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Three Things to Know: LeBron’s big day, first named All-Star captain, then has triple-double

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) LeBron James’ triple-double gives Lakers win in Brooklyn, a sweep of New York. The Lakers have been kicked out of Staples Center for a week allowing rehearsals for the Grammys can take over the building. Meaning old guys in suits sit around for a week and figure out if they can get Lizzo and Kenny Chesney to perform together. Because strange pairings always make good music and television.

So LeBron James and the Lakers just went to New York and made themselves at home.

LeBron racked up a triple-double of 27 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists — his 10th triple-double of the season — and the Lakers finally played some defense down the stretch to get a 128-113 win in Brooklyn on Thursday.

That leaves LeBron just 17 points short of Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time NBA scoring list. LeBron likely passes the Laker legend on Saturday night while Los Angeles is in Philadelphia.

The Laker offense was flowing against the Nets “defense” — Los Angeles made a season-high 19 threes. Anthony Davis had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Dwight Howard got his first start of the season and responded with 14 points and 12 boards.

The Lakers are 3-1 on their five-game road trip so far, and they swept New York with wins over the Knicks and Nets.

Brooklyn has lost five in a row through a difficult part of the schedule. Even with Kyrie Irving back, that’s not enough to lift this lineup to wins against the league’s best. The Nets now have two games on the road, against the Pistons and Knicks.

2) LeBron — and Giannis Antetokounmpo — again names captains as All-Star Game starters are announced. The fans (50% of the vote), players (25%), and media (25%) got together and put together a pretty representative group of All-Star Game starters. Here’s the list and the guys who will start in Chicago:

WEST
Guard: Luka Doncic (Dallas)
Guard: James Harden (Houston)
Frontcourt: LeBron James (L.A. Lakers)
Frontcourt: Anthony Davis (L.A. Lakers)
Frontcourt: Kawhi Leonard (L.A. Clippers)

EAST
Guard: Trae Young (Atlanta)
Guard: Kemba Walker (Boston)
Frontcourt: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Frontcourt: Pascal Siakam (Toronto)
Frontcourt: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia)

Of course, they won’t play East vs. West. Instead, the two captains — LeBron and Antetokounmpo, the leading vote getters by the fans — will select their teams playground-style live on a TNT special NBA All-Star Draft Show Feb. 6 (a week before the game). First, they will choose from the pool of starters, then from the pool of 14 reserves (seven reserves from each conference, selected by the coaches and announced next week).

Being named a starter, one of the 10 best players in the game, is a powerful affirmation. Check out Trae Young’s reaction to being named.

Team LeBron is 2-0 in this format, and LeBron will be coached by his Laker coach Frank Vogel (as much as there is “coaching” in the All-Star Game). Also, when LeBron steps on the All-Star Game court in Chicago it will be his 16th time as a starter, passing Kobe for most starts ever in the game.

3) Damian Lillard is putting on a clinic (and it’s still not enough to get the Trail Blazers’ wins). Damian Lillard may not be an All-Star Game starter (he was third on the fan, player, and media votes), but he remains one of the best, most entertaining players in the league.

Coming off a game where he had 61 points, Lillard dropped 47 on Dallas on national television on Thursday night — that’s 108 points in two games, a Trail Blazers record.

In what sums up Portland’s season, that was not enough. Portland barely beat the lowly Warriors when Lillard dropped 61 on Monday, and the 47 was not enough against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks on Thursday. The Mavericks led by double-digits much of the game and won 133-125.

Portland was without CJ McCollum (sprained ankle) and, of course, Jusuf Nurkic, who has been out all season with a leg injury. Without elite help, it’s Lillard against the world too often, and that’s not enough against good teams. Portland entered the season dreaming of getting back to the Western Conference Finals or even doing better, but this morning they sit as the 10 seed, 2.5 games out of the playoffs. It’s been a rough season in the Pacific Northwest.

Doncic had 27 points and nine assists in the win.

 

Pelicans reportedly ‘really pulled back in trade talks’ to focus on playoff push

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Three-and-a-half games.

Despite an injury-riddled 17-27 first half of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans are just three-and-a-half games out of the playoffs in a surprisingly soft bottom of the Western Conference.

