Three Things to Know: LeBron, Anthony Davis combine for 82 in latest sign of fast chemistry

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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) LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 82 in the latest sign of their instant chemistry. “I think we all thought there would be a little more of a learning curve.”

Laker coach Frank Vogel admitted Sunday night he didn’t expect this out of the gate. Nobody did. There has been almost no adjustment period. LeBron James and Anthony Davis had not played together before, yet, they have been dominating together since the season tipped off 24 games ago — the Lakers are +12.1 per 100 possessions when those two are on the court together. And they are on the court together a lot.

Sunday the duo reached new heights, combining for 82 points against Minnesota, becoming the first Lakers’ pair since Shaq and Kobe to combine for more than 70 points in a game. Davis had 50 on the night, his best outing since coming to the Lakers — and he did it without hitting one three. Vogel called it an “old-school, smash-mouth” 50. 

LeBron and Davis’ fast chemistry is the reason the Lakers are 21-3 to start the season and on top of the West.

“I think their games fit,” Vogel said after a 142-125 Lakers win Sunday. “When you’re a general manager and you’re putting together a team, it’s not just a collection of talent. It’s putting together pieces that fit… [LeBron and Davis] are both guys that will make the right play, they are willing passers.”

Willing passers is nice, but the Lakers put the right roster around them to pass to — a combination of shooters and rim-running lob threats. Its guys willingly playing their roles and it makes the Lakers difficult to slow down.

“For me and AD, it starts with us,” LeBron said. “If we’re on the same page it makes it a lot easier for the rest of the ballclub.” He added the two stars hold each other accountable, and that trickles down to the rest of the team.

Before the season started, most pundits projected the Lakers to be floating around, or just above, 50 wins. Sure, the Lakers had two top-seven (maybe top five) players in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and on paper it seemed like their games would mesh beautifully. But chemistry takes time. It was expected the Lakers would struggle early and find their footing closer to Christmas and beyond, becoming a much more dangerous team by the time the playoffs rolled around.

There has been no break-in period.

“I think [the chemistry] was there, it’s just a little missed timing,” Davis said of a few early struggles.

“I don’t know if it’s moreso lately, to me those two hit the ground running right from the start of training camp,” Vogel said. “Both on and off the basketball court their chemistry has been seamless.”

Davis hit the ground running on Sunday against Minnesota, starting 6-of-6 from the floor for a fast 13 points, and all of those buckets in the paint (a couple of them because he ran to the rim in transition and finished lobs).

“I think all of us are just more comfortable with our play,” LeBron said. “We know what we want to run, we know how we want to play, we know how we want to defend, we know what we want to be on offense. It makes it a lot easier when we are in a good rhythm… Every day [team chemistry] is going to get better and better, not just for AD and myself but for the rest of the group.”

“I think we’re just recognizing each other’s strengths, we’re getting comfortable with each other within the offense,” Vogel added.

Davis had 27 points on 12-of-15 shooting in the first half, with only one of those buckets from outside paint. It carried the Lakers while LeBron battled foul trouble.

“I just feel like I’m in a rhythm,” Davis said. “As a team, we are in a rhythm right now. Obviously, our defense has been really good for us, and it’s led to a lot of open shots for us.”

LeBron finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds, and it’s him as playmaker that puts the Laker offense on another level. On Sunday, LeBron was draining deep threes or finding guys in transition with pin-point look ahead passes. Whatever he did worked, and with Davis as a potential target, the Timberwolves had no answers.

So far, nobody around the NBA has had any answers. So much for the slow start, the West right now is a lot of teams chasing the Lakers, and that could continue all season long.

And into the playoffs.

2) With 105-102 loss to Brooklyn, Denver has suddenly dropped 4-of-5. For the past week and a half, the Denver Nuggets have struggled, and it’s mostly been about what is happening in the paint. On both ends of the court.

Brooklyn won the paint battle 66-22 on Sunday. It was ugly. In the third quarter alone, Brooklyn scored 26 points on 13-of-19 shooting in the paint. The Nets scored all their points in the paint or at the free throw line. After the game, a frustrated coach Mike Malone called his team’s effort in the third “a joke.”

The problems are on both ends of the court: The Nuggets are scoring 9.1 points fewer in the paint per game in the last five games than they have for the season as a whole. For a team led by big man Nikola Jokic and the penetration of Jamal Murray, this is a serious red flag.

Denver’s overall efficiency numbers in the last five games look okay because their 37-point, get-the-coach-fired win over the Knicks skews the numbers. But Denver has been stumbling, they have fallen to 14-7, and things are not going to get easier at Philadelphia on Tuesday.

3) Another day, another Miami Heat young star steps up. Sunday it was Tyler Herro’s turn. The Miami Heat have been getting phenominal play and unexpected contributions from their first-and-second year players all season. Kendrick Nunn is at the top of that list, playing like someone who will end up on a lot of Rookie of the Year ballots this season. Duncan Robinson, in just his second season, has started 18 games for Miami and has provided much-needed shooting (42.5 percent from three).

Sunday it was Tyler Herro’s turn. The rookie out of Kentucky scored 16 points through the fourth quarter and overtime against Chicago. That includes draining the game-winning three off an assist from Jimmy Butler.

That bucket held up as the final score, 108-105 Miami.

With Herro’s bucket, Miami improves to 17-6 on the season. This is Jimmy Butler’s team, but rather than terrorizing and running off the team’s young stars, in Miami Butler is lifting them up. And the entire organization with them.

Donovan Mitchell scores 25, Rudy Gobert has 22 and key late block, Jazz rally past Mavs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 22 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to propel the surging Utah Jazz to a 112-107 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 for the Jazz, who have won 14 of their last 15 games.

