LeBron James, Anthony Davis combine for 49 points, Lakers beat Knicks

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NEW YORK — LeBron James scored 19 of his 21 points early, cutting into Kobe Bryant’s shrinking lead over him for the No. 3 scoring spot in NBA history, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Wednesday night.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 28 points in his second game back after a five-game absence, after the Western Conference leaders were handed their worst loss of the season Monday in his return.

James’ quiet second half left him with 33,599 points, 44 back of Bryant.

That keeps James in good shape to catch the former Lakers star Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time NBA champion was born. Los Angeles has a game in between Thursday in Brooklyn.

Davis scored eight points in the final 3:45 and finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line. He played 30 minutes after going only 23 in his return from a bruised gluteus maximus on Monday in Boston, where the Lakers were routed 139-107.

Marcus Morris scored 20 points and Damyean Dotson had 17 for the Knicks, who put up a much better effort after losing by 30 two weeks ago in Los Angeles. But they just couldn’t come up with timely shots to really threaten the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

James shot 8 of 10 in 17 minutes of the first half, but the Knicks held the rest of the Lakers relatively in check and the game was tied at 48 at halftime.

The Lakers led by six after three quarters, then opened the fourth with Dwight Howard‘s dunk, a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo and a basket by Kyle Kuzma to extend it to 83-70.

New York hung around and was within six again late but the Lakers prevailed despite only two baskets, both by Davis, in the final four minutes.

NBA Power Rankings: Milwaukee on top, Jazz pass Lakers for second

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Milwaukee, on a seven-game winning streak, continues to hold on to the top slot, but the Lakers recent troubles — combined with the Jazz being on a hot streak — has Utah moving up to the second slot (with the two Los Angeles teams right on their tail).

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (39-6, Last Week No. 1). One does not hear the words “load management” and “Giannis Antetokounmpo” in the same sentence often, but that’s because the Bucks have been able to keep his minutes in check by blowing teams out. Antetokounmpo has played in 41 of the Bucks 45 games but is 48th in the NBA in total minutes played — Cedi Osman and Tomas Satoransky have played more total minutes. That’s because the Bucks are destroying teams and letting the Greek Freak have large parts of the fourth quarter off. He’s averaging just 30.6 minutes a night. The last time coach Mike Budenholzer had Antetokounmpo on the court for more than 35 minutes in a game was Nov. 27th.

 
Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (30-13, LW 3). Mike Conley returned on Saturday and has fit in well off the bench in a couple of blowout wins. That leads to the question: Should Conley become Utah’s sixth man? On paper that works because the current starting five — Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale (who just got a contract extension), Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Rudy Gobert — has been dominant, with a +22.5 net rating this season, and defensively that group gives up less than a point per possession. However, will Conley willingly accept that role? Could everything change during the playoffs? And who will close games?

 
Lakers small icon 3. Lakers (34-9, LW No. 2). It would be a mistake to overreact to one ugly loss to the Celtics, in the middle of January, during a long road trip. It happens. However, if you’re looking for a thread that ties together the Lakers’ losses to Boston and Orlando last week it is transition defense — both teams had success running on L.A. The Lakers are third best in the NBA in half court defense but middle of the pack in transition defense (stats via Cleaning the Glass). This is a regular season concern, but maybe less of a postseason concern (because the games tend to slow down). The Lakers play the Clippers next Wednesday and a win helps make their “Best in LA” case.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (31-13, LW 7). In his last six games, Kawhi Leonard has averaged 36 points per contest on 55.8% shooting overall, plus 5.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game. He’s looked like the all-world player from last postseason. Lou Williams was asked over the weekend what has changed with Leonard in recent games: “I think he just got his legs. He won a championship, I think he took a break, and basketball is a rhythm game. He’s just playing consistently now, getting his legs under him, and he’s more comfortable with the guys he’s playing with now.”

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (30-13, LW 6). Jamal Murray is going to miss some time with a sprained ankle, and don’t be surprised if we’re talking weeks according to the buzz around the league. That’s a blow to Denver, which is +9.6 per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (using Cleaning the Glass stats, which filter out garbage time). The timing of Murray’s injury is rough for Denver as it struggles to hold on to a high seed in the tight West and has 7 of its next 10 games on the road.

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (28-14, LW 5). The utter destruction of the rival Lakers on MLK day ended a three-game losing streak (and 6-of-8), and it also was the first game in a week where the normally solid Boston defense looked like itself. Defense and slow starts — even the Lakers opened on an 8-0 run before falling apart — have been issues Brad Stevens has been focused on in recent weeks. With the Celtics healthy again the inconsistent bench shooting should be less of an issue.

