Three Things to Know: C.J. McCollum singlehandedly outscores Clippers in fourth

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LOS ANGELES — 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. Tonight we come from Staples Center.

1) C.J. McCollum singlehandedly outscores Clippers in fourth, Portland picks up a key road win. C.J. McCollum was all smiles Tuesday night.

For one thing, the Canton, Ohio, native was pumped his Cleveland Browns traded for Odell Beckham Jr. “We’ve waited a long time for this,” McCollum said.

Then there was his 35-point night against the Clippers. That started off slow — he missed his first seven shots and didn’t get his first bucket until there was 2.7 seconds left in the first half — but when it mattered McCollum was the difference. In the fourth quarter he scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting to take over the game, singlehandedly outscoring a Clippers team that had 20 points on 8-of-24 shooting.

“What was it like to watch?” the Clippers’ Lou Williams said of McCollum’s fourth. “It’s not a good time.”

“I don’t ever get gun shy,” McCollum said. “I’ve missed a lot of shots in my career, and percentage wise you’re going to miss more than you make, especially from three. You just have to stay confident, stay aggressive, and know who you are.”

Portland turned a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter into a 125-104 victory, outscoring the Clippers 40-20 in the final frame. In a tight West, games like this against other playoff teams matter. Portland is currently tied for the 4/5 seed with Oklahoma City, and 1.5 behind three-seed Houston. Those teams could land in any order by the time the playoffs start.

The same is true of the 6-7-8 seeds in the West — which includes the Clippers. Los Angeles sits as the six seed right now, but just one game separates them, San Antonio, and Utah for those final three spots. (Sacramento is four games out of the playoffs, they are not making up that ground late in the season.)

Despite the loss, there’s an energy and confidence in the Clippers locker room. They had three games in four nights against strong NBA teams — Boston, Oklahoma City, and now Portland — and they won two of them. But on the second night of a back-to-back, the Clippers’ legs started to get tired and that’s all the space McCollum needed

“You could tell, [Lou] Williams didn’t have the same energy tonight,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “Overall, none of us did. I thought it was a very winnable game until that stretch [in the fourth quarter].”

Both of these teams are going to be tough outs come the West playoffs. Portland has one of the league’s best backcourts with Damian Lillard and McCollum, they have size up front, they can defend, they have a good bench (most nights), and they have experience.

The Clippers have a real energy and physicality. Montrezl Harrell is a beast off the bench, Lou Williams is a scoring machine who attacks and draws fouls, Danilo Gallinari (who was rested Tuesday night) gets them buckets, and those three are surrounded by versatile role players. The Clippers may not win their first-round series, but whoever they face is going to come out beat up on the other side.

2) LeBron put on his own personal dunk contest in Chicago. The Lakers have not been entertaining to watch of late, but LeBron James decided to change that in Chicago Tuesday night. He had 36 points in his limited minutes, and he was putting on a dunking exhibition inside the United Center.

Earlier there was this.

Those two were just part of the highlights. This was the bounciest LeBron has looked since his injury.

3) NBA players, community applaud Jazz banning fan who crossed he line with Russell Westbrook. The NBA was buzzing Tuesday about what had happened Monday night, when Russell Westbrook had gotten into it with a Utah Jazz fan who had crossed the line with his comments.

Tuesday, after an investigation (where witnesses were interviewed and video watched), the Jazz banned the fan from the arena for life. Players around the league applauded the move, saying too often people who cross the clear-line boundary from heckling about the game to off-the-table personal matters don’t face punishment. Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha backed Westbrook, for one.

Donovan Mitchell backed his team and implored the fans to do better.

LeBron James applauded the Jazz.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers summed it up well.

“We forget that this is a human game sometimes, the players have to be human, and the fans have to be human,” Rivers said. “What I always tell our players is that human decency comes into play — be decent to the fans, in a human way, and they need to be that to you. And if they’re not, if [the player] can not react, that’d be great. But sometimes as a human it’s very difficult not to react. But either way you alert people. And I thought that’s what happened. They handled it well.”

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home has made the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Utah’s Joe Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Andrew Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.

 

How Dwight Howard convinced the Lakers to take a chance on him

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Laker fans Friday sounded like your friends after an ugly relationship and breakup, when you suddenly consider taking that person back. Laker nation took to Twitter screaming “ARE YOU SERIOUS? What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?”

The Lakers, however, are entering a second relationship with Dwight Howard with their eyes wide open — he will sign a non-guaranteed contract to be the team’s center (sharing duties with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee). Howard will have to prove himself, on and off the court. The Lakers have leverage and can waive Howard and move on to Joakim Noah or someone else quickly if things do not pan out.

But how did it even get to this point? How did Howard — who did his annual summer media tour saying “I have changed, I am taking the game and my conditioning seriously, I just want a chance” and league observers shrugged because they have heard the same thing for years — convince the Lakers to roll the dice on him again? Shams Charania of The Athletic laid it all out.

Howard’s message to [Laker assistant coach Jason] Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked… Kidd became convinced about Howard’s newfound awakening…

The Lakers then began setting workouts for free agents, and Howard traveled from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Wednesday. His meeting and workout with the Lakers was set for Thursday, but Howard went to the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon for his own training session. The Lakers were surprised to see him, sources said, and many key decision makers were in attendance…

League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.

Howard has said all that before. Multiple times. To multiple teams and teammates. Maybe this time he has genuinely figured things out, but whatever he did and said was enough to convince the Lakers to buy in…

To a point.

One could argue — and I would make the case — that Noah would be a better fit on the court for the Lakers’ needs in terms of passing and defense, but he comes with plenty of risks as well (health, getting along with LeBron James, and how much he liked the nightlife as a Knick in New York and what that would mean in L.A.). At least with Howard, the Lakers mitigated that risk with the non-guaranteed contract. If Howard will not accept his role and is disruptive (as he has been in recent stops), if he is still eating candy like a bingeing 10-year-old on Halloween night, if he can’t stay healthy, the Lakers can waive Howard and move on. If the Lakers brought in Noah, they would have been smart to have the same non-guaranteed contract (if Noah would have signed that kind of deal).

For now the Lakers have their man, but he’s basically on probation. Howard has to prove in deeds everything he has said in words.