Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol

Magic play some defense, Lakers miss some shots, Magic cruise

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If you came into this game thinking the Lakers win in Boston was a mirage and they still can’t beat elite teams consistently, you watched this game and felt vindicated. You shouldn’t.

If you believe that the Orlando Magic are elite despite recent losses to the Bulls, Heat and Celtics (and even Hornets), that they were going to start coming together soon, you watched this game and felt vindicated. You’re jumping the gun.

What you should really leave this game thinking: The more desperate team usually will win an NBA regular season game.

The Lakers were feeling pretty good about themselves after a 4-0 start to their Grammy road trip — including a win in Boston — and they came out looking complacent. The Magic were desperate for a big win because of the aforementioned losses — their big man came out inspired. And nobody stops an inspired Howard.

The result was a 89-75 Magic win. A win where, for one game at least, the Magic can point to their defense as good. A game that can give them hope that the spotty defense they have played since the trade is starting to change. The Lakers never scored more than 21 points in a quarter (the first) and had 15 in the fourth. On the other end of the floor, Howard had 31 points on 16 shots and grabbed 13 boards.

The Lakers shot a sad 39.3 percent overall and 12.5 percent from three. That adds up to a 40.5 eFG% on the night, eight percent below their season average.

Was that the Magic’s defense finding itself again? Not necessarily. It was better, their defense looked more energized — more desperate — than it did in recent losses. Even Hedo Turkoglu was playing good help defense, and you don’t see that every day. Or many days.

But the Lakers also just missed shots they knocked down in Boston a few nights before. Shots they normally hit. It was just one of those games for them, and the complacency did little to push them past it.

When the Lakers are flat is when Kobe Bryant tries to take over — and that happened right on schedule late in the first half. For a stretch he put on a show. He was hitting the fade away and the elbow jumper that he can seem to get and hit in his sleep. But he was not getting to the line and shot just 8-of-18 overall.

Those spurts by Kobe often inspire the other Lakers to pick it up, but not this time. The Laker bench shot 30.7 percent. Pau Gasol was 5-of-12. Andrew Bynum had 17 points but needed 15 shots to get it. The Lakers as a team didn’t make the Magic work all that hard for this win. Not like the Magic will have to work come the playoffs.

Meanwhile Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson outplayed the Lakers forwards. Anderson was 3-of-5 from three, Bass 3-of-6 overall, and they both fit into their roles perfectly.

It was a quality win for the Magic, but one game does not a change make. If they cannot carry the momentum of this game forward into other games against good teams (Oklahoma City a week from Friday, for example) it was a one-off.

For the Lakers, they are 4-1 on their seven game, Grammy road trip. They play Charlotte Monday and Cleveland next. Two wins makes it a 6-1 trip and that’s not bad, not bad at all. How the Lakers respond in Charlotte will tell you as much or more about this team than this loss. Do they care enough to bounce back, or are they just that bored with the regular season?

Sixers sign Mo Williams off waivers, then waive him again, sign Chasson Randle to 10 day contract

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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This is how the salary cap game is played.

Mo Williams is dead money, owed $2.2 million this season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster and the books in case they could use that salary in a trade, and they did shipping him to Atlanta as a throw in with the Kyle Korver trade. Atlanta then traded him to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. But they didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him.

Enter the Philadephia 76ers.

But the Sixers were not done.

Now we see if one of the handful of teams with a worse record than the Sixers decides they would rather have the salary on their books.

To be clear, teams under the salary floor still have to pay that money to the players. Let’s say a team ends up $2 million under that floor, then the team pays $2 million to be divided among the players on that roster. So, bringing in a player like Williams just saves them cash.

NBA report: Wizards should have gotten technical for assistant coach being on court vs. Knicks

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The Knicks were down 113-110 with just 13.7 seconds remaining when Carmelo Anthony passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a 3-pointer from the corner, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win.

After the game, Lee said he didn’t shoot because he felt and heard what he thought was a defender near him, but it turned out to be Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe, who came onto the court and barked words implying he was switching out onto Lee.

The NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report sides with Lee, saying the Wizards should have gotten a technical. From the report:

A WAS assistant coach stands on the floor close to Lee (NYK) for several seconds and should have been assessed a technical foul.

This is an area the NBA needs to crack down on, coaches walk out onto the court all the time. Far too often. Frankly, I have an issue with coaches on the bench stomping their feet or yelling at shooters near their sideline, but Lowe took it a step further.

Much like telling a six-year-old to stop licking their shoes this isn’t something NBA officials should have to deal with, it should be common sense, but the league needs to crack down on coaches stepping onto the court. Maybe this will push the league to start enforcing that rule.

 

PBT Extra: Russell Westbrook was snubbed as All-Star starter, but worse snubs coming

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Should Russell Westbrook have been a starter for the All-Star game over Stephen Curry? Sure. Going on stats from the first half of this season — when Westbrook is averaging a triple double — Westbrook deserves the nod. But I have a hard time getting worked up over the fans choosing the two-time MVP to start the All-Star Game.

The real snubs are coming.

When it comes to choosing the All-Star Game reserves, the coaches are facing some tough choices. How many point guards in the East? Does Joel Embiid deserve to go? Kristaps Porzingis? Out West the questions shift to Mike Conley, Damian Lillard and others.

I talk about those tough choices and who I would pick in this latest PBT Extra.

 

Bucks’ Greg Monroe says he’s not thinking of player-option decision

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 19: Greg Monroe #15 of the Milwaukee Bucks is defended by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Bucks reportedly already planned for Greg Monroe to opt in after this season, a reasonable conclusion considering they tried to dump him in a trade all summer and found no takers.

But Monroe has quietly boosted his stock this season. Coming off Milwaukee’s bench, he’s still a skilled interior scorer. But he’s defending and rebounding better, using his quick hands to strip opponents and taking plenty of charges.

Could he even decline his $17,884,176 player option?

Monroe, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m not thinking about anything like the off-season right now. There is a time and place for everything. If and when I have to make a decision, that time is not right now.”

The time might approach more quickly than Monroe expects. If the Bucks shop him again, potential trade partners will want to know Monroe’s intention. Some might prefer the flexibility created by him opting out, and others would like the certainty of having a productive player at a reasonable-enough cost next season. But all would want to know where they stand.

That said, it’s hardly a give Milwaukee moves Monroe. Though he has backed up John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe (21.2 minutes per game) plays more than both. He’s a valuable contributor on a team jockeying for playoff position.

Most importantly, Monroe appears to complement Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Antetokounmpo scores more (23.5 to 26.3 points per 36 minutes) and more efficiently (59.0% to 65.7% true shooting percentage) from when he plays without Monroe to when he plays with Monroe, and Milwaukee’s offense improves accordingly (104.3 to 114.6 points per 100 possessions).