Bismack Biyombo gets LaMelo Ball ‘like my little brother’

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Nobody has taken LaMelo Ball’s winding path to the NBA, from undefeated high school teams in Chino Hills to Lithuania then through Australia.

Hornets center Bismack Biyombo relates as well as anyone; he had his own unique, winding path to the league. Born in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (a struggling copper mining town), Biyombo traveled with friends to play professionally for the first time in Yemen, and then ended up in Spain before grabbing scouts’ attention at the 2011 Hoops Summit in Portland.

“I was telling LaMelo when I first got to the league I was his age because I came from overseas as well,” Biyombo said. “The transition, how far you grow from playing overseas versus when you see kids who come out of college, it’s totally two different mindsets.”

That shared uncharted path helped Biyombo — the veteran NBA big man in his 11th season — become the mentor and friend a player like LaMelo needs to learn how to navigate and thrive in the NBA.

“I’m talking and showing some film and those two are behind me hugging, arms around each other,” Hornets coach James Borrego said recently. “I love what I’m seeing there: The partnership, the mentorship. That’s huge for LaMelo and his growth.”

“It has been a joy to see the whole process happening,” Biyombo said. “[Our young players] leaning on you, asking for information and questions, and being able to help the coach, I think overall it has been fun, helping the coach, the organization head in the direction we push for.”

It’s been a fast friendship between the confident rookie and the worldly veteran, despite the fact some in the NBA Twitterverse thought there was friction between them after they had a little play fight following a Hornets win last month.

“LaMelo is like my little brother,” Biyambo told NBC Sports, adding the pair laughed about the video and reaction. “From the first day when he get here, we never had to force anything. It’s funny because, whenever people talking about us… people don’t see the real story behind it and how far we go back. We always joke. And at the end of the day, the media’s job is to get the story out there, and our job is not to give them a story. But obviously, in that situation, we did give them the story.”

Biyombo thrives in the mentor role; he played it last season in Charlotte with Malik Monk, who is in the midst of his best season as a pro right now. Because Biyombo has been the 19-year-old searching for his NBA path — leaning on Boris Diaw and others as mentors — he knows not to force anything. He just lets it come naturally.

“As far as being a leader, you don’t want to push people to listen to you or to do certain things,” Biyombo said. “When they need questions answered, they know where to ask it. When they need somebody to lean on, they know where to find it. One thing we have done a good job with overall, they know that I’m there. They know if they have questions, I’m there.

“They also know that I’m always going to keep it 100. I’m always going to tell them the truth about a situation I see, what I hear. I think that’s how you build a better relationship far beyond basketball.”

Biyombo’s mentoring does not stop when practice ends. Or with LaMelo.

He has five younger siblings — the youngest of which is still in high school — and all of them are with him in Charlotte. His parents are still back in the DRC, but his siblings are all here with him now finding their path to a better life. Biyombo said having them near him through the pandemic has been a “blessing.”

“The story is my mom and dad being able to trust me to help them become what they want to become in the future,” Biyombo said. “I think it’s only the right thing to do for me, because, as I have grown and succeed in life, I look at families where [people say] ‘I’m the only one who succeeded, I’m the only one who made it.’ But I’ve always wanted to make sure that as I succeed in life, my family also succeeds in whatever they want to become.

“My dad has done that for his brothers and I got to learn from him. And them allowing me to be the parent, the big brother, the mentor all at once, all that stuff, it’s overwhelming. I think they’re all doing great.”

One of the key areas Biyombo mentors young NBA players is talking to them about their diet — 19-year-olds can subsist on pizza and Taco Bell, but that’s a bad habit for a professional athlete thinking about a long career.

Biyombo, like a growing number of NBA players — Chris Paul, JaVale McGee, DeAndre Jordan, and others — follows a strict diet that is largely plant-based and includes intermittent fasting, eating on a schedule he says lets his body digest food without feeling bloated.

Of course, he has his cheat days.

“My cheat day the other day was fish with a lot of vegetables,” Biyombo joked. “I showed the picture to my trainer and he said, ‘that’s a healthy day for a lot of us.’ It’s a habit, and I’ve built good habits over time.”

Again, Biyombo had mentors when he entered the league — on diet, it was Hall of Famer Ray Allen.

