Mavericks, Pelicans among (very) early surprises, Nuggets stay ahead of Celtics at No. 1

As humans, it’s almost impossible to go into any new situation with a truly clean slate. Our past experiences and preconceived notions color our judgment and expectations, sometimes leading us to make decisions that we look back on with regret. Let’s all try to avoid that as we begin the 2023-24 NBA season.

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr always says during the postseason that every game is different, every series is different. Well, if that’s the case, then it’s certainly true that every NBA season is different. So while we might believe in our minds that the Nuggets, Celtics, Bucks and Suns (in some order) are the league’s four best teams, we have to look at how they’re actually performing.

With that in mind, the first edition of the Power Rankings is full of relative surprises. The New Orleans Pelicans, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks all find themselves in the top-six by virtue of their undefeated records. Will they be there next week? Next month? Next season? Nobody can know, which is why it’s best to live in the moment and enjoy the ride.

After that whole spiel, the Nuggets and Celtics are still the top two teams, looking as good on the court as they do on paper. At the bottom, we have the winless Trail Blazers, Rockets, Grizzlies and Nets trying to fight their way out of the cellar. The best part about these lists is that we do a new one each week, so you can expect plenty of changes along the way.

Here is the first edition of the 2023-24 NBA Power Rankings. It will be fun to compare these to how things look in six months.

Is James Harden the solution for Lakers’ sluggish offense? It’s way too early to tell

The Lakers and Clippers tend to have similar tastes in players. They both pursued Kawhi Leonard in free agency. The Clippers got him. They both pursued Paul George through trade at various times. He’s now a Clipper. The Lakers sniffed around current or former Clippers like Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris before they wound up in the opposite locker room. Russell Westbrook actually did play for the Lakers. Ty Lue almost became their coach before he joined Doc Rivers’ bench in 2019. Wind the clock back far enough and we can even acknowledge the Chris Paul debacle.

Over the past decade or so of NBA history, when the Lakers and Clippers have wanted the same player, that player has wound up in red and blue. But, right now, it’s the Clippers struggling to seal the deal. They’ve been chasing James Harden since June. The sticking point in negotiations right now is Terance Mann. The 76ers won’t back off, so the Clippers have stepped back. Until they put Mann on the table, there’s room for someone else to swoop in and swipe Harden right out from under their noses. Should that someone be the slow-starting Lakers?

It’s a complicated question, especially since the Lakers are still months away from being able to legally match salary thanks to all of the contracts they signed in July. They are likely as informed about Harden’s current state as any team outside of Philadelphia. Rob Pelinka was once his agent, after all. But if Pelinka was interested in Harden, he could have carved out the cap space to pursue him in July. Harden’s last reunion with an old friend hasn’t exactly gone well.

Things can change quickly in the NBA, though. The Laker offense fared far worse than expected in openers against Denver and Phoenix, ranking 21st in the league through two games. The Sacramento Kings offered a welcome reprieve in Game No. 3, but the Lakers won’t face many worse defenses in the near future, and they still couldn’t secure the victory. The core problems very much remain. The Lakers dominate in the LeBron James minutes and collectively vomit away the minutes that he sits. If James is playing fewer minutes this season, someone is going to have to pick up the slack.

The Lakers won’t have much patience for the whole Dr. D’Angelo and Mr. Russell act. They signed his contract specifically with tradability in mind. Austin Reaves is better-suited for a medium-usage, high-efficiency role than full-time point guard duties. The pair of them have struggled mightily to open the season, and the roster looks far shorter on collective shooting and athleticism than it initially appeared on paper.

Harden is a legendary offensive floor-raiser. Excluding the 2021-22 season in which he was traded, he hasn’t played for an offense that ranked lower than seventh since 2015. Legitimate as fears of decline might be, Philadelphia lineups featuring Harden and no Joel Embiid last season still ranked in the 73rd percentile offensively last season at 117.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Harden will be a high-end generator of regular-season offense until that beard turns grey. He rarely misses games, a critical trait for both the Lakers and Clippers, and James is a pretty good insurance policy against another one of Harden’s postseason disappearing acts.

Embiid won an MVP inhaling Harden’s pocket passes. Anthony Davis might be an even more dangerous pick-and-roll muse. He’ll settle for some of those little floaters and mid-range jumpers, but Harden has never worked with a wide receiver like Davis near the rim. Only Luka Doncic throws better lobs than Harden. Davis has the catch radius of Mr. Fantastic and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Their alley-oop threat would open up plenty of slot cuts for James.

