Three Things to Know: Lakers have found their shooting touch

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The East has gone to form (aside from one Orlando upset game), but the West has been wild in the NBA playoffs, and that continued on Monday. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) The Lakers have found their shooting touch, and that’s bad news for Portland.

In the last two games, Danny Green is 5-of-8 from three. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is 5-of-12. Kyle Kuzma, who has been hot since the seeding games, hit 5-of-9 threes Monday night.

The Los Angeles Lakers already had LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing well, their defense has gotten back to elite form, and now their role players are knocking down shots.

That was bad news for Portland on Monday, Los Angeles cruised to a 135-113 win and now have a commanding 3-1 lead in their first-round series. Lakers have found their stride and evolved into the best team in the West these playoffs so far, which is bad news for Portland. And the rest of the West.

As always, it starts with LeBron, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds in Monday’s win.

The Lakers have not been a great shooting team all season, but they’ve been good enough. Expect there to be off nights again, but the Lakers are in a groove.

The Lakers are finding the chemistry they showed during the regular season. No other team in the West — not the stumbling Clippers, not Houston, certainly not defenseless-Denver — is playing on the Lakers’ level right now.

Portland, already battling injuries in this series, may be without Damian Lillard in Game 5. Lillard pulled up on a drive during the third quarter Monday and quickly asked out of the game. By the fourth quarter he was having an MRI on his right knee (the MRI machine is on the NBA campus in Orlando).

That MRI was “inconclusive” according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports/TNT, he will have another Tuesday.

Rodney Hood has been out much of the season and hasn’t played in the bubble. Zach Collins was sidelined with a stress fracture. C.J. McCollum is playing through a fracture in his lower back. Now Lillard (it’s hard to imagine Portland taking the risk of playing in in Game 5 Wednesday). Portland was going to have a tough time in this series if everything went right. It hasn’t. They fought hard, but the Blazers look done.

2) Jimmy Butler and Heat advance a day after 76ers go home

Vindication is a sweet thing for Jimmy Butler.

The Philadelphia 76ers looked disorganized and without a true leader or shot creator in getting swept out of the playoffs by Boston. Coach Brett Brown paid the price for that with his job, but the problems in Philly run deeper than the coaching.

The very next day, Jimmy Butler — the one that got away in Philly because he wasn’t sold the organization was fully committed to winning, and winning his way — led the Miami Heat to a sweep of the Indiana Pacers to advance to the second round.

Butler has found a cultural fit and home in Miami, and with him the Heat are playing well, enough that they can push the Bucks in the next round (Milwaukee is up 3-1 on Orlando).

Butler did play through a soft-tissue shoulder issue, but predictably after the game blew it off when asked about it. He will get a few days of treatment before the next round begins, but it is something to monitor.

3) Rockets miss Russell Westbrook as Chris Paul, Thunder even series

It’s this simple: When James Harden is on the court in these playoffs, the Rockets outscore the Thunder by 6.4 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Rockets are -1.9 per 100 — and most of that drop is in the last two games, when Houston is -25 without Harden.

Houston misses Russell Westbrook.

That was evident as Chris Paul led a 15-point second-half comeback by the Thunder Monday, and that 117-114 win tied the series at 2-2. CP3 had 22 points in the second half as he hunted out matchups against Harden late in the game (and Harden couldn’t keep CP3 off his spots, like this dagger).

Dennis Schroder added a career playoff-high of 30 points. A critical Game 5 is Wednesday.

The Rockets won the first two games of this series, but as the Thunder have gotten comfortable playing against the small-ball Rockets, everything has changed. The Rockets need to flip that script, and Westbrook would help.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France


Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.


Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.


Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”