“When I got in the league, Ray Allen came up and talked about his diet and everybody said, ‘this guy is crazy,’” Biyombo said. “But now what people are eating is far beyond what Ray Allen was eating, what back then was crazy. It’s a lot more information, number one. And number two, a lot more people are evolving into the diet and what you eat and all these things, so I think it’s just having access to more information now. People are more educated on it.”

The key for Biyombo is not forcing his diet and lifestyle on LaMelo or other young players; it’s more leading by example. But young players in the NBA quickly learn a diet of fried wings and burgers is not going to work.

“A lot of our young guys have made a lot of adjustments. I don’t think it’s just me, I think it’s them understanding as professional athletes, your body, it’s a must to take care of,” Biyombo said. “You’ve got to put in it good fuel; you can’t just feed it whatever.

“It’s 72 games this season, it’s 82 games most seasons, it’s not 50 games (like college or overseas). So for them it’s understanding what you need to put into your body and how to take care of your body — after games icing, stretching, all these treatments, massage — they have learned over the course of time. They are sometimes you catch them eating things they are not supposed to eat, and I tell them. Then the next day they tell you they ate something better, they tell you ‘I had this last night, can you believe it’ so overall it’s fun…

“When I started my diet it was just for me, but it’s far beyond my teammates. Now I get a lot of messages from people I don’t even know asking about my diet,” Biyombo said. “But it has changed my life. I feel good. I feel energetic, I enjoy this.”

And he is enjoying his time in Charlotte, with a team exceeding expectations and now with legitimate playoff dreams.

The postseason is just one more area where Biyombo looks forward to mentoring his newfound “little brother.”

Rozier, Washington, Ball help Hornets rally past Heat 122-117

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Terry Rozier scored 31 points, P.J. Washington had 27 and the Charlotte Hornets stopped Miami’s three-game win streak with a 122-117 victory over the Heat on Sunday.

LaMelo Ball scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter as Charlotte improved to 7-16 at home. Gordon Hayward was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field for 20 points.

Rozier also had seven assists and six rebounds. He was 11 for 19 from the field, including a 5-for-11 performance from 3-point range. He made two buzzer-beater 3s at the end of quarters.

Jimmy Butler scored 28 points for Miami, and Tyler Herro had 24.

The Hornets, who have been hampered by injuries all season, have won four of six for the team’s best stretch of the season. Washington believes it’s a reflection of the team getting healthier.

Charlotte’s projected starting five to begin the season is finally back on the floor and appears to be starting to mesh.

“Everybody is back and everybody is healthy – and that is a major difference,” Washington said. “At the end of the day we have to keep going the way we are right now.”

Hayward has struggled with shoulder and hamstring issues, limiting the team’s highest-paid player to just 24 games.

Sunday marked his best game in months.

“He’s playing confident and getting easy baskets and just bullying guys down low,” Washington said. “He’s playing great basketball and I expect that of him every night.”

Whether a now healthy Hornets team can make a playoff push remains to be seen, but coach Steve Clifford remains optimistic.

“Getting ‘Melo and Gordon back, obviously you’re a different team,” Clifford said. “If we can get into playing set groups then we’ll have a good chance to hopefully put some good stretches together. (It helps) when they know who they’re playing with and they know where the shots are coming from.”

The Heat led 62-58 after Rozier banked in a 3 from the midcourt logo to close out the first half.

Miami went on a 10-1 run to start the third quarter. Herro knocked down two 3-pointers to help the Heat open a 13-point lead.

But Charlotte came storming back behind Washington and Rozier, who began knocking down shots from deep.

Charlotte pushed the lead to 12 with 5:54 left on a turnaround jumper by Rozier.

Miami rallied with a 10-0 run. Kyle Lowry found Bam Adebayo inside for a layup to cut the lead to 108-106.

But Charlotte had another burst as Mason Plumlee got the ball after Rozier won a jump ball and drove to the basket for a score. Ball canned an open 3-pointer to put Charlotte back up 114-106 with 1:50 left.

Washington’s rebound and score off his own miss kept Charlotte up by seven and Plumlee dunked off a pass from Washington to put the game away in the final minute.

Charlotte shot 54.2% from the field and scored 25 points in transition. The Hornets also outrebounded Miami 47-36.

“They have had a lot of injuries but when they have been fully healthy, this team can score much different than their numbers may suggest for the season,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did not step up defensively, they got a lot of easy run-ups that quickly changed the momentum of the game.”

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”