Alex Caruso

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Kings

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division and the Central Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Pacific:

Golden State Warriors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: The Warriors have their core together with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Ky Bowman, Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall provide value on minimum contracts. That’s all the Warriors need to protect.

Golden State wouldn’t mind seeing Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole selected to get the salaries off the cap sheet. The rest of the players are ones the Warriors won’t lose any sleep over if they’re drafted.

L.A. Clippers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: L.A. has its main guys with four starters under contract. They aren’t being exposed here. The other three players are key bench contributors on good contracts. And Kabengele and Mann were just drafted. Easy decisions across the board for the Clippers.

L.A. could lose Green as a free agent. The Clippers also bet he does undrafted and could return. Rodney McGruder makes too much money for his role.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: The Lakers and Anthony Davis will work out that he’ll opt out before the expansion draft, which makes him ineligible. The rest of the players are role players that Los Angeles would rather keep around LeBron James than risk losing.

Los Angeles won’t be upset to see Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo selected. They’re both replacement-level players for the Lakers at this point.

Phoenix Suns

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Phoenix keeps it simple and protects all the guys who are part of its core. The Suns could have left Dario Saric unprotected, but by protecting Saric, they keep the flexibility to re-sign him as a restricted free agent. The rest are all easy decisions.

Of the unprotected players, none of have established themselves as NBA rotation players. If any are selected, Phoenix won’t lose any sleep over it.

Sacramento Kings

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Kings will protect their five starters and three key reserves. Cory Joseph is a decision-point, but considering De’Aaron Fox’s injury issues, Joseph is too valuable to let walk away.

Sacramento won’t mind if Jabari Parker is selected, but they aren’t going to pay anyone to do it. Justin James has been an interesting prospect, but the Kings won’t stress if he gets selected.

LeBron James scores season-high 40, leads Lakers past Zion Williamson, Pelicans

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Zion Williamson while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 14 rebounds to remain unbeaten in his three meetings with his former team this season.

In the Lakers’ first game after an emotional memorial service for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center on Monday, James opened up a close contest with back-to-back buckets at the rim with about three minutes left. Danny Green sealed it for Los Angeles with his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds in his first career showdown with James and Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centerpiece. In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, but managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Ingram had 34 points against his former team, but just six in the final period as New Orleans lost for only the second time in seven games.

Williamson was still injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings of the season with the Lakers, but the No. 1 overall pick’s delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped. Williamson had several impressive dunks in his usual fearsome floor game, and only six missed free throws kept him from surpassing his career high of 32 points.

Davis is the leading scorer and rebounder in New Orleans franchise history, making six All-Star teams during his tenure. He went just 6 for 21 from the field in this meeting, failing to score 40 points against the Pelicans for the first time.

Lonzo Ball had 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and Josh Hart scored three points in their second return to face the Lakers, who traded them to New Orleans along with Ingram last July for Davis.

The Pelicans also got three first-round draft picks in their princely haul for Davis, who had requested a trade. Davis has been just as good as the Lakers hoped in propelling them back to NBA championship contention, while the Pelicans are getting an All-Star season from Ingram alongside Williamson in an increasingly potent core.

James scored 11 points in less than two minutes early in the third quarter to stretch the Lakers’ lead to 14 points, but Ingram scored 10 in the period to keep it close.

Alex Caruso provided the Lakers with his usual injection of energy in the fourth quarter, particularly with a stunning block of Ball’s shot at the rim that left Ball flat on his back. Caruso finished with eight points and eight assists.

Watch LeBron James score 32; Anthony Davis’ big second half lifts Lakers past Grizzlies

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James scored 32 points, Anthony Davis recovered from an early injury scare to get 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers returned from the All-Star break with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Avery Bradley added 14 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who finished strong after blowing most of their 25-point lead accumulated in a superb first half. Davis had 14 points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as Los Angeles improved to 42-12 with its fourth straight win since Feb. 6.

Josh Jackson scored a season-high 20 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost back-to-back games in California after heading into the All-Star break with eight wins in 10. Ja Morant added 17 points as Memphis dropped to 0-2 on its four-game West Coast trip, which matches its longest road stretch of the season.

Davis departed less than two minutes after the opening tip when he bruised his right calf on an opponent’s knee. The All-Star went to the locker room and missed the rest of the first quarter, but returned early in the second before scoring 24 points in the second half.

