Denver Nuggets' Gallinari celebrates a three-pointer during their NBA basketball game against Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles

Turnovers, offensive rebounds doom Lakers, spark Nuggets in win

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There was a moment Sunday night’s game that seemed to sum up the Lakers’ season to this point.

With just over seven minutes left, Lakers ran a set that got sloppy and directionless, but with clock running down they got the ball in the post to Pau Gasol; then Kobe Bryant knifed through the lane and got a pass from Gasol. Kobe made a difficult shot over JaVale McGee, a shot that seemed flat but found its way through the net.

Denver quickly inbounded the ball, made a long pass to nearly half court to Ty Lawson and he raced down the floor, ahead of most every Laker. Steve Nash was back and tried, but Lawson went around him and went off the glass for a layup. Two quick points.

It was the story of the night. It has been the story of the season — the Lakers have to work hard for their basket, then the other team gets an easy one because they are not ready on defense.

In some ways they Lakers played their best offensive game in a while and outshot Denver on the night. But the Lakers had 18 turnovers (17.7 percent of their possessions) and allowed Denver 17 offensive rebounds (32.7 percent of their missed shots) and those 35 free possessions for Denver was enough to doom Los Angeles. Again.

Denver won 112-105 in exactly the kind of game the Lakers need to win — at home against a team on the second night of a back-to-back, an opponent that is one of the teams they are fighting for a playoffs spot in the bottom half of the West.

And while a lot of people — myself included — keep expecting the Lakers to figure it out enough to make the playoffs, it’s games like this that give me pause. And games like this that make it a lot harder for them.

Credit Denver — they know who they are. They are a team that wants to run and they did (the game had 102 possessions). They are a team that trusts their point guard to run the show, and Lawson did with 21 points and 10 assists as he outplayed Steve Nash. They have long players in the paint on defense to make it hard on you and challenge shots then grab rebounds. They hustle.

Those are all things the Lakers want to do, but Denver executes them better right now. The Nuggets have balance — six players in double figures scoring — and they can overcome a bad shooting night from a key scorer (Danilo Gallinari had 20 points but on 6-of-20 shooting).

The Lakers had Kobe with 29 points (but on 26 shots) and seven assists, Howard had 14 points and a career high in rebounds with 26. Nash had 10 points and 13 assists. The Lakers has six players in double figures as well.

But the Lakers defense was worse than Denvers (which wasn’t all that good). Defense continues to be what does the Lakers in — a defense that is hurt by those turnovers that can lead to fast break points the other way. A defense hurting itself by giving up offensive rebounds so the opponents get another look. The Lakers gave up 107.6 points per 100 possessions in this game, which is pretty much what they gave up in December and that was 26th in the league for the month.

With the boards and some defensive plays, this looked like a better, healthier Dwight Howard for the Lakers, but he was pitching into the night of mental errors. Inside two minutes in the game, down four, Howard severely altered a Lawson shot then grabbed the rebound — then threw it away, tipped by Gallinari. Then inside the final minute Howard blocked an Andre Miller shot — right to Gallinari who drained the dagger three.

Part of the problem is Gasol — he is thinking now, not just playing basketball. He’s unsure where to go in the offense, and it’s in his head. And in his shot, so he gets the ball and is thinking pass, not about being aggressive.

For Denver, they are now 20-16 with 12 of their next 14 games at home. This is a big road win for them, if they can have a hot home stand they can start to solidify a playoff spot in the West.

The Lakers are now 15-18 on the season, currently the 11 seed and three games back of the 8 seed Trail Blazers. It’s easy to say they will make that up, it’s not much, but it’s not going to be tough with Denver playing well, Houston playing better and good teams like Portland and Utah to climb over. The Lakers have the Spurs, Rockets and Thunder on the schedule for this week. They need wins. Now. Before the hole they are in becomes too deep to climb out of.

Lakers’ Lou Williams provides smooth scoring, trade intrigue

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 22:  Louis Williams #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 22, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Lou Williams declared for the 2005 NBA draft out of high school and proclaimed, “The second round is not an option.”

He was drafted with the 15th pick of the second round.

“I used to have to run through everybody,” Williams said. “Now, I don’t feel like I do. Just trying to outsmart guys.”

The last guard drafted directly out of high school, Williams has quietly refined his game. His athleticism has declined with age, but gone too is a recklessness to his play. He largely makes the plays he can and doesn’t try to make the ones he can’t.

Williams is the Lakers’ best player. As a result, he’s also one of the league’s bigger trade chips as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.

He leads the Lakers with 18.6 points per game, and they come in just 24.2 minutes per game. He makes that time count with a historic combination of volume and efficiency.

Both his usage percentage (30.6) and true shooting percentage (60.9) lead the team. The only regularly-used players to produce full seasons with a usage percentage of at least 30 and a true shooting percentage of at least 60 are or will be Hall of Famers:

Harden (again), Isaiah Thomas and Kawhi Leonard are also on pace to do it this year. All three were All-Stars.

Williams flies under the radar, because he usually comes off the bench for Los Angeles — though that offers special opportunity for recognition later in the season.

Already a Sixth Man of the Year winner (2015 with the Raptors), Williams leads eligible players in win shares this season:

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Williams and Dwight Powell (Mavericks) are the only reserves leading their teams in win shares.

In fact, Williams has been so much better than his teammates, he could maintain his team lead even if traded. His 5.1 win shares rank well ahead of the 3.3 by Nick Young (another trade candidate) and 2.2 by Larry Nance Jr.

