Kobe Bryant Dwight Howard

Did the Lakers just become the NBA’s best team? Looks like it.

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Four years ago at the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers made what was considered a blockbuster move — they traded a package centered around Marc Gasol (although at the time we thought it was Kwame Brown) for Pau Gasol. Pairing him with Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three straight finals and two NBA titles.

After tonight, Pau Gasol may be offensive option No. 4 on the Lakers.

To what is certainly the frustration and consternation of Mark Cuban and other owners (nice competitive balance), the Lakers have had the best offseason they have had since 1996 (getting Shaquille O’Neal and drafting Kobe Bryant). The Lakers were able to work trades for both point guard Steve Nash and the most dominant center on the planet today, Dwight Howard.

The Lakers are now the team best positioned to challenge the Miami Heat for the NBA title, they can match up in raw talent. And with real strengths at point guard and center — the two weakest links of the Heat — Los Angeles may well be the best team in the NBA.

We have 82 games and a long playoff run to formally answer the question of who is best, but the Lakers are in that conversation. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder certainly are as well. But the Lakers suddenly look like the team to beat. Again.

Their starting five will be Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. That can compete with the Heat and Thunder, and Howard instantly improves the Laker team defense dramatically. The bench isn’t terribly impressive — Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, Jordan Hill, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark (the later two filler on the trade) — but it doesn’t really have to be.

There will be a lot of burden on coach Mike Brown’s shoulders to fit it all the pieces together. The Lakers have talked about running a Princeton style offense and those kind of sets certainly can work, Gasol passes well as a big and in the Olympics we have seen Kobe work well from off the ball on the weak side.

But if you have Steve Nash with Dwight Howard and you don’t run a lot of 1/5 pick-and-rolls you are a fool.

It is a massive and stunning overhaul and improvement of what was already a good roster. Other owners like to complain about the Lakers advantages of market and money — and those exist — but the Lakers also just tend to be both more patient and smarter than other front offices. This doesn’t keep happening by accident.

Getting Howard does not assure the Lakers of an NBA title.

But they may just have become the team to beat. Even for the Heat.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.

Roy Hibbert passes ball into hoop, reacts with perfect facial expression (video)

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The Hornets did so much right in their 107-85 win over the Trail Blazers, even a bad pass went through the hoop.

Roy Hibbert reacted fantastically to blunder/basket (blasket?).

Dario Saric blocks back-to-back Raptors dunk attempts (video)

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Norman Powell – get out of here.

Jared Sullinger – get out of here.

Dario Saric blocked consecutive dunk attempts in the 76ers’ 94-89 win over the Raptors. Philadelphia has won seven of nine and looks suddenly revitalized.

The best part of all this? Saric’s teammates’ reactions – though the actual blocks were pretty great themselves.