Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

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

9 Comments

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.

Pascal Siakam scores 37, Raptors remain red hot with win vs. Suns

Leave a comment

TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam had 37 points and 12 rebounds and the Toronto Raptors beat the Phoenix Suns 118-101 on Friday night for their 16th victory in 17 games.

Serge Ibaka scored 16 points, Fred VanVleet and Terence Davis each had 14, Kyle Lowry had 13 points and 10 assists and OG Anunoby aded 12 points for the defending NBA champion Raptors.

After Toronto’s franchise-record 15-game winning streak ended with a loss at Brooklyn in the final game before the All-Star break, the Raptors bounced back by starting the second half with their eighth consecutive home victory.

The Raptors have not lost back-to-back games since an overtime loss at Indiana on Dec. 23 and a home loss to Boston on Christmas Day. Toronto has gone 19-1 since.

Siakam connected on 12 of 19 attempts, going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

That was just one fewer than the six 3-pointers the Suns managed on 34 attempts. Phoenix shot 17.6%t from long range, its lowest mark of the season. No Suns player made more than one shot from distance.

Devin Booker scored 21 points and Deandre Ayton had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Phoenix. The Suns lost for the seventh time in nine games.

Ayton returned to the starting lineup after missing the final two games before the All-Star break because of a sore left ankle.

Phoenix trailed 93-78 through three quarters, but the Suns cut the gap to six points, 96-90 on a basket by Ayton with 8:08 left to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson made a pair from the line, and VanVleet and Siakam both scored to put the Raptors up 102-90 with 6:58 remaining.

Booker missed a 3 with 4:45 left that would have made it a four-point game. Anunoby scored on a dunk and, after another missed 3 by the Suns, Ibaka banked home a 3-pointer to restore Toronto’s 12-point cushion.

Moe Harkless says no buyout with Knicks: “I’ll be here the rest of the year”

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Moe Harkless went from a guy often starting and playing critical minutes for a contender in the Clippers to being the matching salary in a trade and finding himself on the woeful Knicks.

“It is definitely an adjustment with the way things are,” Harkless told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. “Everything is different, the culture and everything.”

If there was a player nobody would blame for wanting a buyout and the chance to get back to a team playing for something, it would be Harkless.

That’s not happening. Multiple reports have surfaced that he is not talking buyout with New York running up to the March 1 deadline. The latest comes from Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then Harkless was even more direct speaking to Bondy.

“I’ll be here the rest of the year,” he said.

Harkless has fans in NBA front offices, with the Lakers rumored to be among them (although they are about to land Markieff Morris in a similar role). Harkless could play good defensive minutes on the wing down the stretch for a team, buying rest for key guys, plus in the playoffs he could be advantageous in certain matchups.

Morris and the Knicks have time to change their minds, but it sounds like he will play out the season in New York then be a free agent next summer.

Lakers reportedly will waive DeMarcus Cousins to clear roster spot

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
Leave a comment

If the Lakers are going to add Markieff Morrisas has been rumored — or anyone else via free agency, they are going to need to clear out a roster spot.

That has the Lakers looking to waive DeMarcus Cousins, a report broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Cousins signed with the Lakers over the summer but never set foot on the court with them after tearing his ACL during summer workouts (which led to a scramble and L.A.’s fortuitous signing of Dwight Howard). He was around the team and rehabbing, and while they would never officially rule him out, Cousins was never expected to play.

He was not waived before because his $3.5 million salary might have been useful in a trade. When that didn’t materialize at the deadline it, became likely he could get waived.

It’s highly unlikely a team picks up Cousins this season, while he continues to rehab from his injury. However, it might be a good roll of the dice this summer by a team to sign him to a minimum contract for next season. Cousins still has some NBA basketball in him, if he can just stay healthy.

Karl-Anthony Towns has fractured wrist, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Karl-Anthony Towns was a surprise scratch from the Timberwolves last game before the All-Star break, a “left wrist injury” delaying the home debut of him with D'Angelo Russell (they did play a road game together in Toronto). Then came the rumors he could miss a few games when play started up again.

It’s going to be more than a few games, more than a few weeks.

Towns has a fractured left wrist, the team announced Friday. He is out and will be re-evaluated in two weeks. From the team press release:

“While Towns has been diligent in treatment with a goal of return to play, he has been assessed by multiple specialists over the last several days and the team continues to gather information on the optimal management strategies.”

Towns had been playing through wrist pain for a couple of weeks before this diagnosis.

Towns is having a career year on offense, averaging  26.5 points a game while shooting 41 percent from three (on 7.9 attempts per game), plus grabbing 10.8 rebounds a night. That has not translated into wins for Minnesota, however.

Towns being out doesn’t hurt the Timberwolves in the short term, they have fallen far out of the playoff chase in the West. However, this cuts into time Towns and Russell could have used to grow accustomed to each other’s games. It’s time lost for the coaching staff and front office as they evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.