After a busy 10-game slate on Saturday, there were only five games on the docket for Sunday. And there was a clear star, as LeBron James rebounded from a comparatively rough outing Saturday to light up his former employer in Miami.
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At this stage in his illustrious career, LeBron James is in a position where he's simply adding more accomplishments to a resume fit for one of the best players in the history of the sport. Sunday night in the Lakers' 113-97 win over Miami, he became just the fifth player in NBA history to have posted 50-point (or more) games for three different franchises.
James finished the night in style, with a three-pointer from about 30 feet out in the game's final minute giving him 51 points on 19-for-31 shooting from the field. He shot 7-for-10 from the foul line and 6-for-8 from three (season-high for makes), and James also accounted for eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 38 minutes of play.
James, who's scored 44 points or more in two of his last three games, joins Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Bernard King and Jamal Crawford as players who have 50-point games for three different franchises. And the 51-point effort is also James' highest point total agains the Heat in his career.
Yet while the point total is impressive, what's just as notable about James' performance is his improved perimeter shooting. He's now made at least three three-pointers in six consecutive games, a stretch in which he's gone 23-for-44 (52.3 percent) from beyond the arc with an average of 7.3 attempts per game. In the Lakers' first ten games of the season, James shot just 28.8 percent from three on just over five attempts per game.
While there were other positives from the bounce-back victory for the Lakers to build upon, including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scoring 19 points off the bench, this was clearly LeBron James' night. Already a highly valuable fantasy player, James' recent run of three-point shooting has made him a player of even greater value in recent games (if that's even possible).
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Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green made his return to the court after missing nearly a month of action due to a broken jaw in Sunday's 100-87 win over Minnesota. Green played 21 minutes, not reaching the 24-27 minute range head coach J.B. Bickerstaff set for him before the game, and contributed eight points and eight rebounds off the bench. Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr., who posted a line of 27/6/4 steals/2 blocks in Friday's win over Sacramento, remained in the starting lineup and finished Sunday's game with 13 points, three blocks, two rebounds and one assist.
Marc Gasol was the standout for Memphis in that one, accounting for 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals. Gasol was 4-for-7 from three on the day, and over the last three games he's 12-for-25 (48.0 percent). A career 35-percent shooter from three (34.1 percent last season), Gasol's made 44.1 percent of his attempts through Memphis' first 15 games. The big man's comfort with taking a shot that wasn't part of his game prior to the 2016-17 season is just one of the reasons why Memphis is off to a 10-5 start.
Andrew Wiggins struggling with efficiency
While Minnesota wing Andrew Wiggins did manage to score 23 points in consecutive games ahead of Sunday's loss to Memphis, he wasn't shooting all too well from the field. After shooting a combined 17-for-43 from the field in wins over New Orleans and Portland, Wiggins was just 6-for-18 against Memphis and finished the game with 14 points, four assists, two rebounds and four turnovers.
With Jimmy Butler gone Wiggins will clearly have even more opportunities to make plays within the Minnesota offense, and the Timberwolves will need him to be a more efficient playmaker as the team looks to make a return trip to the postseason. Karl-Anthony Towns finished Sunday's game with 15 points, 20 rebounds, two assists, one blocked shot and four turnovers in 38 minutes.
Magic front court has a field day against New York
The Orlando Magic front court also had a big day Sunday, with Aaron Gordon making his first seven shots on his way to a 31-point night and Nikola Vucevic falling one assist short of a triple-double in a 131-117 win over New York. Gordon shot 13-for-17 from the field, but with just two assists, one rebound and one blocked shot the full stat line wasn't as impressive as Vucevic's.
Vucevic, who dropped 36 points and 13 rebounds on the Lakers Saturday night, followed that up with 28 points (10-for-15 FG), ten rebounds, nine assists, two blocks and two three-pointers. Averaging 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game on the season, Vucevic has scored 21 or more in five of his last six games and also has five double-doubles during this current run.
