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Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic returns, scores 33, and basketball is fun again

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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) Luka Doncic returns, doesn’t miss a beat, scores 33 in Dallas win. It’s just fun to watch Luka Doncic play basketball.

Maybe not if you’re the Kings trying to stop him. Luke Walton started the game small — a three-guard lineup with De’Aaron Fox, Cory Joseph, and Bogdan Bogdanovic — and has Joseph on Doncic. That didn’t work. Walton got frustrated watching his team try to defend Doncic and fail all night, but at least he was funny while doing it.

This was the best the Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis pick-and-roll has looked all season and it led Dallas to a 130-111 thrashing of Sacramento. Doncic, back after missing seven games with a sprained ankle, didn’t miss a beat, scoring 33, with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

Porzingis had to be more aggressive offensively with Doncic out and that carried over against the Kings. Also, he was not going against much size all night against the small-ball Kings (they started Nemanja Bjelica at center), so Porzingis just pushed them around and got where he wanted on the court. KP had 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting, plus 13 rebounds.

The other reason it’s good to see Doncic back out there? It means he’s good to go for the All-Star Game Sunday, where he will be a starter.

2) Damian Lillard strains groin, out for All-Star Game. Damian Lillard will be in Chicago, he is performing during the Saturday night festivities as Dame D.O.L.L.A. — he remains the unquestioned best hip hop artist among NBA players. (Shaq is a close second *cough*.)

Lillard, however, will not be knocking down shots in the 3-Point Contest Saturday as planned. Nor will he be in the All-Star Game on Sunday after injuring his groin on Wednesday night.

The timing sucked. With less than four minutes to go before the All-Star break, Lillard drove the lane against the Memphis big man Jonas Valanciunas, landed and was in instant pain, grabbing his groin. He soon fouled to stop play and went straight to the locker room.

He suffered a strained groin, with an MRI coming tomorrow. However, Lillard said he knew instantly he was out of the All-Star Game, where he was set to be a reserve on Team LeBron.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver picks Lillard’s replacement, and traditionally he takes the guy with the next most votes on the coaches’ All-Star reserves ballots (we don’t know who that is, that vote is not public). Lillard said he hopes the spot goes to someone deserving “like Devin Booker.”

3) Toronto’s win streak ends at 15 as the sleepwalk into the break against Brooklyn. NBA players often treat last night before the All-Star break like you treated the last day of school before spring break — they are just watching the clock, waiting for their vacation.

That was the Raptors on Wednesday night. Winners of 15 in a row coming in, they were just sloppy on offense, messing up on their standard plays, setting soft screens, and in general just going through the motions on their way to shooting 37.8 percent on the night.

Do that against another NBA team and you lose, which is what happened, the Nets won 101-91. Caris LeVert had 20 points and looked sharp to lead the Nets.

A clunker of a game was bound to happen for Toronto, and now the streak is over. It doesn’t take away from what an amazing season they are having, and now for Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry it’s on to Chicago for the All-Star Game.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Lakers pick up an impressive road win in Denver behind LeBron James triple-double. Unlike the Raptors, LeBron and the Lakers did not take the night off mentally.

“I was trying to be laser sharp, laser focused as I could,” James said, via the AP. “I know the break was coming, but I wasn’t going to take this opportunity for granted.”

The Lakers went on the road to take on a Nuggets team that had won 6-of-7, and LeBron led the way and had 32 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds.

Throw in 33 points from Anthony Davis and the Lakers picked up a 120-116 overtime win. That is a quality road win for the team on top of the standings in the West.

Rockets star Russell Westbrook says he tested positive for coronavirus

Rockets star Russell Westbrook
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Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute didn’t travel with the Rockets to Orlando for the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Westbrook says he tested positive for coronavirus:

It’s good that Westbrook is feeling well. And, once he had coronavirus, it’s good he tested positive before the team departed. He can quarantine in the comfort of his own home rather than a hotel room. He didn’t risk spreading coronavirus during the flight.

