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.

LeBron, Grizzlies, NBA world reacts to death of Tyre Nichols

Memphis Grizzlies v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Hours after the excruciating video of Memphis police fatally beating Tyre Nichols was released, the Memphis Grizzlies chose not to open their locker room and not speak to the media about it — it was too raw, too painful.

“The senseless loss of life for Tyre Nichols has really hit us hard,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said pregame in an interview with local broadcast partner Bally Sports (via the Associated Press). “It’s been tough being on the road, not being home. I wish I could extend my arms through this camera right now to the family. They’re going through a lot.”

The Grizzlies weren’t the only ones who felt that way around the NBA, emotions were high around the league Friday (as they were around the nation). Miami, Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Milwaukee released states echoing what the Grizzlies said.

LeBron James used his platform to make a statement, as he has in the past.

Statements were released from the NBA, WNBA, players, the players union and more.

“This is just crazy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said unprompted to open his press conference, discussing the video and incident.

Nichols, 29, was pulled over in a traffic stop by Memphis police officers on Jan. 7 and was beaten to death by five officers. The bodycam footage shows Nichols being brutally beaten as he calls out for his mother and is defenseless. Nichols died in the hospital three days later. The five officers involved have been fired and charged with second-degree murder.

Dolan says he he has no plan to sell Knicks, retire, but he loves facial recognition

Celebrity Sightings In New York City - October 06, 2022
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Knicks owner James Dolan has been better in recent years about staying out of the way of the front office and staying out of the media spotlight — both of which are good for the Knicks and their fans’ sanity.

However, he stepped back in the spotlight the past couple of days — doing an interview on “Good Day New York” on Fox 5 Thursday then WFAN sports talk radio on Friday — and reminded everyone why it’s best when he stays out of it. Here are the highlights of these interviews.

• Dolan isn’t going anywhere, saying to WFAN he is not selling the team, nor does he plan to retire. Via Fred Katz at The Athletic:

“I have no plans whatsoever to sell at this point. I’m not retiring anytime soon. It’s a family-controlled asset, so someone in the family will eventually own it.”

That was a bit of a pipe dream for Knicks fans, there had been no rumors of a sale. With the value of NBA franchises rising rapidly and Dolan enjoying being the owner of one of the biggest brands in the sport, there has been little chance of a sale.

• Dolan defended Madison Square Garden’s controversial use of facial recognition technology to ban attorneys from firms involved in lawsuits against the Knicks or MSG from entering the property (or other Madison Square Garden properties, such as Radio City Music Hall).

“At Madison Square Garden, if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you — please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that…

“If someone is suing you, that’s confrontational. It’s adversarial. If you’re being sued, you don’t have to welcome that person into your home.”

Except, it isn’t a home, it’s a public building where sports and entertainment events take place for which tickets are sold. Also, there are fans saying they have been banned from the building because of social media posts critical of Dolan.

• This policy has created a considerable backlash, including from the New York Attorney General, who said the policy could violate anti-discrimination laws in the state. Lawmakers in the New York state assembly introduced a bill prohibiting sports venues — such as Madison Square Garden — from refusing entry to attorneys or others involved in lawsuits against the organization.

• Dolan said on FOX 5 that the State Liquor Authority reached out to the Madison Square Garden company saying the use of facial recognition technology in this manner could lead to a suspension of their liquor license.

“This isn’t going to bother me because I’ve been sober 29 years. I don’t need the liquor.”

Dolan even hinted he could do a dry New York Rangers game on Fox, but he backed away from that idea the next day speaking on WFAN.

• Dolan reiterated his support of current Knicks decision-maker Leon Rose.

Dolan also went on to say he expects the Knicks to make the playoffs this season, however, there is no timeline for the team to contend for a ring.

What will Rockets do at trade deadline? Send out Gordon? Bring in Collins?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Houston Rockets
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There’s a sense in league circles that this is the final season Houston will be okay with having one of the worst — as of today, the worst — record in the NBA. The Rockets hope to grab one of the big names at the top of the draft board this season, but they already have drafted Jalen Green at No. 2 (2021) and Jabari Smith Jr. at No. 3 (2022), plus made a draft night trade for Alperen Şengün (who is playing well). With cap space to spend and extensions coming up, the tanking days will be over.

How will that impact the Rockets at this trade deadline? Here are a few names to watch.

Kelly Iko at The Athletic reports the Rockets have interest in the Hawks’ John Collins and the sides have talked, but there is no real traction yet.

There has been nothing concrete from the Rockets — merely ideas floated by the Hawks to Houston among other teams — but the interest is real.

The Rockets could also be part of a larger, three-team trade to move Collins.

Eric Gordon remains on the trade block, as he has been for more than a year. Gordon has been frustrated waiting, but the Rockets have held out for what they thought was fair — a first-round pick — to no avail. That price likely comes down, and according to Iko at The Athletic, the front office is “more inclined to trade him now” than in the past, but the proof will be in a deal.

• Teams also are calling about K.J. Martin, according to Iko.

K.J. Martin, there continues to be interest in the 22-year-old combo forward who has been quite productive as a starter — averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 35 percent shooting from 3 — but nothing concrete at this juncture in terms of offers on the table.

The Rockets like Martin, it’s going to take a serious offer to get them to consider it.

Knicks reportedly offered multiple first-round picks for OG Anunoby, got nowhere

Boston Celtics v Toronto Raptors
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What are the Toronto Raptors going to do at the trade deadline?

It’s less than two weeks before the trade deadline and the entire NBA is still asking that question, the Raptors are the one team that could turn this trade deadline from a dud to epic if they decide to pivot toward a rebuild. Are they willing to trade players like OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, or will they look to add a more traditional big man such as the Spurs’ Jakob Poeltl, who has been linked to the Raptors in rumors? Everything seems to be on the table.

Anunoby is a player a lot of teams covet, including New York. The Knicks reached out to the Raptors, reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

“And Anunoby with Toronto, I mean, that would cost you a lot. That would cost you significant draft compensation. Maybe the Knicks are there, maybe they’re feeling like they could make the playoffs and make a big push if you added in Anunoby. I know that we reported they contacted Toronto on Anunoby and I was told in that conversation they offered multiple firsts. But this was a while back… Toronto has done a lot since then. But I don’t think the league is crystal clear on what [the Raptors] want to do on Anunoby.”

Anunoby is an elite on-ball wing defender who can be a finisher, averaging 17.3 points and 5.6 rebounds a game at age 25 — the asking price will start at two unprotected first-round picks in this market. The Knicks may have thrown some of their protected picks in the conversation, but Toronto’s asking price is reportedly sky-high because they’re not eager to get rid of him.

Anunoby is making $17.4 million this season and is under contract for $18.2 million next season, a fair price for what he brings to the court (he has a player option at $19.9 million in 2024-25). What the Raptors do with him may signal their direction.

At the deadline, most people around the league expect Toronto to trade Gary Trent Jr., but that’s it. Any other big moves are likely this offseason. If ever.