Report: Kobe, Howard almost came to blows after New Year’s Day loss

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UPDATE 12:56 pm: As we suggested in the story below, pretty much everyone around the Lakers is saying “what are you talking about?” Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com went on SportsCenter and said: “Everybody I’ve talked to associated with the Lakers said nothing like that has happened.”

She went on to say the chemistry in the Lakers locker room has not been great and the losing adds to that tension.

As we said in the original post, there are people around the league that are hoping Howard bolts Los Angeles because they would like to get their hands on a franchise center. It’s not happening unless Howard leaves this summer as a free agent, and frankly all indications are he is not leaving as a free agent this summer. He wants to be the next franchise anchor of the Lakers.

The Lakers are struggling and losses inflame issues on teams. Enough losses and some infighting could change the scenario in Lakersland. But don’t bet on it.

10:04 am: Salt. As in take this report with a large grain of it because of where we are hearing this.

No doubt the Lakers, now losers of three straight after Sunday night, are a frustrated bunch. They were a frustrated bunch on Tuesday when they lost to Philadelphia at home, a game where Kobe Bryant had 36 points and Dwight Howard had 7 on 1-of-7 shooting (but did have 14 rebounds).

The New York Daily News is reporting the two almost came to blows in the locker room after the game.

A league source told the Daily News that the Lakers stars got into a heated exchange following a New Year’s Day loss to the 76ers, and Bryant went for a low blow – referencing and agreeing with Shaquille O’Neal’s criticisms of Howard being soft.

Howard was restrained from going at his teammate, according to the source, and there have been rumblings from the center’s camp that he’s been unhappy with Bryant since earlier in the season.

Salt. And why should we be wary of this rumor? Two reasons.

First, none of the Lakers media has reported it — there are very good beat writers and broadcasters who cover the Lakers and there is not a chance they sit on this if they knew. Instead, the report comes from “league sources” which talks to a paper on the other coast. That should raise eyebrows.

Second, they talk to Stefan Bondy of the Daily News — a good reporter but a guy who covers the Nets. Bondy goes on in the story linked above to talk about how the Nets would still want Howard to pair with Deron Williams and now they could do a sign and trade with Brook Lopez next summer and….

Pipe dream.

Howard’s camp and Howard himself have said up to recently that the big man is happy in Los Angeles and has hinted he plans to sign an extension with the Lakers this summer when Howard becomes a free agent.

Certainly there is frustration around the Lakers right now as they continue to struggle, particularly on defense, and have put themselves in a place where the talk has gone from titles to making the playoffs. And there can be no doubt Kobe and Howard are a contrast of locker room styles — Kobe is focused and serious when it comes to business, Howard wants things to be fun.

But it is still a huge leap from there to to a near locker room fight and dreams of Howard considering further damage to his already scarred reputation by going out on the free agent market or forcing another trade (even if it is a sign-and-trade). I’m just not buying it.

And let the denials from the Lakers start in 5…4…3…

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Suns Eric Bledsoe revenge game

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Giannis Antetokounmpoone of the NBA’s best players – won’t help new Bucks teammate Eric Bledsoe in a revenge game against the Suns tonight.

Not only is Milwaukee missing Mirza Teletovic and John Henson (and Matthew Dellavedova and Jabari Parker), Antetokounmpo is out.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Antetokounmpo will miss Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to right knee soreness.

Antetokounmpo says his knee soreness is the same injury he dealt with in the off-season, which caused him to withdraw from the Greek national team.

“It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting out shootaround. “I’m just trying to be careful with it and not make any damage. That’s it, because it’s a long season and I’m trying to be careful.”

The Bucks have been outscored by 18.6 points per 100 possessions without Antetokounmpo this season (and are +2.3 without him). Phoenix isn’t good, but neither is Milwaukee without Antetokounmpo.

I don’t think Bledsoe will mind a chance to get more aggressive tonight, though.

Report: Mexico City could host NBA’s 31st minor-league team

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his league would look into placing a franchise in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, the NBA’s minor-league has affiliates for 26 of 30 NBA teams and counting. The league also has youth academies in China, India, Australia and Senegal – and also counting.

Jonathan Givony of  ESPN:

The NBA will announce a new basketball development and training academy in Mexico City during the Global Games December 7th and 9th, in conjunction with CONADE (Mexico’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport) and the Mexican Basketball Federation, sources told ESPN.

Mexico City could emerge as the 31st G League franchise, where prospects from the seven academies graduate up to, according to sources.

A minor-league team in Mexico City could be a nice testing ground for an NBA franchise. An unaffiliated minor-league team is also an interesting wrinkle, especially how it’d be stocked.

Ultimately, experimentation is a purpose of the NBA’s minor league. This would be running multiple test cases at once.

Lonzo Ball on his shot: “I feel like they’re going to fall. Just have to keep shooting.”

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Lonzo Ball‘s shooting woes this season have been well chronicled. Maybe even beaten to death — but when your father is a hype man, and Magic Johnson says you’re the “face of the franchise” it invites a whole new level of scrutiny. Doesn’t matter if it’s fair, it’s reality.

Rather than a cold recitation of the numbers, a look at Ball’s shot chart for the season says a 1,000 words worth.

Ball has admitted frustration but has said throughout he expects things to turn. He reiterated that in an interview on the Mason and Ireland Show on ESPN LA Radio. He likes the looks he’s getting, thinks they will start to go down. (Hat tip Lakers’ Nation.)

“I’m just missing shots. I definitely like the looks I’m getting. Most of them are wide open, people are going under screens. I feel like they’re going to fall. Just have to keep shooting and shooting with confidence.”

Ball is right. He is shooting 28.2 percent on shots where the defender is 4-6 feet away (22.9 percent from three on those), and 21.3 percent when the defender is 6 or more feet away (19.1 percent from three).

Those shots may start to fall — Luke Walton has preached the same thing to Ball, just keep shooting and it will come around. Right now Ball is in his own head about this, maybe guiding the shots rather than just firing away, but the Lakers aren’t going to rebuild his shot mid-season. He should just keep shooting.

Maybe of more concern is that 42.5 percent in the restricted area — if he isn’t a decent scoring threat on drives, it will hamper his entire passing game. He’s a rookie, he needs time to adjust to the speed, length, and physicality of the NBA, it’s far too early to say what he is and isn’t yet. But those finishing numbers are ones to watch.

Kevin Durant says “I plan on playing” against Thunder Wednesday

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After Kevin Durant missed the Warriors’ last game with a sprained ankle, there was some question about whether he would play on his latest return to Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Doubt no more, he will play. Like we all expected.

Durant has a ring now and says he wants to move on from the drama surrounding his departure from Oklahoma City, but you can be sure plenty of Thunder fans don’t feel that way. KD will again have boos rained down on him all game.

This is obviously a very different Thunder team than the one Durant left, with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. While the Thunder have stumbled and blown leads (in six of their nine losses OKC had double-digit leads) this is a team with a lot of potential, as Durant discussed.