Three Things to Know: LeBron James looks like MVP-level LeBron James again

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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 looks like vintage MVP LeBron James again, has Lakers at 6-1. Is it because he just had the longest summer vacation he has had since 2005 and his body got a chance to rest? Is it the motivation of having Anthony Davis next to him? Is it because he doesn’t want Bronny walking around saying he’s the best basketball player in their house?

Maybe he just wants to send a message to his doubters.

Whatever the reason, LeBron James looks like MVP-level LeBron James again — and with that the Lakers are off to a fast start. He has racked up three straight triple-doubles — the last Laker to do that was Magic Johnson — and after an opening night loss to that team down the hall, the Lakers have rattled off six straight wins after beating the Bulls 118-112. The Lakers now have the best record in the NBA at 6-1.

Entering this season, the biggest thing to watch with the Lakers was the race between LeBron and Father Time. So far this season, LeBron is winning it. Again. It’s been a long time since we saw a player hold off the inevitable for this long, but at age 34 (and turning 35 next month), LeBron looks re-energized and like a man 10 years his junior.

On the season, LeBron is averaging near a triple-double — 26.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 11.1 assists per game (he leads the league in dimes) — and he is doing so efficiently to the point his advanced stat numbers are in line with his MVP seasons in Cleveland and Miami.

The other thing that’s back is his defense — the end of the court that had been more of an issue in recent years. With the shot blocking of Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard behind him to protect the rim — and with AD taking on more offensive load — LeBron has returned to the free-safety role he likes on defense, using his high IQ of the game to take chances, make steals, and be disruptive. He’s said he was motivated by the film out there of him taking plays off on defense the past few seasons (and he did). This season he’s back to being a force.

Seven games into the season is FAR too early to have any serious kind of MVP discussion, but if one did LeBron would be in the mix at the top of the list. Without question.

These Lakers have gotten in the habit of slow starts and furious comebacks — they trailed the Bulls by 19 and looked out of it for the first three quarters, only to go on a 16-0 run to start the fourth — but it’s building confidence in a roster that on paper resembles the Island of Misfit Toys.

But if they have LeBron James playing like an MVP (not to mention that Davis guy putting up career numbers) the Lakers will be in every game — and will be playing in games late into May. At the least.

2) Speaking of guys playing like their vintage selves, check out Gordon Hayward in Boston. The Celtics thought they were signing an All-Star, borderline All-NBA level player who had a well-rounded game in Gordon Hayward a few summers ago — and they had, until a devastating opening night leg injury set him back for a couple of seasons.

Gordon Hayward has looked more and more like his old self this season, the Utah version of himself. Just ask the Cavaliers, Tuesday night Hayward torched them for 39 points on 17-of-20 shooting, plus dished out eight assists in Boston’s 119-113 win on the road.

Hayward isn’t quite all the way back to form, but he’s looked closer and closer each game. You can see the confidence building. He’s playing 34 minutes a night, averaging 20.3 points, with an amazing True Shooting Percentage (65.6) because he is knocking down 50 percent his threes. Also, he may be the best playmaker for others on the Celtics.

Boston is off to a fast 5-1 start this season and if Hayward can keep this up they become a much bigger threat in the East.

3) Is there more of a Performance Enhancing Drug issue in the NBA than we realized? First it was Brooklyn’s Wilson Chandler before training camps opened. Then it was the Suns’ Deandre Ayton just one game into the season.

This time it was Atlanta’s impressive young big man John Collins — the guy seen as the inside to Trae Young’s outside for the Hawks — who tested positive for a PED. He will be suspended 25 games, although he reportedly will appeal the suspension.

“First I want to apologize to my teammates, the Hawks organization, our fans, partners and community as a whole for this situation,” Collins said as a statement. “I understand the impact this matter has on what we are trying to achieve together this season, and I am incredibly frustrated and disappointed in myself for putting all of us in this position. I have always been incredibly careful about what I put in my body, but I took a supplement which, unbeknownst to me, had been contaminated with an illegal component. I plan to fight my suspension in arbitration so I can get back on the court as soon as possible and continue to contribute to our 2019-20 campaign.”

Players almost always say they didn’t know they ingested the banned substance, take that claim with more than one grain of salt. For the record, if he serves the full 25 games this will cost Collins $610,582.

The NBA has had just three players suspended for PEDs between 2014-18. Now that is three just this season, in a little more than two months.

While the NBA may not have the depth of steroid issues facing other sports, the idea that it wasn’t going on at all around the NBA was always a fantasy (one the league was happy to sell). The reality is steroids help people recover faster, and the NBA is a recovery league because of the length and grind of the season (not to mention injuries). Plus, with the tens of millions of dollars at stake, some players will do whatever it takes to gain an edge (which is no different from baseball, football, or other sports).

When NBA players are with their off-season trainers and not around teams, they may try to push the boundaries. The NBA does not appear to be a league rampant with PED use, but the idea it is nonexistent — and something the association does not need to worry much about — has been blown up to start this season. PEDs are an issue to watch around the NBA.

Watch LeBron’s big night: Moves into fourth in assists, triple-double, win over Knicks

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LeBron James always saves something special for Madison Square Garden.

LeBron had a triple-double of 28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — he became the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double in his 20th season.

That wasn’t the only bit of history, with those 11 dimes he moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash into fourth on the NBA’s career assists list. And if that wasn’t enough, the 28 points moved him within 89 points of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA all-time scoring record: Abdul-Jabbar has 38,387, LeBron is now at 38,299.

For LeBron, however, what mattered most was the win — 129-123 in overtime, giving a Lakers team starved for wins its first on this road trip out East.

“I didn’t get to this point in my career by thinking about records or how many points I have, whatever the case might be,” LeBron said, via the Associated Press. “I just play the game the right way. I approach the game every night only trying to be a triple threat by scoring, rebounding, assisting, defending, and may the chips fall where they may.”

LeBron had help, with Anthony Davis adding 27 points and nine rebounds. The Knicks got 37 from Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle had 23 points and 12 rebounds.

LeBron needed that help as he wasn’t the sharpest he had been this season, starting 2-of-8 from the floor, then missing a couple of long jumpers in the game’s final minutes when the Lakers had the chance to seal the win. But he was good enough and put on a show for the sold-out crowd in New York.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
89

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,299

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder, although that would be by one point, so Feb. 9 against Milwaukee is certainly a possibility.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
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The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.