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.

Watch Bogdan Bogdanovic hit game-winning 3-pointer for Kings vs. Thunder (video)

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Another game, another Kings game-winning 3-pointer.

After Nemanja Bjelica hit a buzzer-beater against the Rockets on Monday, Bogdan Bogdanovic sunk the go-ahead 3-pointer against the Thunder last night. That stood as the game-winner once Richaun Holmes successfully defended Chris Paul on the other end, clinching Sacramento’s 94-93 victory.

The Kings have won three straight – over the Mavericks, Rockets and Thunder. The schedule softens over the next week and a half, giving Sacramento a real chance to rise in the Western Conference standings.

And if he keeps playing like this, Bogdanovic might find his way into a starting lineup.

Three Things to Know: Kawhi Leonard got his ring then destroyed his old team

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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) Kawhi Leonard got his ring then destroyed his old team. Board man got his ring.

The Toronto Raptors and their fans handled the return of Kawhi Leonard with nothing but class. The video tribute was spot on, and having the court light up to retrace his “shot heard around the World” was brilliant. Having the guys Leonard played with out to greet him at center court was a great touch, having Kyle Lowry present him the ring was perfect, and the crowd responded with an extended standing ovation (a few did boo Paul George, as if Leonard leaving was his fault). Doc Rivers said after the game he’s not seen any team do it better and he’s right.

Leonard then repaid that love by showing what he and his new teammates can do, crushing the Raptors with relative ease.

Lenard had 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, but credit OG Anunoby for making him work for those buckets. Leonard has struggled at points this season — he shot 2-of-11 against Toronto at Staples Center last month — and part of that was his knee was bothering him. Scouts talked about him not looking as explosive or comfortable, but that has changed of late, he is moving well and getting tho his spots.

Another former Raptor, Lou Williams, added 18 points. The Clippers bench, as it usually does, had their way and outscored the Raptors bench 44-18. It was a good win for the Clippers after getting thrashed themselves by the Bucks last Friday night. They needed a quality road win.

The Raptors are 1-4 in their last five with losses to Miami, Houston, Philadelphia, and now the Clippers in that stretch. Toronto is 3-8 against teams over .500. It’s concerning, and it will force Masai Ujiri and the Raptors front office to consider their plan to keep this core together through another playoff push — if a team comes calling with a good offer for Marc Gasol, do the Raptors say yes?

Wednesday was a reminder that without Leonard, there is a ceiling on this Toronto team.

2) Cleveland opts not to trap James Harden, he drops 55 and carries Houston to win. For the past couple of weeks, teams have adopted a new, aggressive strategy against Harden — aggressively double team him at midcourt, force him to give up the ball, and dare any other Rocket to beat them. (Zach Lowe breaks it all down beautifully at ESPN.)

The strategy has had mixed results. When good defensive teams do it (the Clippers, for example, tried it) they’ve had some success, especially if they can force Russell Westbrook to take threes. When bad defensive teams do it (say, Atlanta) Harden still carves them up. The Rockets are 5-5 since teams started trying it, but they have the fourth-best offense in the NBA in that stretch (their defense and mental vacations during games are what has let them down).

Cleveland is not a good defensive team, third-worst in the NBA coming into Wednesday night, so the Cavaliers didn’t try to trap The Beard. They went with a more traditional defense, and Harden carved them up for 55 points.

Houston had a comfortable lead in this game but had one of its in-game mental vacations and let Cleveland score 24 in a row to take an 11 point lead. That’s when Harden took over and scored the Rockets’ next 15 points to get them back into the game.

Harden is carrying the Rockets this season (which is why he’s in the thick of the MVP race, again), but if the team can’t tighten up its game and stop having those in-game lapses there is only so much Harden can do.

3) Grizzlies’ rookie Ja Morant may have thrown down the dunk of the year. When we talked about athletic freaks leading up to the last draft, talk instantly turned to Zion Williamson. With good reason.

However, people seemed to sleep on what a good athlete Ja Morant is. If you want proof, why not go as Phoenix’s Aron Baynes about it. Morant flat-out destroyed Baynes on an early contender for Dunk of the Year.

Notice that came on a critical fourth-quarter possession — you’ve got to love the way Morant is willing to attack in that situation.

• Bonus Thing to Know: DeAndre Jordan is going to make sure Jarrett Allen looks good before taking the court.

No Giannis Antetokounmpo, no problem as Bucks win 16th straight

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — No Giannis was no problem for the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out but the Bucks kept on rolling, getting 29 points from Eric Bledsoe and 24 from Khris Middleton in a 127-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans that extended their winning streak to 16 games.

