Lakers find groove for second game in a row… bring on the real test (Miami)


It was a gimmick — after the Lakers ugly loss to the Thunder last Friday night, Mike D’Antoni said that the Lakers season really started Sunday night.

Well, the Lakers are 2-0 in their “new” season, and both wins looked a lot more like what everyone expected of the team this season — Dwight Howard playing dominant defense and still chipping in 31 points, Steve Nash setting guys up, Kobe Bryant getting open looks (on his way to 31 points also) and Antawn Jamison knocking down open looks off the bench (10 points).

Los Angeles pulled away in the third quarter and cruised past Milwaukee 104-88. It makes then 17-21 on the season.

Next up: The Miami Heat. And while Miami is in a bit of a rut themselves this is the real test of if the Lakers are starting to finally put it together or if this was just a couple of nice games.

What made the Lakers look good for a change was their defense. Milwaukee came in with the small but quick backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Lakers decided to challenge that with length — Kobe was on Jennings most of the night, Earl Clark was on Ellis. It worked, the Lakers blew up the Bucks pick-and-roll much of the night. The result was Jennings was 4-of-14 shooting and Ellis 6-of-16 and while they combined for 29 points they didn’t really change the game.

The weakness with the Lakers plan was that Steve Nash has to guard somebody and that ended up being Luc Mbah a Moute. But he tried to post Nash up to little success, thanks in large part to the help from Howard. Mbah a Moute finished the night 3-of-10.

Meanwhile, the Lakers showed some good ball movement against a quality Bucks defense — 20 of the Lakers first 22 field goals were assisted. There is starting to be an obvious comfort level between Nash and Kobe, with the latter getting more good looks than the ones he had to work so hard for earlier in the season. They are also getting Howard some easy baskets at the rim.

But the Bucks hung around — down just 7 at the half — because of offensive rebounds. The Bucks had 18, or to put it another way they got a second chance on 36 percent of their missed shots. Larry Sanders had four. It just didn’t help that much.

Mostly because the Bucks shot 35.8 percent on the night.

Some of that was Howard blocking (four) and altering shots in the paint. Some of it was improved Lakers perimeter defense. Some of it was just the young Bucks missing wide open shots. The Bucks offense has been up and down all season. This was down. And the Lakers get some of the credit for that.

Next up for the Lakers is the Miami Heat. That is a much better test, is the kind of win that can be a confidence boost for a team looking to go 3-0 on the start of its season.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

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Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.