Lakers cruise to win over Sixers thanks to an efficient 34 points from Kobe Bryant

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It’s not often we use the word “efficient” in the same sentence while describing the offensive play of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. But in Sunday’s easy 111-98 victory over the Sixers, it was not only appropriate, but it fit the description exactly.

Bryant finished with 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting, to go along with four rebounds and six assists. He opened the game with 11 first-quarter points, while scoring from both inside and out.

Right around 20 shot attempts is probably where Bryant should be on a nightly basis in order for his teammates to remain involved and engaged on both ends of the floor, and with Bryant excelling in this range in this one, there was plenty of offensive opportunity to go around.

Metta World Peace matched Bryant’s first quarter with 11 points of his own, and finished with 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

The Lakers got going offensively early, and did so as a team, with Bryant and World Peace leading the way. It’s been nine games since L.A. has scored at least this many points, so as you might imagine, players who aren’t accustomed to having great performances offensively got going a bit in Philadelphia.

Darius Morris, who remains replaced in the starting lineup by Chris Duhon, had a breakout game with 15 points, all of which were scored in the first half, and 12 of which came in the second period.

He only managed to stay in the game for 18 minutes, with Mike D’Antoni wisely keeping him on a short leash given his propensity to turn the ball over, combined with his inability to consistently initiate the offense. Morris made the most of his opportunity on this night by making his first five shots, but didn’t score after halftime.

Not that the Lakers needed him at that point, anyway.

The team leaned on its stars to get its second straight victory, and beyond Bryant and World Peace, Dwight Howard finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocked shots. He played a pretty complete game, even if Kwame Brown got the better of him on an early offensive possession.

On the Sixers’ side, Nick Young ended up with 30 points in 41 minutes, but got 11 of those by playing the entire fourth quarter in a game that had already been decided. Evan Turner was strong early and his dribble penetration helped keep Philadelphia in it, but when you have the Lakers going 10-of-15 from three-point distance in the first half, there aren’t a lot of answers.

This makes two wins in a row for a Lakers team that is still three games under .500, but hope is on the horizon. L.A. plays next on Tuesday at home against a Bobcats team that has lost 11 straight, and they may have Pau Gasol back in the lineup then, with Steve Nash possibly to follow by the end of the week.

If the offense can continue to improve with a true team effort like this one, the Lakers might be able to begin to climb out of the early-season hole they dug for themselves. But that will only happen if we get the efficient version of Kobe Bryant, the one that so effortlessly helped dismantle the Sixers in Philadelphia, and did so while taking just 21 shots.

Report: Minnesota “intent” on trading Ricky Rubio to get more shooting

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It’s easy to look at the trio of Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota now and think “that team will make the playoffs next season and be a contender in a few years.” They have set themselves up for that potential run.

But with those three on the floor, Minnesota needs shooters at the other two spots to provide spacing. Butler may have hit 36.7 percent of his threes last season, but he is far more dangerous as a slasher getting to the rim. Same with Wiggins (who shot 35 percent from three). Obviously, Towns operates around the basket. The defensive strategy against the Timberwolves is not hard to envision: Pack the paint and make them shoot over the top of you. Take away the inside.

Minnesota needs shooters. To get that they are dangling Ricky Rubio, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rubio should have value, and he makes a reasonable $14.3 million next season and $15 million the one after (a fair price for a point guard of his quality). He remains one of the best passers in the league, a guy with amazing court vision. He’s also one of the better defensive point guards in the NBA. He shot the ball well after the All-Star break last season (35.3 percent from three) and was more aggressive getting his shot, but Tom Thibodeau is clearly not sold that’s a permanent change.

Minnesota has some cap space and could chase a player like Patty Mills at the point or Kyle Korver as a free agent to give them shooting, plus try to trade Rubio. They have options, although they don’t have the money to chase the J.J. Redicks of the world.

If you hear of a shooter being available, know that Thibodeau is lurking, trying to land him.