The Harden-James pairing is potentially just as lethal. These are the two most aggressive switch-hunters of their generation. The pair of them could hunt just about any subpar defender off of the floor. James is the most overqualified short-roll playmaker in NBA history, and he’s functioned very effectively as a steady screener for Kyrie Irving in the past.

Their offensive overlap isn’t much of a problem. The defensive side of the equation is trickier. Harden doesn’t do on-ball defense. James prefers to hide on the weak side, shout orders and preserve his energy for offense. Maybe he wouldn’t have to on Harden’s team, but asking a soon-to-be-39-year-old to do much more than play “help” defense on a night-to-night basis seems unrealistic. Jarred Vanderbilt is a viable answer for most high-usage ball-handlers. His offense crippled the Lakers in the playoffs. Is the foursome of James, Davis, Harden and Reaves enough to protect him?

Probably not. Such a unit maxes out ball-handling but is quietly lacking in shooting. Davis and James have well-known shortcomings on that front. Harden’s pull-up exploits are well-documented, but he’s never even averaged two catch-and-shoot attempts per game. He’s not going to move off of the ball, and Reaves is at his best in the mid-range. Those are shots he’d lose watching Harden dribble. He’s 3-of-12 from deep so far this season after shooting 31.7% as a rookie and 34.7% in college. It’s fair to wonder if last year’s 39.8% was the anomaly. He might make more sense as a reserve on a team with Harden and James, but the Lakers aren’t exactly overflowing with 3-and-D guards to pair with that dynamic duo.

The Lakers run plenty in transition, but they’re a deceptively slow half-court team. James wants to pound the rock. Reaves wants to pound the rock. Harden wants to pound the rock. James can still jet when he needs to, but he’s not blowing by top defenders anymore. Reaves and Harden are among the NBA’s best decelerators, and use that gift to draw plenty of annoying fouls. The Lakers already led the league in free throw attempts without Harden a year ago. Add him and they’ll live at the line. But they’ll play some of the simplest half-court offense in the NBA.

In a perfect world, the Lakers would probably prefer a speedster to contrast the more deliberate style James and Reaves play with. They had that guy in Westbrook, so they know he needs to be able to shoot. Some point-of-attack defense would be nice as well. Shooting-plus-speed-plus-defense is a rare combination, and not exactly a cheap one one on the trade market. The Lakers signed Gabe Vincent hoping he’d check all three boxes. He hasn’t through three games.

The cost here isn’t insignificant. Nothing happens before Dec. 15, when most of the players the Lakers signed last summer become trade-eligible. Given the roster size constraints that come with in-season trading, Rui Hachimura would be the early favorite to join Russell as matching salary. A heavy developmental loss for the Lakers, but not necessarily a critical one on the floor. His playoff shooting a year ago was always unsustainable, and his bully-ball offense would no longer be needed. His presence pushes the eligibility date back to Jan. 15.

The Lakers can match the one unprotected first-round pick the Clippers have put forth along with multiple swaps if need be. Is there a young player here that appeals to the 76ers as much as Mann does? Max Christie and Jalen Hood-Schifino are the best bets. Neither have proven a thing in the NBA, and Christie has the vague outline of the kind of 3-and-D skill set the Lakers would love to have on such a revamped roster.

At the very least we’d need a third team. The 76ers are trying to avoid long-term salary and chase 2024 free agents. Neither Russell nor Hachimura are on expiring contracts. The Lakers would have to find a big one to accommodate Philadelphia. The Hornets would probably listen on Gordon Hayward, provided they view Hachimura as a long-term project worth undertaking. Detroit has a smattering of expiring deals to work with as well between Joe Harris, Alec Burks, James Wiseman and Monte Morris. The Spurs loathe helping the Lakers, but they could accommodate with Doug McDermott, Cedi Osman and the partially-guaranteed 2024-25 salary of Devonte’ Graham. Any of those teams would ask for draft compensation to participate, though the Lakers don’t have much of it to spare.

