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Three Things to Know: LeBron James, Zion Williamson put on show in New Orleans

Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - MARCH 01: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans as LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers embrace before their game at the Smoothie King Center on March 01, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) LeBron James, Zion Williamson put on a show in New Orleans. LeBron James, at age 35, remains one of the NBA’s elite players. He’s a serious MVP candidate. Don’t take my word for it, here is what New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said postgame Sunday (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

“I’m just amazed that they talk about anybody other than him for MVP. That’s what he does. Every team that he’s been to, every team that he’s gone have a chance to win the championship. To me, I’m not sure what the definition of MVP is, but he makes everyone on his team better, makes it difficult for everybody playing him.”

LeBron had a triple-double on Sunday — 34 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds — and his Lakers needed every bit of it to beat the Pelicans because Zion Williamson was having a day — 35 points and another dominating performance.

“You have to actually be out on the floor to actually feel the strength and the speed that he plays at,” James said.

LeBron’s Lakers’ weekend split of games may decide who they face in the first round of the playoffs (we’re all assuming the Lakers, with their 5.5 game cushion, will hold on to the top seed in the West).

Saturday the Lakers were upset by Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies in one of those “just flush this game and move on” nights from Los Angeles. Those same Lakers — without an injured Anthony Davis — turned around 24 hours later and were ready to play, beating the Pelicans.

That leaves New Orleans three games back of Memphis for the final playoff slot in the West (Sacramento and San Antonio are also three games back). While that’s a healthy gap with 22 games to play, the Grizzlies have the fourth toughest schedule remaining in the NBA, and the Pelicans have the easiest. (San Antonio and Portland also have soft schedules remaining). Memphis is going to have to find some wins and pull off a few upsets to hold on to that final playoff spot, and beating the Lakers was a good first step.

2) Kristaps Porzingis is looking better and better, drops 38 in Dallas win. As sports fans — and, frankly, as a species — sometimes we know things on an intellectual level but it doesn’t change our gut reaction to it.

Case in point: Kristaps Porzingis.

If I had said before the season, “expect a slow start from KP as he has missed 19 months of basketball following a torn ACL” fans everywhere would have nodded their heads in agreement. It’s obvious. We get it, on an intellectual level.

Yet we all watched Porzingis the first few months of the season and the gut reaction was “he’s not quite the same.” Or “is he really a No. 2 on a team with Luka Doncic or a No. 3?” Or “no wonder the Knicks were ready to move on?” (That last one was mostly a few Knicks homers.)

Watch him play Sunday in a win over the Timberwolves (without Doncic) and the perception is completely different — he looks like a guy who has found his way back, dropping 38 points, shooting 6-of-14 from three, and leading his team to a win over the Timberwolves.

Back in November, Porzingis averaged 15.8 points per game on 38.7 percent shooting overall and he made 2.1 threes a game. In February that was 25.2 points per game on 48.3 percent shooting and 3.7 made threes a game (on 39.8 percent shooting from deep). Porzingis has got his groove back.

Dallas is going to be a tough out for some team that lands them in the first round.

3) Shake Milton puts on a show and scores 39, but Clippers are 4-0 since they got healthy. Sunday, the 76ers played with the kind of fight and shooting they usually reserve for home games.

That was led by Shake Milton — he shot 14-of-20 overall and 7-of-9 from three on his way to 39 points. Coming out of the All-Star break, Brett Brown told Milton he wouldn’t be in the rotation, but gave him the standard coach-speak “but be ready, you never know” talk. Then the “you never know” happened — Ben Simmons went down with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Opportunity knocked, and Milton has answered the door.

“It definitely feels cool, it’s a cool thing to say…” Milton said of scoring 39 and breaking out in Los Angeles. “But we didn’t win so you can’t take too much away from it.”

Philadelphia played with real heart — but without Simmons or the injured Joel Embiid — and Clippers’ talent overwhelmed them in a 136-130 Los Angeles win. It was the Clippers’ fourth win in a row, all since they got healthy and had their full rotation. Kawhi Leonard had 30 points for the game on 10-of-20 shooting, while Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell each had 24. The Clippers’ defense was not as sharp as it has been in recent games, but they were able to dial it up enough during a third-quarter stretch to take the lead, then hold on the rest of the way.

“It’s great [to have everyone healthy],” Rivers said. “We needed everyone tonight. [The 76ers] played great, you have to give them credit.”

With the win, the Clippers and Nuggets remain tied for the two seed in the West with 22 games to play.

Philadelphia sits as the fifth seed in the East, tied in the loss column with Indiana for the six seed. The Sixers are 1.5 games back of the Heat for the fourth seed and home court in the first round.

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