Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Joel Anthony

Improving Lakers get moral victory. Heat get impressive actual victory.

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A week ago, with Los Angeles’ big men sitting in suits on the sideline, the Thunder routed the Lakers.

Since that game the Lakers have played better, particularly on defense. Dwight Howard had become more active, the offense has been more crisp. The defensive improvement happened again for the most part on Thursday — Los Angeles held the Miami Heat to 40.9 percent shooting in the first half, plus Kobe Bryant and teammates hit key shots down the stretch and tied the game 90-90 with 2:30 left.

But that’s when the Heat put it in another gear — one of defensive pressure and good execution of their sets — that the Lakers simply could not match. Not even close.

Miami looked like a champion, closed the game on a 9-0 run behind five points and two assists from LeBron James and won 99-90.

The Lakers looked like a team that could once again not overcome their self-inflicted wounds.

The game was a reminder that when the Heat are focused on defense they are more than just contenders, they are the reigning title holders and you are going to have to rip that trophy from their hands if you want it. They still have the best player in the game in LeBron James.

It also was a reminder that the Lakers limitations as they get to know each other. It was a moral victory for a 17-22 team that is past the point of having time for moral victories. They need actual ones and they are going to have to get a bunch on the road (10 of next 13 are away from Staples).

LeBron had a “might want to think about making me MVP again” type game with 39 points on 17-of-25 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and three steals thrown in for good measure. He had 10 of those points in the fourth quarter and hit the dagger shots down the stretch. Kobe Bryant was good (22 points but on 8-of-25 shooting with six turnovers) but LeBron switched on to him defensively near the end and made Kobe’s life very difficult.

Early on, it felt like this could be a Heat runaway — Miami’s first eight points came off four Lakers turnovers and four Heat highlight transition dunks. The Lakers wanted to move the ball quickly, away from the Heat’s pressure, but the result was rushed and errant passes.

The trend continued. Los Angeles had 9 first-quarter turnovers, 16 for the half and 20 for the game. It plays right into the Heat’s hands — easy transition buckets fuel the Heat. LeBron started 7-of-9 from the floor and 14 points before he sat the first time. Miami had 13 steals at half (Chris Bosh had five by himself). Steve Nash had four first-half turnovers under intense Heat ball pressure (they went hard at him).

But Miami never pulled away. The Lakers made a few shots, got a couple of stops and hung around, and eventually they caught and passed the Heat, leading 45-44 at the half.

The reason is the book on the Heat is right — size can give them trouble. The presence of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (returned from a concussion) forced Miami away from its preferred small-lineups and three point shooting for a while. When Miami did go small they struggled a little with their shooting. Miami had no good answer for Howard, but the Lakers only got him four first-half shots.

The problem is Howard only got 7 shots, finishing with 13 points. The Lakers didn’t go to their strength.

The game remained close in the second half, with the Heat taking little leads and the Lakers making runs to get back in it. The last of those included a Steve Nash three, then a vintage Kobe three coming off a baseline screen. That shot tied the game at 90-90 with 2:32 left.

It was the last points the Lakers would score — Miami has switched to put LeBron on Kobe, Dwyane Wade on Steve Nash, and fouling Dwight Howard before he shot. It worked.

First Miami took the lead back with an elbow action that had Wade curling in for a clean look. Then Shane Battier fouled Howard in the paint rather than giving up the easy bucket and Howard obliged missing both free throws. Then the Heat took a four point lead off a Ray Allen rainbow shot, a catch-and-shoot he got off a curl.

Next trip down Wade smothered Steve Nash and then blocked his shot. Miami got its chance, LeBron drove hard then pulled up at the elbow and nailed it, at this point there were just :49 seconds left and the Heat were up 96-60. The Lakers needed a big shot but Metta World Peace and Kobe missed threes on the same possession (but you need to credit LeBron for part of that as he smothered Kobe and took away a lot of good options).

After that, there was a LeBron slam that put a cap on it.

It was an impressive last few minutes by the Heat that reminds you how good they can be.

And was a reminder to Lakers fans how far they are from that level right now

Bucks’ Greg Monroe says he’s not thinking of player-option decision

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 19: Greg Monroe #15 of the Milwaukee Bucks is defended by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Bucks reportedly already planned for Greg Monroe to opt in after this season, a reasonable conclusion considering they tried to dump him in a trade all summer and found no takers.

But Monroe has quietly boosted his stock this season. Coming off Milwaukee’s bench, he’s still a skilled interior scorer. But he’s defending and rebounding better, using his quick hands to strip opponents and taking plenty of charges.

Could he even decline his $17,884,176 player option?

Monroe, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m not thinking about anything like the off-season right now. There is a time and place for everything. If and when I have to make a decision, that time is not right now.”

The time might approach more quickly than Monroe expects. If the Bucks shop him again, potential trade partners will want to know Monroe’s intention. Some might prefer the flexibility created by him opting out, and others would like the certainty of having a productive player at a reasonable-enough cost next season. But all would want to know where they stand.

That said, it’s hardly a give Milwaukee moves Monroe. Though he has backed up John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe (21.2 minutes per game) plays more than both. He’s a valuable contributor on a team jockeying for playoff position.