While the Knicks are a really good matchup for Orlando, which scored 115 points at MSG on November 11, Vucevic's performance wasn't just about New York not being able to guard him. Playing well all season long, Vucevic has turned it up a notch the last couple of weeks. Jonathan Isaac also produced a solid performance, shooting 6-for-9 from the field and finishing with 16 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 24 minutes off the bench. Shooting guard Evan Fournier also had a good night, posting a stat line of 19-4-6 on 7-for-10 shooting from the field in 30 minutes.
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Trey Burke scores 31 off the bench
The Knicks have gotten off to slow starts in both meetings with Orlando, but David Fizdale's team was able to climb back into Sunday's matchup before ultimately falling. The offense of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke had a lot to do with that, as they combined to score 63 points with the former tallying 32. As for Burke, who racked up 31 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals off the bench, he's scored 57 points in the last two games.
With that coming on the heels of a four-game stretch in which he received three DNP-CD lines, Burke may have ensured himself of more playing time in David Fizdale's ever-changing rotation. One player who should be a bit concerned about his playing time is Mario Hezonja, who did not see any action for the second consecutive game.
Damian Lillard scores 40 in Blazers road win
Portland's backcourt was clearly to superior to Washington's in the Trail Blazers' 119-109 win, with Damian Lillard leading the way with 40 points. Lillard shot just 12-for-29 from the field, 3-for-10 from three, but he was also 13-for-15 from the foul line and added six rebounds, five assists and one steal.
C.J. McCollum chipped in with 25 points, seven rebounds and three three-pointers in 39 minutes of play. By comparison Washington's starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal combined to score 36 points, with the former responsible for 24 to go along with three assists and three blocks.
Dwight Howard plays just seven minutes
Also noteworthy for Washington in the loss was the departure of Dwight Howard, who played just seven minutes due to gluteal soreness. That's the same issue that kept the center out of the lineup for the preseason and Washington's first six regular season games. Ian Mahinmi did not play at all Sunday, with Jason Smith playing ten minutes and Thomas Bryant five. Washington also has the option of going smaller should Howard be sidelined for an extended period of time, with Markieff Morris seeing minutes at center in such a setup.
Jusuf Nurkic posts fourth straight double-double
While Lillard and McCollum are the leaders for Portland, the efforts of center Jusuf Nurkic should not be ignored. Sunday night the 7-footer was excellent, tallying 13 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and one blocked shot in 31 minutes of action. Nurkic extended his double-double streak to four straight games, and has nine on the season (in 16 games). By comparison, he didn't get his ninth double-double of the 2017-18 season until his 36th appearance. Nurkic finished the season with 27 double-doubles, and he's on track to surpass that number in 2018-19.
LaMarcus Aldridge snaps out of slump
In the two games prior to Sunday's matchup with Golden State, Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored a total of 16 points on 6-for-27 shooting from the field. Aldridge turned things around against the reigning champions, scoring 24 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in San Antonio's 104-92 win. Aldridge played 40 minutes, shooting 10-for-16 from the field, and he also dished out three assists and blocked two shots.
DeMar DeRozan added 20 points and nine rebounds, and Rudy Gay was also a factor in his first start since November 3 against New Orleans. In 30 minutes Gay contributed 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting, five rebounds, three blocked shots and three three-pointers. He's now scored 19 points, his high for the season, in consecutive games.
Warriors stars struggle shooting the basketball
It goes without saying that the injuries suffered by Stephen Curry (groin) and Draymond Green (toe) have impacted Golden State's offense. And in Sunday's loss to San Antonio the team's two remaining headliners, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, struggled to get going. The duo combined to score 51 points, but they did so on 51 shots with Durant shooting 8-for-25 and Thompson 11-for-26.
Following the game Steve Kerr noted that the team's ball movement needs to be better if the shooting is to improve in Curry's absence, as there have been too many challenged jump shots of late. One player who had a good night in San Antonio was Quinn Cook, who posted a stat line of 16-8-2-1 steal in 29 minutes off the bench.