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Three Things to Know: Activated? Laker bench veterans are disaster in ugly loss to Grizzlies

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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) Activated? Disconnect more like it. Laker bench veterans disaster in an ugly loss to Grizzlies. How much trouble are the Lakers playoff hopes in? Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Clippers and Spurs to finish with 44 wins and get the final two playoff seeds in the West. For the Lakers to get to 45 wins and be in they need to go 16-6 the rest of the way.

LeBron James said he activated playoff mode early — and Monday night he had a triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists (which moved him into fifth, past Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time triple-double list) — but the Laker bench was a disaster in a 110-105 loss to a Memphis team that traded away Marc Gasol, is without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson due to injury, and is trying to lose games so they keep their pick in the draft. Yet those Grizzlies played with more poise, cohesion, and passion.

LeBron keeps blaming guys not focused on the game — is basketball the most important thing in your life? After this loss it was, “If you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, this is the wrong franchise to be a part of.”

It feels like that is a shot at the young Lakers.

It shouldn’t be. It’s the veterans — the guys Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed last summer who have been the problem. It was that way Monday night — the Laker bench of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, the traded for Mike Muscala, and Josh Hart went 3-of-14 shooting for 7 total points in 70 minutes of game action. It’s not just this one game, either.

Rather than put shooters around LeBron, Magic said the Lakers wanted to go their own way, bring in the veteran playmakers, but only the ones they could get on one-year deals. This is the result. The Lakers get pushed around inside, they lack a game-managing point guard (Rondo isn’t that guy anymore, and it is not Lonzo Ball’s strength, plus Ball is out with a bone bruise in his ankle anyway) and they have stopped caring on defense. And if LeBron wants to complain about defensive effort, well…

Brandon Ingram had 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting against Memphis and was aggressive again — he had another strong game. Although, Avery Bradley broke Ingram’s ankles at one point.

Kyle Kuzma had 22 points in his one. He continues to play consistently well.

Which is to say the guys at the heart of all those Anthony Davis trade talks were just fine, maybe the trade talks did not destroy the psyche of this team. It’s the veterans that are the issue.

Going 16-6 seems like a longshot at best after this loss. The way the Lakers are defending right now, they might as well start ending their team huddles with “1-2-3 Cancun.”

2) James Harden’s 30+ points per game streak comes to an end in Rockets win over Hawks. It had to end eventually. And when James Harden’s streak of 30+ point games did end it was not going to be because some team just locked him down, it was going to be a game where he didn’t need to take over to get the win.

That’s what happened in Atlanta.

Harden wasn’t sharp — 7-of-21 shooting to get to 28 points — but this was a night he could be off and the Rockets still got the 119-111 victory.

Harden had 28 as time ran down, but rather than go for 30 he dribbled it out — while the Hawks threw a quadruple-team at him just in case.

Harden’s streak reached 32 games, second longest 30+ points streak ever behind Wilt Chamberlain’s ridiculous 65 games. Harden admitted he didn’t expect to reach that number. So he settles for the second-longest streak ever, and in doing so got his team back in the playoff picture and himself back in the MVP race.

For the Hawks, Trae Young knocked down eight three-pointers and scored 36 on the night.

3) Classy move by Doc Rivers in tribute to Dirk Nowitzki. And by the way, the Clippers look like a playoff team. With 9.4 seconds remaining in a decided game (the Clippers won 121-112), Doc Rivers called a timeout. He then walked over to the scorer’s table, picked up a microphone, and got the crowd at Staples Center to give Dirk Nowitzki one last standing ovation.

Classy move by Rivers.

This was a big win for Los Angeles, which is now in sole possession of seventh place in the West. On a night where the Lakers/Kings/Spurs all lost the idea of the Clippers in the postseason seems more secure, much to the delight of owner Steve Ballmer. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Clippers with a 75 percent chance of making the postseason.

Which is incredible for a team that two trade deadlines in a row has sent away its best player (Blake Griffin last year, Tobias Harris this year). The Clippers were shrewd with those moves, staying competitive while setting themselves up to be bigtime players in free agency.