Despite appearances, the Lakers are currently fairly well-positioned to rebuild after the James-Davis era if they so choose. They owe out two first-round picks at the moment: one to New Orleans that should come with James and Davis still playing at an All-Star level and another to Utah that is top-four protected and doesn’t roll over after 2027. If the Lakers want to tank in two years, they can do so. If they want to clear the decks and chase free agents, they can do that too.

Those possibilities fly out the window the moment you start throwing around unprotected picks and swaps for Harden. You’re locked into whatever likely brief championship window the 34-year-old Harden gives you. If the Lakers consider the odds of a championship with Harden high enough, they might go for it. An 18th title would finally push them ahead of the dreaded Boston Celtics, and they have James and Davis now. They’re not going to have a better chance than this for awhile.

But this was all true in June, and it bears mentioning again that Pelinka didn’t pursue Harden. He could have created the cap space to do so, sacrificing depth instead of picks to land his prize. He chose not to, and there are any number of viable explanations for why he didn’t.

He might have wanted to wait for a better target. One always pops up. The Bulls had an opening night player’s-only meeting. Something tells me DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine will be tradeable down the line. The eternal pursuit of Kyrie Irving is perpetually one controversy away from resurfacing.

It’s equally plausible that he just wanted to see how his team looked over a more sustained sample size before he blew it up again. He preached an emphasis on continuity in the offseason. He’s already seen James and Davis take an overhauled roster deep into the playoffs on a few months of notice, so there was no rush to make the wrong blockbuster. There’s no doubt that the Westbrook disaster would make any executive a bit gun-shy.

Whatever the reason, Pelinka chose not to pursue Harden over the summer, and his instinct was probably correct in that moment. That might change by January. The current roster has played only three games, after all. He’ll have a better idea of what this team needs when the deadline arrives.

Harden might ultimately wind up as the answer. But the Lakers don’t need him in quite the same way the Clippers do. For all of the recruiting battles the Clippers have won in recent years, the Lakers are the Los Angeles team with the recent ring. He’d be a luxury shot-creator on a team that already has the greatest of them all on their roster. Until the Lakers are sure their other needs are met, they can afford to be patient on the Harden front. And if he winds up a Clipper? Well, the Lakers will lose about as much sleep over that one as they did over those other recent misses, which is to say, not very much.

Lakers’ Darvin Ham hints at lineup changes as team falls to 1-2, will start by ‘buckling down on our rotation’

The sky isn’t exactly falling for the Los Angeles Lakers. A 1-2 start against three of last season’s top four seeds in the Western Conference, in itself, isn’t cause for alarm. But their overall performance within that stretch leaves something to be desired. After playing LeBron James only 29 minutes in the opener, the Lakers have already relented and given him 74 combined minutes in their following two games. They’ve had to do so because the team has been outscored by 36 points in the few minutes that James actually has spent on the bench. Even when he’s been out there, supporting players around him have disappointed.

The starting backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves, which the team hoped could lead the offense as it lightened James’ workload, is shooting just 24-of-71 through three games. The absence of Jarred Vanderbilt has created a gaping hole when it comes to point-of-attack defense. Rui Hachimura, one of the most important pieces of their playoff run a season ago, hasn’t played more than 17 minutes all season.

And head coach Darvin Ham himself acknowledged how untenable all of this is. As the Lakers struggle to integrate new players while maximizing old ones, their coach made it clear that figuring out the rotation is his priority at the moment. “My rotation, we gotta really dig into that and figure out and really take a close look so guys are in rhythm,” Ham said after Sunday’s 132-127 overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings. “We have a great collection of players. I played in this league, and when you know when you’re going in and who you’re playing with and all that, that matters. So buckling down on our rotation, I’ll start there.”

So far this season, the Lakers have largely relied on 10 players. James, Russell, Reaves, Anthony Davis and Taurean Prince have been the starters. Gabe Vincent, who was signed to replace Dennis Schroder, has earned the most bench minutes by far. Hachimura has fallen a bit behind. Cam Reddish is on the periphery of the perimeter rotation, while Jaxson Hayes and Christian Wood are both getting backup center minutes, with Wood also seeing some time at forward.

Ham suggested that the Lakers are hoping to keep James closer to 30 minutes per night than the 37 he’s averaged in their last two games. That means there are bench minutes available, but when Vanderbilt returns, there will be another mouth to feed as well. The easiest moves right now would be settling on a single backup center—and Wood has been the superior option through two games—while preparing to send Reddish, who has seen his playing time decline in each game, to the bench.