But there’s still a relatively high likelihood he gets moved. The Lakers are focusing more on player development, and the 30-year-old Williams could help a team ready to win now.

He’s locked in for a bargain $7 million next season. So, his more-than-just-a-rental status could help the Lakers land a first-round pick.

“I just go out and play,” Williams said. “I let the powers make deals or if they don’t.”

There’s a patience in Williams’ game that has developed in recent years. He attributes some of it to a torn ACL in 2013. No longer as quick, the pick-and-roll ace has been forced to play smarter.

Williams has mostly eliminated long 2s from his game, getting more shots at the rim, 3-pointers and free throws. His craftiness fits the modern game.

But there are still concerns about how he’ll translate to a better team.

He’s a defensive liability, and his size limits paths to reliability on that end. Not only is he 6-foot-1, he often needs to play shooting guard because his playmaking for others is only so-so for a point guard.

But as poor as he’s been defensively (400th of 450 players in defensive real plus-minus), he has been even better offensively (13th in offensive real plus-minus behind only All-Stars and Nikola Jokic). Still, he relies heavily on drawing fouls, and his tricks might not be so effective during a playoff series with plenty of time to scout him.

There are risks in acquiring Williams. But getting another player having a special season — like, say, Jimmy Butler — would be tremendously more costly. As long as a team has a plan to accentuate Williams’ strengths and hide his weaknesses, he might be one of the best bargains on the trade market.

Paul George says he’s not motivated by opportunity to earn higher max

Eastern Conference forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (13) reacts during the second half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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NEW ORLEANS — The Pacers have already granted a standing max offer to Paul George.

So, if he wants to stay in Indiana, his potential paths look relatively straightforward:

If he makes an All-NBA team this season, he can sign a designated-veteran-player extension that would kick in in 2018-19 and projects be worth about $209 million over five years (about $42 million annually).

If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team this season, he can wait to sign and try again to make one next season. If he does, he can sign a new contract in 2018 that would be worth the same $209 million or so over the same five-year period.

I think it’s this simple: If he becomes eligible to become a designated veteran player, he’ll sign then. If not, 2018 free agency projects to offer a choice of about $179 million over five years (about $36 million annually) to re-sign or about $133 million over four years (about $33 million annually) to sign elsewhere — a more difficult decision.

George says he’s not thinking about earning the higher max.

“You want to be one of the best,” George said. “And that’s the only motivation. You want to be All-NBA. That’s what you strive for. That’s what you want to play for, to be recognized as one of the league’s best players.”

That’s no small challenge for George, who was one of 12 All-Star forwards this year, joining:

With only six All-NBA forward spots, George faces long odds this season — and no easy path next season.

But at least eligibility for the higher max coincides with one of his goals.

“It’s nice. It’s nice,” George said. “But that’s not the motivation you want to play for”

Report: Chris Paul has already verbally agreed to re-sign with Clippers

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The Clippers are approaching a pivotal offseason with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin entering unrestricted free agency.

Drama in LA?

Maybe not.

The team already did its part, pledging to spend “whatever it takes” to re-sign those two stars. Now, it appears the players are getting in line.

Griffin reportedly plans to re-sign quickly this summer. And it seems Paul will follow suit.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

He’ll opt out of his final $24.26 million and ink a new deal with the Clippers for north of $200 million. While Knicks fan often dream of a Carmelo Anthony-Paul tandem, it’s not going to happen. Sources close to the process said that it’s already been verbally agreed to and it’s simply a function of the calendar and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kicking in.

If Paul demands the biggest deal possible — and why wouldn’t he? — it projects to be worth more than $207 million over five years.

But he can’t sign until July. That leaves the door open for things to sour with the Clippers and other teams to make pitches. Planning to re-sign is one — important — thing. Actually doing it is another.

The Clippers should turn their attention to J.J. Redick, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. They’ll have his Bird Rights, so they can exceed the cap to re-sign him. However, capped out even if he leaves, they will have no mechanism to adequately replace him.

A team with Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can’t afford to take that large of a step back. If Paul and Griffin re-sign, that gives Redick tremendous leverage.

What Vlade Divac learned in process of trading DeMarcus Cousins: ‘Not to trust agents’

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Kings general manager Vlade Divac seemingly had what he deemed a “better” offer for DeMarcus Cousins fall apart after Cousins’ camp dissuaded the other team from dealing for star.

That’s why Sacramento settled for the Pelicans’ meager package. The Kings, Divac said, feared the offers would only get worse as the trade deadline approaches.

This whole experience leaves Divac sounding jilted.

 

Sam Amick of USA Today:

The guy who declared publicly just two weeks ago that Cousins wouldn’t be traded is talking about not trusting agents? OK.

Divac reportedly told Cousins’ camp late Sunday afternoon that the center wouldn’t be traded and then reached a deal just a few hours later. There are conflicting accounts of how well Sacramento informed Cousins privately of their true intentions, but Divac public statements are enough to show hypocrisy here. The only question is precisely how hypocritical he’s being.

 

Cousins missed out on a lot of money — a projected $30 million or so — as a result of this trade. His agents were doing their job when they tried to scuttle a deal. Cousins never owed it to Sacramento to facilitate his own exit.

The Kings want to change their culture without Cousins, but they’re so far not setting a tone of trustworthiness.