Lakers cruise to another win as nobody talked about the game


What were people talking about at Staples Center Sunday night?

Phil Jackson.

Is he coming to the Lakers in the next 24 hours? Does he really want the job? How does he implement the triangle with Steve Nash and no training camp? You know the fans want him because midway through the second quarter they started a “we want Phil” chant. If not Jackson, is it Mike D’Antoni (who had a phone interview on Saturday) or Nate McMillan or who?

It was waiting for Phil Jackson night in Los Angeles.

Oh… and there was a basketball game at Staples Center, too. The Lakers beat the Kings 103-90 in this sideshow. The Lakers are now 2-0 in the Bernie Bickerstaff era. Top that, Jackson.

If you wonder how much people cared about the game itself, know that Kobe Bryant spent a bunch of timeouts talking to Baron Davis, who was sitting courtside near the Lakers bench.

The game itself was pretty much what you’d expect. The Lakers are the far more talented team and now that they are not overthinking everything — Bickerstaff’s one big change over Mike Brown — that talent wins. The offenses they are running are a lot more basic — there is standard NBA sets like “floppy” and some freelancing early in the clock. He’s letting them go out and just play.

“We’re just going out there and really playing pickup style basketball,” Kobe said after the game. “We’re running a couple things and just getting out there and doing it.”

The Lakers big men were doing it. The Kings were without their starting front line of DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson — both suspended by the league for separate incidents — and that led to a combined 41 points (on 53.6 percent shooting) and 23 rebounds from Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40 percent of their missed shots against the Kings.

Kobe Bryant added 20 points and Metta World Peace was 4-of-8 from three, doing a great job spacing the floor on the weak side, and had 18.

Bickerstaff also has the Lakers a little more focused defensively — his pregame white board had breakdowns of how they were going to defend the pick-and-roll, not much offense at all. It worked, the Kings shot 40 percent as a team.

“We’re just playing simple basketball,” Pau Gasol said. “Offensively going to our guys in positions that they could score and defensively we’re just communicating and being active and trying to limit them to one shot.”

It’s two wins in a row for L.A. — it’s their Weekend at Bernies.

That simple freelanced offense has gotten them two wins in a row. Good luck getting the same result against the disciplined Spurs on Tuesday.

The only bad news for the Lakers was Steve Blake left with an abdominal injury and is not expected to practice with the team on Monday. (Not sure what they are practicing, but they plan to.) Blake will have an ultrasound on Tuesday and be re-evaluated then.

As for the Kings, they got 18 points off the bench from Jimmer Fredette and to the Kings credit they played hard. But minus a couple of their best players — and with Marcus Thorton taking a hard fall and not being the same after, he was 1-10 shooting on the night — they were overmatched. Keith Smart had guys out of position all night, but the effort was good and they kept it close for most of the first half.

Which is great, good to see Jimmer playing well. But how about that Phil Jackson.

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.

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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.