Mike Brown can win with Lakers if Kobe buys in


Mike Brown was hired because he was not Phil Jackson.

That’s not all of it — all accounts around the league are that Mike Brown gives good job interview, and his defense-first philosophy is a good fit — but not being part of the Phil Jackson coaching tree mattered. This was Jim Buss’ move to assert himself in the organization, to make his mark. And part of that was breaking from Jackson, who Buss did not get along with. At all. Jackson said they spoke once all season.

That doesn’t mean this can’t work for the Lakers.

But all that hinges on Kobe Bryant buying in. Completely.

There needs to be more, too — roster changes including a new point guard, for one — but it starts with Kobe. This is his team, he is the leader. Someday it will be Andrew Bynum’s team (he is Buss’ boy and if you think the Lakers are trading him you are mistaken) but right now it’s all about Kobe Bryant.

If he leads, others will fall in line. If he doesn’t, drama will ensue. As will losses.

Officially the Lakers are saying Kobe is on board, and during a halftime interview on ESPN Wednesday night Mike Brown said he has had a couple of texts with Bryant.

But when the Los Angeles Times reached Bryant to ask him about Brown, he had no comment. What is clear is that as part of Buss — both Jim and Jerry — reasserting themselves Kobe was not consulted on the hire. That’s not really a huge shock, the Buss family has done things like this before, but it chafes at Kobe.

Which brings us back to him buying in.

At the end of the day, he will (if he hasn’t already). Because he wants to win, and mutiny is not going to get him another ring. And not only will he fall in line, the team will come with him.

With Kobe onboard, this can work for the Lakers. Mike Brown is a good defensive coach and that is the end of the court where the Lakers need work. With Bryant, Pau Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom and others scoring points was never going to be the Lakers issue. Their offense was sixth in the NBA in points per possession last season. They will be fine.

They also have the sixth-rated defense in the league, but it was inconsistent. By the Dallas series it had collapsed, nobody helped the helper, guys just seemed to float through plays. Brown can change that. Will change that. If Kobe buys in.

There will need to be changes on the offensive end. Derek Fisher sort of worked as a triangle initiator. Barely. But as a traditional point guard he did not impress in Golden State and Utah — and that was five years ago. Steve Blake can be a backup, but the Lakers need to get a new, solid point guard. Not a ball-dominating guy, but a guy who can set the table and knock down shots, plus play a little defense.

They need a more athletic roster. They need to buy in fully for whatever offense Brown brings in. They have to play as a unit.

They know how to do it. They have done it. And if they buy in they can be contenders again under Brown.

But it all starts with Kobe.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.