Three Things to Know: LeBron James, Zion Williamson put on show in New Orleans

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) LeBron James, Zion Williamson put on a show in New Orleans. LeBron James, at age 35, remains one of the NBA’s elite players. He’s a serious MVP candidate. Don’t take my word for it, here is what New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said postgame Sunday (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

“I’m just amazed that they talk about anybody other than him for MVP. That’s what he does. Every team that he’s been to, every team that he’s gone have a chance to win the championship. To me, I’m not sure what the definition of MVP is, but he makes everyone on his team better, makes it difficult for everybody playing him.”

LeBron had a triple-double on Sunday — 34 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds — and his Lakers needed every bit of it to beat the Pelicans because Zion Williamson was having a day — 35 points and another dominating performance.

“You have to actually be out on the floor to actually feel the strength and the speed that he plays at,” James said.

LeBron’s Lakers’ weekend split of games may decide who they face in the first round of the playoffs (we’re all assuming the Lakers, with their 5.5 game cushion, will hold on to the top seed in the West).

Saturday the Lakers were upset by Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in one of those “just flush this game and move on” nights from Los Angeles. Those same Lakers — without an injured Anthony Davis — turned around 24 hours later and were ready to play, beating the Pelicans.

That leaves New Orleans three games back of Memphis for the final playoff slot in the West (Sacramento and San Antonio are also three games back). While that’s a healthy gap with 22 games to play, the Grizzlies have the fourth toughest schedule remaining in the NBA, and the Pelicans have the easiest. (San Antonio and Portland also have soft schedules remaining). Memphis is going to have to find some wins and pull off a few upsets to hold on to that final playoff spot, and beating the Lakers was a good first step.

2) Kristaps Porzingis is looking better and better, drops 38 in Dallas win. As sports fans — and, frankly, as a species — sometimes we know things on an intellectual level but it doesn’t change our gut reaction to it.

Case in point: Kristaps Porzingis.

If I had said before the season, “expect a slow start from KP as he has missed 19 months of basketball following a torn ACL” fans everywhere would have nodded their heads in agreement. It’s obvious. We get it, on an intellectual level.

Yet we all watched Porzingis the first few months of the season and the gut reaction was “he’s not quite the same.” Or “is he really a No. 2 on a team with Luka Doncic or a No. 3?” Or “no wonder the Knicks were ready to move on?” (That last one was mostly a few Knicks homers.)

Watch him play Sunday in a win over the Timberwolves (without Doncic) and the perception is completely different — he looks like a guy who has found his way back, dropping 38 points, shooting 6-of-14 from three, and leading his team to a win over the Timberwolves.

Back in November, Porzingis averaged 15.8 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting overall and he made 2.1 threes a game. In February that was 25.2 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting and 3.7 made threes a game (on 39.8 percent shooting from deep). Porzingis has got his groove back.

Dallas is going to be a tough out for some team that lands them in the first round.

3) Shake Milton puts on a show and scores 39, but Clippers are 4-0 since they got healthy. Sunday, the 76ers played with the kind of fight and shooting they usually reserve for home games.

That was led by Shake Milton — he shot 14-of-20 overall and 7-of-9 from three on his way to 39 points. Coming out of the All-Star break, Brett Brown told Milton he wouldn’t be in the rotation, but gave him the standard coach-speak “but be ready, you never know” talk. Then the “you never know” happened — Ben Simmons went down with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Opportunity knocked, and Milton has answered the door.

“It definitely feels cool, it’s a cool thing to say…” Milton said of scoring 39 and breaking out in Los Angeles. “But we didn’t win so you can’t take too much away from it.”

Philadelphia played with real heart — but without Simmons or the injured Joel Embiid — and Clippers’ talent overwhelmed them in a 136-130 Los Angeles win. It was the Clippers’ fourth win in a row, all since they got healthy and had their full rotation. Kawhi Leonard had 30 points for the game on 10-of-20 shooting, while Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell each had 24. The Clippers’ defense was not as sharp as it has been in recent games, but they were able to dial it up enough during a third-quarter stretch to take the lead, then hold on the rest of the way.

“It’s great [to have everyone healthy],” Rivers said. “We needed everyone tonight. [The 76ers] played great, you have to give them credit.”

With the win, the Clippers and Nuggets remain tied for the two seed in the West with 22 games to play.

