Game of the night: John Wall and Trevor Booker — who? — make the Lakers work for it

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Tuesday night we learned some things about the Washington Wizards — and maybe this is the kind of game where maybe they learned some things about themselves and what it takes to win.

What we learned about the Lakers we already knew: That the Lakers are better than the Wizards; That the Lakers are a lot better than the Wizards when they want to be; That the Lakers can lose focus; That Kobe will score 32 and take over when he has to; That if you let the Wizards run they can make you pay; That when the Wizards get some kind of defensive presence inside they are better.

The key at Staples was the Laker are much better inside — even without Andrew Bynum (Dec. 14, to answer your next question) the Lakers dominated scoring 50 points in the paint. Odom had 24 points on 8 of 12 shooting, Gasol added 21. At one point late in the third quarter the Lakers had grabbed the offensive rebound on 59.4 percent of their missed shots and finished grabbing 46.8 percent.

Word to the wise, you may not wan to give the Lakers a lot of second looks. The result of that was a 115-108 Lakers win. The outcome was never in doubt — the Lakers were the cat making a game out of toying with the mouse — but the Lakers lost focus. Best sign of that, they tore up the Wizards zone with passing and had 22 first half assists, they had four in the second half.

But maybe this game should not be about learning something — this was was just fun to watch. Athletic moves at both ends. Some nights that is enough. Still…

Here are the little things we learned:

• John Wall is getting better.

“He’s fast, he’s crafty, I thought he shot the ball well tonight,” Kobe Bryant said afterwards. Wall did, he had 22 points on 7 of 14 shooting with 14 assists to three turnovers.

• Phil Jackson made an interesting comment about John Wall pregame — he is still figuring out where he can score from on the floor at this level. Wall showed he can shoot, he was 2 of 5 from three, but great players have spots they get to on the floor where they are almost automatic. He could have learned from Kobe tonight, who gets to his spot at the elbow so well (Kobe has a lot of spots).

• Wall often gets compared to Derrick Rose, but is Wall a better shooter than Rose as a rookie? The conventional wisdom is yes, but the numbers make you think twice. Rose shot 22 percent from three as a rookie but 43 percent on long twos and he took 5.4 of them a game compared to one three a game. Wall is knocking down 33 percent from three, attempting 2.8 per game, but a lesser 33 percent on his 4.8 long twos per game.

• Trevor Booker, the rookie out of Clemson, had a game. He was 7 of 9 for a career best 14 points and had a monster dunk in transition off a Wall assist.

“I just try to get out and run with the guards,” Booker said.

But where he really came through was on defense. In the first half the Lakers carved up the Wizards on the interior. And while the Lakers got sloppy, Booker stepped up defensively, he was physical and picked up five fouls.

“That’s what they brought me to the Wizards for, just to play defense,” said Booker, who was drafted by the Timberwolves but traded. “That’s my main thing, playing defense, but I provided a spark offensively tonight.”

• Nick Young lights it up in Los Angeles. He’s an LA guy — Cleveland High in the Valley than USC — and Laker players and coaches to a man said when he comes home he plays better. When young was asked what it is about his play in LA he said it’s “probably the weather.”

• As for the Lakers, did we really learn anything new? Well, Dec. 14….

Watch Justin Timberlake drain half-court shot, a couple of three pointers

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Justin Timberlake is filthy.

At least in this NBA video he is.

Maybe the world’s biggest performer right now — and part owner of the Memphis Grizzlies — swung by the Washington Wizards practice facility and drained a few shots like it was nothing. The man can’t stop the feeling.

We see you, JT 👀 (repost @justintimberlake & @washwizards)

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Three Things to Know: What is with more and more coaches, players ripping referees?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) As playoffs near and pressure mounts, coach/player release valve is to vent at referees. Sunday we saw the latest in the run of coaches or players ripping NBA officials, leading to questions of just how strained are the relationships between the two sides. The most recent guy to vent was DeMar DeRozan after the Raptors did not get calls down the stretch in a loss to the Thunder at home Sunday.

DeRozan is about to get his second fine of the season for criticizing officials.