That, at least, opens up some minutes for Vanderbilt when he returns, but, in the meantime, it could give the Lakers a chance to look at one of their youngsters. Max Christie, Jalen Hood-Schifino and Maxwell Lewis all had up-and-down preseasons, but the Lakers have a strong recent track record of developing young players, and Reaves is a prime example of that.

But this roster was also designed with depth in mind. The Lakers chose to bring back most of last season’s core while adding a few external free agents instead of consolidating around another major piece. That decision will come in handy as injuries pile up later in the season, but, for now, it’s making it hard for anyone to get into rhythm. Hachimura just averaged roughly 34 minutes per game in the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers gave him a hefty three-year deal to stay put. Immediately cutting his minutes down to 15 per game doesn’t seem like the best way to build on what went right for him last season.

It’s a tricky balancing act, and it’s probably going to leave a few players disappointed with their workloads. But Ham is right. There is no defined pecking order on this roster after James and Davis. The rotation is very much a work in progress, and the sooner the Lakers sort it out, the sooner they can get back to winning basketball games.

Victor Wembanyama arrives, James Harden sent home, Nuggets dominate

You don’t want to jump to conclusions after the first week of the NBA season, but it’s definitely long enough to make some observations and form some opinions about what’s going on in the league. The first six days of the 2023-24 season were no exception, providing the type of thrills, spills and chills we’ve come to expect from NBA action.

With so much going on, we decided to take a moment to sort out all the happenings that took place over the first few days. From Luka Doncic to James Harden to Victor Wembanyama, here are some winners and losers from the first week of the NBA season.

Winner: Luka Magic
We didn’t have to wait long for this season’s signature Luka Dončić moment, an absolute barrage of 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter to beat the Nets, 125-120 on Friday. The last of the 3s was a one-handed toss with the shot clock expiring. Just ridiculous.


4 straight threes… each getting progressively more difficult and more clutch… to reach 49 points and give Dallas the win.

Special stuff from a superstar.

— NBA (@NBA) October 28, 2023
Dončić, who finished with 49 points in the win, is a perennial MVP candidate at this point in his career. Sequences like this are exactly the reason why.

Loser: James Harden
Well, it’s never a good thing when you show up at the airport for a team flight and you get told, respectfully, to get back in the car and go home. By all accounts, Harden is being a good solider and putting in the work necessary to get back on the floor with the 76ers. He was even on the sideline for their home opener against the Trail Blazers on Sunday.

That being said, things haven’t played out well with the trade demand Harden issued four months ago. The Clippers are reportedly no longer negotiating, and there doesn’t seem to be any other interested parties, so he’ll have no choice but to play for Philly unless he wants to get fined. On top of that, the team has gone 2-1 without him and Tyrese Maxey has looked awesome. Overall, a bad start to the season for Harden. Speaking of Maxey, though …

Winner: Tyrese Maxey
The question isn’t whether Maxey can fill in for James Harden. It’s whether the 76ers are better with Maxey instead of Harden. My colleague Brad Botkin seems to think so, and he’s certainly not the only one. The 6-foot-2 blur of a guard has been excellent to start his fourth NBA season, leaving 76ers fans with “James who?” at the top of their minds. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic works once Harden returns, but Maxey has proven that the Sixers can be more than competitive with him at the helm.

Loser: Chicago Bulls
A players-only meeting after the first game of the season! That has to be some sort of record. The Bulls were drubbed at home by the Thunder on opening night, 124-104, leaving Chicago forward DeMar DeRozan to vow, “We won’t let that happen again.”

Probably a good thing that he kept it vague, because the Bulls were beaten by the Detroit Pistons, 118-102, just three nights later. Chicago’s only win so far came on a wild and wacky finish that left our Sam Quinn scratching his head. Seems like something needs to change with the Bulls, and more meetings may be in their future.

Winner: Victor Wembanyama
It’s hard to have as much hype as Wembanyama did coming into his NBA career, play one week, and have people asking “did we hype this guy up enough?”

The 7-foot-4 Frenchman has shown every single skill that makes him the best basketball prospect since LeBron James — blocking shots, knocking down 3s, catching lobs and putting on dribbling exhibitions. The rookie has even already shown a knack for clutch, fourth-quarter scoring.