Luka Doncic scored 25 points for the Mavericks, who have dropped two of three after winning four straight. Doncic managed only two points in the final quarter.

Seth Curry added 19 points for Dallas.

Gobert’s three-point play — a dunk and a free throw — gave the Jazz their first lead since the first half at 96-95. The Mavericks responded with a 3 by Curry and two free throws from Delon Wright.

Gobert broke a 104-all tie with a tip-in, and after Tim Hardaway Jr. and Royce O’Neale exchanged 3-pointers, Gobert blocked what looked like an easy layup for Wright.

Mitchell made a pair of free throws, and then Gobert rebounded Doncic’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two free throws for the final margin.

The Mavericks raced to a 32-19 lead behind Doncic’s playmaking and shooting. The Jazz later scored 12 consecutive points and took a brief 37-36 lead on Georges Niang’s 3-pointer.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 15 points and Hardaway and Wright each chipped in 11 for Dallas.

Portland’s struggles do not have Damian Lillard pushing for trade, “I can weather the storm”

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Damian Lillard isn’t going anywhere.

The Trail Blazers are 19-27, sitting as the unexpected 11 seed in the West, and there calls from some quarters of the Pacific Northwest for Portland to do something drastic to try and salvage the season. Too often, those calls are followed by “what if Lillard decides this isn’t working and pushes for a trade?”

It’s not going down that way. Not according to Lillard.

In a league where it’s become commonplace for superstars to use their leverage — either to get traded or to force the team to make bold moves they want — Lillard remains loyal and trusts the front office in Portland. He realizes what this season has become for the Trail Blazers and he wants the franchise to think about next season, not desperation moves to save this one. Here is what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard said. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

He also has made clear he isn’t going to push GM Neil Olshay to make specific trades.

Lillard is averaging 28.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, he scored 108 points in his last two games, and he’s playing at an All-NBA level again. He remains one of the game’s top guards and a player the Trail Blazers can build a contender around. His five-year max contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

Portland’s challenge is this: Lillard is 29 and in his prime. If they are going to win a title with him that has to happen sooner rather than later. Portland should not make desperation moves to salvage this season — getting Jusuf Nurkic back in the next few weeks could turn things around without a trade — but even looking ahead: If they are fully healthy next season are they on the level of the Lakers or Clippers? To my eyes, no. Then the question becomes what needs to be done to get there? If it’s time for something bold, should they test the trade market for CJ McCollum?

The Trail Blazers have some big questions to answer after this season.

The thing they don’t need to worry about is Lillard.

 

 

Dion Waiters debuts, nearly keys Heat comeback vs. Clippers (video)

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Dion Waiters‘ season entering Friday:

  • Suspensions: Three
  • Instagram posts offensive to the Heat: Two
  • Games played: Zero

However, due to a rash of injuries on the Heat, Waiters finally escaped the doghouse and actually played against the Clippers last night.

He played a little in the first half then started the fourth quarter with Miami down 16. In the final minute, Waiters even twice blocked Lou Williams on the same possession then made a 3-pointer on the other end to cut L.A.’s lead to three.

But the Clippers held on for a 122-117 victory.

Waiters finished with 14 points, including 4-of-9 3-point shooting, in 18 minutes.

Kings demote Buddy Hield, start Bogdan Bogdanovic

Buddy Hield
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Even for a franchise accustomed to misery, the Kings hit this season’s rock bottom Wednesday. Sacramento lost by 22 to the Pistons, who were missing Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. It was the Kings’ sixth straight loss.

So, Sacramento made a big change last night – starting Bogdan Bogdanovic over Buddy Hield at shooting guard.

The adjustment worked beautifully. The Kings beat the Bulls, 98-81. The starting lineup outscored Chicago by seven points. Hield scored 21 points, shooting 2-for-3 on 2-pointers and 5-for-9 on 3-pointers, and grabbed eight rebounds.

Not every game will be against the lowly Bulls. But it’s not as if Sacramento had been beating anyone.

Kings coach Luke Walton, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“There’s nothing permanent with it, it’s not a punishment to Buddy at all,” Walton added. “Buddy’s been great and we expect him to be great for us tonight. But we’ve got to keep looking for something that works for us.”

“He’ll be fine,” Walton said. “Buddy’s a professional and he knows how we feel about him. Again, this is not a punishment towards him, we’re just looking at trying to mix some things up, try to give ourselves a little juice and find a way to win a game in this stretch that we’re in right now.”

Hield, via Ham:

“You’ve got to come in, be ready and when coach call your number, go out there and hoop,” Hield told Grant Napear on the NBC Sports California telecast following the Kings’ 98-81 win.

“Today I was just locked in and more confident,” Hield said. “I’m just trying to be myself and do what I do best, which is score the basketball.”

Hield has underperformed this season, sometimes leading to tension. Good for him playing hard last night, and Walton was probably wise to downplay the move.

But a team benching a highly paid cornerstone is a big deal.

In order to balance lineups, teams don’t always start their five best players. But the best players usually start, because teams want to play their best players more. It’s generally better to spread that greater playing time over the full 48 minutes than a compressed period that begins several minutes into the game.

Last night, Sacramento treated Hield like a true reserve. He played just 23 minutes, down from 34 per game as a starter.

Maybe Hield will regain his confidence off the bench, return to the starting lineup and continue his momentum. That’d be great for the Kings, though it’d also maintain complications with Bogdanovic headed into restricted free agency this summer.

Sacramento has two talented shooting guards. That’s fine with Bogdanovic still on his first (though relatively high-paying) contract. It becomes more complicated when Bogdanovic receives his raise. The Kings might eventually have to choose between the two.

If nothing else, this lineup change shows not to take Hield’s once-exalted status in Sacramento for granted.