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?

Reports: Raptors looking hard for power forward upgrade at trade deadline

Al Horford Thaddeus Young
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There are precious few windows in the NBA when everything comes together for a franchise and it can make a deep playoff run (well, unless you’re the Spurs). When those opportunities arise, teams have to grab them. Carpe Diem.

The Toronto Raptors are the clear second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and the top seed Cavaliers do not look invincible. But the Raptors have a glaring hole in their lineup at the power forward spot. The Raptors start veteran Luis Scola, but they are 10 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court than on it — not one Raptors lineup with Scola and center Jonas Valanciunas has a positive plus-minus this season. They have Patrick Patterson off the bench, but he has a limited offensive game that would cause matchup issues in the postseason.

The Raptors want to seize their moment — expect them to be active at the trade deadline trying to upgrade at the four.

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun said that in a recent ProBasketballTalk podcast. He said their ideal player would be Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. However, if the Hawks decide to keep him or the price is too high, the Raptors are looking at other options as well, something Brian Windhorst discussed in a recent radio conversation in Toronto, as transcribed by The Brooklyn Game.

“I think they’re gonna go for it. I think from what I understand, from what I’m hearing, they’re pretty aggressive in the trade market. They’re looking for power forwards. I’ve heard them attached to Thaddeus Young. I’ve heard them attached to (Nuggets forward) Kenneth Faried. I’ve heard them attached to (Suns forward) Markieff Morris. They have extra draft picks. I wouldn’t trade that New York Knicks pick unless it was for a blockbuster acquisition, because you can’t protect it, you can’t protect another team’s pick. I would do it if I could put, like, a top-five protection on it. But you can’t do that. You can’t say, allright, we’ll give you two of our picks if it falls in the top five. But they have assets to do it. They have some young players.”.

The Nuggets have tested the market for Faried, and he is available, his energy/glue-guy game would pair well with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Although, if I were Rockets GM Masai Ujiri and I was talking to Denver, the name Danilo Gallinari would come up a lot, more often than Faried. His shooting and pick-and-pop skills would fit with the Raptors guards well.

Young would be a good fit and an upgrade. Morris could be an improvement on the court, and he’s on a reasonable contract, but there are concerns about time he could miss (suspension and maybe jail) for a pending felony assault case with his brother Marcus.  The Raptors also need to ask themselves if they have the right internal structure and locker room leadership to provide the support/guidance teams need if they bring Morris on — something incidents Wednesday night emphasized. But Morris is better than anyone on the Raptors’ roster.

The Raptors have multiple first-round picks coming up they can move, the New York park would have to be included in a Horford deal but not necessarily the others. There are also young players that the team is high on, such as Lucas Nogueira, that could be moved in the right deal.

Raptors fans were angry last season at the deadline when Ujiri didn’t pull the trigger on any deals, but that seemed the right move at the time. The Raptors were a few steps away from the top rung of the East, and the reported deals would not have changed that picture.

This season feels different. Expect a bold move out of Toronto during or after All-Star weekend. Carpe Diem.

Jared Sullinger tries to invade Clippers huddle (video)

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 22:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics reacts during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden on January 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bulls 110-101. 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.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Nice box out, Cole Aldrich.

Lamar Odom makes appearance at Kanye West fashion show

Workers set up the area where Kanye West will show his Yeezy collection at Madison Square Garden during Fashion Week, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in New York. West will also perform songs from his latest album, "The Life of Pablo," out on Friday. (AP Photo/Leanne Italie)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Lamar Odom made his public return at brother-in-law Kanye West’s New York Fashion Week show on Thursday.

Odom’s appearance marked the first time he’d attended a public event since he was hospitalized in critical condition in Las Vegas in October 2015 after he was found unconscious at a Nevada brothel with cocaine in his system. Odom, who is estranged from Khloe Kardashian, had been moved from a Los Angeles hospital to a private facility in January.

As West walked Odom to his seat with the Kardashian and Jenner families, the crowd at Madison Square Garden for West’s Yeezy runway show cheered and shouted Odom’s name.

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164