Los Angeles Lakers players Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum sit on the bench shortly before their defeat by the Denver Nuggets in Denver

Lakers continue to struggle as they lose to league-best Grizzlies

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Any spike in energy the Lakers benefited from after the team fired Mike Brown and replaced him with Mike D’Antoni seems to have been short-lived, and after a 106-98 loss in Memphis on Friday, it may now be gone altogether.

No, the mere presence of D’Antoni patrolling the sidelines won’t be enough to fix the many problems the Lakers continue to demonstrate. There are issues on both sides of the ball that need to be ironed out on the fly, and in a hurry for a team that finds itself below .500 once again.

L.A. found itself down 16 points by the time the first quarter was through, and was playing catch-up the rest of the night. With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard both being miserably ineffective for the second straight game, that didn’t leave the Lakers offense with a whole lot of options.

The two starting bigs combined for 13 points and eight rebounds, on just 5-of-15 shooting. Gasol played all 12 minutes of the first quarter where he missed five of his six shot attempts, several of which were open jumpers that were well within his range. He looked lethargic defensively, and couldn’t find a rhythm the entire night — which is probably why D’Antoni decided to bench him for the entire fourth quarter while the game was (barely) within reach.

When asked what he was thinking afterward regarding Gasol, D’Antoni was fairly straightforward with his response.

“I was thinking I’d like to win this game, that’s what I was thinking,” he said, via Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

Howard wasn’t much better, finishing with just seven points, four rebounds, and five turnovers in almost 40 minutes of action. His hands weren’t the best on this night, seemingly getting stripped every time he touched the ball, and when he did go to the basket, he was unable to finish.

With Gasol and Howard unable to do much of anything offensively, and with the team playing from behind, the offense was scrapped most possessions for one-on-one attempts to score. Kobe Bryant hit some long threes late, and scored 14 of his 30 points in the final period. But the numbers came on an inefficient 7-of-23 shooting, and again, weren’t anywhere near within the flow of the offense.

The other area that continues to be a problem for the Lakers outside of their post play is the lack of production and defense they’re getting from the point guard position. Darius Morris and Chris Duhon knocked down a few open shots, but were unsuccessful in getting others involved by initiating the offense. And defensively, Mike Conley torched them both, and was able to create for himself and his teammates with ease.

If there is a bright side for the Lakers to look at, they can be happy that the second unit made big runs twice to get the game back to within reach, which is something that hasn’t happened really all season long. Antawn Jamison played a solid game, and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes, while doing a decent job defensively, as well. And, it’s not like losing to the Grizzlies is anything to be ashamed of at this point, considering they hold the league’s best record at 9-2 and have quality wins over the Thunder, Knicks, and Heat already this season.

But that likely isn’t going to be enough for a Lakers team that was assembled to win a championship this year. L.A. will need to figure out how to get Gasol more touches in the post, and how to get out in transition to at least get some opportunities on the secondary break to avoid stagnating in its half court sets.

Most importantly, the ball needs to move and find the open man, while involving all five players on the offensive end of the floor; having whoever brings the ball up or whoever receives the first pass continually force up a shot is not the way you beat teams that actually understand how to apply defensive concepts.

All of that is easier said than done, of course, but that’s why D’Antoni is here. After going 1-2 in his first three games on the bench, there’s no question he has his work cut out for him.

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!

Nicolas Batum zips pass between Tobias Harris’ legs to assist Frank Kaminsky (video)

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Listen up, defenses: Nicolas Batum will throw passes between your legs.

Three things we learned Wednesday: Warriors, Cavaliers try to make statements in December

Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney, left, and Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford reach for a rebound during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 115-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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ESPN thought they had a great double header on Wednesday, but those games were decided by a combined 49 points, you should have flipped over to Hairspray Live. Anyway, here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) You can’t have a statement game in December. But if you could Cleveland, Golden State made them. Can we just skip ahead to Christmas when these two teams finally play each other? Plus by then my shopping will be done, and I’m dreading doing it. We’ve said before the Cavaliers and Warriors have established themselves as the best in their conferences and they made that point with authority on Wednesday.

Cleveland did it thrashing the Knicks 126-94. To be fair, the Knicks were on the second night of a back-to-back and were without Derrick Rose. But that is a small part of the disparity here. First, Phil Jackson may want to not try to piss off the best player on the planet. Just a suggestion. Beyond that, the Knicks have had a good season (12-10), but they match up poorly with Cleveland. They don’t have a good defender for Kyrie Irving. Nobody has a good one for LeBron (well, maybe the Spurs). Kristaps Porzingis struggles to defend in space, and Kevin Love can exploit that. I can go on, but you get the picture. Between beating Toronto Monday and this, the Cavs are back to exploiting their advantages out East.

Golden State made its statement by blowing out a Clippers team that had been the second-best team in the West to this point. The Warriors did it with defense first — Los Angeles shot 39.6 percent as a team. Stephen Curry did a respectable job on Chris Paul (15 points on 14 shots), Klay Thompson blanketed J.J. Redick (just four shots), and Draymond was built to guard Blake Griffin (12 points on 20 shots, with seven turnovers). The Warriors anticipated the Clippers skip passes and turned those into transition chances (Golden State won the fast break points battle 27-11). The Warriors didn’t even have a great night on offense — Curry was 0-of-8 from three — and won 115-98 (and it wasn’t that close). Still, the Warriors ball movement was there.

Marreese Speights is in a unique position — the Clippers backup big was with the Warriors the past few seasons, and he was honest and harsh in his assessment of the differences between these teams.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo got a triple-double on an off night. He’s that good. Portland is not a good defensive team. Improved with Al-Farouq Aminu healthy and back on the court, but still not good. However, their defensive strategy of having their bigs play back and not press high off picks works against Giannis Antetokounmpo because you want to make him a jump shooter anyway — and the Greek Freak was notably frustrated at times Wednesday night.

And he still had a triple double of 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. He’s playing that well. Look at it this way, in a Westbrook/Harden world Antetokounmpo is the only NBA player averaging more than 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals a game this season.

The real story for the Bucks was the 27 from Jabari Parker, that’s the reason Milwaukee beat Portland 115-107.

3) Kemba Walker needs to be an All-Star, he got Hornets a win over Pistons. Charlotte shot 34.1 percent Wednesday night, no way they should get a win in that situation. But alas, there was Kemba Walker, who had 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter sparking a Charlotte win, 87-77. Walker is averaging 23.6 shots per game, is shooting a career-best 41.4 percent from three, has a true shooting percentage of 58.2 percent (well above the league average), and is the everything for the Hornet’s offense.

The man deserves to be playing in New Orleans in the All-Star Game this year. I know the East is loaded with quality point guards — Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall — but Kemba has earned the recognition this year.

Warriors rout Clippers 115-98 for 7th straight win over LA

Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson, left, tries to go up for a shot as Los Angeles Clippers guard Alan Anderson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Warriors won 115-98. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Klay Thompson scored 24 points, Draymond Green added 22 points and the Golden State Warriors routed the Clippers 115-98 on Wednesday night for their seventh straight win over Los Angeles.

Stephen Curry had 19 points for Golden State, and Kevin Durant, who came averaging a team-best 27.0 points, was held to 16 on 5-of-17 shooting.

Curry failed to make a 3-pointer for just the second time this season, going 0 of 8. The Warriors were 7 of 30 from long range.

Jamal Crawford scored 21 points for the Clippers, who have lost five of seven. Four of their seven overall losses have come at home.