Tim Duncan,  Kobe Bryant

Time to see if the Lakers have figured out the Spurs puzzle

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If it is not Lakers vs. Spurs in a May best-of-seven series to be the Western Conference champion, it will be a little disappointing.

Sorry Mr. Cuban, Mr. Durant. It’s not personal, we do like you. You’re teams are entertaining and quite good. But Lakers/Spurs would match the two teams in the West best built for a title run right now, and it carries the weight of tradition.

Right now, if the Lakers and Spurs met, the Spurs should be the favorite.

They are 51-11, they have beat the Lakers both times the teams met this season. They are playing better than any team in the NBA right now — they dismantled the Heat by 30 points in a dominating performance just a few days ago. It was a clinic. They made 17 threes and shot 60.7 percent from beyond the arc. They still had 42 points in the paint. They had 22 points in transition. They had eight players in double figures scoring and nobody took more than 15 shots. The Spurs are not just defense anymore — although they still are seven in the league in points given up per possession.

And the Laker have yet to figure the Spurs out. They have yet to score 90 points on them in a game this season. In the teams first meeting the Spurs just crushed the Lakers. A more recent meeting saw the Lakers score about 11 points per 100 possessions below their season average against the Spurs.

Sunday, we’ll see if the improved Lakers that have found their own defensive energy of late and won six in a row can figure out these Spurs. This is not a statement game, because veteran teams like this don’t really take any one regular season game that seriously. But it is a test. It will show us where the teams are now and if the Spurs match up advantages are still that dramatic.

Here are three things to watch:

• Do the Lakers run the triangle offense? The Lakers need to run their sets, start the ball inside and work cutters off Pau Gasol in the high post, they need to establish the paint. Not only because they score more efficiently that way, but also because that can help slow the Spurs fast break attack. With that, the Lakers need to attack the offensive glass with their length and make the Spurs pay a price for running. Watch how many offensive rebounds the Lakers get, it will be telling. On the other hand, if Kobe Bryant decides to go rogue and take over the offense early, it could be a bad sign for the Lakers.

• Ron Artest on Manu Ginobili. The Lakers defensive surge since the All-Star break has been about Andrew Bynum playing well in the paint and Ron Artest on the perimeter. Can he slow down Manu? See if he can keep Ginobili from getting into the middle — the Argentinian likes to drive middle no matter where he gets the ball on the court, if you can keep him on the wings he is less effective (but still pretty effective).

• Tony Parker and Derek Fisher. Tony Parker should just dominate this matchup, but to the extent that Fisher can pull tricks out of his veteran bag of tricks to not let Parker take over — if he can force him to drive to help and not knock down floaters in the lane — the better for the Lakers.

DeMarcus Cousins on new Kings coach: “I like him and he likes me”

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts to a foul called against him during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Associated Press
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Dave Joerger was hired in Sacramento to do nearly the impossible: Turn around the Kings into a playoff team with potential, and develop a relationship with DeMarcus Cousins that makes the game’s best center want to stay in Sacramento (his contract is up in the summer of 2018).

The Kings won their opening game and return home Thursday to open their new building against the Spurs (a stiffer test than the Suns, to put it kindly).

As for the relationship part, Joerger is at least doing better than George Karl, as Cousins told our old friend Brett Pollakoff working for SLAM.

Jason Jones at The Sacramento Bee had a longer quote.

“Joerger’s been great,” Cousins said. “I think what he brought to the team is what this team needed. It fits our identity more than how we played in the past. Not to knock any of the previous situations but I think this situation fits this team the best.”

Cousins said last week he likes that’s there’s no gray area with Joerger. He makes everything plain and clear and that’s a plus.

It’s a good start for Joerger, but will it be enough? The feeling from most people around the league outside Sacramento is that it’s too late, the well has been poisoned and Cousins will leave the Kings as a free agent in two summers if they don’t trade him before then.

The Kings are not giving up that easily, especially in the first season in a new building — it is a franchise that wants to show Cousins it has turned the corner. Don’t expect any move with Cousins this season — landing elite players is hard and the Kings don’t want to give up on the one they have. The Kings may eventually have to face a decision on making a trade, but they are not there yet.

Meanwhile, other teams are just circling and waiting.

Derrick Rose with a frank assessment of Knicks opener vs. Cavaliers

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks controls the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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The Knicks are primed for a slow start. New coach teaching a new, modified system. New starting point guard who missed most of training camp. New defensive anchor at center, who missed most of training camp. New players throughout the roster, plus the need to develop and highlight Kristaps Porzingis. It’s going to take time to find how it all fits together.

Then their opening game is against the defending champion Cavaliers? Welcome to the NBA.

The Cavaliers won going away, with LeBron James looking every bit the best player on the planet. Derrick Rose, how would you assess the Knicks’ play? Via Barbara Barker of Newsday.

You have to love that Rose is honest. And he’s right.

Rose was part of the problem with the ball movement — 41.2 percent of his shots in that game came after seven or more dribbles and after he held the ball for at least six seconds. Carmelo Anthony was better, but not great. The Knicks stagnation on offense in the second half was a sharp contrast from the way the Cavaliers shared the rock all night.

The Knicks ball movement should get better as Jeff Hornacek pushes this team and they get more comfortable with the balance of pace (which we saw in the first half) and running the triangle (which they did much more after the game was a blowout, almost like a practice). It is going to take time to find that balance. At the same time, the team’s defense needs a lot of work, and the bench needs to improve.

All of that can happen, but in a tight Eastern Conference a slow start could be a tough hole for the Knicks to climb out of.

Bulls’ ‘Late Night Snack with Henry’ is a ton of fun (video)

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The Bulls might be hard on the eyes this season due to their lack of spacing, but darn it if they’re not trying their best to be likable.

Beef? Bradley Beal says he wouldn’t have re-signed with Wizards and John Wall says he wouldn’t have begged Beal back if true

Bradley Beal, John Wall
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

John Wall and Bradley Beal defined their relationship this summer.

Wall: “I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

Beal: “It’s tough because we’re both alphas. … Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other.”

It’s hard to spin those direct quotes. These aren’t anonymous sources or players venting after a tough loss. In the calm of the offseason, Wall and Beal spoke bluntly about their partnership in the Wizards backcourt.

But no matter how difficult now, Beal and Wall are trying to cast their relationship in a different light.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“This is my brother at the end of the day,” Beal told The Vertical. “Nothing is going to change. If I didn’t want to be here, if we did beef, I wouldn’t have signed my contract. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”

“And I wouldn’t have begged him to come back,” Wall interjected. “I would’ve been, ‘Don’t come back because in two years, I ain’t coming back.’ We would’ve figured something out. … I think everybody blew it out of proportion for no reason. I mean, if you look at any two great teammates, and two young, great guys, that’s talented and want to be great, you’re going to have ups and downs. Everything is not going to be perfect.”

The flaws in that logic:

Beal was a restricted free agent. The Wizards weren’t letting him go.

Wall is locked up for three more years. It’s in his best interest to have the best teammates possible in that time, whether or not he stays in Washington past 2019. The Wizards had no way to replace Beal with a similar-caliber player.

So, maybe Wall and Beal are completely cohesive. But even if they aren’t, circumstances dictated they continue their basketball partnership.

I believe last summer’s interviews exposed a rift that was forming somewhat beneath the surface. Their honest assessments in the open, Wall and Beal can now go about repairing any cracks in the foundation.

There’s an mostly unavoidable tension between a team’s two leading scorers. That they’re both guards who want to handle the ball makes it only more difficult.

But if Wall and Beal acknowledge their problems, they can try to work past them and win together.