Three things to know: LaMelo Ball impresses but LeBron gets win

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The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) LaMelo Ball impresses but LeBron James, Lakers get win

Like nearly everyone who has watched LaMelo Ball during his rookie season — especially his 20 games as a Hornets’ starter where he has averaged 19.8 points and 6.4 assists a game — LeBron James was impressed with the baby Ball brother.

“He’s damn good to be his age,” LeBron said postgame after LaMelo scored 26 on the Lakers Thursday night. “His speed, his quickness, his ability to make shots at all facets, in the paint, floaters, threes — he has the three tiers already. And he’s only going to get better, every game is a learning experience for him, he’s going to get better as the season goes on and his career goes on.”

LeBron wasn’t the only Laker impressed.

LeBron and the Lakers also got what they came for Thursday — the win.

Los Angeles built an 18 point lead behind 37 points from LeBron, but more importantly, the Lakers defense was back to shutdown mode for stretches of the game, getting in passing lanes and disrupting the Hornet offense. That the Lakers did this without their best defender in Anthony Davis — still out for a couple of weeks with a strained calf — is impressive. However, without him, the defense wasn’t consistent all night — Charlotte made a comeback behind LaMelo to make it a little interesting late. LeBron eventually shut the door and got some help from Dennis Schroder, who added 22.

Los Angeles is 4-0 since the All-Star break with a top-five offense and defense in the league during that stretch. The Lakers’ win, combined with a Phoenix loss (to Minnesota, keep on reading for more), puts Los Angeles back up to the two seed in the West, just 1.5 games back of Utah (which is slumping and lost to the Wizards Thursday).

2) Anthony Edwards scores 42, Karl-Anthony Towns 41, Minnesota wins

This is what Minnesota hoped it would look like when it drafted Anthony Edwards No. 1.

Edwards has found a groove since the All-Star break — scoring 30.6 points a game and shooting 39.1% from three in that stretch — and the confidence he has always had in his game is starting to reward him. Maybe some of those pull-up threes Thursday night would not have been new coach Chris Finch’s first choice, but they were going in.

Edwards became the third-youngest player in NBA history with a 40-point game, trailing only LeBron and Kevin Durant.

Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns know how to get buckets — Towns had 41 on the night — and the Timberwolves’ offense overwhelmed the Suns, getting Minnesota a quality 123-119 win against a playoff-bound Phoenix team. The fact that it was a four-point game speaks to the Achilles heel of Edwards, Towns and the Timberwolves — a bottom-five defense.

But on nights like this, Edwards and the offense can help you overlook that issue for a while.

3) Atlanta pays tribute to shooting victims pregame, gets vaccine afterward

The Atlanta Hawks picked up their seventh straight win Thursday night, knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder 116-93 behind 23 apiece from Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanovic.

That was not the most important thing the Hawks did Thursday. The game came in third on that ranking.

Before the game, the Hawks had a moment of silence for the shooting victims at three massage parlors in the Atlanta area. The team also released a statement condemning the violence.

After the game, 14 Hawks players — and 22 other members of the team’s basketball operations staff — received their first shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

The 14 players were eligible to get the vaccine because they met Georgia’s standard that anyone with a body mass index over 25 is eligible. The team released this statement:

“Increasing access to health, wellness and play throughout the greater Atlanta community continues to be a priority for our organization. As eligibility for vaccination continues to expand, we intend to use our platform and influence to encourage and educate citizens on the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are eligible, especially younger adults and communities of color.”

The last part of that is something the NBA has encouraged — it wants its players and teams to be examples to the community of the importance of getting the vaccine. Overall, players in the league have been hesitant to play that role and many have wanted to keep their decisions private.

That said, there are motivations for players to get the vaccine. Players and teams who do get vaccinated will not only not miss games for things such as contact tracing, they will have more freedoms at home and on the road, such as having more guests in their hotel room or being able to go out and eat at restaurants with outdoor dining.