 
Heat small icon 7. Heat (30-13, LW 8). Jimmy Butler is a lock for the All-Star Game — he might even start, if the media/players vote him in — and he should be joined by Bam Adebayo (who the coaches will need to vote in as a reserve). With an efficient 16 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, plus strong defense, Adebayo deserves a spot on the ASG roster. Miami went 2-3 in a recent run of road games, but came home where they are 19-1 on the season for five games. Good tests coming up with the Clippers on Friday and the Celtics next Tuesday.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (29-14, LW 9). The Raptors are finally healthy — Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell are all back in the lineup — and not coincidentally the Raptors have won four in a row. After Philly on Wednesday night the Raptors have six games in a row against teams below .500, expect them to rack up wins as Masai Ujiri decides whether to be a seller at the trade deadline or to stick with the roster he has and see how much noise they can make in the postseason.

 
Sixers small icon 9. 76ers (29-16, LW 13). Winners of four in a row despite continued offensive issues — the Sixers are bottom 10 in offensive rating during that time (and over the past 10 games). After looking at the roster for half a season Elton Brand is checking out the trade market looking for shooting and playmakers, eyeing Derrick Rose for the point and wings Robert Covington and Malik Beasley. If the goal is winning the East this season and having a real shot in the Finals the Sixers may be one player away still.

 
Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (27-16, LW 12). Dallas has lost Dwight Powell for the season with a ruptured Achilles and he is going to be difficult to replace. It’s not just the 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds a game Powell gave them, but also he brought grit and a willingness to do the dirty work needed inside to allow Kristaps Porzingis to play his pick-and-pop game on the outside. Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic will get more run but it’s not the same.

 
Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (28-16, LW 10). This ranking is too low for this team, but it sadly kind of fits the trend of media overlooking the Pacers and coach Nate McMillan. Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon are both on the bubble for making the All-Star Game, but expect one of them to get a nod from the coaches for a reserve spot. Sabonis is battling a bruised knee but got his first career triple-double anyway, and in general the Pacers are getting healthy and look like a team that could make a run up the East standings (and these rankings).

 
Rockets small icon 12. Rockets (26-16, LW 4). Losers of four in a row and 5-of-6, just as Russell Westbrook is taking on a larger role and seeming more comfortable in the offense. Coincidence? The problem for the Rockets over the past six games has been the offense, just 19th in the league over that stretch, not good enough to cover up for a defense that has struggled all season. Houston takes on Denver on Wednesday night then takes off for four on the road, including a difficult Denver/Utah back-to-back.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (25-19, LW 11). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander became the youngest player in NBA history to rack up a 20-20 triple-double last week — he continues to be a great get from the Paul George trade, someone who OKC can build around. Expect the trade rumors to fly around this team in the coming weeks, but also expect the big names — Chris Paul and Steven Adams — to stay put, mostly because their contracts are so large and hard to match. Danilo Gallinari remains a name that comes up in a lot of trade discussions, he’s the guy that could be on the move. If anyone will be.

 
Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (20-23, LW 14). Over the past 10 games, the Grizzlies have the third best offense in the NBA, which is overwhelming opponents and has he Grizzlies in the playoffs if they started today. Ja Morant continues to lead the team on that end of the floor, running away with the Rookie of the Year race (no way Zion can catch him) and putting up ridiculous highlights every time he steps on the court.

 
Magic small icon 15. Magic (21-23, LW 15). Orlando got its signature win of the season so far beating the Lakers (ending L.A.’s nine-game win streak) behind a Markelle Fultz triple-double, but consistency has not been Fultz’s or this team’s strength. That’s especially troubling with backup point guard D.J. Augustin likely to miss three-to-four weeks with bone irritation in his knee, he was a stabilizing influence on this roster (and a potential trade chip that just got harder to move). Evan Fournier is still drawing a lot of trade interest from other teams, but the Magic are a playoff team right now (5 game cushion) and are not having a fire sale, it’s going to take a quality offer to get a deal done.

 
Spurs small icon 16. Spurs (19-23, LW 17). San Antonio has settled into its identity this season: A top-10 offensive team led by efficient shooting from DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, but a bottom five defense that continues to put their playoff streak in jeopardy. DeRozan has a good case to get an All-Star game invite, however the West is so stacked at the guard position that it seems a longshot he (or Aldridge) make the final cut. It will be in the hands of the coaches, who vote on the reserves.