Combine that with the team going 11-5 in their last 16 games, plus getting Zion Williamson in the lineup starting Wednesday, and the Pelicans have gone from sellers at the trade deadline to a team standing pat and planning to make a playoff push, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Around the G-League showcase just before Christmas (when league executives gathered in Las Vegas) there was a lot of buzz about the Pelicans trading point guard Jrue Holiday or big man Derrick Favors to help with their rebuild around Williamson. However, the recent hot streak and the emergence of Brandon Ingram as an All-Star level player has the Pelicans reconsidering their plans.

Memphis sits in the eighth seed in the West and has played well of late (8-2 in its last 10) behind the emergence of Ja Morant. However, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoneix, and Sacramento have all shown flashes in recent weeks and could make a run at the final playoff spot in the conference (or higher if some team fades from the pack). Every one of those teams is trying to decide whether to make trades for young players/picks at the deadline or make a playoff push (Portland is the one team that could do both because they will get Jusuf Nurkick, Zach Collins, and CJ McCollum back from injury).

David Griffin, the man with the hammer inside the Pelicans organization, has until the Feb. 6 trade deadline to decide whether to go for the playoffs or make trades looking for guys on Zion’s timeline. How the team looks in the next couple of weeks with Williamson back will play a big factor in that call.

Three Things to Know: At 26-12, Clippers still trying to mold championship identity

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) At 26-12, Clippers still trying to mold championship identity. Doc Rivers was blunt. Nearly halfway into the season, does the Clippers’ coach know what his team’s identity is?

“No. And that’s a concern,” Rivers said Saturday after a frustrating blowout loss at home to Memphis.

We know is the Clippers are good — 26-12, on pace for 56 wins and home court in the first round — with a couple of victories against the measuring stick team in the West, the Lakers.

What we don’t know, what we haven’t seen consistently, is a team identity. That leads to losses to Memphis or giving up 132 points Sunday to the Knicks (a game the Clippers won by scoring 135, led by Harrell’s 34 off the bench). Those kinds of games should be wakeup calls.

“We’ve had a lot of wake up calls,” Kawhi Leonard said after the Memphis loss. “I feel like it’s the middle of the season and some of the mistakes that we’re making, we shouldn’t be making at this time.”

“We’re not a great team. We’re not a great team…” Harrell said more bluntly in a frustrated rant after the Memphis loss. “I think that’s what we need to realize and wake up. We’re a team that still has to figure out things to win night in and night-out.”

When the Clippers are at their best they are a gritty, defense-first team that can shoot the three and has ball handlers in Leonard and Paul George who can create shots and get to their spots on the floor in crunch time. At their heart, this is a lunchpail squad that wants to outwork opponents — even their stars are not anointed top picks, they didn’t go to elite college programs (George at Fresno State, Leonard at San Diego State), but they outworked everyone to maximize their talent and get where they are

Patrick Beverley — the ultimate lunchpail guy and the emotional heart-and-soul of the Clippers — said in no uncertain terms Sunday the Clippers know who they are, they just haven’t put it together consistently.

Injuries and keeping players healthy is a part of that — Doc Rivers has had a fully healthy core of his roster for exactly one game this season. Paul George and Leonard have played fewer than 500 minutes together (461) across 18 games, although the Clippers have a +10.7 rating in those minutes. (For comparison LeBron James and Anthony Davis have played 817 minutes together this season, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray at are at 977 minutes together in Denver).

“It’s been tough, I won’t deny that. It’s been tougher than I thought it would be because of (the injuries)…” Rivers said.

“The continuity that we need to be a champion, to me, it’s hard to work on that or even have, because you don’t have time. I’m not worried about it yet, but it’s actually on my mind.”

There is time, 46 games to be exact. As an organization, the Clippers have played the long game this season, being willing to sacrifice wins now to have Leonard and the rest of the squad rested and healthy when the games really matter in April. The focus is the ultimate prize, one that is earned in May and June.

But that prize requires sweat equity be put in on dull January days, and Rivers knows it. Good habits need to be built, chemistry worked on. The little things come together in those games, not by Rivers snapping fingers in May. That’s where the Clippers are right now, still trying to put things together. They need to put in the work now to mold that championship identity. They have time, but unlike that team down the hall, the Clippers are not far down that road yet.

2) Hassan Whiteside returns to Miami, gets booed, Heat shrug and pick up win. It seemed a bit of an overreaction from Miami fans, but they booed Hassan Whiteside upon his return to Miami Sunday. Booed him when he was introduced and when he touched the ball most of the game. Whiteside may not have lived up to the hype (or his contract) in Miami, but he was himself. He put up numbers — 14.1 points and 11.9 rebounds a game average in his five seasons — but they were mostly empty calorie numbers.

