Three Things to Know: LeBron James passes idol Michael Jordan on all-time scoring list

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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) 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.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.

Three things to know: The Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again

Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) The Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again

About that slow start in the Bay Area…

Over their last 11 games, the Golden State Warriors are 8-3 with a top-10 in the league offense and defense and a +4.5 net rating (fourth best in the league over that stretch). The latest win was Sunday’s destruction of the stumbling Timberwolves, 137-114, a game that saw the Warriors up by more than 20 in the first quarter and never truly threatened again.

“I think we’re starting to put it together and if we can keep building at this rate, you know, we’ll be poised for a run pretty soon here,” Draymond Green said.

All season long the Warriors have had Stephen Curry playing at an MVP level, carrying the team. So what has changed over the past few weeks that has the Warriors rolling? Three things.

First, Steve Kerr started staggering the rotation and separating Green’s and Curry’s minutes some, something he tried not to do much in the past. It’s one way Kerr dealt with the fact the Warriors’ bench has struggled (getting Donte DiVincenzo healthy helped as well). Curry now stays in for the entire first quarter, while Green gets his first rest about the five-minute mark, then Curry sits to start the second and Green returns to play with more of a bench unit (both stars finish the quarter together on the court).

“I’ve said for years Draymond is kind of the heartbeat of our team,” Kerr said. “He’s the guy who kind of makes everything go and he’s the motivator, he’s the bully, he protects his teammates on the floor, talks trash. But this guy is just so good at basketball.”

Second, the other way the Warriors dealt with the bench issue was Kerr scaled back the “two timelines” experiment. The idea was that the roles Otto Porter and Gary Payton Jr. filled last season could be filled by the young trio of James Wiseman, Moses Moody, and Jonathan Kuminga. That plan failed spectacularly. Wiseman is now down in the G-League, while Moody is out of the rotation. Kuminga is getting his shot — he played well against the Timberwolves — but has been up and down this season.

“I think we’ve settled into some roles, guys are comfortable now with when they’re gonna play who they’re gonna play with. So I think that’s been helpful,” Kerr said.

Third, Klay Thompson found his legs. He kept saying he needed more time, and whether it was a spark lit by Charles Barkley or Thompson getting off of social media and out of his own head, it’s worked. In his last 10 games Thompson is averaging 20.8 points a game and shooting 46.2% from 3. He is not defending like his old self (and may never again), but he’s back to being a No.2 scoring option on an elite team.

Green would throw in one more reason, the Warriors’ defense is back.

“Most importantly our defense has picked up which allows us to push the pace more,” Green said. “Like it’s one thing to push off makes, which we want to do, but when you’re pushing off a miss and getting a rebound then going, that’s tough to guard because it creates a lot of cross-matching.”

There was no magic bullet for Kerr to fire, it took a number of things to turn for the Warriors to get back to being themselves. But they have now, and the rest of the West should be worried.

2) Doncic says Antetokounmpo is “the best player in the NBA right now”

The Dallas Mavericks had no answers. Not that teams really ever do.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was a force of nature Sunday and dropped 30 with 11 boards on the Mavericks, leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

After the game, Luka Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the game. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo returned the compliment.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

Antetokounmpo and Doncic are two of the guys in the early MVP conversation, along with Curry, Jayson Tatum and a few others. It turns out, those first two also have a mutual admiration society going.

3) Clippers Ivica Zubac put up a monster 31 and 29 line against Pacers

No Kawhi Leonard, no Paul George, but the Clippers picked up another win on Sunday knocking off the Pacers 114-100.

Thank Ivica Zubac, who had a monster 31-point, 20-rebound game.

After the game, Zubac was made he fouled out before he could get his 30th rebound and have a 30-30 game.

Quietly, Zubac is having a fantastic defensive season for the Clippers, but like the rest of the team his offense has been up and down as they try to adjust to ever-changing lineups. That Clipper defense locked down the Pacers in the second half, plus Indy was just off shooting 9-of-42 from 3.

Zubac found his offense, the Pacers had no answer for him, and the Clippers have a win and improved to 12-9 because of it.

Curry drains 7 3-pointers, Nets start homestand with win over Blazers

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NEW YORK — Kevin Durant scored 31 points, Seth Curry added a season-high 29 off the bench and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Portland Trail Blazers 111-94 on Sunday.

Curry was 7 for 10 on 3-pointers and had his highest point total with the Nets and the most by a Brooklyn reserve this season.

“I’ve always felt like if I get good shots I’m going to make them at a high clip,” Curry said. “Our offense was flowing pretty well. Guys found me open early on to start the game and I felt pretty good, aggressive.”

Kyrie Irving added 22 points for the Nets. Ben Simmons took just three shots but had 12 rebounds and eight assists.

“Ben did a great job of getting downhill,” Curry said. “He’s a great passer (and) he knows how to find me out there on the floor.”

Jerami Grant scored 29 points for Portland. Jusuf Nurkic had 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Anfernee Simons added 15 points and Justice Winslow had 14.

The Nets have won four of their last six games, while the Trail Blazers, who are playing without Damian Lillard, have dropped five of six.

“Tough little stretch that we’re in right now,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “It is what it is. Every team goes through it.”

Brooklyn made 52.6% of its shots from the field overall, and 42.9% from 3-point range, in the second matchup between the teams in 10 days.

“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Durant said. “It’s about baskets.”

With the Nets leading by four entering the fourth, Curry scored Brooklyn’s first eight points of the quarter. Royce O'Neale‘s free throw gave the Nets a 93-87 lead and following a Portland turnover, Curry made a 3 that extended the advantage to nine.

Nurkic sandwiched a hook shot and free throw around two free throws by Irving to cut Brooklyn’s lead to 98-90. However, after a timeout, Durant hit a 3 to push the lead to 101-90.

Brooklyn led 58-57 at halftime, and 84-80 after the third quarter.

T.J. Warren targets Dec. 2 for return to court for Brooklyn Nets

2022-2023 Brooklyn Nets Media Day
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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T.J. Warren was a breakout star in the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers.

Warren has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

The Nets signed him this season hoping he could get healthy and provide some depth off the bench at the four. We’re about to find out if that can happen on Dec. 2, with Warren targeting his return then Toronto, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Nets have not confirmed this timeline. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has recently talked up Warren’s workouts and hinted that a return is getting close.

A healthy Warren could be a big boost for a Nets team looking for more of a spark off the bench.