Three Things to Know: For better and for worse, ‘Melo was ‘Melo in his Portland debut

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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.

1) For better and for worse, ‘Melo was ‘Melo in his Portland debut. For Carmelo Anthony optimists — watching this game through their special-issue, “Carmelo can do no wrong” glasses — there were positives to point to.

His first bucket of the game was a catch-and-shoot three, providing exactly the kind of floor spacing the Trail Blazers desperately need. Later, he had a drive and vintage mid-range pull-up, the type of play that forces defenses to adjust.

For his part, Anthony was just happy to be on the court again, as he told NBC Sports Portland.

“It felt great to be back into the flow of the game, be back on the court, be back to where I think I belong at, just be out there with the guys again, more so the routine – the team bus, team lunch… That’s the routine that I’ve been used to for 17 years now… As far as the game goes, it felt great to get back out there,” Anthony said postgame.

Anthony may have felt great, but the reality is ‘Melo looked like ‘Melo. The guy who did not get a contract offer last summer for a reason.

Anthony was 4-of-14 shooting for 10 points, had five turnovers, five fouls, leaned toward isolation offense at points, and had some moments of ugly defense were he looked lost or just had guys blow past him, and ended up a -20 on the night.

Some of that can be chalked up to rust and not having time to practice with his new team. Anthony should improve. Whether he can improve enough to have his NBA career end on his terms may be another question.

No doubt Portland needs the healthy bodies in the frontcourt and can use his offense if he can become a little more efficient. Again, there was undoubtedly rust, but Anthony was never exactly the most efficient player in the league. He has always been more of a volume guy. However, the bigger question is if he can defend well enough to stay on the court and help the Blazers. His lateral movement and ability to defend in space remain big questions, and you can be sure other teams will target him and test that.

There’s a lot of people around the league rooting for Anthony. However, if he’s the same old ‘Melo, this experiment is not going to last long.

2) LeBron James has historic triple-double — he is the first player ever to have a triple-double against all 30 teams. Jason Kidd came close, he got to 28 during his Hall of Fame playing career.

Now a Lakers’ assistant coach, he came up to LeBron James after Tuesday night’s win over Oklahoma City and told LeBron he was bad.

“I had seven turnovers, I was,” LeBron said, adding he agreed with Kidd.

Then Kidd let James know what he had just done: With his 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists, LeBron got his first triple-double against the Thunder — making LeBron the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double against every team.

“I don’t know, I really don’t know what to think about it,” LeBron said. “I’ve had some great teammates and coaches who put me in a position to facilitate… and hopefully, though all those triple-doubles, I’ve got a winning record in those games.”

“He’ll say it’s because he’s been in the league so long,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, guessing wrong but still making his point. “But we all know it’s because he’s remarkable, and for him to be doing it as long as he’s been doing it, that’s how you knock out all 30… I don’t know if that will ever get accomplished again.”

LeBron’s combination of versatility and longevity are unmatched in league history.

Vogel noted when he was coaching in Indiana, the book on LeBron was to play back and force him to shoot over the top of the defense. Now “he’s the best deep shooter on our team,” Vogel said.

LeBron’s assist numbers have been up this season with him playing more of a point guard role, he leads the league with 11.1 per game (Luka Doncic is second at 9.3). However, with the recent return of the one pure point guard on the roster in Rajon Rondo, would that cut into LeBron’s opportunities to rack up dimes? So far, no. Plus, LeBron is finishing a few assists for Rondo, too.

With the win 112-107 win against a scrappy Thunder team, the Lakers improve to a league-best 12-2 on the season.

Oklahoma City continues to be tough to play against — and unlucky. The Thunder have a 0.0, flat even net rating, which should translate to a .500 record, but instead they are 5-9 as the Thunder just keep losing close games.

3) The best shooter on an NBA floor Tuesday night? That would be 10-year-old Maxx. One of the Lakers’ regular in-game promotions is to bring out a young baller and let them try to win a free trip to the Lakers’ youth basketball camp the next summer by making enough baskets.

Forget that — the Lakers need to sign Maxx here to a contract.

He shot 9-of-10, drained both his threes, and the only miss was an off-balance turnaround at the buzzer. Maxx is going to be hustling guys at the park pretty soon with those skills.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis combine for 49 points, Lakers beat Knicks

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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 of his 21 points early, cutting into Kobe Bryant’s shrinking lead over him for the No. 3 scoring spot in NBA history, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Wednesday night.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 28 points in his second game back after a five-game absence, after the Western Conference leaders were handed their worst loss of the season Monday in his return.

James’ quiet second half left him with 33,599 points, 44 back of Bryant.

That keeps James in good shape to catch the former Lakers star Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time NBA champion was born. Los Angeles has a game in between Thursday in Brooklyn.

Davis scored eight points in the final 3:45 and finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line. He played 30 minutes after going only 23 in his return from a bruised gluteus maximus on Monday in Boston, where the Lakers were routed 139-107.

Marcus Morris scored 20 points and Damyean Dotson had 17 for the Knicks, who put up a much better effort after losing by 30 two weeks ago in Los Angeles. But they just couldn’t come up with timely shots to really threaten the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

James shot 8 of 10 in 17 minutes of the first half, but the Knicks held the rest of the Lakers relatively in check and the game was tied at 48 at halftime.

The Lakers led by six after three quarters, then opened the fourth with Dwight Howard‘s dunk, a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo and a basket by Kyle Kuzma to extend it to 83-70.

New York hung around and was within six again late but the Lakers prevailed despite only two baskets, both by Davis, in the final four minutes.

 

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.