Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Saturday's Essentials

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Game of the Night - L.A. Lakers at Golden State (-10.5, 236), 8:35 ET, ABC

LeBron James clearly felt he needed a warm-up game before taking another shot at the Warriors after firing off the first warning signal on Christmas night by leading his Lakers to a blowout win at Staples.

He was injured in the third quarter with L.A. ahead, pulling up lame after slipping while chasing a loose ball. The millions viewing at home could instantly see it was serious. James limped off towards the locker room and never returned, recovering over the past few weeks as his new team struggled and fumbled away their spot among the Western Conference’s top-eight.

James wasn’t expected back on Thursday, opening the day as ‘doubtful’ for their game against their Staples Center roommates. Although it was clear he was getting close and would potentially return against Golden State, James decided he felt up to playing in the afternoon, eventually playing over 40 minutes in a 123-120 overtime victory over the Clippers.

James was far more effective than I expected him to be following a five-week absence, finishing with 24 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists while doing his part down the stretch in regulation and OT to make sure his efforts in his unexpected return wouldn’t be squandered. James barely shot over 40 percent and made only 1-for-6 3-pointers, so he certainly won’t have his usual rhythm as he takes the floor at Oracle, but he was still able to take pressure off teammates while setting up easy buckets to prevent scoring slumps that so often hampered the Lakers while he’s been out.

L.A. ended up going 6-11 without James, welcoming back Rajon Rondo to help ease some of the burden after losing Lonzo Ball to an ankle injury. Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart also suffered through nagging ailments and Michael Beasley was away from the team for a spell, which certainly didn’t help the Lakers’ cause as they attempted to stay afloat with their star on the mend. They lost five of the first six without James, increasing the warmth on head coach Luke Walton’s hot seat.

Over the next few weeks, it’s expected to become clear whether Walton has the right demeanor to co-exist with James as the blinders come on and the stretch run begins with the playoffs on the line, but early-season issues involving blown leads and inconsistency on both sides of the ball were evident on Thursday night. The Clippers trimmed a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and scored 37 points to send the game into overtime.

James ended up scoring the go-head basket in the extra session and got a lot of unexpected help from Lance Stephenson, who hit a career-best 3-pointers to finish with 20 points off the bench. Kuzma returned from a hip issue that kept him from the go-to role he had begun to embrace in James’ absence but wasn’t able to gain much of a rhythm, scoring just 10 points while playing on 23 minutes. He did hit two of his three 3-point attempts but failed to grab a rebound and doesn’t appear to be 100 percent.

Kuzma is listed as ‘probable’ for this game, but Rondo rolled his ankle on the final play of the victory against the Clippers while contesting Lou Williams’ final look. The Lakers haven’t provided details, but the injury looked significant so we’ll see if it only appeared worse than it actually is. If he can’t go, Hart and Stephenson should see a hike in minutes while Brandon Ingram will take on more of a playmakers’ role alongside LeBron.

Golden State comes off only its second loss of 2019 after seeing its 11-game winning streak snapped in a 113-104 loss to visiting Philadelphia. The 76ers got huge games from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in successfully slowing down the Warriors, who struggled outside of getting 10 3-pointers from Stephen Curry, who scored 41 points. Kevin Durant added 25, but with Klay Thompson sidelined by illness, a very sound defensive Philly squad was able to effectively double off non-shooters to bog down the Golden State offense.

DeMarcus Cousins picked up four fouls and had his least effective performance since returning to action. Over 25 minutes, he finished with seven points, six boards, six assists and three steals but was often overmatched by Embiid, who is bigger, more athletic and in form.

Cousins will have to deal with JaVale McGee, Tyson Chandler and Ivica Zubac here, so we’ll get to see if he can effectively rebound from the first dose of adversity in his short tenure with the Dubs. Thompson was not at Golden State’s practice facility on Friday and is considered ‘questionable.’

Expect a clearer indication of whether he’ll play later on Saturday. If he sits, slasher Alonzo McKinnie would likely start again with Steve Kerr preferring to keep Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston in their customary roles off the bench.

Kerr and his staff have a chance to coach the All-Star Game, but will need to take care of business here and get some help from the Timberwolves against the Nuggets since Denver owns the tie-breaker if the teams remain tied following tonight’s outcomes.