 
Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (19-26, LW 19). This week’s trade — which sent out Kent Bazemore and brought back Trevor Ariza — was mostly about reducing Portland’s league-largest tax bill (now down to $6.2 million). Can’t blame ownership for not wanting to pay the tax for this team, which means expect another trade — Hassan Whiteside? — or two as the deadline nears to get all the way under the tax. Also, did you see Lillard’s ridiculous 61?

 
Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (17-27, LW 20). Zion Williamson finally makes his debut for the Pelicans Wednesday night, and that means a few things. One is dunks — highlight dunks nightly. But it also means a playoff push from a team that is not out of the mix (3.5 games back) and has gone 11-5 in its last 16 before Zion’s arrival. The Pelicans have stepped back from the edge of trading away their best veterans, for now, to see how well this team can perform together and if they can make a legitimate push for the postseason.

 
Suns small icon 19. Suns (18-25, LW 21). Since the calendar flipped to 2020, Deandre Ayton has averaged 19.4 points per game on 55.4% shooting, plus pulling down 12.4 rebounds a game — those are All-Star level numbers if he had played enough games (and wasn’t in the West, which is deep with good centers). Devin Booker will make his first All-Star appearance this season because the coaches will vote him in as a reserve (unlike the fan vote, Alex Caruso is not getting a spot). Phoenix has won 4-of-6 and remains within striking distance of the playoffs.

 
Nets small icon 20. Nets (18-24, LW 16). Kyrie Irving returned right as Brooklyn hit a tough part of the schedule, so it’s not on him the team has dropped four in a row. It was on him that Irving gave an ill-timed “state of the franchise” statement that led to days of news cycle, with each story talking about his 6-of-21 shooting against Philly. The good news for the Nets is that after the Lakers on Thursday the schedule softens up for a couple of weeks.

 
Bulls small icon 21. Bulls (16-29, LW 23). Zach LaVine is a player on the bubble for making the All-Star team in the East, but the game being in Chicago this season may give him a boost with coaches. I thought Lauri Markkanen would evolve into an All-Star level player but he’s been pretty average this season, averaging 14.9 points per game but not excelling in any one area. Markkanen has spent most of his season at the four, but is seeing more time at center with Wendell Carter Jr. out injured.

Pistons small icon 22. Pistons (16-28, LW 25). Andre Drummond is available via trade, but the market for him — especially at $27.1 million this season, has been limited. That should inform Drummond about what awaits him if he opts out of the last season of his contract ($28.8 million) and tests the free agent waters, but it sounds like he is headed to playing the field this July.

 
Kings small icon 23. Kings (15-28, LW 18). De’Aaron Fox is back healthy and the Kings are playing fast again. After being the slowest paced team in the league through November and December, the Kings are top 10 in pace in their last 10 games. Fox is averaging 22.7 points and 8.3 assists per game in January, but the Kings have lost six in a row and need to turn things around to end the longest playoff draught in the NBA.

 
24. Timberwolves (15-28, LW 22). The “Andrew Wiggins has figured it out” narrative got flowing in November when he averaged 27.1 points per game on a 56.6 true shooting percentage, plus he made some clutch plays. But in December that TS% fell to 51.7 (the league average is around 56), and in January Wiggins is scoring 15.4 points per game with a 48 TS%. Wiggins is back to being what he has always been, a nice rotational player who has night that remind you of that potential, but mostly is an average starter. Just one on a max contract owed $93.9 million over the three seasons after this one (fully guaranteed).

 
Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (14-28, LW 24). Bradley Beal may well be frustrated, but he took the big checks and now he is going to be with the Wizards for a while, the only place he is going is to Chicago for the All-Star Game (as a reserve). There’s no real trade buzz there. However, there is a lot of trade buzz around Davis Bertans, numerous teams are interested in the big shooting 43.3% from three, and that leaves the Pelicans with a choice: He’d fit great next to John Wall and Beal next season and the Wizards have talked about re-signing him, but Bertans is a free agent. If Washington isn’t sure they can re-sign him, they will have to consider those deadline trade offers.

 
Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (12-32, LW 26). RJ Barrett is out for a week with a sprained ankle, reducing the reasons to watch this team play — unless you’re scouting Marcus Morris for a trade. Which a lot of teams are doing. Morris is a hot name because a lot of teams could use his combination of shooting and defense inside. But can the Knicks get a protected first or enough else in return to get a trade worth it?

