Three Things to Know: Lakers lose to depleted Trail Blazers

LeBron James in Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com 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 redefine rock bottom. Again

Damian Lillard and Nassir Little are injured. The Trail Blazers traded C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Larry Nance Jr. in an apparent bid to tank. Portland’s rotation was comprised of CJ Elleby, Anfernee Simons, Justise Winslow, Jusuf Nurkic, Ben McLemore, Dennis Smith Jr., Greg Brown III, Trendon Watford and Keljin Blevins.

Yet, the Lakers still lost to these rag-tag Trail Blazers last night.

It was bad enough when the Lakers showed they’re nowhere near the championship-contending Bucks the day before. Falling 107-105 to this Portland team? Yikes.

The Lakers couldn’t even blame Russell Westbrook, who missed the game with back tightness. Westbrook is central to many of the team’s problems. But as yesterday’s lifeless performance showed, the Lakers – who’ve lost 11 of 16 – are mired in a wider funk.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis demand not throwing in the towel. The Lakers still have a four-game cushion for postseason position – 5.5-game cushion if you count only teams still trying to win (*cough* not the Trail Blazers *cough*).

Short on tradable assets, Los Angeles has no great fix ahead of the trade deadline. The Lakers could execute the simplest move a disappointing  team can make – fire the coach – but that’s not the solution, either.

2) Kings erupt in Domantas Sabonis‘ debut

This is why the Kings traded for Domantas Sabonis.

In one of the most thrilling games in Sacramento in a while, Sabonis (22 points, 14 rebounds and five assists) led the Kings to a 132-119 win over the Timberwolves last night. The high-scoring contest went back and forth until Sacramento pulled away late.

Sure, the Kings are just 21-36. But Sacramento fans had been thirsting for a night like that. After 15 straight years outside the postseason and a dismal recent skid, the Kings played – and won in highly entertaining fashion, no less – a game that felt meaningful.

A championship needn’t be the only goal. Even with only the play-in tournament as the target, Sacramento games now have stakes. Fans can get behind a playoff push and enjoy the experience. It sure beats rooting for losses in a season doomed for the lottery.

Of course, the Kings must win enough for their games to continue to hold meaning. Sacramento is still 2.5 games back of postseason position, trailing a Pelicans team that also just upgraded (though not as much as we thought).

Not every game will be such an adrenaline rush. The Kings have plenty more to prove to justify trading Tyrese Haliburton.

Daryl Morey tells a story of the Rockets calculating their points per possession by play call. As he analyzed the data of each of then-Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy’s plays – pick-and-rolls, horns, etc. – Morey noticed the highest-scoring play not clearly labeled. He asked what it was. The answer: “Random,” when a play breaks down and players just improvise.

That type of frenetic efficiency was on full display for Sacramento last night. Sabonis, who has yet to practice with his new team, took charge handling the ball and distributing. Harrison Barnes (30 points) and De'Aaron Fox (27 points) played well off him.

As Sabonis settles in, the randomness he brought to the offense last night could be lost, though Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry does a good job incorporating those free-flowing principles into his system.

Sacramento’s challenges will evolve. The coming weeks, months and even years will determine whether the trade is worthwhile.

But last night counts, too. And it was exhilarating for the Kings and their fans.

3) Trade deadline is 3 p.m. Eastern today

The stare-down between the Nets and 76ers over James Harden‘s and Ben Simmons‘ futures is intensifying.

And that’s just the start of the drama. From the trades we expect but are awaiting details on to the deals that come out of left field, it should be a busy deadline day.

Track the rumors and completed trades here.