The “we got shooters” chant by Heat fans in the second half was clever. (When Whiteside was traded to Portland over the summer, he posted a video reaction on social media where he praised Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum saying, “We got shooters,” Heat fans didn’t forget.) This season, Miami has plenty of shooters.

Jimmy Butler was out on Sunday, but Miami still had enough shooters to get the win. The Heat got 29 points and 13 assists from Goran Dragic, while Bam Adebayo added 20 points and eight rebounds. Derrick Jones Jr. chipped in 19.

Part of Miami’s leap forward this season has been their play in the paint, with Adebayo and Meyers Leonard giving the Heat quality minutes and points. The fans may have had animosity toward Whiteside, the team has shrugged it off and moved on.

3) The Lakers blocked 20 shots in a win against Detroit Sunday. The Lakers are a long team up front. The Detroit Pistons learned that the hard way Sunday.

Anthony Davis led the way with eight blocked shots, and as a team the Lakers rejected 20 Pistons’ shots on their way to a 106-99 win.


Davis had eight blocks, JaVale McGee six, and Dwight Howard five (four of those came in the fourth quarter). Laker guard Avery Bradley had the other block. Los Angeles had given up 60 points in the paint in their last game (against New Orleans) and Davis said the focus on protecting the paint was a reaction to that.

Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo lift Heat past Trail Blazers

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MIAMI — James Johnson scored on his first possession in more than a month. Dragic either scored or got somebody else points pretty much every time the ball was in his hands.

As often is the case for Miami, bench guys came up big.

Dragic had 29 points and 13 assists, Bam Adebayo added 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting and the Heat — without Jimmy Butler — never trailed in a 122-111 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.

“It doesn’t matter for us who’s playing or not,” Dragic said. “We don’t use excuses.”

Dragic tied a career best with seven 3-pointers. Derrick Jones Jr. scored 19 points for the Heat, who got 14 from Kendrick Nunn and 12 in 22 minutes from little-used Johnson — who was called upon largely because Miami was without Butler.

It was Johnson’s first minutes since Nov. 27.

“I’ve been in every situation that this league can offer, honestly,” Johnson said. “I know for sure it can be worse.”

Tyler Herro scored 11 points for Miami, as did Meyers Leonard in his first game against his former team.

Damian Lillard led Portland with 34 points and 12 assists. Former Heat center Hassan Whiteside, booed almost every time he touched the ball, finished with 21 points and 18 rebounds for Portland.

“It felt weird at first,” Whiteside said of playing against his former club. “But a lot of them guys I haven’t played with. There were a few guys out there that I actually knew.”

Both teams were missing starters unexpectedly. Miami was without Butler, ruled out because of back soreness. Portland played without the services of CJ McCollum for the first time this season; he was out with an upper-respiratory infection.

“Any time one of your best players is not on the floor you’re going to be less of a team,” Lillard said. “We’re professionals and that’s when you turn to the next guy. … It’s tough not having him but they didn’t have their best player.

Anfernee Simons scored 19 points off the bench for Portland, which cut a 24-point deficit to nine in the third quarter but no closer.

“Whatever word you want to use, we didn’t compete hard enough in the first half,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They had us on our heels from the outset.”

The Heat improved their NBA-best home record to 17-1 — that’s only two wins shy of their home total for 41 games last season — and are 10-0 after losses.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he still roots for Whiteside, who spent five years with Miami and got traded this summer as part of the series of moves that allowed the Heat to land Butler.

“We invested a lot into him and he invested a lot into us,” Spoelstra said. “For whatever reason — it just happens in this business — it was just time to turn the page on that team and it’s not anyone’s fault.”

Watch Damian Lillard’s driving and-1 game winner for Portland

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Damian Lillard is clutch.

We knew that already — ask OKC — but he showed it again against Phoenix on a driving layup in the final minute where Aron Baynes blocking foul on gave Lillard the and-1 and eventually a 111-110 win against Phoenix.

Phoenix challenged the blocking call, and while Baynes was outside the restricted area, the referees decided he was moving. The call stood.

The Suns got one last shot at a game-winner but Ricky Rubio missed a three and Portland got the win.

CJ McCollum had 30 to lead Portland, carrying the team while Lillard battled foul trouble for parts of the game. Kelly Oubre Jr. had 24 to lead Portland, including a clutch four-point play in the final minute that had the Suns up two. Until Lillard’s heroics.