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.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.