There’s really nothing he can’t do on a court, and he’s only scratching the surface of his astronomical ceiling.

Loser: Memphis Grizzlies
Yes, they don’t have Ja Morant and Steven Adams, but when you fall behind by 25 against the Washington Wizards, you know there are some legit problems. Memphis is off to an 0-3 start, and it’s not going to get any easier with a tough schedule ahead. The biggest problem is on offense, where they’ve generated a meager 102 points per 100 possessions thus far. It’s still early, of course, but the Grizz had a rough opening week.

Winner: Damian Lillard
One way to endear yourself to a new fanbase is to go ABSOLUTELY FREAKING NUTS in the clutch to lead your team to victory on opening night. Lillard scored 14 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, including this trademark step-back dagger to seal the 118-117 win.


— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 27, 2023
It was the most points any Milwaukee Buck has ever scored in his debut for the team. Our Jack Maloney surveyed some of Lillard’s new teammates for their perspective on the tremendous feat.

Loser: Player participation policy
Prior to the season, the NBA approved some rules targeting “load management” — aka resting players when there’s no specific injury or illness. The idea was to keep star players on the court, which obviously creates a better product for both the in-arena and home-viewing audiences. Well, it’s not off to a great start.

Jimmy Butler missed out on another return trip to Minnesota, one of his former teams, sitting out the second game of a back-to-back. At least Miami didn’t even try to fudge it, listing the official reason on the injury report as “rest.” The Heat went on to lose, 106-90, though Butler did have his moment of adversarial interaction with the Target Center crowd.

Jimmy Butler blowing kisses to the fans in Minnesota, Wolves win by 16

— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) October 29, 2023
The Heat avoided a fine because the game wasn’t nationally televised or part of the In-Season Tournament, and the team didn’t rest multiple players deemed to be stars by the league’s criteria. But still, sitting a star player in the third game of the season seems a bit egregious.

The very next night, Joel Embiid was listed as questionable up until minutes before the opening tip at the 76ers home opener. He eventually played, but it’s clear that resting star players isn’t a strategy that’s going to be fully extinguished due to the new rules.

Winner: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets essentially just kept the championship parade going into the first three games of the season, looking utterly dominant with a plus-17.8 net rating and a perfect record. Nikola Jokic appears to be toying with defenses thus far, doing absolutely ridiculous things like this inbounds lob pass that looked like he was a shortstop turning a double play.

Joker casual half-court baseball pass lob 🤷‍♂️

DEN/MEM – Live now on the NBA App:

— NBA (@NBA) October 28, 2023
The Nuggets look just as dominant and focused as they did to close out the postseason, and appear to have everything it takes to repeat.

Lakers icon joins Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Tiger Woods

Magic Johnson is officially a billionaire, according to Forbes. This means the Lakers legend will be just the fourth athlete to achieve this benchmark, joining Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Tiger Woods.

Forbes now estimates Johnson’s net worth to be $1.2 billion. After becoming the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft out of Michigan State, Johnson went on to have one of the most iconic careers in NBA history.

Magic Johnson Is Now A Billionaire by @MrMattCraig

— Forbes (@Forbes) October 29, 2023
Johnson was the NBA’s assists leader four times and steals leader twice. His many accomplishments include five NBA championships and 12 All-Star appearances.

However, Johnson earned most of money after he was done playing. In fact, Forbes reports he made $40 million from his NBA career, and he earned the rest by being a savvy business man who invests in multiple different areas.

Johnson has ownership stakes in three Los Angeles-based sports teams, including the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and MLS’ LAFC. He also invested in the NFL’s Commanders earlier this year. Johnson’s non-sports investments include Starbucks, Burger King, 24 Hour Fitness and the life insurance company EquiTrust.

Interestingly enough, Johnson actually had a chance to become a billionaire sooner as Converse, Adidas and Nike approached him with shoe deal offers when he was entering the NBA.

Nike allegedly offered Johnson $1 for each shoe they sold, as well as 100,000 shares in stocks at $0.18 per share. But at that time, Nike was still a new company and Johnson didn’t know much about investing. He took a deal with Converse, which offered him $100,000 a year, instead.

“My family didn’t come from money, that’s one thing that hurt us [sometimes]. When you don’t come from money, you don’t know. I didn’t even know what stocks [were] at that time,” Johnson said on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this year. “So I passed on the stocks. Can you imagine? 45 years, $5 billion that stock would have been worth today.”

