Mario Hezonja

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Lakers-Bucks

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LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the NBA’s most popular players. They led the league in All-Star fan voting the last two years. Antetokounmpo is favored to win MVP this season, and LeBron is generally recognized as the best player in the world.

So, tonight’s Lakers-Bucks game is losing a lot of luster.

Lakers:

Bucks:

This is what happens when you get a game-winner blocked by Mario Hezonja. You must take a seat for at least one game.

The Lakers are apparently going through with a plan to rest LeBron James in one game of back-to-backs. This isn’t that. The Lakers were off yesterday then have tomorrow and Thursday off.

LeBron missed 18 games earlier this season with a groin injury. That’s the type of injury he could play through – while at risk of aggravating it. Maybe he came back before fully recovered in order to make a playoff push.

LeBron’s activated playoff mode went nowhere. The Lakers are almost certain to miss the postseason. At this point, it makes sense to be cautious with the 34-year-old LeBron.

The Bucks should also be cautious with their superstar – but for the opposite reason. Milwaukee is 2.5 games up on everyone else in the league.

Antetokounmpo injured his ankle against the 76ers on Sunday. He stayed in that game, scoring 52 points in a loss. Hopefully, this is minor. The Bucks also play the Cavaliers tomorrow, so maybe Antetokounmpo will play the other half of the back-to-back.

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like MVP, 76ers look like playoff threat

Associated Press
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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) Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like MVP, 76ers get the win and look like playoff force. Here’s the one big takeaway from Philadelphia going into Milwaukee and getting a 130-125 victory:

Good lord the East playoffs are going to be fun.

Sunday, against a long and athletic defensive team that put Joel Embiid on him for much of the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo looked like an MVP (especially late). He was too overpowering and too athletic to stop on his way to 52 points and shooting 12-of-18 in the paint (and 3-of-8 from three). The Greek Freak looked every bit the MVP (but after the game did praise Embiid’s defense).

That wasn’t enough to get the win. In part because Bucks who don’t have 13 letters in their last name didn’t step up in the ways needed and shot just 31 percent from three (how much the Bucks will miss Malcolm Brogdon was evident in this game). In part because the Sixers powerful starting five could hang with the Antetokounmpo-led Bucks starters despite the 52 because they moved the ball, sacrificed, and played a team game.

Also in part because Joel Embiid impressed with 40 points and 15 boards himself.

But mostly it was how Brett Brown found rotations where a couple starters with some bench players could work. The fivesome of Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, Mike Scott, T.J. McConnell, and Boban Marjanovic were +12 in just under 11 minutes. Finding bench lineups and rotations that work will be critical for Philly over the remaining dozen games, but if it comes together like it did Sunday the Sixers could be making a deep playoff run. Like into June.

2) We live in a universe where Mario Hezonja blocks a LeBron James game-winning attempt. It was set up to be another moment where a non-Knicks superstar steps up in the clutch and puts on a show in Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks were up by one with 22.3 seconds left, the Lakers inbounded the ball to LeBron James, who already had 33 points on the night. The King isolated on Mario Hezonja, drove the lane and… denied.

Hezonja’s defense for the win. (There’s a sentence I never expected to type.)

The Knicks — the worst team in the NBA this season (by record) — finished the game on a 13-1 run to beat the Lakers. What does that say about Los Angeles at this point of the season?

3) Lou Williams just gets buckets, hits game-winner for Clippers over Nets. In the battle of two League Pass favorites, two of the league’s most scrappy teams in the Nets and Clippers, Lou Williams stepped up and made the “this is why I’m Sixth Man of the Year” play.

Tied 116-116 with 5.3 seconds left, Doc Rivers kept it simple: inbound to Danilo Gallinari, have him pass then set a screen for Williams. It didn’t create much space, but it created enough.

The Clippers and Nets most likely will not make it out of the first round of the playoffs in their respective conferences, but whoever gets these teams is going to have a first-round battle on their hands. These teams will make it tough.

BONUS THING TO KNOW:C.J. McCollum out with strained muscle but it could have been much worse. If the Trail Blazers do not have C.J. McCollum for the playoffs their stay in the postseason is guaranteed to be short.

After what looked to be a scary injury, McCollum just has a strained the popliteus, a muscle in the back of his left knee. “Just” may be the wrong word as back in 2009 Kevin Garnett missed 13 games and basically the playoffs because of this injury — Portland has 13 games left in the season.

McCollum will miss most if not all of the remaining regular season games and Portland could slide down the standings in the tight West because of it. But he may be back for the playoffs, and with him Portland will have a chance. His recovery will be something to watch.

LeBron James gets blocked on game-winning shot attempt vs. Knicks (VIDEO)

AP
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LeBron James is not having a great first year with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s now on a minutes restriction, and the team has been mired in controversy surrounding potential trades for Anthony Davis on the way to missing the playoffs.

It’s called James’ public persona into question for many, and Sunday night’s failure at Madison Square Garden felt like the perfect encapsulation of what it’s been like for LeBron.

The play of the game came with just 2.3 seconds left. New York Knicks guard Emmanuel Mudiay had previously sunk two free throws to give his squad the lead, 124-123.

On the ensuring possession, James had the ball on the left mid-post with New York’s Mario Hezonja  guarding him. James went up for the shot, which Hezonja promptly blocked.

Via Twitter:

Space Jam 2 can’t get here fast enough for ol’ LeBron.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on Mario Hezonja stepover: ‘I’m going to punch him in the nuts next time’

Associated Press
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Mario Hezonja had the most talked about play in the NBA Saturday. The Knick got a steal on a tip back, raced out in transition, then threw down the dunk just before Giannis Antetokounmpo could pull off a chase-down block.

Then Hezonja stared down and stepped over the Greek Freak.

Antetokounmpo was ticked off after the game.

Okay then.

By the way, here was Hezonja’s comment on the dunk (not Antetokiunmpo’s reaction to it):

Antetokounmpo was making plays during the game — he had 33 points and 19 boards. It just wasn’t enough, the Knicks came back from 16 down and pulled off the upset at the Garden 136-134 in overtime.

These teams meet again on Christmas Day, again at Madison Square Garden. Just a suggestion, put Antetokounmpo on your daily fantasy team that day. He’s going to be a man on a mission.

Mario Hezonja dunks, then stares down, steps over Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Mario Hezonja has embraced the New York attitude.

The first-year Knick, who has struggled to find a role this season, had his moment in the first quarter on Saturday against the Bucks. He got a steal on a tip back, raced out in transition, then got up and threw down the dunk just before Giannis Antetokounmpo could pull off a chase-down block.

Then Hezonja stared down and stepped over the Greek Freak.

Bold.

The Garden fans loved it.

But you might not want to make Giannis angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.