Although James, Davis and Dwight Howard were busy in Chicago over the break, the Lakers returned with impressive defensive focus across the roster. Los Angeles held Memphis to 15-for-38 shooting and forced 11 turnovers in the first half to jump to a 19-point lead.

The Grizzlies trimmed the lead to four points early in the fourth quarter with a prolonged surge. The Lakers hung on with a series of big plays, including a jaw-dropping rebound dunk by Alex Caruso off a missed free throw by Davis with 6:16 to play.

James clinched it with a driving layup followed by a gorgeous fadeaway jumper with 1:12 left. Davis then hit his second 3-pointer in the final minute.

The Lakers improved to 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season. They meet again in Memphis on Feb. 29.

LeBron James’ triple-double leads Lakers to overtime win in Denver

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DENVER — LeBron James wasn’t about to coast into the All-Star break, and neither was Anthony Davis.

“I could tell they were locked in pregame. LeBron had his jersey with like 80 minutes to go before the game,” guard Alex Caruso said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 120-116 overtime triumph in Denver on Wednesday night.

James posted his 12th triple-double of the season, tied with Luka Doncic for the NBA lead, and Davis scored seven of his 33 points in overtime as the Western Conference leaders took a 41-12 record and a four-game lead over second-place Denver into the All-Star break.

“I was trying to be laser sharp, laser focused as I could,” James said. “I know the break was coming, but I wasn’t going to take this opportunity for granted. I wanted to play extremely well tonight for our ballclub and I wanted us to play extremely well going into the break on a high note. And our team, we responded very well.”

The Nuggets were the hottest team in the league, having won six of seven, including short-handed stunners at Milwaukee and Utah.

So, James, who had 32 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds, saw this as playoff prep.

“Every opportunity we get to play in a close game against a tough opponent, it’s a learning experience for all of us,” he said. “It prepares us for a postseason game where it’s going to be back and forth, back and forth. I thought tonight was a playoff atmosphere for both teams, being No. 1 and No. 2 in the Western Conference, jockeying for position. We were just trying to make plays whatever it takes. And A.D. was there knocking down big 3s and getting a block and getting some stops, the jump ball, as well. It was big time.”

In addition to his 33 points, Davis tied up All-Star Nikola Jokic for a key jump ball late in regulation when the officials had to waive off the basket by Denver’s big man after he muscled the ball away from Davis and into the basket.

Jokic has 22 points and 11 rebounds for Denver, which saw its four-game winning streak snapped.

Dwight Howard added 14 points for the Lakers, who improved their NBA-best road record to 23-5.

Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 33 points, but Jokic was in foul trouble late and made some crucial blunders in the extra period, including a turnover on a bad pass with 19 seconds left after he passed up an open 3-pointer with Denver down 119-116.

The back-and-forth game went to overtime tied at 111 when James’ fadeaway 15-footer hit the iron and bounced away at the buzzer.

Gary Harris’ 3-pointer tied it at 116 with 3:06 remaining in overtime, but the Nuggets suddenly went cold, especially Jokic, who missed three shots and bypassed a wide-open 3 with 20 seconds left and the Nuggets down 119-116. He followed with a bad pass right into the arms of Kentavious Cadlwell-Pope.

“It was a close game. We just didn’t execute in the last minutes,” Jokic said. “I made a lot of terrible mistakes. Every decision was bad. So, I need to be better with my decision-making. I think I just need to look to shoot a little bit more.”

NBA Trade Deadline tracker: All the player movement, new teams, impact

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The NBA trade deadline has passed and it had a little bit of everything – big names on the move, important players being sent to contenders, and other teams shedding salaries.

We’re here to help you sort everything that happened in the last few days, from the biggest trades to the smallest ones.

What trades happened?

• D’Angelo Russell traded to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota gets: D'Angelo Russell
Golden State gets: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota’s 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected), a 2022 second-round pick

Analysis: Minnesota has desperately wanted Russell to pair with his good friend Karl-Anthony Towns, keeping the superstar Towns happy (he has expressed frustration lately, he hasn’t been on the court for a win since November). Golden State is betting its culture can push Wiggins to live up to his potential nightly (not just once every couple of weeks), giving them what Harrison Barnes once did.

• Andre Iguodala traded to Miami

Miami gets: Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill
Memphis gets: Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, James Johnson

Analysis: At one point this was discussed as a three-team trade with Oklahoma City sending Danilo Gallinari to Miami, but that fell apart. With Iguodala and Crowder, Miami becomes more of a threat in the East. Memphis likes Winslow’s fit.