But even if he missed out on that deal, Johnson has still become one of the elite athletes who have taken their financial achievements to new heights.

‘I think he needs to be a little bit fatter’

Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic knows what it takes to succeed in the NBA with a unique frame and skillset, and on Sunday he shared his wisdom with rookie big man Chet Holmgren after the Denver Nuggets crushed the Oklahoma City Thunder, 128-95.

In short, Holmgren needs to look more like Jokić.

“He’s a really talented guy, but this is his first year,” Jokić said. “He’s still learning everything: the game, how quick it is, where is (he at) an advantage, where is [he at] a disadvantage. I think he needs experience. I think he needs to be a little bit fatter, to be honest. But yes, he has a talent that is unique.”

Seems pretty simple: Just follow Jokić’s three-liters-of-soda-per-day diet from early in his career and he should get there in no time.

In all seriousness though, bulking up has been an obvious area of improvement for Holmgren ever since he was playing for Gonzaga. The 7-foot-1 Holmgren weighed just 195 pounds when he was drafted, and though he’s gained 13 pounds over the past year, he’s still one of the skinnest big men in the league. There’s a balance there, of course, and Holmgren’s current frame allows him more flexibility than most, but at the moment he doesn’t have the heft to deal with true centers like Jokić.

That became obvious immediately, as Jokić bullied his way past Holmgren for two easy layups within the first minute. By the time the final buzzer sounded on the Nuggets’ blowout win, Jokić had racked up 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists on 12-of-16 shooting from the field, including 8 of 11 in the restricted area.

Holmgren had some success of his own, scoring 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field, and has already shown defensive prowess with seven blocks in the Thunder’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week. It’s clear, though, that some matchups are going to give him a problem until he gets stronger.

2023 NBA picks, October 30 predictions from proven model

The Orlando Magic will face off against the Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 p.m. ET on Monday at Arena. Los Angeles is 1-2 overall and finished last season 43-39, while Orlando is 2-0 overall and finished last season 34-48. The Lakers have won their last six matchups with the Magic but are only 3-2-1 against the spread during that span.

The Magic are 2-0 against the spread this season while the Lakers are 0-3 against the number. However, Los Angeles is favored by 2 points in the latest Lakers vs. Magic odds, and the over/under is 218.5 points. Before entering any Lakers vs. Magic picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the proven computer model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five seasons. The model enters Week 2 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a 77-41 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning nearly $3,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on Lakers vs. Magic. You can head to SportsLine to see its NBA picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Magic vs. Lakers:

Lakers vs. Magic spread: Lakers -2
Lakers vs. Magic over/under: 218.5 points
Lakers vs. Magic money line: Lakers: -130, Magic: +109
Lakers vs. Magic picks: See picks here
What you need to know about the Magic
Last Friday, Orlando didn’t have too much breathing room in its game against Portland, but it still walked away with a 102-97 victory. The squad ran away with 63 points in the first half and ground out a win in the second half by allowing only 42 points.

Franz Wagner led the Magic with 23 points in the victory, and Cole Anthony remained hot with 18 points off the bench after pouring in 20 in a win against the Rockets on opening night. Orlando has held opponents to just 40.1% shooting from the floor so far this season and will be looking to use an energetic young roster to play harassing defense again on Monday.

What you need to know about the Lakers
Meanwhile, the Lakers fought the good fight in their overtime contest against the Kings on Sunday but took a 132-127 hit to the loss column. Despite the defeat, the Lakers got a solid performance out of Anthony Davis, who dropped a double-double on 30 points and 16 rebounds. Davis has also made an impact defensively this season, blocking two or more in the last three games he’s played.

LeBron James also exceeded his stated minutes cap yet again, playing 39 minutes (his cap is allegedly 28-30) and finishing with 27 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. James is averaging 23.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists over the first three games of his 21st NBA season. Jarred Vanderbilt (heel) remains out for Los Angeles.

How to make Lakers vs. Magic picks
The model has simulated Magic vs. Lakers 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning Over, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick where one side hits in almost 60% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

Flavor Flav goes viral with memorable national anthem performance at Bucks game

Flavor Flav may not be the first person fans would expect to perform the national anthem at a sporting event. However, he did exactly that prior to Sunday’s game between the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.

