Three Things to Know: Anthony Davis’ value to Lakers evident in loss to Pacers

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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) If you want to know how much Anthony Davis means to the Lakers, watch their loss to the Pacers. It’s December, this is when you rest a guy if he tweaks an ankle to make sure it doesn’t become something bigger and chronic. Which is exactly what the Lakers did Tuesday with Anthony Davis — he suffered a “mild” sprained ankle at the end of the win against Atlanta Sunday, so he sat out Tuesday vs. Indiana.

His value to Los Angeles was clearly evident in a loss to the Pacers Tuesday that snapped a 14-game road winning streak for the Lakers.

Davis is the defensive anchor for Los Angeles (and an early candidate for Defensive Player of the Year), a force on his man who is also an elite help defender. Without him, Domantas Sabonis scored 26 points, and Malcolm Brogdon was getting past Dwight Howard for reverse layups that became game-winners.

Also, Davis is the Lakers’ best rebounder and his presence on the glass was missing. The Pacers grabbed the offensive rebound on 30% of their missed shots, which also limited the chances for the Lakers to get out and run — something the Lakers do surprisingly well — and Los Angeles had just 10 fast break points.

Give Indiana credit, this is a gritty team with a strong defense that deserved the win. Malcolm Brogdon has been worth every penny, and the Sabonis/Myles Turner combination seems to be clicking much better of late. When Victor Oladipo returns, if he can be close to his All-NBA self from before he ruptured his right quad tendon, the Pacers become a dangerous playoff team nobody will want to face.

That doesn’t take away from the fact the Lakers are just not the same team without Anthony Davis (and Kyle Kuzma is out as well with his own ankle issue). Davis’ status for Thursday’s showdown with Milwaukee is not yet known, but as fans we want to see him out there for what is the most anticipated game of the season so far.

2) It’s time to let the Replay Center in Secaucus initiate end-of-game reviews. At every NBA game, there is a guy at the scorer’s table with an oversized headset on in constant contact with the NBA Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. The point is so the scorers can hear quickly and directly from them on reviews of if a shot is a two vs. a three, for example.

It’s time to let the officials in Secaucus also initiate a few reviews of obvious missed calls late in games — plays not reviewed because no call was made to review (or for other reasons).

Case in point, the end of the Pelicans’ overtime loss to Brooklyn.

The game was tied 93-93 and there was about a three-second difference between the shot and game clocks. Brooklyn wisely tried to eat up as much of the shot clock as they could before taking a shot, but then Spencer Dinwiddie badly missed a three that hit the corner of the backboard. It was an obvious shot clock violation, ball out of bounds to New Orleans with 2.7 seconds left — except there was no call. The officials told Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry the ball “clearly” hit the rim. Clearly it did not. This was not even particularly close. Even the Brooklyn broadcast on the YES Network said the officials missed this one.

What is the point of having all that review technology if not to get a call like this right? Not just going over and reviewing it comes off as the referees trying to protect their egos over getting a call right. Fair or not.

Which is why Secaucus should be able to talk to the scorer’s table courtside, call over the referees, and say “review this.” Just because there was no call doesn’t mean a play should not be reviewed.

Officiating an NBA game is impossibly difficult and the officials in the league are the best in the world (fans scoff at that, but watch college or FIBA refs and get back to me). They do an amazingly good job, and when they do miss big calls it eats at them. They are professionals who want to get it right. The key is a willingness to check their egos and get things right, which is why a Secaucus-initiated review makes sense.

Would the Pelicans have hit a game-winner and snapped their 12-game losing streak? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the Pelicans airball their shot, the game goes to overtime, and that OT plays out just like the one we got and the Nets win. We’ll never know.

But at least New Orleans would have had a final shot in that scenario.

3) De'Aaron Fox returns just as Sacramento is starting to play better, could they make the playoffs? The goal in Sacramento this season was simple: Make the playoffs. For the first time in 13 years. The last time Sacramento made the postseason it was 2006 and Rick Adelman was running his corner offense in the California capital.

If the playoffs started today, Sacramento would be in as the eighth seed.

And Sacramento is just getting healthy — Marvin Bagley III returned four games ago, and on Tuesday night in Charlotte De’Aaron Fox returned to the lineup. Fox came off the bench in his first game but still led the team with 19 points and eight assists (he remains on a minutes restriction.

The Hornets won the game, 110-102, and remain in the thick of the East playoff chase, too.

Even with the loss, Sacramento has won 4-of-6, and now they’re about to get their best players back on the court. And, starting Dec. 23 (against Houston), the Kings have 10-of-12 at home. Make a run there and the Kings can start to solidify a playoff spot in the West. Sure, only because the bottom of the West is much worse than expected, but the Kings do not care.

The Kings just want a ticket to the postseason dance, and finally getting healthy, maybe they could earn one.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.