The Bucks (22-3) tied the second-longest winning streak in franchise history and moved closer to the franchise record of 20 set during the team’s 1970-71 championship season.

Antetokounmpo sat out with a right quad tendon injury, missing his first game this season. He has missed time with concerns about overuse injuries in his leg before.

Antetokounmpo did not participate in the team’s shootaround on Wednesday morning and quickly was ruled out.

“I don’t think we know exactly when it happened,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “This morning the soreness was such that he was not able to play tonight. The severity of it, we’re hoping it’s not too serious.

“We’ll take it day by day and we’re always going to err on the side of caution.”

The rest of the Bucks stepped up.

“I think we took a little more ownership of what’s going on out there,” Middleton said. “When Giannis is out there, he draws such a huge crowd that we play through him a lot. Without him tonight, we know we have to do a little bit more.

“It was a great test; they play with a fast pace just like us. I think we did a great job.”

Veteran forward Ersan Ilyasova, starting in place of Antetokounmpo, had a season-high 18 points and nine rebounds. George Hill contributed 13 points off the bench.

Bledsoe drove aggressively and scored 11 points in the third quarter to answer a Pelicans rally, and he finished making a season-high five 3-pointers and going 10 for 13 from the field while adding six assists.

“I try to get in the paint as much as possible,” Bledsoe said. “If I don’t have a shot, I kick it out to my teammates and trust them to make the right play.”

New Orleans (6-19) lost its 10th straight game despite a season-high 31 points from J.J. Redick. Brandon Ingram had 25 points and 10 rebounds and point guard Jrue Holiday added 21 points.

A frustrated Redick spoke up in the locker room at halftime, when New Orleans trailed by 23 points.

“It’s not like this is the first time we’ve had a talk at halftime,” Redick said. “I would say emotionally sometimes you reach a tipping point. That’s the timing of that.”

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said his team needs to communicate better.

“It’s the quietest group I’ve ever been around, even on the plane and in the meal room,” Gentry said. “But we do have to get them talking on the court and have them communicate on the court.

“When we do, we’re pretty solid. I thought we did a good job in the second half of communicating. But when you’re trying to come back from 25 to-28-point deficits, the least little thing is going to have a glaring effect.”

The Bucks hit six of their first eight attempts from 3-point range, including 3 of 3 by Bledsoe, to take a 28-12 lead.

Milwaukee led by 23 points in the opening quarter before New Orleans closed the period on an 8-0 spurt to pull within 35-20.

The Bucks used a 17-0 run to grab a 56-28 lead in the second quarter before settling for a 69-46 halftime margin. Middleton and Bledsoe each had 13 points and Ilyasova and Hill added 11 apiece.

The Pelicans outscored the Bucks 40-36 in the third quarter.

New Orleans pulled within 120-108 with 2:51 remaining but Middleton hit a pair of jumpers to put the Bucks safely ahead.

 

Watch James Harden score 55, including 10 threes, to beat Cleveland

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CLEVELAND (AP) — James Harden scored 55 points – 20 in the fourth quarter – and Russell Westbrook added 23 points as the Houston Rockets withstood an unexpected scare from Cleveland and held on for a 116-110 win Wednesday night over the free-falling Cavaliers, who have lost eight straight and 14 of 15.

Harden matched Kyrie Irving‘s arena record for points in a game, and his fourth with 50 or more this season bailed out the Rockets, who allowed the Cavs to score 24 straight points in the second half.

Cleveland was still up 108-107 when Harden, who came in leading the NBA in scoring at 38 points per game, dropped a floater in the lane. After a turnover by Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson, P.J. Tucker hit a 3-pointer from the corner and Clint Capela had a dunk following another Cleveland miscue.

The inexperienced Cavs crumbled in the final minute, making three turnovers.

Capela added 13 rebounds for Houston, which figured to have an easy time with the Cavs, who are struggling under first-year coach John Beilein.

Cleveland, though, came to play and was led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr.‘s season-high 24 points. Collin Sexton added 18 and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 boards.

Harden connected on a pair of 3-pointers during a 16-2 run in the third quarter when the Rockets, who were sleepwalking through long stretches of the first half, appeared to take control.

But Houston relaxed, and Cleveland went on a jaw-dropping 24-0 run – all without Love, who was on the bench with a head laceration – over a 4:43 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters to a take a 99-88 lead on Porter’s bucket.