In ugly mess of game, George Hill’s pretty shot lifts Pacers over Lakers


At least Lakers fans got to leave Staples Center Tuesday night with a Chick Hearn bobblehead (the Lakers honored their legendary former broadcaster).

I say that because I’m trying to help them find something positive.

And there isn’t much else – the Lakers lost in an ugly game 79-77 to the Indiana Pacers. This was the kind of embarrassing performance that would have the Lakers trying to fire Mike Brown if they hadn’t already done so. They shot 31.6 percent, 21.4 percent from three, missed 22 free throws (6-of-28) including four in crunch time, Kobe Bryant alone had 10 turnovers and their defense was spotty.

The Indiana Pacers weren’t much better (they shot 36.7 percent) but they played better team basketball and in the end were redeemed by George Hill, who hit a pretty layup high off the glass (over the sweeping hand of Dwight Howard) with .01 seconds left to give Indiana the win.

That shot was one of the few pretty things in a game that was ugly. Top to bottom. It was the kind of game that while watching it you thought neither team deserved to win. The two teams combined for 33 turnovers. It was ugly right down to Joey Crawford being in full “look at me” mode and handing out technical fouls like a Pez dispenser.

For the Pacers, who have struggled on offense this season it was another confirmation that their defense can keep them in games. But their offense was once again a mess — they shot 36.7 percent. They were 4-of-19 from three. They turned the ball over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.

What Indiana did well was defend. You knew they would going in (they had the second best defense in the NBA). That and George Hill (19 points on the night) and David West (16 points) were enough.

For the Lakers, it was a night where they fell back into the worst habits they had of the Phil Jackson era:

They expected Kobe Bryant to do everything and the Lakers stood around and watched him. There was too much Kobe for the Lakers — her finished with 40 points and the rest of the team had 37. When this happens you don’t get the efficient Kobe the Lakers have seen earlier in the season — he was 12-of-28 shooting and had 10 turnovers.

This wasn’t Kobe the ball hog, this is what Kobe always has been — he wants to win and if the rest of his team is going to stand around and miss their shots, he will take on the extra load himself to push them toward a win. Kobe has an unwavering belief in himself and his teammates gave him no reason to trust them in this game with their play.

The rest of the Lakers settled. They didn’t move well off the ball. They didn’t hit the good look shots they did have. And they missed their free throws — the Lakers were 6-of-28 from the stripe. Dwight Howard was 3-of-12 but the rest of the team was 3-of-16, and that includes some crucial misses by Metta World Peace late.

The Lakers clearly miss Steve Nash in this offense, Kobe cannot be the primary ball handler every time down (especially when battling the flu). Kobe makes some good decisions but is gets taken out of what he does best (scoring) when the team’s entire playmaking responsibility falls to him.

But Nash is not a cure all. The return of Nash and Steve Blake is not going to be transformative for this team if they put up an effort like they did Tuesday night. If they don’t defend better and knock down shots when they are open.

Right now the Lakers are just not a very good team. And they displayed that in all their glory Tuesday night.

Report: Rockets to waive Brandan Wright

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Finally healthy, it was easy to see where big man Brandan Wright would fit on Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets — he’s an athletic big man who can get up and down the court, he knows how to finish lobs above the rim, and could provide some front line depth behind Clint Capela and Nene. That’s why the Rockets picked him up in February after he was bought out by the Grizzlies.

It didn’t work out that way. Wright played in one game with Houston before his sore knee forced him to shut it down. He has not played since.

The Rockets are moving on, waiving Wright and bringing in forward Le’Bryan Nash out of the G-League on a 10-day contract, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

With center Brandan Wright unable to return from his knee issues this season, the Rockets will release Wright, who signed as a free agent last month, a person with knowledge of the move said…

He had a minor procedure and will work on his rehab with the Rockets staff, the individual familiar with the plans said.

 “Brandan did everything positive,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He just wasn’t physically able to hang in there. We hate it that the guy isn’t part of this.”

Wright has played in just 28 total this season averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.6 minutes. He’s battled knee issues for a few seasons now and has not played more than 28 games in the last three. If healthy he can help teams, but we’ll see if he ever gets back into the NBA.

The Rockets use Ryan Anderson as their backup center, using Nene less of late, although how much D’Antoni can use Anderson in the playoffs due to his defensive challenges remains to be seen.

Nash, who played a season at Oklahoma State, will get his first taste of the NBA. He was a highly recruited kid out of high school, and this season has averaged 8.5 points in 19 minutes per game for the Rio Grande Vipers this season.



The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.

Rumor: Magic expected to fire Frank Vogel

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Magic president Jeff Weltman inherited an expensive and bad roster, limiting his options to shape it.

He also inherited coach Frank Vogel, and maybe there’s something Weltman will do about that.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Orlando’s ongoing malaise, especially after the promise of an unexpected 8-4 start, make it a widely held assumption in coaching circles that Vogel will be dismissed after the franchise’s sixth successive season out of the playoffs.

Perhaps, these people in coaching circles are doing nothing more than connecting dots. Many coaches with poor records – only the Suns and Nets have been worse during Vogel’s two-year tenure – inherited by a new front office get fired.

Or it could be something more concrete, like Orlando putting out feelers for potential replacements. That possibility gives juice to this report.

Vogel has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Will ownership pay to oust Vogel? That seems likely. The alternative is paying Weltman to sit on his hands.

This would be a tough break for Vogel, who coached well with the Pacers. The Magic’s roster is just so lacking. Vogel hasn’t impressed in Orlando, but his opportunity to do so has been narrow.

At least it’d be more understandable if he got fired by a losing team. Last time, he got fired by a winning team.

Rumor: Bucks, Jabari Parker could part after season

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Jabari Parker is a confounding fit on the Bucks now and in the future.

Could he and Milwaukee part ways this summer, when he’ll be a restricted free agent?

Gery Woelfel on 105.7 The Fan:

At this very moment, I’d say the odds are slim to none it’s going to happen … that he’ll be on this team next year.

I just don’t see a good fit there. I didn’t bring this up, and I’ve been meaning to do so, but I haven’t. He came very, very close to being traded at the deadline. And I think that spoke volumes of they think of Jabari Parker and whether he’s a part of their future plans.

Bucks executive Alex Lasry denied it:

So did general manager Jon Horst. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Horst made it clear both on the radio and in a separate interview with the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that the Bucks never had any intention of trading Parker

Teams often discuss trading players then deny it to avoid offending the player. Whether or not they nearly traded Parker, the Bucks would probably respond now similarly.

As far as Parker’s future in Milwaukee, it’s unclear where the well-connected Woelfel’s reporting ends and his analysis begins. There’s a huge difference between trading Parker for value and letting him walk for nothing. Just because the Bucks came close to trading Parker wouldn’t mean they won’t re-sign him.

Shedding Parker would not open cap space without additional moves. It would probably allow Milwaukee to use the full mid-level exception and stay beneath the luxury-tax line. But that’s unlikely to land a player who combines Parker’s age and talent.

Because Parker will be a restricted free agent, the Bucks hold the cards. If he’s upset about trade talks or anything else, he can’t unilaterally leave.

Milwaukee must determine how much to pay Parker and how to utilize him with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are hard questions. But the Bucks throwing up their hands and letting Parker walk in free agency isn’t the answer.