Decked out with a No. 59 Bucks jersey and a red chain, the Public Enemy rapper sang a unique rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Fiserv Forum.


S/O @FlavorFlav for the flavorful anthem!

— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 29, 2023
The rapper received a small round of applause from the crowd as he winded down the national anthem, while several Bucks players held back laughter. In typical Flavor Flav fashion, he put his own spin on the national anthem by repeating the final verse three times before wrapping up.

He did receive a standing ovation from the crowd.

Flavor Flav commented on his performance on X, stating that performing “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a “long time bucket list item” for him.

“I can’t live my life worried about what people might say about me,” the rapper added. “I won’t let that stop me from trying new things and doing things I wanna do. Some people might not like that. But a sure failure is you stop trying.”

2023 NBA picks, October 30 predictions from proven computer model

The New Orleans Pelicans (2-0) will try to build on their impressive start to the season when they host the Golden State Warriors (2-1) on Monday night. New Orleans beat Memphis on the road in its opener before defeating New York on Saturday. Golden State lost to Phoenix in a season-opening thriller, but it responded with road wins over the Kings and Rockets. These teams split their four meetings last year, with the home team winning on every occasion.

Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. The Pelicans are favored by 4 points in the latest Warriors vs. Pelicans odds, while the over/under is 226 points, per SportsLine consensus. Before entering any Pelicans vs. Warriors picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five seasons. The model enters Week 2 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a 77-41 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning nearly $3,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on Pelicans vs. Warriors. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Warriors vs. Pelicans:

Pelicans vs. Warriors spread: Pelicans -4
Pelicans vs. Warriors over/under: 226 points
Pelicans vs. Warriors money line: Pelicans: -169, Warriors: +142
Pelicans vs. Warriors picks: See picks here
Why the Pelicans can cover
New Orleans is off to an outstanding start, winning both of its games behind big performances from Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. Williamson is averaging 23.5 points per game, while Ingram is not far behind at 22.5, with the former All-Stars finally healthy at the same time after playing just 12 games together last season. The Pelicans hit 14 of 32 3-pointers in their win over Memphis to open the campaign.

Golden State is in a brutal scheduling spot on Monday night, as this will be its third road game in four days. The Warriors opened the season with a loss to Phoenix before winning a pair of road games by single digits. They have only covered the spread three times in their last nine October games, while New Orleans has covered at a 10-4-1 clip in its last 15 games dating back to last season.

Why the Warriors can cover
Golden State won just 11 road games last season, but it has already picked up two quick road wins this year. Star guard Stephen Curry scored a game-high 24 points and hit four 3-pointers in under two minutes late in the fourth quarter of a 106-95 win against Houston on Sunday. Klay Thompson chipped in 19 points, while Gary Payton II scored 15 points off the bench.

Veteran forward Draymond Green saw his first action of the season, scoring four points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists in his return from an ankle injury. New Orleans has not demonstrated consistency in recent years and it lost its last two games against Golden State last season. The Warriors have covered the spread in four of the last five meetings between these teams, and they have won 13 of the last 19 games outright. See which team to pick here.

How to make Pelicans vs. Warriors picks
The model has simulated Warriors vs. Pelicans 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning Over, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that is hitting in almost 60% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.

Winger agrees to eight-year contract with Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens are locking up one of their franchise cornerstones. The team has agreed to terms on an eight-year extension with star winger Cole Caufield, the team announced on Monday morning.

The deal will run through the 2030-31 season and will carry an average annual value of $7.85 million per season.

Caufield is coming off a season in which he scored a career-high 26 goals while dishing out 10 assists in 46 regular-season contests. The 22-year-old star’s season came to a premature end in January when he was forced to undergo shoulder surgery.

During the 2022-23 season, Caufield’s 26 goals were tied for the team lead and marked the second consecutive season in which he led the team in that category. At the time of his injury, Caufield was 11th in goals in the league, while also being ranked eighth in the NHL with 19 even-strength goals.

In his first three professional seasons, Caufield has racked up 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) while topping the 20-goal mark in each of his last two seasons. In addition, the star forward has also tallied 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 postseason contests, which all came during the 2020-21 campaign.

Caufield was originally selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Canadiens after a standout career at the University of Wisconsin.