Three Things to Know: Lakers now 4-0 on second night of back-to-back thanks to defense

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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) Lakers now 4-0 on the second night of back-to-backs, thanks to win against Mavericks. Los Angeles can thank its defense for its 26th win of the season.

Dallas came into Staples Center with the best offense in the NBA and statistically one of the best offenses in NBA history — an offensive rating of 115.3 is better than the Durant/Curry Warriors or the Showtime Lakers or any other team over the course of a season.

The Lakers held them to less than a point per possession — a 94.1 offensive rating.

That led to a comfortable 108-95 win for Los Angeles Sunday night, making the Lakers 4-0 on the second night of a back-to-backs this season. The reason for the record is their defense — the Lakers have a 98.5 defensive rating in those games (104.8 is their rating for the season, eighth-best in the league).

“I was proud of our defensive effort and competitive spirit,” Frank Vogel said after the game. “I thought we just competed whatever defense we were in.”

The Lakers did a good job containing Luka Doncic — who still had 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting — but LeBron James added there was a real focus on the Dallas bench.

“We know not only the season that Luka’s having, but they’ve been successful because of their bench as well,” LeBron said. “Their bench gives them so much of a push. Luka comes out, [Kristaps Porzingis] comes out, their starters come out and their bench seems to rise to the occasion.”

Dallas still had 42 points off the bench, which is right at their season average of 42.8 per game (fifth-best in the league). However, the Mavericks bench could not take over the game the way they have in the past, and the Lakers were able to maintain a comfortable lead with their bench (who scored 46 on the night).

What does the 4-0 back-to-back record tell us about the Lakers? Nothing, frankly. It’s an incredibly small sample size and it’s not predictive because there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs. It’s just an interesting little fact.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 23, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 19 off the bench.

This game happened the day before LeBron turns 35, and he was reflective talking about reaching that milestone.

“When you grow up in the inner city, around a lot of things you don’t want your kids to see, to be able to get to this point, an age where the statistics are stacked up against you, that’s a blessing,” LeBron said. “It’s more of a blessing to be able to do what I love to do every day, and be able to let my family reap the benefits of that.”

Does he have any birthday wishes?

“I don’t really have birthday wishes. I’m not a birthday wish guy,” he said.

Party?

“Yea, I’m going to have one of those,” LeBron laughed. “That’s not a wish, I don’t wish to have one of those, because I’ve got to pay for it. I got to pay for my own damn birthday party… this one is going to be mild. Forty, that’s going to be a party.

2) LeBron James logs 9,000th career assist. LeBron James has taken on the point guard/playmaking duties with the Lakers this season and having a career-best year in assists, averaging a league-leading 10.8 per game.

That made it fitting he picked up his 9,000th career assist Sunday night on a look-ahead to his favorite target, Anthony Davis.

LeBron is ninth on the all-time assist list and will move up to eighth in the coming weeks when he moves past Isaiah Thomas.

“It’s something that was instilled in me when I first picked up a basketball,” LeBron said of his love of playmaking and assists. “Little league coach Frank Walker always talked about it. It’s the greatest part of basketball to be able to see the ball move from side to side, to be able to attract the defense and get your teammates an open shot. When I was a little kid, I was somewhat better than some of my teammates, it was much more of a greater reward to see some of the teammates who can’t dribble or can’t score for themselves, to get them an open look…

“I knew that was the way I wanted to play. Been that way all my life.”

And he’s been one of the best at it his entire career.

3) Lonzo Ball’s seven threes, near triple-double, sparks 41-19 fourth quarter for Pelicans, who beat very shorthanded Rockets. James Harden was out with a sprained toe. Russell Westbrook had the night off for load management. Clint Capela is sidelined with a right shoulder issue.

That made it Lonzo Ball’s night — 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and 7-of-12 from three — in a 127-112 Pelicans win.

Ball said postgame he knew it would take time for his new shot form to pay off, but that he’s starting to feel more comfortable with it. With him in a contract year, if Ball can find that shot consistently the second half of the season, his value — and his contract size — will go up.

E’Twaun Moore scored 14 of his 25 in the fourth quarter to help the Pelicans dominate that quarter. New Orleans has looked much better with Derrick Favors in the lineup and healthy, they have won four in a row and 5-of-6. Keep playing this way, get Zion Williamson back in the next month, and things will start to look a lot sunnier in the Big Easy.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.

NBA plans for 2023-24 include in-season tournament (if approved)

2022 NBA Finals - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
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The NBA is planning for the inaugural version of its in-season tournament – should it become reality – to begin early next season, according to a memo sent to teams.

If the tournament is approved, 80 regular-season games for each team would be announced in August, with two more games set to be scheduled depending on which eight teams make the tournament’s knockout stage. Those games would be added in-season to the schedule.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for the past several years for the in-season event to be added. Talks have gone on about it since at least 2016, and in 2019 the league even created a proposal in which teams would play eight divisional games in the group stage, followed by quarterfinals for the top eight clubs and then semifinals and finals at a neutral site in December.

That evidently remains the footprint. Teams, in Wednesday’s memo, were told to plan for tournament quarterfinal games in early December 2023 – again, the caveat being that the event has yet to be approved.

“It’s something that I remain excited about,” Silver said in September. “I think it continues to be an opportunity within the current footprint of our season to create some more meaningful games, games of consequence, during an otherwise long regular season. … I think fans might really ultimately enjoy another competition during the season, some sort of cup competition. Certainly not rising to the level of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, yet something else significant to play for.”

Silver has often compared the notion of an in-season tournament to what is commonly seen in European soccer.

“It’s all about fan interest,” Denver coach Michael Malone said Wednesday night. “I know they do this a lot in soccer around the world, these in-season tournaments. I don’t know how it’s going to work, the details of it. But if it’s good for the game and the league supports it, obviously all 30 teams and all 30 head coaches will be on board as well. ”

The scheduling process for next season starts with teams telling the league what dates their home arena is available. The NBA wants that list by Dec. 9; the process continues for the next several months.

Wednesday’s memo included clarity on several key dates for the 2023-24 season. Training camps will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 3 for most teams, except those participating in overseas preseason games; they can open camp on Saturday, Sept. 30.

The season begins Oct. 24 and ends April 14, 2024. The play-in tournament will be April 16-19, 2024, and that means that season’s playoffs would begin on April 20.