Most importantly, Monroe appears to complement Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Antetokounmpo scores more (23.5 to 26.3 points per 36 minutes) and more efficiently (59.0% to 65.7% true shooting percentage) from when he plays without Monroe to when he plays with Monroe, and Milwaukee’s offense improves accordingly (104.3 to 114.6 points per 100 possessions).

Andre Iguodala: Jealous media tries to make players ‘feel less than what we are’

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 11:  Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors spwaks in overtime the media after Game Four of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 11, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  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 Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Stephen Curry is having a down year relative to his last two seasons.

That shouldn’t qualify as a controversial statement. Curry won MVP the last two years. There wasn’t much room to go anywhere but down. Adjusting to playing Kevin Durant has taken time, and Curry might have been due for regression to the mean, anyway. It isn’t as if Curry is having a bad season. He remains a superstar, and I haven’t seen anyone credible unfairly admonish Curry for his production slip.

Yet, the slightest sniff of Curry criticism prompted teammate Andre Iguodala to unload on the media.

Iguodala, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I be like, ‘What are y’all even talking about.’ Like, why? That’s just the world we live in,” Iguodala told ESPN. “It’s like, whatever. You can be on the best team and winning the most games and they’ll try to find something. It’s almost sad because they look for things to say negative. They just look [for] something, anything.”

He blames the media for reaching for a narrative.

“I think they’re just looking for something,” Iguodala continued. “It’s not just that he set the bar so high. I don’t think it’s that. It’s just the hate. That’s just how they’ve been since the beginning of time. And you’re not going to write that, but that’s just how they are. Since the beginning of time, it’s some things that we can do that they can’t do. And they’ve been trying ever since to either try to do it, which they can’t, and they figure that out, and to make us feel less than what we are.”

There is some truth to that. Most media members at one point dreamed of playing in the NBA, and none of us can do it. Otherwise, we would be doing it.

Nearly all of us learned long ago we’d fall far short of playing in the NBA, so I don’t think there’s such a direct jealousy as Iguodala paints. It’s just not something most of us are dealing with.

That said, some reporters can be overly negative for varying reasons. I caution against speaking as broadly as he does, but Iguodala certainly has a right to express his opinion.

Perhaps, Haynes negating Iguodala’s prediction that his comments won’t be written up shows that we’re not all so bad?

Carmelo Anthony: I’d consider waiving no-trade clause if Knicks want to rebuild

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13:  Kristaps Porzingis #6 and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 13, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Knicks 113-111 in overtime. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony told Phil Jackson he wanted to remain with the Knicks.

Case closed?

Anthony holds a no-trade clause and, therefore, all the leverage. He has repeatedly publicly stated his desire to remain in New York, and this was just the latest example of that commitment.

But apparently he’s open to being dealt under the right circumstances.

Anthony, via Al Iannazzone of Newsday:

“I think it will be more on the front office,” Anthony told Newsday this week. “I have the power, but still I would talk to them. We would be in communication if they feel like they want to go in a different direction, they want to start rebuilding for the future. If they tell me they want to scrap this whole thing, yeah, I have to consider it.”

Anthony, 32, made it clear he isn’t thinking about going anywhere, nor does he allow himself at this point. He and his family love it in New York, and his son is in school here.

The Knicks’ fundamental issue: Anthony is 32, and Kristaps Porzingis is 21. Their timelines just offer little to no overlap. New York might be better off building around Porzingis.

But the Knicks have already given lucrative long-term contracts to 31-year-olds Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. Noah’s deal – worth more than $72 million over four years – is particularly onerous. It would be difficult for New York to pivot into rebuilding – and that starts with Anthony.

He’d like be choosy about where he’d go in a trade, and contenders will be reluctant to part with significant pieces for an aging scorer with few complementary skills. And it’s hard to fit Anthony’s salary, either into cap space or through salary matching, without surrendering key players.

So, there are significant roadblocks to the Knicks ever actually trading Anthony. But that he acknowledges hypothetically accepting a deal means something.

Report: Danny Ferry not expected to supplant Dell Demps as Pelicans GM

CLEVELAND - JUNE 02:  General Manager Danny Ferry of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after the Cavs won 98-82 to win the Detroit Pistons in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2007 NBA Playoffs on June 2, 2007 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has repeatedly failed to build an adequate supporting cast around Anthony Davis, keeping Demps on the hot seat.

Meanwhile, former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry – still respected in many circles, despite using “African” pejoratively to describe Luol Deng – is working in New Orleans’ front office.

You can see where this is going…

Or not.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Don’t look for Danny Ferry, currently an advisor to the front office, to take over in any shakeup, sources say.

I’m skeptical. Nobody wants to acknowledge an internal coup before it’s executed. Doing so would create a terrible workplace environment until it happens or if it doesn’t.

The Pelicans’ ownership situation makes this a little more tricky. There’s an apparent desire in New Orleans to win quickly for an aging Benson, and that directive has limited Demps’ flexibility.

Still, Demps’ plans have mostly busted. Eventually, he’ll run out of chances to try new ones.

If that happens soon, when the Pelicans search for a replacement, Ferry will be right there with an impressive record building up Atlanta and no stains that make him unhirable to New Orleans. Would the Pelicans, who thought enough of him to hire him once already, really not consider promoting him?