When will he join the Rockets? That’s tough to say. He must clear coronavirus first, and it’s unclear how long he has had it. Then, upon arrival at Disney World, he faces an in-room quarantine. The length of that can vary.

With Harden as the centerpiece, Houston has built its secondary attack around Westbrook’s aggressive style. The Rockets’ unique center-less approach is a direct response to Westbrook’s minus outside shooting. Empowered by spacing later in the season, Westbrook has really thrived.

He’d be a huge loss. Houston could go from a championship-contending wildcard to one-man show – or less.

This revelation also raises questions about Harden and Mbah a Moute, whose late arrivals haven’t been publicly explained.

Report: Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo violates quarantine, must remain in room 10 days

Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo
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Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and 76ers star Joel Embiid expressed doubt about players following the NBA’s protocols in the bubble.

See Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Players first arriving at Disney World is one of the most perilous times in the NBA’s plan. A player leaving his initial quarantine with coronavirus could undermine the whole operation.

The league has no practical choice but to be strict.

James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Luc Mbah a Moute didn’t arrive with the rest of the Rockets in Orlando. This makes four players who are behind in their ability to build chemistry and train with their teammates. At least Caboclo is just four days away from being four days away – major progress for him.

Houston has already clinched a playoff spot. But there’s some danger of slipping to the No. 7 seed and facing the powerful Clippers in the first round. So while they don’t have the most urgency for the seeding games, the Rockets are playing for something in the seeding games.

Lakers star LeBron James: #FreeWOJ!!

Adrian Wojnarowski
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Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley sent out a press release complaining about the NBA’s list of approved social-justice messages for jerseys.

ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski replied to the email, “F— you.” (Wojnarowski did not censor the first word.)

Wojnarowski apologized. ESPN condemned his behavior and, according to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, suspended him two weeks.

Several NBA players have publicly supported Wojnarowski:

Lakers star LeBron James:

Clippers guard Lou Williams:

Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray:

Heat big Bam Adebayo:

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie:

Kings forward Harrison Barnes:

Pacers center Myles Turner:

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver:

Wizards wing Troy Brown Jr.:

Trail Blazers guard Jaylen Adams:

LeBron’s message is particularly notable.

Obviously, he’s the NBA’s biggest star. His words carry weight.

Wojnarowski also has a long history of harshly criticizing LeBron. Here are just a few examples.

But if he can get over The Letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, LeBron can probably get past anything written about him.

Report: Brooklyn near deal with Lance Thomas for restart

Lance Thomas Brooklyn
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Still rounding out their roster for the NBA restart in Orlando, the Brooklyn Nets have reached out to bring back veteran forward Lance Thomas.

Thomas, who went through training camp with Brooklyn but was cut right before the season, will sign as a substitute player for Brooklyn, reports Alex Smith with SNY.TV.

Thomas is an eight-year NBA veteran who spent the last four of that with the Knicks. He can play the three or a floor-spacing small four, with New York using him more as a power forward in recent years. He’s averaged 5.2 points per game in his career and is known more as a good player to have in the locker room and guy who can soak up 15-20 minutes a night and not hurt a team. Brooklyn had Thomas in at training camp and liked his fit, but they didn’t have a roster spot for him.

They do now. Three Nets players — Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince — tested positive for the coronavirus and will not be at the Orlando restart. Wilson Chandler opted out of playing. All four of them can be replaced by substitute players for the remainder of this season, so the Nets signed Jamal Crawford, Michael Beasley, and Donta Hall. Thomas rounds becomes the fourth member of that group. (Note: The Nets cannot sign players to substitute for Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant because they are out due to injury; substitute players are only for players missing due to coronavirus issues.)

Thomas will be a free agent this offseason.

Lance Thomas and Brooklyn enter the bubble in Orlando as the seven seed in the East.