This season the Clippers have leaned on Lou Williams to score, watched Montrezl Harrell develop into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in his own right, and had solid seasons from veterans such as Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari (who has stayed healthy this year), plus the move of trading up in the draft to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems. The Clippers rebuilt on the fly — all while freeing up cap space to chase two max free agents next summer.

The Clippers have been a model “how to rebuild on the fly” example, and this summer may land Kawhi Leonard or another free agent, they are in the mix for the big names. Do that, and this will be one of the great rebuilds of all time in the league.

Charlotte reportedly in “strong talks” to trade for Marc Gasol from Memphis

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Michael Jordan entered this season with two main goals for his Charlotte Hornets: 1) Make the playoffs; 2) Re-sign Kemba Walker in the offseason.

Charlotte, at 26-26, is currently the seven seed in the East, three games up on ninth-seeded Detroit. The Hornets look like a playoff team, but Jordan wants to both secure that and make the kind of move that tells Walker they are serious. Rumors of their interest in Memphis’ center Marc Gasol have bounced around the league since the Grizzlies said he was available.

Now, those appear to be more than rumors, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Adding to the “this feels real” sense about this trade.

Gasol would be an upgrade at center for Charlotte, who desperately missed Cody Zeller at the five when he was out injured. Gasol would improve the Hornets on both ends.

The question is who goes back to Memphis? Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, ($13 million this season and a player option for the same next season) has been rumored to be in it, and the Grizzlies might want promising young center Willy Hernangomez. After that maybe Malik Monk? Jeremy Lamb? The Grizzlies will listen to just about anything that doesn’t include Jaren Jackson Jr.

This has the feel of a trade that gets done.

Whether that is enough to keep Kemba in Charlotte next July is a question for another day.

Three Things to Know: On arctic cold night, Karl-Anthony Towns was hot when it mattered

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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) On an arctic cold night, Karl-Anthony Towns was hot when it mattered and hits game-winner for Timberwolves. It was a frigid 24-hours in Minnesota, where the polar vortex slowed down or stopped everything. Nobody was moving fast.

That includes the Timberwolves and Grizzlies, even though everything was warm and relatively toasty inside the Target Center Wednesday night. In a game between two teams that thought they would have much better records than they do at this point in the season — two teams outside the playoffs looking in — nobody seemed to be moving fast or making big plays. These are two teams that couldn’t break the 100-point barrier even in overtime. It was a slog of a game.

At least until Karl-Anthony Towns sank the game-winner in overtime, pulling down an offensive rebound over Marc Gasol off an errant Andrew Wiggins jumper, then draining the baseline fadeaway to send everyone in Minnesota out into the cold happy.

It wasn’t a good game from Towns, he was 7-of-17 shooting and once again got two quick fouls and had to sit for long stretches. But he made the play when it matters, and that should count for something even if it wasn’t his best work.

Heading into the Feb. 7 trade deadline we know where the Grizzlies stand — Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and anyone else not named Jaren Jackson Jr. is available via trade. Minnesota is probably trying to convince itself it is just three games back of the Clippers for the eight seed and can make a playoff push, but the smart move might be to see if a team looking for depth (hello Philadelphia) would have interest in Anthony Tolliver, Jarryd Bayless, or Jeff Teague in exchange for picks/young players.

Of course, with the Timberwolves looking at an organizational shake-up — who will be coach and GM next season? — bold moves may not be on the table in the short term.

2) Portland is a force at home, blow out red-hot Jazz. Utah had won 9-of-10 and came into the Moda Center (it will always be the Rose Garden to me) as hot as any team in the league.

Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and the Trail Blazers ran the Jazz out of the building, 132-105.

Portland at home is a different team — 22-7, vs. 10-13 on the road — with a +8.5 net rating. It’s not one end of the floor, the Blazers’ offense is 6.6 per 100 possessions better at home, their defense improves by 5.8 per 100. Portland at home plays like an elite team (fifth best net rating at home in the NBA).

McCollum came out hot against the Jazz and had 20 in the first quarter, then Lillard came on in the second scoring 15 of his 36. Lillard was knocking down everything.

It was impressive, Lillard is an All-Star (he’s a lock to be named a reserve tonight) and Portland is a playoff team. The only concern for the Trail Blazers: Starting Sunday they have 9-of-11 on the road.