Also, in this case DeRozan is right — Corey Brewer absolutely fouled him on a drive to the basket when the Raptors were down two with :30 seconds left in the game. It was a critical missed call by Marc Davis and the crew. Then a frustrated DeRozan got tossed. Then Serge Ibaka got tossed for continuing on the same arguments DeRozan was having. Then Dwane Casey got thrown out for something a fan said behind him because by this point the officials had a case of rabbit ears (the best part of the Casey ejection was OKC’s Brewer laughing and shaking his head at the bad call). The Last Two Minute Report on this should be ugly.

That follows on the heels of Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry venting “you can’t guess on plays.” Which itself was on the heels of Stan Van Gundy venting “we got absolutely screwed all night” after a loss to red-hot Portland. Both of those coaches were fined $15,000 Sunday for their outbursts.

What gives with all the venting at officials?

Welcome to the stressful time of the NBA season. With playoff chases going on and pressure mounting on coaches and players, they need a release valve and so the officials take the brunt of it. Sure, there have been enough tensions between players and referees all season that there was a sparsely attended meeting All-Star weekend between the players and referees unions, but the reality is tension between coaches/players and referees existed when George Mikan was playing and it will exist 25 years from now. Players are trying to gain every advantage, referees are trying to enforce the rules in a fast-paced, hard-to-officiate sport, and the tension is natural. There are peaks and valleys, but it’s always there. It always has been.

Right now, the Raptors feel the pressure that this is their window — with Cleveland and Boston stumbling (and banged up), this year is Toronto’s best shot at a trip to the Finals, and they know it. Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans are in the midst of a fight to make the playoffs. Stan Van Gundy feels the pressure of keeping his jobs (GM and coach) in a league where the buzz is he’s going to lose at least one of those titles. Every game takes on added meaning, the pressure makes everything feel heavy, so guys need to vent and the officials become the target. That doesn’t mean the coach/player is wrong — DeRozan was not, the officials were terrible at the end of Sunday’s game — but that’s not the only reason Toronto lost (Serge Ibaka was bad, Steven Adams pushed the Raptors around inside, and I could go on).

It’s the time of year in the NBA when the referees get an outsized portion of the blame when teams and fans are frustrated with a loss. And that will continue right through the playoffs.

2) By the way, Thunder won and Russell Westbrook has five straight triple-doubles. The mess with the officiating obscured what was an entertaining basketball game Sunday in Toronto.

Oklahoma City was a team that looked on the playoff bubble a couple of weeks ago, but since has rattled off six straight wins. There are three reasons for that. First, their defense is back to being top five in the NBA (it had fallen way off when Andre Roberson went down). Second, Corey Brewer has become the rare buyout signing that actually has a real impact — he has stepped into Roberson’s starting spot and given them three-point shooting and a solid veteran presence on both ends.

The third reason, Russell Westbrook is a beast. He had 37 points, 14 assists, and 13 rebounds against the Raptors.

For those of you out there who are saying, “See, this loss is why I can’t trust the Raptors in the playoffs,” you’re just wrong. You need some context. This was the Raptors third game in four days, and it had an early (1 p.m. ET) start. At the end of the game, the Raptors just looked tired. If you’ve watched Toronto all season, they have done well in the clutch. They are 22-14 in games within five points in the final five minutes this season. Nothing to see here, move along.

3) West playoff chase update: Thunder, Pelicans, Rockets, Trail Blazers all pick up wins; Timberwolves, Clippers pick up losses. There were some key games in the West playoff chase on Sunday. The Pelicans picked up a quality win against Boston as Anthony Davis went off for 24 points and 11 rebounds. James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists as the Rockets beat the Timberwolves. Finally, Portland had little trouble getting their 13th straight win, knocking off the Clippers.

Sunday’s action means Portland remains the three seed and the Thunder the four seed, and those teams seem to be moving toward locking in those spots. The Pelicans are the six seed, and with a couple of losses in a row now the Timberwolves have fallen back to the eighth and final spot. Still, Minnesota is 1.5 games up on Denver (ninth seed) and 2 games up on the Clippers, who have lost three in a row at the wrong time of the season.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

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