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) Can Lakers still make playoffs despite LeBron’s injury?
This photo strikes at the heart of Lakers fans.
LeBron James on the Lakers bench tonight wearing a walking boot on his right foot. pic.twitter.com/eUCvTHUops
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) March 1, 2023
After the trade deadline, the new-look Lakers with their improved roster were hitting their stride. However, there was always a lot of work to do to climb back into the playoffs, there was not much margin for error.
Then came the word LeBron James would be out weeks with a foot injury. News of the injury led to a lot of “the Lakers are done” talk around the league.
But are they?
“The mission has not changed for us,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said, via the Associated Press.
It is possible the 12th-seed Lakers could push through the coming weeks, playing well enough to give LeBron reason to come back as quickly as he can for a postseason run — the Lakers remain just one game out of the 10 seed. However, to get there the Lakers need wins — instead, they racked up a loss against the Grizzlies Tuesday night. The Lakers had no answer for Ja Morant, who scored 28 in the third quarter alone on his way to 39 points and a triple-double for the game, and the Grizzlies picked up a 121-109 win.
What a night for Ja Morant 👀
– 39 points
– 10 rebounds
– 10 assists
– Grizzlies franchise record 28 PTS in Q3
Memphis gets the W, 121-109 pic.twitter.com/6jDepZ0gEI
— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2023
The Grizzlies had struggled since their last loss in Los Angeles to the Lakers, and their social media team knew how to celebrate this win.
big memphis dub. hold dat @Lakers pic.twitter.com/DVwTsu0OzT
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 1, 2023
The Lakers are now 5-10 without LeBron this season, getting outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions when he is off the floor. Most of those losses came before this new lineup — they are now 1-2 without LeBron with this roster, the one win being against the Warriors — but there is a path to them picking up enough wins to hang around.
It requires Anthony Davis to continue to play like “bubble Davis” — he did that against the Grizzlies with 28 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks. It requires D'Angelo Russell to come back soon from his ankle injury and then be the shot creator for others and floor general he was not in Minnesota for most of this season. It requires other role players to step up nightly — Malik Beasley, Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, whoever — and pick up the slack.
The Lakers have the advantage of both New Orleans and Utah — the current ninth and 10th seeds — struggling and falling back towards them. However, the Lakers need enough wins to climb over both just to make the bottom of the play-in, that’s because a motivated Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are the 11 seed and are fighting to get into the postseason themselves.
Also know, the Lakers are not going to rush LeBron back — and where they are in the standings when he gets close will play a role in if and when he comes back to the court.
“As an organization, we’re going to make sure we kick the tires and look at everything that needs to be looked at,” Ham said. “Never in a hundred million years will we put a guy out there that has a risk of further damaging what’s going on. That’s not just with LeBron. That’s with any of our players.”
The Lakers can make the postseason, but their margin for error is now completely gone. They need a lot of things to go right just to make it to the part of the play-in where they need to win two games to get the No. 8 seed.
But it is possible.
2) Dallas loses again, this time at home to struggling Pacers
The Dallas Mavericks are now 1-4 since Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić both joined the lineup.
Once again on Tuesday night the offense was not the problem, the Mavericks had an outstanding 121 offensive rating behind 39 points and nine rebounds for Luka Dončić.
Luka on Tuesday night:
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📲 https://t.co/Z2EoXj3dbV pic.twitter.com/w6knShXVFC
— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2023
However, the Pacers had a 126.5 offensive rating against a struggling Mavs defense. Tyrese Haliburton had 32 points on his birthday, while Myles Turner pitched in 24. The Pacers are just two games out of the play-in and have not given up hope.
Tyrese Haliburton showed out in the Pacers win 👀 pic.twitter.com/qUPAaJ4pgz
— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2023
Over those last five games with Irving and Dončić the Mavericks have a 121.6 offensive rating, fourth best in the league over that stretch. They also have a 120 defensive rating (25th in the league). That’s a positive net rating and maybe they should be more like 3-2 over those five, but when a team doesn’t get stops, this happens.
The offense should get smoother over the coming games, and the return of Maxi Kleber to the lineup Tuesday should help the defense a little, but Dallas does not have the personnel to be a good defensive team and there is only so much coach Jason Kidd can do.
3) Spurs snap 16-game losing streak
Maybe Gregg Popovich did his best Kyrie Irving impression and walked around Vivint Arena burning sage before Tuesday’s game. Or, perhaps he just sat in his office in the arena and drank a lovely Pinot, but whatever he did, it worked.
The Spurs snapped their 16-game winning streak, beating a seemingly disinterested Jazz team 102-94. Utah shot 35% for the night and didn’t score. In the final three minutes of the game.
Keldon Johnson led the way for San Antonio with 25 points, while Doug McDermott added 19.
It’s the first road win for the Spurs since December.
It’s good to see for San Antonio. While their focus is the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, that much losing is just rough on any organization.
Bonus thing to know: Quin Snyder loses opener as Hawks coach. Snyder is a good hire by the Hawks, someone who can build the organizational culture ownership craves.
He won’t be able to do much to turn this campaign around more than 60 games into the season. As evidence we present his opening game, a 119-116 loss to the Washington Wizards at home. It’s going to be a work in progress in Atlanta.