 
Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (10-34, LW 29). It’s just been two games, but so far the “Jeff Teague is here to help the second unit wile Trae Young sits” experiment has had mixed results. Teague has come off the bench and for two games and shot 7-of-12 for 17 points, but is still -19 in those games (because one man cannot save that bench unit). The Hawks lost both games. Atlanta did pick up a quality win in San Antonio Friday night on a Kevin Huerter game winner.

 
Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (12-32, LW 27). Bright spots are hard to find for a team with this record in a five-game losing streak (and 10-of-12), but here is one: In January Collin Sexton is shooting 46.3% from three on nearly five attempts per game. If the second-year guard can start to hit that consistently — and continues his overall improved play this month — he becomes much more valuable to Cleveland.

 
Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (10-35 LW 30). Stephen Curry is targeting March 1 for a return to the court, although at this point expect him to be on a minutes limit and for him still to get plenty of nights off this season. The Warriors are thinking about next season, not this one. They snapped their 10-game losing streak thanks to catching Orlando on the last night of a West Coast road swing, but the win still counts. Then MLK day it took a ridiculous 61 from Damian Lillard to hold the Warriors off.

 
Hornets small icon 30. Hornets (15-30, LW 28). Charlotte was booked to play in an NBA game in Paris (this Friday, against Milwaukee) because Tony Parker was on this roster last season. Except, then Parker retired. Still, Charlotte gets a nice mid-season trip. My word of advice: If the Hornets are going to the Louvre, “Winged Victory” and “Liberty Leading the People” are more inspiring than the “Mona Lisa” and “Venus de Milo.”

Kobe Bryant: There are women who could play in NBA right now

Kobe Bryant
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
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Kobe Bryant admitted to having sex with a woman who, per Bryant’s own later statement, didn’t view the encounter as consensual.

Ever since, Bryant has tried to repair his image.

Part of that is visibly championing women’s basketball. In attendance and commercials, Bryant has lent his considerable star power to both the WNBA and women’s college basketball.

He was asked: Could a woman ever play in the NBA?

Bryant, via Calum Trenaman of CNN:

“I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now honestly.

“There’s a lot of players with a lot of skill that could do it.”

“Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Elena Della Donne. There’s a lot of great players out there so they could certainly keep up with them,” he said.

This is inaccurate, and I bet Bryant knows it’s inaccurate. No WNBA player has the size and athleticism to compete in the NBA.

Bryant’s attempt at flattery is actually disrespectful to Taurasi, Moore and Della Donne. They are great players. Instead of leaving it at that, the conversation shifts to a comparison to the NBA, where those three just can’t hold up.

But Bryant gets to show how woke he is by saying women can do anything.

Magic Johnson memorializes David Stern: 1992 All-Star Game ‘saved my life’

Magic Johnson at 1992 NBA All-Star game, selected by David Stern
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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NEW YORK — David Stern was remembered Tuesday as a mentor and a leader, a Little League parent and a loyal friend.

To Magic Johnson, he was an angel.

Johnson tearfully recalled Stern’s firm support after the Hall of Fame player learned he had HIV, and how it was the former NBA commissioner allowing him to play in the 1992 All-Star Game despite some players’ fears that kept his spirits up during the darkest time of his life.

“That game saved my life,” Johnson said.

Johnson was one of the speakers at a memorial service for Stern, who died Jan. 1 at age 77 after suffering a brain hemorrhage a few weeks earlier.

Radio City Music Hall was filled with what Commissioner Adam Silver called one of the greatest collections of basketball talent in one location, from mighty big men Bill Russell and Yao Ming to dazzling distributors such as Johnson and Isiah Thomas.

They listened to stories hailing Stern not only for his brilliance as a businessman, but for his commitment to social responsibility and his love of his family. Speakers, ranging from colleagues in the league to friends from before he arrived there, talked of how Stern would help people arrange doctor’s appointments and score All-Star tickets, and how he loved to offer his assistance – especially, Silver noted, when it hadn’t been asked.

Stern spent 30 years as commissioner, the league’s longest-serving leader, and Silver noted that few people in the room would have had the opportunities they did in life without Stern, whose longtime office at NBA headquarters was just a block away.

“He belongs on this big stage,” Silver said. “He changed the world.”

