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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.

J.R. Smith caught on video beating up man who allegedly vandalized his truck

J.R. Smith
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Sunday was a day of mostly peaceful protests in Los Angeles in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last week. However, some bad actors used the protests as camouflage to loot and vandalize businesses and property near the protests.

One of those people allegedly broke the window of former NBA player J.R. Smith’s truck — and Smith ran him down and beat him up for it. Video of the beating emerged first on TMZ. (Warning, NSFW language.)

Smith quickly posted a video on his Instagram story trying to get out in front of this, saying the guy broke his truck window in a residential street — and Smith was having none of it.

“I just want you all to know right now, before you all see this s*** somewhere else. One of these little motherf****** white boys didn’t know where he was going and broke my f****** window in my truck. Broke my s***. This was a residential area. No stores over here. None of that s***. Broke my window, I chased him down and whooped his ass.

“So when the footage comes out and you all see it, I chased him down and whooped his ass. He broke my window. This ain’t no hate crime. I ain’t got no problem with nobody and nobody got no problem with me. There’s a problem with the motherf****** system, that’s it. The motherf***** broke my window and I whooped his ass. He didn’t know who window he broke and he got his ass whooped.”

It’s unknown at this time if any other legal action will come out of this, the police and prosecutors have a lot on their plates right now.

Smith was out of the NBA this season, despite getting a couple of workouts with teams.

George Floyd’s death brings back painful memories for Rockets’ Thabo Sefolosha

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Thabo Sefolosha knows what it’s like to be a black man, on the ground, being beaten by police officers.

Such was the scenario when George Floyd died in Minneapolis last week.

And five years ago, Sefolosha found himself in a similarly frightening place.

“I was just horrified by what I saw,” Sefolosha said. “That could have been me.”

Time has not healed all wounds for Sefolosha, the NBA veteran who said he was attacked by a group of New York Police Department officers in April 2015 while they were arresting him outside a nightclub in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. The leg that was broken in the fracas is fine now. The emotional pain roared back last week when he saw video of Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air in the final moments of his life as a white police officer — subsequently charged with murder — pressed a knee on his neck.

Sefolosha has seen the video. He hasn’t watched much news since. His experience with police in New York has left him with a deep distrust of law enforcement, the pangs of angst flooding back even when he walks into NBA arenas and sees uniformed officers. And the latest example of police brutality left him even more upset.

“People talk about a few rotten apples,” Sefolosha said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But you know, in my experience and from what we’re seeing, I think it’s deeper than that as a culture that’s deeply rooted in it, to be honest. That’s just my honest opinion. I think it’s really … part of a culture where it’s deeper than just a few bad apples.”

The four officers who were involved in the incident where Floyd died were fired; the one who knelt on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Massive protests have broken out in several cities in recent days, the country torn again over a black man dying at the hands of police.

Sefolosha — a black man of Swiss descent who plays for the Houston Rockets — considered but decided against joining protests in Atlanta, where he is waiting for the resumption of the NBA season that was shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m mad, for sure,” Sefolosha said. “That’s for sure. I mean, it’s 2020. Nobody should have to go through this in this time, especially after black people have given up so much for America. Black people have given up so much and done so much for this country. It’s hurtful to see it this way.”

Sefolosha’s perspective changed forever on April 8, 2015. Chris Copeland, an NBA player at the time, was among three people stabbed outside the club where Sefolosha was that night; police arrived and ordered everyone to leave the area. Sefolosha says he complied but began getting harassed by officers anyway.

Before long, he was on the ground.

Sefolosha’s leg was broken and some ligaments were torn in the fracas, and he was arrested on several charges that a jury needed about 45 minutes to determine were unfounded. He wound up suing for $50 million, alleging his civil rights were violated, settled for $4 million and gave much of that money to a public defenders’ organization working in marginalized communities.

“It changed me a lot, toward the way I see law enforcement in this country,” Sefolosha said. “And also toward the way I see the whole justice system. I went to court and I had to do all of this to prove my innocence. It really got me deep into the system and I’m really skeptical of the whole system.”

NBA players have used their platforms often in recent years to protest racial inequality. Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks filed a federal civil rights lawsuit after police used a stun gun on him and arrested him over a parking incident in 2018. On Saturday, Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics were among those taking part in Atlanta protests.

“You see what happened in Minnesota where three human beings with a badge are watching another human being killing somebody,” said Sefolosha, who has played in the NBA since 2006 and intends to return to Switzerland when he retires. “And instead of saying, ‘OK, this is my duty as a human being,’ the duty was more toward not interfering with the other officer and saying, ‘We are clan, we stick together no matter what.’ It should be the other way around.”

The NBA is closing in on finalizing a plan to resume the season in July at the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida. Sefolosha and the Rockets figure to be contenders for a championship when play resumes.

For obvious reasons, Sefolosha’s mind isn’t there yet.

“I’ll be happy to be with my teammates and reunited with basketball in general,” Sefolosha said. “But you know, we’re human beings, and the fight has been going on for too long and the same protests have been going on for too long. I think it’s definitely time for change and that should be a priority for all of us.”

Michael Jordan releases statement: “I am deeply saddened, truly pained, and plain angry”

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Michael Jordan has been famously apolitical through his playing career and after, rarely commenting on social issues. While the “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment has always stuck to him, as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography “Michael Jordan: The Life,” Jordan’s “keep your head down and don’t draw attention” political outlook was passed down as a family demeanor used to survive in rural North Carolina.

However, in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis Police officer, and the eruptions of protests nationwide, Jordan felt compelled to speak and released this statement.

Jordan’s voice is a powerful one and carries a lot of weight, as do his actions.

How he uses that voice, and the actions he takes going forward, will be watched and can hold a lot of sway.

 

On this date in NBA history: J.R. Smith forgot the score

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There comes a point in almost every NBA playoff series when one team knows it’s beat. That team threw its best punch and the other team took it and won anyway. While no NBA team would never go into the postgame press conference and say “we’re beat,” it shows up in their tone and body language.

In the 2018 NBA Finals, that moment came after Game 1.

Two years ago today, May 31, the Cavaliers went to Golden State and were on the verge of stealing Game 1 on the road. LeBron James had targeted Stephen Curry on switches to keep the Cavaliers ahead, LeBron thought he drew a charge on Kevin Durant but it was overturned on review and called a block, and a back-and-forth end of the game saw the Warriors go up one when Curry drew and and-1 foul on Kevin Love with 23.5 seconds left.

Of course, the Cavs put the ball in LeBron’s hands out top, the Cavaliers got the switch and had Curry trying to guard LeBron, when LeBron threw a bullet pass to a cutting George Hill. Klay Thompson hooked Hill, and Hill went to the ground. The foul was called and Hill went to the free-throw line.  He hit the first and tied the game 107-107.

Then came the moment.

“He thought we were up one,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after the game, although Smith was selling at the time he was trying to bring the ball out to get a better shot. The Warriors players thought he was trying to get the ball to LeBron, maybe.

Game 1 went to overtime, where the Warriors dominated (17-7) and got the win. After the game, you could feel it around the Cavaliers — this was their chance and they missed it. The series ended in a Golden State sweep.

It’s a legendary moment of the NBA Finals, even if it’s one Smith and Cavaliers fans would like to forget.