Report: Cavaliers, Nuggets, Pacers three-way trade involving Paul George “very unlikely”

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We knew back on the night of the draft that as the Cavaliers desperately looked for a way to pry Paul George out of Indiana, they started involving third teams in the talks (because Indy had no interest in Kevin Love for Paul George straight up, not should they). Phoenix was involved, but that fizzled. So did talks involving Denver.

But those latter ones didn’t die the night of the draft, according to reports that came out over the weekend. Denver, Cleveland, and Indiana were still talking about a three-team deal that would land Love in Denver and George in Cleveland. The challenge for Cleveland was finding the combination of young players and draft picks that Indiana wants in a deal — Indy is rumored to want a lottery pick (preferably high lottery) and a young player or players.

Now that Denver three-team is “very unlikely” to happen, according to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

As first reported by ESPN, the Cavs engaged the Nuggets as a possible third team to facilitate a trade for the All-Star George on draft night, but a source said the discussion was “nothing serious” and “very unlikely” to happen now…

The Nuggets had the No. 13 pick in Thursday’s draft and traded it to Utah for Trey Lyles — obviously giving up on getting Love, at least for the time being.

Indiana would have wanted the No. 13 pick, because future Dever picks are likely to be outside of the lottery as this is a team poised to make a leap into the playoffs, with Nikola Jokic leading them. As for players, Denver had shot down all requests for Jamal Murray. Indiana likely asked for Gary Harris, but if Murray was off-limits then Harris likely was as well. Emmanuel Mudiay was available but that wasn’t going to get the job done.

Denver likes its roster and what it’s building. While Love could have been an upgrade over Danilo Gallinari‘s role, it wasn’t enough to get them to break up the team to make it happen. And that ultimately has been Cleveland’s challenge in getting a deal done — Love isn’t commanding as much as they hoped on the trade market.

In the same article, Varden has an update on Cleveland’s discussions with Chauncey Billups about becoming the president of basketball operations.

The Cavs are still in discussions with Chauncey Billups to lead Cleveland’s front office after the departure of David Griffin. They’re also remaining active in the trade market, with a host of remaining front-office personnel, including Koby Altman, an assistant GM under Griffin, working the phones.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, speaking on the Lowe Post podcast with Zach Lowe, said Billups is weighing a lot of things, on and off the court, in making a complex decision. He likes living in Denver (his hometown) as does his family, and with his television schedule, he can be home a lot. On the other hand, he knows the importance and need for more African-American executives in the NBA had how important it could be for him to be in that role. There’s no easy answer for Billups.

The lesson here should be one for Dan Gilbert (and other owners): If you are going to fire a GM right before the draft and the start of free agency, you must have a replacement ready to go. Plan B has to be set. To fire a guy not having that plan, then go searching right before a critical off-season for your team, is how long-struggling teams operate.

Video Breakdown: Cavaliers elevator doors fake out vs. Warriors in Game 4

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The 2017 NBA Finals are over but we just can’t quite move on to the summer without mentioning this play from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 4 onslaught from 3-point range.

Yes, the Cavaliers hit a myriad of insane, falling over, lucky shots in their record-setting Game 4 win. But they also had a number of excellent plays drawn up by head coach Tyronn Lue, with one of them coming here in the first quarter.

The thing I love about this play the most is how it combines multiple actions to confuse one of the best defensive teams in the NBA in the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland mixed Floppy action with a sideline elevator doors play, getting both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to overreact to Kyrie Irving.

Meanwhile, the real shooter ended up being one of the elevator doors screeners in Kevin Love.

Cleveland will need to regroup for next season if they hope to take on the Warriors yet again in the NBA finals in 2018. Meanwhile, check out this sweet video breakdown of a play that is straight out genius.

Watch Allen Iverson’s first bucket in Big3 League debut

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The Big3 League came to Brooklyn and put on a show (which you can see broadcast on FS 1 Monday night).

That includes coach Allen Iverson putting on a jersey and playing a little.

He got his first bucket taking a ball saved from going out of bounds, dribbling up to the elbow, and knocking it down. The crowd loved it. Iverson coached/played his team to victory thanks to Andre Owens putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds.