotte, and Orlando — all within a game of each other for the final playoff slot. Only one gets an invitation to the dance.
After Wednesday night, the Heat are in front. Kelly Olynyk dropped 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Miami went into Charlotte and won. Miami, at 30-34, is a game ahead of Orlando (30-36) and Charlotte (29-35).
Who is going to win the race? My money is on Orlando, simply because they have a much easier schedule the rest of the way and have been playing well of late. But it’s wide open, and another factor is Brooklyn is the seven seed, 3.5 games up on Orlando/Charlotte, but the Nets have a very difficult schedule down the stretch. They could come back to the pack.