The 2+-hour ceremony began with Silver and ended with remarks by Stern’s two sons. Eric Stern revealed his father’s love of crude jokes, while older brother Andrew recalled how Stern refused to part with his wood-paneled station wagon, even long after he could afford BMWs.

They both noted Stern’s desire to be at their events, even if long hours at the office meant he had to miss the beginning.

Of course, not everybody saw that side of Stern. Few escaped a foul-mouthed tirade if they didn’t meet Stern’s high expectations, and Pat Riley got tongue lashings and fines for criticizing referees, saying Stern would constantly tell him he needed to be better.

Making things better was a mission of Stern’s. The more the NBA grew and the further its reach expanded, the more that Stern insisted it increase its commitment to help others. Pictures and videos shown before the speakers seemingly depicted as much footage of NBA Cares events as of basketball events, with Stern helping to build houses or read with children in libraries.

“Shame on us, he would say, if we don’t do all we can with the platform we have,” said Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programs.

Stern began at the NBA at a time when the league was fighting for attention, plagued by drug problems in the 1970s and struggling to gain the interest of mainstream America when nearly three-quarters of the players were black.

But Stern drove employees at the league and on its teams to work through that, to turn the league into what he thought it could become.

“No one had a better crystal ball than David Stern,” said Val Ackerman, the commissioner of the Big East who previously was an assistant to Stern at the NBA.

Ackerman choked up when discussing Stern’s dedication to women’s sports, how he was at the first WNBA game in New York in 1997 and remained a champion of the league even when there were early detractors.

“For all the advances in women’s team sports since that auspicious night, I hope historians will write that it was women’s basketball and the WNBA that did it first and blazed a trail,” Ackerman said. “I hope they’ll write that David, while always quick to deflect credit, was the most important figure in the women’s sports movement since Billie Jean King.”

Then, with King in attendance, Ackerman wrapped up her remarks by reading from a email Stern had sent her touting the WNBA’s accomplishments.

“As usual, I’m unable to say it better,” she said. “We broads truly owe him.”

So does Johnson, who said Stern would constantly check up on him to make sure he was healthy, and ask Johnson’s wife if he was eating right.

“I’m going to miss my friend. I’m going to miss my angel,” Johnson said, “and now who’s going to be there at the All-Star Game to make sure I’m OK?”

LeBron James says watching son play broke gameday routine

LeBron James
AP Photo/Gregory Payan
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Has LeBron James prioritized playing with his son over winning?

That question has swirled around the league, especially with LeBron signing with the Lakers – a move his friend Dwyane Wade described as a lifestyle decision. Even LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, didn’t emphasize winning when comparing LeBron’s move to Los Angeles with him going to the Heat and back to the Cavaliers.

Yesterday, LeBron watched Bronny play in Springfield, Mass., then drove to Boston to play the Celtics. The Lakers lost by 32, and LeBron acknowledged the 180-mile roundtrip disrupted his game-day routine.

LeBron, via ESPN:

I’ll break every routine in my life for my family. Listen, if the guys is with me, they’re going to make sure I get back safe. But my routine was broke today. But I can care less about it if I’m seeing my family, my wife and my daughter and my kids. So, it’s a unique opportunity to see my son live play that close to where I’m at. So, I can care less about this. This right here is all secondary when it comes to my family. So, nothing else matters.

Does LeBron still want to win? Of course.

But it’s also impossible to summon the same hunger he had when chasing his first championship and then trying to win for Cleveland and cement his legacy. Priorities change. At age 35, LeBron has a different perspective on work-life balance than he did when he was younger.

LeBron will undoubtedly face criticism for saying this. It’s easy to tell someone else – especially someone on a team people cheer for – to put his job ahead of his family. It’s much harder to put your own job in front of your own family.

This is why it was absurd for LeBron to question his Lakers teammates last year on whether basketball was the biggest thing in their life. It’s not the biggest thing in his life!

Listen to former NBA champions reminisce about a title run. They often crow about how devoted they were to the team, putting all other distractions – even family – aside. It’s admirable until you consider how disturbing it is.

There will always be players hungrier than others for a championship. That’s their advantage in basketball (at least until they burn out), though not necessarily life.

It doesn’t sound like that’s LeBron right now.

Will he shift more attention toward the Lakers in the playoffs? Probably. It’s easier not to give full focus for a regular-season game, especially with the Lakers four games up in the Western Conference.

But LeBron’s family isn’t disappearing come April, May and June. He’s going to care about his wife and children rather than be totally consumed with his job. And he’s not going to apologize for that.