Notes from NBA Summer League: Rockets may have a find in Tari Eason

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LAS VEGAS — The Rockets drafted Tari Eason at No. 17 because he could defend, he could switch 1-4 and Houston needed some of that versatility. They just hoped they could bring his offense along.

It turns out his offense is just fine.

Eason scored 22 points on Monday against the Spurs to go with his 10 rebounds — he has stood out as one of the, if not THE, best Rockets player so far at Summer League. He has a knack for finding spaces in the defense where he can operate.

“More than any player I can I can think of off the top of my head, I’ve never seen somebody make mistakes and then make good plays out of the same possession quite like Tari,” Rockets’ summer league head coach Rick Higgins said. “As we start to get his mistakes to creep down and down and down, we’re gonna see even more of the great plays shine.”

While putting up 22 and 10 in Summer League is a far cry from doing it in an NBA game, Eason believes his game will translate to the next level.

“Everything that I bring here I think translates to an NBA court. I don’t think I’m playing out of myself, doing too much,” Eason said. “I think that my ability to space the floor, rebound, defend, and knock down an open three are all things that I’ve tried to showcase to the people that I could do here, and I think all those things would translate.”

Higgens said there is still a lot of development to go for Eason. That’s true of every rookie in Las Vegas, including the Rockets’ No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith. But Eason looks like a guy who could be a quality part of the Rockets rotation in the future.

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There is so much else going on at the Las Vegas Summer League, here are some other notes and things I saw.

• The Celtics’ Matt Ryan hit the floater three and game-winner with less than a second remaining to beat the Bucks — then sprained his ankle on the same play.

Ryan had 23 points on the night. He’s a great story, a year ago he was driving DoorDash and now he’s making plays in a Celtics jersey.

• The great thing about throwing a lob to Chet Holmgren is it doesn’t have to be that accurate to still work.

• The Rockets’Josh Christopher was frustrated, not getting calls he thought he deserved on drives. Then he missed a bunny on one fast break. He attacked recklessly the next time down and got his shot blocked. After that, he was leaking out hunting for transition chances, and when he finally got one he took out all his frustrations on the rim.

 

• The Magic shutting down No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero — not because of injury, just because he has proven everything he needs to through two stellar games — is the first of a lot of stars being done at Summer League. Cam Thomas with the Nets, Josh Giddey with the Thunder and others will start to be shut down and sent home in the coming days.

And add the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy III to that list.

• Spurs guard Josh Primo has been put into the NBA’s health and safety protocols, which likely means he’s done for Summer League. He averaged 15 points and 4.5 assists a game through two games, but struggled inside the arc (33% shooting overall but 50% from 3).

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.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.