• Andre Drummond sent to Cleveland

Detroit gets: Brandon Knight, John Henson, second-round pick
Cleveland gets: Andre Drummond

Analysis: Let’s be honest: The Pistons dumped Drummond. It’s a minuscule return for an All-Star center, but that also speaks to exactly where the market is on Drummond — teams looked at his game, looked at that $28.8 million next season, and said no thanks.

• A 12-player, four-team trade that sends Clint Capela to Atlanta

Houston gets: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell
Atlanta gets: Clint Capela, Nene
Minnesota gets: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Evan Turner, Jarred Vanderbilt, a first-round pick
Denver gets: Shabazz Napier, Gerald Green, Keita Bates-Diop, Noah Vonleh, a first-round pick

Analysis: This is a win for Atlanta, which gets a good pick-and-roll center to pair with Trae Young. Houston is going all-in on small ball, with P.J. Tucker now their starting center.

• Clippers beat out Lakers for Marcus Morris

Los Angeles gets: Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas
New York gets: Moe Harkless, 2020 first-round pick
Washington: Jerome Robinson

Analysis: Morris will bring both floor spacing and some interior toughness to the Clippers (plus a few technicals). Morris leads the Knicks scoring at 18.5 points per game. The Clippers will not keep Thomas.

• Dwayne Dedmon traded back to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Dwayne Dedmon, a 2020 and 2021 second-round pick
Sacramento gets: Jabari Parker, Alex Len

Analysis: Dedmon returns to Atlanta to be the backup center for Clint Capela.

• Warriors trade Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks to the 76ers

Philadelphia gets: Glenn Robinson III, Alec Burks
Golden State gets: Second-round picks in 2020 (Dallas), 2021 (Denver), and 2022 (Toronto)

Analysis: Philadelphia needs shooting and it just added some.

• Clippers trade Derrick Walton to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Derrick Walton
L.A. Clippers get: A second-round pick, $1.3 million in cash

Analysis: This clears a roster spot for the Clippers to make another, more significant move.

• Denver flips Shabazz Napier to Washington for Jordan McRae

Washington gets: Shabazz Napier
Denver gets: Jordan McRae

Analysis: And interesting flip of reserve guards (both 28-years-old, both on expiring minimum contracts). Nappier has played well as he has grown out of LeBron’s shadow. I really like this deal for Denver, however, as McRae can just flat out go get buckets, and Denver could use more of that off the bench.

• Golden State trades Willie Cauley-Stein to Dallas

Dallas gets: Willie Cauley-Stein
Golden State gets: A second-round pick

Analysis: After Dwight Powell tore his Achilles Dallas needed depth at center.

• Cleveland trades Jordan Clarkson to Utah

Utah gets: Jordan Clarkson
Cleveland gets: Dante Exum, two second-round picks

Analysis: Utah needed more bench scoring and Jordan Clarkson provides that.

• Minnesota trades Jeff Teague to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Jeff Teague, Treveon Graham
Minnesota gets: Allen Crabbe

Analysis: Atlanta needed a quality backup point guard for Trae Young, so they traded for one.

• Philadelphia trades James Ennis to Orlando

Orlando gets: James Ennis
Philadelphia gets: a second-round pick

Analysis: Long Beach State’s own James Ennis was going to be crowded out on the improved Philly bench so he waived his no-trade clause to be sent to Orlando, where he should provide desperately needed shooting.

• Rockets send Jordan Bell to Grizz

Houston gets: Bruno Caboclo, Second-round 2023 pick
Minnesota gets: Jordan Bell, Second-round 2023 pick

Analysis: Bell doesn’t fit as well in Memphis with the Grizzlies also acquiring Gorgui Dieng. But I’d generally rather have Bell than Caboclo.

• Blazers trade Skal Labissiere to Atlanta

Atlanta gets: Skal Labissiere, plus $2M
Portland gets: Luxury-tax savings

Analysis: The Hawks get a more-than-fully subsidized flier on Labissiere, who’s due $924,968 the rest of this season then will be a free agent this summer.

Kings sent Trevor Ariza to Portland for Kent Bazemore

Sacramento gets: Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, two second-round picks
Portland gets: Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan, Wenyen Gabriel

Analysis: Portland had the highest payroll in the league and was going to shell out a lot of luxury tax for a team that might not even make the playoffs. This trade cut their tax bill by more than half. Ariza also has played well for Portland.