Lakers remind fans why maybe they shouldn’t worry so much

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Those looked like the Lakers everyone expects to see.

The Lakers who showed up at Staples Center Tuesday night were up double-digits in the first quarter on a pretty good Hawks team. Those Lakers cruised to a 104-80 win. Those Lakers looked nothing like the ones that dropped three straight games at the end of the Grammys road trip. These Lakers looked infinitely better than the team that wore the same jerseys in Cleveland.

What was the difference between the Lakers of this Tuesday and the ones that lost to the woefully bad Cleveland Cavaliers six days before? Sing it Aretha:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The Lakers respected the Hawks, they didn’t the Cavaliers. The Lakers respected the game Tuesday; in Cleveland their heads were already on vacation for the All-Star break. The Lakers decided to respect the defensive end of the floor Tuesday as well.

Lakers fans were horrified at the loss to the Cavaliers. But people close to the team were not that surprised. The Lakers didn’t respect the Cavaliers, and when they don’t respect a team they show up flat, don’t execute and anyone can play with them. Combine that with Cleveland being the last game of a road trip and the last game before the All-Star break and some people thought it was a trap game for the Lakers. One they walked right into.

Tuesday night, the Lakers showed fans what happens when they do show up, when they do respect an opponent and the game.

Monday the Lakers coaching staff made the team sit through the horror film of defensive lapses from the past few games. It was Exorcist level scary. It had everything but Andrew Bynum’s head spinning all the way around and throwing up split pea soup.

The Lakers players got the message and they were aggressive on defense — especially Bynum who was clogging up the lane, altering shots and grabbing boards. The Lakers defensive rotations were crisp.

The Hawks had no answer for that. And they were ice cold. They shot 34 percent in the first half and 37 percent for the game. They were 1-15 from three. Heck, they only shot 68 percent unguarded from the free throw line. Every Hawk not named Al Horford (6-for-9 shooting) could not find the range. While the Lakers defense was part of that, the Hawks were missing open looks, too.

Conversely, the Lakers were hot. How hot? When Derek Fisher drained his first three shots you knew it was going to be that kind of night. They were attacking hard, as evidenced by drawing fouls and getting to the line 40 times. They did whatever they wanted. All 12 Lakers who dressed for the game scored.

It’s not going to be that easy the rest of the way. The Lakers have the second toughest remaining schedule in the league (the Lakers remaining opponents have won 55 percent of their games). Even if the Lakers are respecting their opponents an the game, their schedule will make it hard to catch the teams above them, or even win at a faster clip.

There are all sorts of questions about these Lakers. Fans are worried and talking about trades — big trades. The team’s mental makeup has been called into question. Kobe Bryant was called into question.

But it’s just a matter of respect. And tired legs (the Lakers are an older team that does not deal as well with long road trips). When the Lakers respect their opponent as they did Tuesday they are a force, one of the league’s elite. Their length is nearly impossible for teams to deal with.

Tuesday night they were singing respect in a way that would have made Aretha proud. And in a way that should remind everyone that come the playoffs — when they do respect their opponents and have plenty of time to rest — that they are still the champions. And knocking them off that thrown will not be easy. Not in the least.

Rumor: Add Denver Nuggets to list of teams talking to Bulls about Jimmy Butler

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The Denver Nuggets are starting to build something. Mike Malone has brought a needed new culture to the locker room, they have found a franchise cornerstone in Nikola Jokic and running the offense through him, and they have quality young pieces around him such as Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. The Nuggets just missed the playoffs last year, and they — and hopefully their defense — are poised to take a step forward next season.

Jimmy Butler would fit in well with that.

Denver is part of the long list of teams that have reached out to the Bulls about the star wing, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.

Denver has spoken to the Bulls about Jimmy Butler, source told ESPN. Would include multiple young players, not Nikola Jokic, and picks.

Jokic is about as close to untradable as it gets in the NBA.

Would a pick or two with Harris, Emanual Mudiay, and a veteran that can help now such as Wilson Chandler get the job done? Maybe not, the Bulls have been asking a lot for Butler which is why deals have withered. However, Denver has the assets to make this potentially work so the conversation should move forward.

Smart money is on Butler in a Bulls uniform to start next season, but the rumors are not going to stop.

Report: Cavaliers, Spurs have discussed Danny Green trade

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While the majority of teams in the NBA are thinking more about trying to contend in 2020 and beyond — when LeBron James has, in theory, faded in the East, and maybe the Warriors have slowed or broken apart a little — there are a handful of teams that should be targeting a run at the top of the mountain next season.

San Antonio and Cleveland are two of those teams.

Which is why the Spurs and Cavaliers are talking about a potential Danny Green trade, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

On the surface, you can see how this works for both sides. Green fills an obvious need for shooters and wing defenders for the Cavaliers. Since none of the Cavaliers’ role players would be an upgrade in return, for the Spurs this is more likely about clearing cap space to make a run at Chris Paul or another elite free agent.

Most likely this deal does not go through. The Spurs are going to want something specific in return, and the Cavaliers have limited options considering their roster. But it’s something worth watching.

Reports: Utah Jazz talking about Patrick Beverley trade, active in trying to move up in draft

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The buzz around the league has been for a while that momentum has Gordon Hayward leaving Utah this summer as a free agent. That’s not set in stone, however, and the Jazz are not going quietly into that good night.

They are being very active in the run-up to Thursday night, and a team known for not allowing leaks has seen some things get out about how hard they are pushing. For example, with it likely George Hill is gone as a free agent this summer, they are looking at Patrick Beverley to replace him, reports Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune.

That is not the only activity going on, the Jazz want to move up in the draft to land some shooting, reports Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.

Utah is not an organization that is going to do anything rash, they are not going to overpay. If they end up making their multiple picks at the end of the first round, they will bring them into one of the best player development programs in the league and see what happens.

However, if they can do something that shows Hayward they will do what it takes, they will. Genessy says the Jazz are “pretty comfortable” that Hayward will return. Much of the rest of the league sees it differently, but only one person knows for sure and his mind is not made up on the issue.

All the Jazz can do is remind him how committed they are to him, and draft night moves could help that.

Report: Timberwolves active in trying to land Paul George or Jimmy Butler

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Minnesota is one of the NBA’s best positioned up-and-coming teams. They have a franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns, a quality No. 2 in Andrew Wiggins, maybe like Zach LaVine can blossom into an All-Star, and players such as Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica could be part of the picture. Maybe Ricky Rubio, too, although he’s further along his career arc. A lot of people look at this team and think around 2020, when the Warriors fade (or break apart), the Timberwolves can step up to elite.

Tom Thibodeau is apparently not willing to be that patient — he’s looking to get in the Paul George/Jimmy Butler talks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Thibodeau helped develop Butler in Chicago and they have a great relationship, he certainly makes the Timberwolves better next season. Same with George, although he’s a rental who almost certainly bolts after the coming season

My question to the Timberwolves: Why?

What was wrong with the building trajectory they are on? I get it, they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, a ton of money was just sunk into upgrades at the Target Center, and the owner is not getting younger. Those are all non-basketball reasons to screw up what the basketball side is doing right. It’s the mistake of poor franchises to let that happen.

I also get Thibodeau wants a veteran voice to help lead this young core and help show them how to win. That doesn’t need to be an elite player that comes at a high price, however.

Could the Timberwolves use a point guard of the future, more depth on the wings and better defenders all around? You bet. But they don’t need to rush the development program either. If Minnesota can land Butler only giving up Rubio and a protected future first or something, sure, but the Bulls continue to ask a very high price for a deal.

Outside of personal feelings, why would the Timberwolves do that?