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….

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”