Three things to Know: Celtics execute better down stretch, beat Clippers

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Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Celtics execute better down stretch, knock off Clippers

The Clippers came into Thursday night 8-2 in games Kawhi Leonard had played in December. They have shown flashes of being a team that could come out of the West, but they had a lot of chemistry to build in a roster that is still figuring out how to play together.

The Celtics went through those growing pains last season and it showed — when it came to fourth quarter execution, Boston was simply better. Their established chemistry showed (even without sixth man Malcolm Brogdon). As Andrew Grief of the LA Times noted, the Clippers turned the ball over five times in the fourth and the Celtics were +5 in rebounds, +4 on the offensive glass and +4 in second-chance points in the quarter.

Then there was Derrick White making game-deciding blocks at the rim. (White is quietly one of the best rim-protecting guards in the league.)

The result was a 116-110 win for the Celtics. The big headline is that — unlike the first meeting of these teams a few weeks ago in Los Angeles — the Jays won the battle of the wings: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each had 29 points, compared to 26 for Kawhi Leonard and 24 for Paul George. (The bright spot in there for the Clippers is Leonard played a season-high 37 minutes, the restrictions seem to be off with him.)

The fourth-quarter controversy in this one came on this play, when George drove the lane and both Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown (who at least maybe tripped) went to the ground to sell the call. They got it from referee Scott Foster.

Let’s just say Paul George didn’t like the call and said so on social media (which likely will cost him $25K).

These teams will grow and evolve over the remaining 60% of the season. How much the Clippers can grow — and if they can stay healthy — will go a long way in determining if this was a preview of things to come or just another December game.

2) Hield hits quickest 3 in NBA history, Pacers go on to beat Cavaliers

Well, that didn’t take long.

The 3-ball is the great equalizer in today’s game and they were falling for the Pacers. Tyrese Haliburton looked like an All-Star — the question isn’t if he makes the team, it’s does he start? — with 29 points including going 6-of-8 from 3, while Hield kept hitting his 3-pointers and finished with 25 points including 5-of-6 from deep.

The Pacers went on to win the shootout 135-126, a game where the losing Cavaliers had a 131.5 offensive rating for the night (the Pacers were 140.8). The highlights of the night were this Aaron Nesmith dunk.

And coach Rick Carlisle getting ejected over Donovan Mitchell not drawing a travel call.

That’s three straight losses for the Cavaliers, while the Pacers have won 4-of-5. Both teams currently sit in the top six in the East, avoiding the play-in.

3) Eleven players suspended, Pistons’ Hayes gets three games for incident with Magic

It’s strange to say when 11 guys were just suspended, but the NBA came down soft on this one (which is right in line with the Adam Silver era).

The NBA announced the suspensions from the Pistons/Magic incident Wednesday night:

Killian Hayes: 3 games
Moritz Wagner: 2 games
Hamidou Diallo: 1 game

Plus the Magic’s Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield, Franz Wagner, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. all got one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during a fight (that is the standard punishment by the league). Those bench suspensions will be staggered over a few games so the Magic will dress enough players to play their games.

This came down out of the incident where Mo Wagner knocked Hayes into the bench and Hayes got up and punched Wagner in the back of the head, appearing to knock him out for a second.

A three-game suspension for a clear, landed punch is getting off light, especially compared to the two games for Wagner and Diallo’s one-game suspension for a reasonably harmless shove for another player. That said, these are suspensions without pay that will hit these players in the wallet.

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. 4 at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken in New Orleans. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the record fall when LeBron returns to Los Angeles on Feb. 7 or Feb. 9.

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

• 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.