James told reporters he was feeling “particularly great” after being forced to play over 40 minutes to secure a win on Thursday night, so we’ll see if there are any physical limitations to deal with here as he looks to improve on his conditioning and a jumper that he reported was “off” due to timing.

The Lakers lost to the Warriors 130-111 on Jan. 21 without James but did get Zubac going, unveiling a wrinkle Kerr and his staff will now be prepared for. Thompson scored 44 points, setting an NBA record by hitting his first 10 3-pointers. Having him back to help round out the offense would justify this double-digit spread in spite of James being back in the fold for the Lakers.

Cross-Sport Super Bowl props

There are a few more nice matchups to monitor on Saturday night, but we wanted to make sure you had ample time to get in on some Super Bowl action since everyone else will be doing in on what should be a record-setting day for gambling in this country on Sunday.

The NBA card features a shaky matchup pitting the banged-up Grizzlies against the rebuilding, depleted Knicks, but we do get the Thunder at the Celtics and a decent Clippers squad visiting the Raptors up in Toronto. handicapper Kevin Rogers chimes in with a few betting suggestions.

"Looking ahead to cross-sport props for Sunday, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook’s combined points, rebounds, and assists against longest made field goal in Super Bowl LIII. Although Westbrook is a triple-double machine, I’ll go with the longest field goal prop (-1.5).

"The game is played indoors at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so weather isn’t a factor, while Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s longest field goal this season was 52 yards and Rams’ kicker Greg Zuerlein booted a 57-yarder as his long. Granted, if Westbrook puts a combination of points, rebounds, and assists totaling 70, there is no way a kicker will knock down a 70-yard field goal. But, if Westbrook posts a total below 48, there is a very good chance the longest field goal prop can cash."

There are a few cross-sport props involving Saturday night's Lakers-Warriors game that you can pair with the Super Bowl. Among those that stand out to me is that Rob Gronkowski (-150) TD vs. Steph Curry missed free-throw prop. Curry finally missed a free-throw the other night to snap a lengthy streak and isn't going to misfire again so soon. I expect Gronk to find the end zone in what could be his final game ever, so even with the juice at 1.5-to-1, that looks too tempting to avoid. I also like Jared Goff competions (+2.5) over Kevin Durant points since the Warriors star has been sharing the ball more of late in an effort to accomodate Cousins. Good luck!

Best of the Rest

L.A. Clippers at Detroit, 5:05 p.m. ET: Blake Griffin already got his revenge against his former team by snubbing Clips owner Steve Ballmer and then dropping 44 points in a 109-104 upset on Jan. 12, but there's certainly enough animosity directed at how the team handled his departure to command a repeat performance. L.A. is beginning a season-long six-game road trip and had its lead on the Lakers for the No. 8 spot in the West trimmed to a single game in Thursday's OT loss, so their intensity level should be ratcheted up. Danilo Gallinari is listed as doubtful to participate.

Milwaukee at Washington, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Bucks improved to 2-1 on their current roadie with an impressive upset in Toronto and come into this one feeling good after Khris Middleton was rewarded with an All-Star spot alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. These teams play again on Wednesday night. The Wizards won the first meeting in D.C. on Jan. 11 113-106 behind 13 points from Bradley Beal and a triple-double from Tomas Satoransky. Washington shot 55 percent from 3-point range, which should help prevent a hangover after such a big win in Toronto. The Wizards list Otto Porter as 'questionable' with a toe injury.

Indiana at Miami, 7:05 p.m. ET: The Pacers still haven't won since losing Victor Oladipo for the season due to a horrific knee injury on Jan. 23, coming in 0-4 SU and ATS without their leader. Cory Joseph moved into the starting lineup for Thursday's loss in Orlando but is liested as questionable with a groin injury. He was starting for original Oladipo replacement Tyreke Evans, who hasn't been in the mix due to a back issue. Check on the availabilty of both since wing Doug McDermott is listed as 'doubful' due to a rib injury. Rookies Edmond Sumner and Aaron Holiday may be forced to see extended playing time. The Heat have been suspect at home and have dropped their last three at the Triple-A to fall to 11-15 in their building this season.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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