Just how good are the Lakers? Ask again in a week.

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Has anyone figured out these Lakers?

Last year’s Lakers had the swagger and game of a champion from the start (despite some in-season lapses). These Lakers are much harder to figure out — they beat the Celtics in Boston, but lose to the Cavaliers. Pau Gasol is Black Swan and White Swan. Andrew Bynum’s focus is spotty.

Sure, Los Angeles playing well since the All-Star break, but does even Jack Nicholson have confidence they will carry this through to the playoffs?

As for what Phil Jackson thinks of this team… ask him again in a week after this four-game road trip.

The Lakers start Sunday in San Antonio against the best team in the NBA (just ask the Heat). Then the trip goes to Atlanta, Miami and Dallas. Jackson told ESPNLosAngeles this trip will define his team.

“This trip is really like a make-or-break point of the season for us,” Jackson said before the Bobcats game. “If we play really well on this road trip, we have a chance to do things. If we don’t, we’ll settle in and assume that we’re fighting for either second or third place, hopefully.”

This is Jackson playing his motivation mind games with the Lakers. He’s not even being subtle about it. This is the push to the playoffs, and they need these wins to move up out of third in the West and fourth overall in the league (with the Bulls and Heat just half a game back of them). It’s about home court in the playoffs, and he needs his team to be focused now. They can catch Dallas and Boston (2.5 games back) and have maybe the second best record heading into the playoffs. (They will not make up the 7.5 games they are behind the Spurs.)

This is a real test for the Lakers, we will learn something. Maybe they have found their stride. If not, the questions about them beating the Spurs or any contender out of the East become a lot harder to answer.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.

Kings hire former WNBA Seattle coach Jenny Boucek as assistant

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The NBA now has a third female assistant coach.

The first was Becky Hammon, who has been part of Gregg Popovich’s Spurs staff for several years (and has coached their Summer League team). The second was Nancy Leiberman, who has been on the staff in Sacramento for a couple of seasons now.

Now the Kings have hired former Seattle Storm coach Jenny Boucek as an assistant coach on Dave Joerger’s staff. She will work as an assistant player development coach.

A former WNBA player in the league’s inaugural season, the past three years she has coached the WNBA’s Seattle Storm (she was fired midway through the last season), and prior to that had been the head coach of the Sacramento Monarchs from 2007-09.