Pacers show fight, Lakers don’t and roll over again in loss

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The Indiana Pacers know who they are — balanced and unselfish. They also fight. Down by 13 in the first quarter Sunday they come out in the second quarter throwing haymakers (and shoot 67 percent). Break Roy Hibbert’s nose and he’ll come back in the fourth quarter and give you eight points with the game on the line.

The Lakers could really use some of that fight. They are lacking it right now. It’s why Indiana won 98-96.

Los Angeles has one guy who fights back, but with the other Lakers standing around you end up with an avalanche of Kobe Bryant shots. He scores 33 against the Pacers, but it takes him 30 shots to get there.

There are guys on this roster that won back-to-back titles a couple years ago — and you don’t do that without a lot of fight in you. But with all the changes to the franchise and roster that fire seems to have washed away that fight. You see the fire in flashes, like against Dallas last week (when Derek Fisher won it on a late three) but more nights they seem to take the punches and not jab back. Personnel and age is part of that, but the Lakers are still trying to find their identity on offense and with that they seem to stop and think, or freeze, and not push back.

The Lakers came out hot Sunday night and that was pushed by Kobe, who had 11 points in the first. But it was contagious — Matt Barnes was getting breakaways, Pau Gasol was playing facilitator (he finished with 9 assists) and the Lakers had real energy. They were up 13 and it looked like they might cruise.

Then in the second quarter the Pacers started to come back — they shot 67 percent and behind nine points from David West (including a late three) that made this a game. That carried over in the second half, but what makes them tough to defend is the balance — six guys in double figures, Hibbert had the most with 18.

This may have been the best the Pacers have played this season (to my eyes). This is a win that should shut up anyone who has been questioning these Pacers credentials — they are good. Legitimately good. Not challenging Chicago and Miami on top of the East, but in the next tier. And they are going to be a tough out come the playoffs.

The Lakers, they show flashes of being very good and of what they can be, but it’s not consistent. Put together a strong quarter to come back like the Pacers did and the Lakers seem to become sluggish. Andrew Bynum maybe most of all, he seemed slow in this game. Almost disinterested. Metta World Peace had a good game Sunday, but he has been inconsistent.

The result is a team that expects Kobe to create everything. Part of it is personnel — they don’t have a lot of guys who can create, so it falls to Kobe — but Bynum and Gasol are not demanding the ball and attacking. Derek Fisher will not back down, but he is not a guy who should be playing huge minutes.

All that manifested in the final minutes of this game, when Indiana went on a 7-0 run as they knew Kobe would be all the Lakers offense, while the Lakers had no idea who to defend on the Pacers because everybody was making plays.

The Pacers are playing about as well as they can, and they are winning because of it. The Lakers may have a higher ceiling, but they are going to have to figure out how to reach it.

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?