3) Awkward: Anthony Davis watches from the bench as Nuggets knock off Pelicans. Anthony Davis’ fractured finger had him in street clothes on Wednesday night, he was never going to play against the Denver Nuggets regardless.

But this was New Orleans’ first home game since Davis’ agent informed the Pelicans the soon-to-be All-Star would not re-sign with the team and wanted to be traded. That made things weird — he was scrubbed from the pre-game hype video (which features every other Pelican player). It was a move made by the franchise because it would have been awkward to have fans in the arena booing a hype video.

Davis also heard a small smattering of boos when he walked to the bench after the game started to cheer on his — for now at least — teammates. By the fourth quarter, Davis was back in the locker room.

Mostly though, Davis was ignored inside the arena. That’s likely to continue. The Pelicans have not officially decided if he should just sit out until a trade is made — which is more and more looking like it would be for the rest of the season, the Pelicans do not want to deal with the Lakers and are not feeling the pressure to get a deal done before the Feb. 7 trade deadline — but likely that is what will happen. Davis and the Pelicans don’t want to risk him getting hurt if they are going to trade him, he would just be a distraction to the team, and since they are missing the playoffs the Pelicans should make an effort to tank and get a better draft position anyway.

The Nuggets went on to beat the Pelicans 105-99. Nikola Jokic had a triple-double of 20 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in the win.

Luka Doncic, Ben Simmons, Kyle Kuzma headline All-Star Friday Rising Stars participants

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A couple of deep drafts has led to young stars in big markets — and a really impressive lineup for the All-Star Friday Night Rising Stars Challenge.

The Friday night of All-Star weekend — this year in Charlotte on Feb. 15 — is when the NBA tries to highlight the future of the league with first-and-second year players facing off in a USA vs. The World format. Which, considering the international influx of talent in the past couple of years — led by Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons — makes this matchup a little more interesting.

Here are the competitors.

Kyrie Irving will be the honorary coach for Team USA, while Dirk Nowitzki will coach The World. Nowitzki should make The World players do one of his Holger Geschwindner warmups.

There’s a lot of offensive talent on the floor for this one. Which in a game that usually sees all the defense of a pre-draft solo workout against a chair should make for an entertaining show. De'Aaron Fox throwing lobs to Jaren Jackson Jr., or Lonzo Ball finding Jayson Tatum in transition. Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton being teammates, There’s a lot to like.

Plus, it’s good to see some under-appreciated good young players — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, OG Anunoby, Josh Okogie — getting a little prime-time run.

What do you think of the uniforms for the game?

The Rising Stars Challenge will be broadcast at 9 p.m. Eastern of Feb. 15, exclusively on TNT.

It is the first event of All-Star weekend, leading up to the All-Star Game itself on Sunday, Feb. 17.

Marc Gasol doesn’t understand why Grizzlies are talking Mike Conley trade: ‘We’re going to need good players moving forward’

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The Grizzlies are exploring trading Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.

Omari Sankofa II‏ of The Athletic:

Gasol, via David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

“I don’t understand why Mike is in those talks either,” Gasol said. “Mike is one heck of a player, and we’re going to need good players moving forward. I don’t understand why Mike is in this.”

That’s a weird comment from Gasol, who might not be long for Memphis himself. It speaks to how deeply he connects with the Grizzlies.

Conley – and Gasol – are in trade talks because they’re old and expensive players on a team slipping way out of playoff contention. There might be particularly urgency to move Gasol before he can become a free agent next summer.

Gasol and Conley led Memphis in its beautifully ugly Grit & Grind era. But the Grizzlies obviously are no longer maintaining a level of satisfactory success. It might be time to stop chasing winning in the present and get a head-start on rebuilding around Jaren Jackson Jr.

Grizzlies owner Robert Pera informing Gasol and Conley of these negotiations makes me more confident than ever the players will actually get traded. Most owners wouldn’t risk alienating players who end up staying.

Perhaps, Pera is just that committed to transparency. Gasol and Conley have earned it, and I trust their professionalism amid potential transition.

If Pera is keeping that open of communication with Gasol and Conley despite true uncertainty whether they’ll be dealt, kudos to him. But that’s just usually not how it works.