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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.

Pistons buy out Markieff Morris, who’s reportedly most likely to join Lakers

Potential Lakers target and former Pistons forward Markieff Morris
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The Pistons are dismantling.

They traded Andre Drummond and bought out Reggie Jackson. Now, they’ve bought out Markieff Morris.

Pistons release:

The Detroit Pistons and Markieff Morris have reached an agreement to buy out the veteran forward’s contract. The Pistons have requested waivers on Morris.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Morris was owed $940,113 beyond the waiver period and had a $3.36 million player option for next season. It’ll be interesting to see whether he declined the option as part of his exit or will receive some of that money.

Morris wouldn’t really move the needle for the Lakers. They already have more big forwards than they know what to do with – LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma. There’s no obvious fit for Los Angeles’ open roster spot, and Morris is talented. But it’s hard to see him making much of a difference there.

Heat retiring Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 in weekend-long celebration

Dwyane Wade
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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade says that whenever he would hear the national anthem play before Miami home games, he would take a moment and look to the rafters.

“I always imagined my jersey being up there,” Wade said.

He will no longer have to imagine the sight. After this weekend, it’ll be there for good.

Wade will become the fifth Heat player to get his number retired by the team, joining Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Bosh. A three-day celebration of Wade’s time in Miami starts on Friday, a weekend highlighted by his No. 3 formally going to the rafters on Saturday night when the Heat play host to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wade spent 16 seasons in the NBA, 14+ of those with the Heat. He was one of two players to be part of all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem, whose No. 40 will almost certainly be retired by the team one day, is the other.

It was never a question of whether Wade’s jersey was going to be retired by the Heat, only a question of when. He’s the franchise’s all-time leader in points, games, assists and steals and is probably going to keep most, if not all, of those records for a very long time. Consider: He scored 21,556 regular-season points with the Heat, and Alonzo Mourning is second with 9.459.

Earlier this season, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers – like Wade, a Chicago native who went on to play at Marquette – said he believes Wade doesn’t get enough credit for what he did as a player, especially in the NBA Finals.

“He’s been underrated his whole life,” Rivers said. “He didn’t get recruited very highly. Took Marquette to a Final Four. He still didn’t go as high as he should have in the draft and then he took the Miami Heat to NBA championships. That’s just who he is.”

Wade was the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, was selected to 13 All-Star Games in his 16 seasons, was an All-Star MVP in 2010 and won an Olympic gold medal.

“Every time I look up to the rafters and see your (hash)3 hanging there, I’ll think of the impact you had not only on this organization, this city and this league, but on my life,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wrote in an open letter to Wade that will be part of the team’s game-night giveaway program for fans on Saturday.

The weekend also includes a night of tribute speeches on Friday and a showing of a documentary about Wade on Sunday.

Report: NBA executives believe 76ers more likely to trade Joel Embiid than Ben Simmons

76ers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons
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The 76ers have spent years building around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Supporting players come and go. Embiid and Simmons remain, even amid a sometimes-awkward fit.

But chatter has increased about Philadelphia trading one of its top two stars.

So, would Embiid or Simmons be the one to go?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

There is no consensus, but league execs think that if the Sixers do explore a trade, Embiid is more likely to be moved — health being the determining factor in building around Simmons.

When a team is looking to trade one of two players, people frequently predict the less-valuable player will get dealt. It’s not logical. Other teams also know about Embiid’s health concerns. That’ll lower Philadelphia’s return.

I wonder whether these executives know something or are just conveying how they’d handle the situation.

The latter doesn’t mean much. The 76ers have their own view and, less than a year ago, owner Josh Harris called Embiid “our most important player. He’s clearly our future.”

Perhaps, Philadelphia’s stance has changed. Trying to line up trade trade proposals, the 76ers might have tipped their hand.

The mere possibility of that scenario makes this worth watching.

Former John Beilein-coached Michigan player in NBA: Cavaliers players don’t value winning

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein
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The Cavaliers tuned out John Beilein then tuned their music to songs about thugs.

Beilein lasted less than a season as Cleveland’s coach.

But one of his former players at Michigan is sticking up for him.

Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated:

Even under the cloak of anonymity, that’s a harsh way for an NBA player to talk about fellow NBA players.

Who said it? There are nine suspects:

Whoever he is, that player lacks full context.

None of those players were on a clear NBA track when arriving in Ann Arbor. They all developed under Beilein’s tutelage. Beilein’s message lands differently when you’re already in the NBA – especially when you’re a proven player like Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. As I said when Beilein was hired, there was going to be a race between Beilein convincing his players he could help them and them believing they could walk all over him. He lost the race. In Ann Arbor, in part because of his power over his less-heralded players, Beilein repeatedly earned buy-in first.

None of those players were on Beilein’s first Michigan team, which went 10-22. Beilein has typically come into a new job preaching fundamentals. That sets a foundation for future winning. But in the short term, the lack of focus on games can lead to plenty of losing. Beilein’s first season with the Wolverines was exhausting, and the end was a welcome respite. Everyone returned for year two better prepared, and Michigan took off. But the NBA season is far longer. The Cavs already endured 54 games under Beilein’s first-year approach. Another 28 was asking a lot.

Maybe Cavaliers players would have been better off in the long run if they accepted Beilein’s teaching. But it’s on Beilein to earn their trust, and he never did.