Philadelphia sits as the fifth seed in the East, tied in the loss column with Indiana for the six seed. The Sixers are 1.5 games back of the Heat for the fourth seed and home court in the first round.

Damian Lillard says Trail Blazers shut him down, talks loyalty to Portland


Players feel the wrath of fans for load management in the NBA, but more often than not it’s a team’s medical and training staff — driven by analytics and the use of wearable sensors — that sit a player. Guys don’t get to the NBA not wanting to compete.

Case in point, Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers have shut him down for the rest of the season, but he told Dan Patrick on the Dan Patrick Show that it was a team call, not his.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my decision at all. I think maybe the team protecting me from myself… Every time that I’ve had some type injury like that kind of get irritated or aggravated or something like that, it’s come from just like a heavy load, and stress, and just, you know, going out there and trying to go above and beyond. So, you know, I would say just; there is something there, and also them just trying to protect me from myself as well.”

Maybe it’s a little about protecting Lillard at age 32 — who played at an All-NBA level this season — but it’s more about lottery odds.

Portland and Orlando are tied for the league’s fifth and sixth-worst records. The team with the fifth worst record has a 10.5% chance at the No.1 pick, the sixth worst is 9%. More than that, the fifth-worst record has a 42% chance of moving up into the top four at the draft lottery, for the sixth seed that is 37.2%. Not a huge bump in the odds, but the chances are still better for the fifth seed than the sixth, so the Trail Blazers as an organization are going for it.

Lillard also talked about his loyalty to Portland, which is partly tied to how he wants to win a ring — the way Dirk Nowitzki and Giannis Antetokounmpo did, with the team and city that drafted them.

“I just have a way that I want to get things done for myself… I just have my stance on what I want to see happen, but in this business, you just never know.”

Other teams are watching Lillard, but they have seen this movie before. Nothing will happen until Lillard asks for a trade and he has yet to show any inclination to do so.

But he’s got time to think about everything as he is not taking the court again this season.

Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge officially retires

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets
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LaMarcus Aldridge retired once due to a heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome), back in 2021. That time it didn’t take, he came back to the then-a-super-team Nets and showed there was something in the tank averaging 12.9 points (on 55% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and a block a game. However, the Nets did not bring him back this season (leaning into Nic Claxton) and no other offers were forthcoming.

Friday, Aldridge made it official and retired.

Aldridge had a career that will earn him Hall of Fame consideration: 19.1 points a game over 16 seasons, five-time All-NBA, seven-time All-Star, and one of the faces of the Portland Trail Blazers during his prime years in the Pacific Northwest. Teammates and former coaches (including Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) called him a consummate professional after his initial retirement.

This time Aldridge got to announce his retirement on his terms, which is about as good an exit as there is.



Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains


While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).


Timberwolves big man Naz Reid out indefinitely with fractured wrist

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
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UPDATE: Naz Reid had surgery on that fractured wrist and will be out six weeks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That means he is not only out for the rest of the regular season but likely the first couple of rounds of the playoffs, if the Timberwolves can make it that far.


This sucks for a Timberwolves team finding its groove.

Part of that groove was the offensive spark of big man Naz Ried off the bench, but now he will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist, the Timberwolves announced. From the official release:

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken yesterday at Mayo Clinic Square by Dr. Kelechi Okoroha on Reid revealed a left scaphoid fracture. He will be out indefinitely and further updates on his progress will be provided when available.

A scaphoid fracture involves one of the small bones at the base of the hand that connects the wrist and fingers. Reid injured his hand on this dunk attempt against the Suns, he instinctively used his left hand to help break the fall and it took the weight of the landing.

Impressively, and despite being in pain, Reid played through the injury.

Reid developed into the sixth man, spark plug roll for the Timberwolves behind starters Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. In his last five games, Reid averaged 18.8 points on 59.1% shooting (including 45% from 3 on four attempts a night) and grabbed 5.2 rebounds in his 22 minutes.

Reid is a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves want to keep him and have had talks with him, but he will have plenty of suitors.

His loss will be a blow to Minnesota, especially heading into crucial games down the stretch — starting with the Lakers Friday night (a team Reid had some big games against) — and into the postseason. Expect coach Chris Finch to stagger Towns and Gobert a little more, and he can turn to Nate Knight or Luka Garza off the bench, but their role would be limited (especially come the playoffs).