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

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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.

Rumor: Add Denver Nuggets to list of teams talking to Bulls about Jimmy Butler

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The Denver Nuggets are starting to build something. Mike Malone has brought a needed new culture to the locker room, they have found a franchise cornerstone in Nikola Jokic and running the offense through him, and they have quality young pieces around him such as Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. The Nuggets just missed the playoffs last year, and they — and hopefully their defense — are poised to take a step forward next season.

Jimmy Butler would fit in well with that.

Denver is part of the long list of teams that have reached out to the Bulls about the star wing, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.

Denver has spoken to the Bulls about Jimmy Butler, source told ESPN. Would include multiple young players, not Nikola Jokic, and picks.

Jokic is about as close to untradable as it gets in the NBA.

Would a pick or two with Harris, Emanual Mudiay, and a veteran that can help now such as Wilson Chandler get the job done? Maybe not, the Bulls have been asking a lot for Butler which is why deals have withered. However, Denver has the assets to make this potentially work so the conversation should move forward.

Smart money is on Butler in a Bulls uniform to start next season, but the rumors are not going to stop.

Report: Cavaliers, Spurs have discussed Danny Green trade

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While the majority of teams in the NBA are thinking more about trying to contend in 2020 and beyond — when LeBron James has, in theory, faded in the East, and maybe the Warriors have slowed or broken apart a little — there are a handful of teams that should be targeting a run at the top of the mountain next season.

San Antonio and Cleveland are two of those teams.

Which is why the Spurs and Cavaliers are talking about a potential Danny Green trade, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

On the surface, you can see how this works for both sides. Green fills an obvious need for shooters and wing defenders for the Cavaliers. Since none of the Cavaliers’ role players would be an upgrade in return, for the Spurs this is more likely about clearing cap space to make a run at Chris Paul or another elite free agent.

Most likely this deal does not go through. The Spurs are going to want something specific in return, and the Cavaliers have limited options considering their roster. But it’s something worth watching.

Reports: Utah Jazz talking about Patrick Beverley trade, active in trying to move up in draft

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The buzz around the league has been for a while that momentum has Gordon Hayward leaving Utah this summer as a free agent. That’s not set in stone, however, and the Jazz are not going quietly into that good night.

They are being very active in the run-up to Thursday night, and a team known for not allowing leaks has seen some things get out about how hard they are pushing. For example, with it likely George Hill is gone as a free agent this summer, they are looking at Patrick Beverley to replace him, reports Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune.

That is not the only activity going on, the Jazz want to move up in the draft to land some shooting, reports Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.

Utah is not an organization that is going to do anything rash, they are not going to overpay. If they end up making their multiple picks at the end of the first round, they will bring them into one of the best player development programs in the league and see what happens.

However, if they can do something that shows Hayward they will do what it takes, they will. Genessy says the Jazz are “pretty comfortable” that Hayward will return. Much of the rest of the league sees it differently, but only one person knows for sure and his mind is not made up on the issue.

All the Jazz can do is remind him how committed they are to him, and draft night moves could help that.

Report: Timberwolves active in trying to land Paul George or Jimmy Butler

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Minnesota is one of the NBA’s best positioned up-and-coming teams. They have a franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns, a quality No. 2 in Andrew Wiggins, maybe like Zach LaVine can blossom into an All-Star, and players such as Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica could be part of the picture. Maybe Ricky Rubio, too, although he’s further along his career arc. A lot of people look at this team and think around 2020, when the Warriors fade (or break apart), the Timberwolves can step up to elite.

Tom Thibodeau is apparently not willing to be that patient — he’s looking to get in the Paul George/Jimmy Butler talks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Thibodeau helped develop Butler in Chicago and they have a great relationship, he certainly makes the Timberwolves better next season. Same with George, although he’s a rental who almost certainly bolts after the coming season

My question to the Timberwolves: Why?

What was wrong with the building trajectory they are on? I get it, they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, a ton of money was just sunk into upgrades at the Target Center, and the owner is not getting younger. Those are all non-basketball reasons to screw up what the basketball side is doing right. It’s the mistake of poor franchises to let that happen.

I also get Thibodeau wants a veteran voice to help lead this young core and help show them how to win. That doesn’t need to be an elite player that comes at a high price, however.

Could the Timberwolves use a point guard of the future, more depth on the wings and better defenders all around? You bet. But they don’t need to rush the development program either. If Minnesota can land Butler only giving up Rubio and a protected future first or something, sure, but the Bulls continue to ask a very high price for a deal.

Outside of personal feelings, why would the Timberwolves do that?