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

3 Comments

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.

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”

Zion Williamson, New Orleans eliminated from playoff chase; Kings, too

Leave a comment

There was no team hyped like the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. They had Zion Williamson healthy (or so they thought), and they had been playing the best of any of the teams in the playoff chase just before the coronavirus shut the league (and nation) down. A basketball-starved nation dreamed of a LeBron James vs. Zion showdown in the first round.

The reality of the bubble was not so kind to those dreams or New Orleans.

The Pelicans lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113, despite 25 points from Williamson. Combined with the Trail Blazers beating the 76ers 124-121, the Pelicans became mathematically eliminated from reaching the nine seed and getting into a play-in series in the West.

The Pelicans are out of the playoffs. New Orleans will go through the motions of two more games in the bubble, but don’t be surprised if key players rest. The Pelicans went 2-4 in the bubble with offensive struggles holding the team back.

The Sacramento Kings also have been eliminated, extending the franchise’s playoff drought to 14 years. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was 2006.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit as the eighth seed in the West, with Portland the ninth seed and just half-a-game back. San Antonio (one game back of Memphis) and Phoenix (1.5 games back) are both alive in the playoff chase still.

New Orleans getting eliminated ends J.J. Redick‘s playoff streak at 13 seasons, the longest of any active player and tied for seventh-longest all-time (the record is a tie at 19 between Karl Malone and John Stockton, who did it together). Getting eliminated is what leads to a 1000-mile stare meme.

 

 

 

 

Joel Embiid will not return to 76ers game due to left ankle injury

Joel Embiid injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Philadelphia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bubble continues.

Joel Embiid went back to the locker room during the first quarter of the 76ers game against the Trail Blazers and will not return to the court due to a left ankle injury, the team announced, via Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

There are no other details yet on Embiid’s condition. He has been far-and-away the best player on a Philadelphia team that has struggled through the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

The 76ers have already lost Ben Simmons, likely for the rest of this season, due to knee surgery.

Despite the injuries and rough play, Philly was 3-1 entering Sunday. However, the one loss was to red-hot T.J. Warren and Indiana, which essentially locked the 76ers into the six seed (and a likely first-round meeting with Boston).

Embiid is averaging 30 points a game in Orlando and put up a ridiculous 41 points, 21 rebounds line against Indiana.

If Embiid misses much time, the Sixers’ chances against any team near the top of the East are slim. At best.

Play-in series guaranteed in West after Toronto beats Memphis

NBA play-in
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s now official: There will be a play-in series to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis’ 108-99 loss to Toronto on Sunday means that it’s no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers in the West when the seeding game schedule ends later this week.

By the rules the NBA set for this season’s restart, there had to be more than a four-game cushion for the No. 8 team to get the final playoff spot outright. The league decided to add the play-in series option in an abundance of fairness, since about 14% of the regular season schedule was eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memphis remains alone in eighth place, even after Sunday’s loss. Portland is one game behind and is in the nine seed (with a Philadelphia Sunday night). San Antonio (who beat New Orleans Sunday) and red-hot Phoenix are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies. New Orleans is now two games back and with a difficult road to the postseason.

No team has clinched a spot in the play-in series; the Grizzlies could have assured themselves of no worse than that had they beaten the Raptors on Sunday.

Game 1 of the play-in series will be Saturday, with Game 2 — if necessary — the following day, Aug. 16. To advance and face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the eighth-place team will have to win one of the two games and the ninth-place finisher would have to go 2-0.

ABC will air Game 1 of the play-in series on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Game 2, if necessary, would be Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

There will be no play-in series in the Eastern Conference; Brooklyn and Orlando have secured what were the last two available spots on that bracket, with Washington — the only other team that came to Disney with a chance of qualifying in the East — already eliminated.

The playoffs begin Monday, Aug. 17.

“Obviously, that’s what everybody’s goal is,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Sunday.

The matchup for the play-in will be known no later than Thursday. There are four seeding games on Friday, the last day of the regular season, though none of them will have any bearing on the West matchup.