Three things to know: Lakers racking up wins but have they answered any big questions?

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Lakers
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Lakers racking up wins but have they answered any big questions?

The Lakers’ schedule to open the season is exactly what an older team trying to figure itself out needed: It is soft and home heavy. We’re obviously talking small sample size, but Los Angeles has the second easiest schedule in the league so far.

That cake schedule has allowed the Lakers to rack up wins and not feel much pressure — or face difficult questions — while it tries to blend in a lot of new faces and find an identity.

Tuesday night’s Lakers 119-117 win over the Rockets is a perfect example. It improves the Lakers to 5-3 and looks good if you only read the headlines: The Lakers have won three in a row, 5-of-6, and their big four future Hall of Famers — LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony — combined for 99 points on the night.

Look past the headlines, and there are a lot of unanswered questions about these Lakers.

It took those 99 points — and a flip-the-switch dominant fourth quarter from LeBron — to knock off a 1-6 Rockets team that starts two teenagers. Houston has athleticism and their kids play yard, but this is the kind of squad an elite team should handle easily (granted, it was the second game of a two-game set against the Rockets, and those tend to be closer).

Concerns about the Lakers start with the defense, which was atrocious much of Tuesday night — particularly in the first half when the Rockets had a lay-up line on their way to 70 points at the break. The Lakers defense is middle of the pack for the season (ranked 15th) and has struggled in the halfcourt in particular. The Lakers have key rotation players — Westbrook and Anthony — who opposing teams will target in the halfcourt, an issue now but a bigger one in the postseason.

Frank Vogel started Anthony Davis at center for the second straight game (with Dwight Howard out), making LeBron James the four. Those have been the Lakers’ most successful lineups this season, and on Tuesday night Davis scored eight of Lakers’ first 14 points, shooting 4-of-5 from the floor, plus had a block and a few boards.

The Lakers’ bigger and more used starting lineup — Westbrook, Kent Bazemore, LeBron, Davis, and DeAndre Jordan — is -11.3 per 100 (according to Cleaning the Glass). However, Vogel said pregame that eventually — likely once Howard is healthy again — the Lakers would go back to starting big. It is what Davis prefers, although Vogel said the Lakers would continue to play more AD at the five this season.

The bottom line is that while Westbrook will push the pace and rack up numbers (Vogel is staggering LeBron and Westbrook more each game), and Anthony provides a scoring spark off the bench, the Lakers are still all about LeBron and Davis. As they go, the team goes.

Los Angeles made its third quarter push against Houston when they went to a heavy dose of LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll (plus some buckets in transition, Houston helped there with seven third-quarter turnovers). Then in the fourth, LeBron took over with 10 straight points, eight of them on drives to the rim the Rockets could not stop. He simply took over the game, and that was enough (barely).

It’s a process, and the Lakers are finding their identity — they are a downhill, attacking team that wants to play fast and get to the rim, all things that look better when Davis is at the five providing spacing. Los Angeles will improve once they get healthy and have Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker back in the lineup. This is a process with the Lakers, one that will take all season.

There is still most of a season left, but the Lakers have work to do — they have yet to truly answer the big questions about defense and matchups, the ones they will be forced to answer come the playoffs.

2) Players still adjusting to the new Wilson ball

You’ve heard all the explanations for why scoring is down: It’s two straight short offseasons taking a physical toll, or it’s the new rule interpretations against non-basketball moves keeping players off the free throw line. The latest one may have some merit, too:

It’s the new Wilson ball.

Paul George was pretty blunt about it after the latest Clippers latest win.

“Not to make an excuse or anything, but I said that about the ball, it’s just a different basketball,” George said. “It doesn’t have the same touch or softness that the Spaulding ball had. You’ll see this year, it’s going to be a lot of bad misses, I think you’ve seen a lot of airballs so far this season.

“So again, not to put an excuse or blame the basketball, but it is different. It’s no secret, it’s a different basketball.”

When they introduced the ball, Wilson said it was essentially the same as the outgoing Spaulding ball, down to the fact Wilson sourced the same leather. Trae Young and Jamal Murray were among players testing the ball and providing feedback last season.

Still, players don’t think it feels the same, and now the NBA players union wants feedback on the new ball ‚ just don’t tell NBPA president CJ McCollum it’s an excuse.

Players are creatures of habit, they don’t like change, and as much as Wilson tried to make it seamless, it is a change. Shooters have not adjusted. Yet.

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Highlights of the night:

Back to Los Angeles, where rookie Jalen Green put on a show scoring 24 points in the loss. The Lakers led by seven with :45 seconds left, but the Rockets came back because of two Green threes to make it a game. The second of those threes — a stepback high-archer over Anthony Davis — is as pure as it gets.

The Rockets had a shot to win the game, but Kevin Porter Jr.‘s shot hit the back of the rim.

Last night’s scores:

Milwaukee 117, Detroit 89
Miami 125, Dallas 110
Utah 119, Sacramento 113
Phoenix 112, New Orleans 100
LA Lakers 119, Houston 117

Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee


Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.

Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.


“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.

The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.