Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

The Lakers are right on schedule, but is it too late?


Picture this: Steve Nash dribbles up court, surveying the floor. As he crosses half court, he maneuvers towards the three point line. Once there, Dwight Howard comes and sets a pick and rolls hard to the basket but doesn’t get the ball. Nash probes the defense, dribbling into the paint and underneath the hoop, spotting Kobe Bryant open on the wing. Kobe raises to shoot a jumper but instead rifles a pass to a wide open Howard under the hoop who catches the pass for a dunk.

Or picture this: Kobe is hounding the opposing point guard full court. Before the ball handler gets to the timeline, he’s been turned multiple times, his pattern up the floor an inefficient zig-zag. With the shot clock winding down, the ball goes to the wing. That player, feeling pressure from Metta World Peace, tries to drive and get a shot off before the help arrives. But Howard swoops in, alters the shot, and then secures the rebound.

Or this: Nash is pushing the ball up court, looking to improvise. Defenders are retreating and recovering to the paint while still trying to find their men in semi-transition. On one wing is Kobe. On the other is Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark. Howard is trailing the action but running well, looking for the ball should the action slow. Nash veers left towards Kobe, but instead fires a pass to Clark. As a defender chases the ball, Clark instantly passes to Jamison in the corner who shoots, and sinks, an uncontested three pointer.

Actually, you don’t have to just picture them — these are sequences from the last three Lakers’ games. It’s the middle of January and they’re finally starting to get it. This is good news, right?

Before the season started, this was the timeline many thought the Lakers would be operating on. With a team of players turned over by half — including some big name acquisitions — they’d need time to find their collective stride. With Howard still recovering from his back surgery, the expectations were that the team would start somewhat slowly. Give them time to heal, to jell, to build up that familiarity that all teams need to reach their peak. Once that happened, they’d start to string together good performances and become a terror that teams would want to avoid.

The Lakers are getting closer to being that team. The defense is improving. The offense, though efficient for the entire season, is staring to show more fluidity. Players are communicating better and seem to be on the same page. And while there are still hurdles to clear — What to do with Pau Gasol? How to mix their lineups effectively? Do they sure up their bench?  — the list of positives with this team is finally starting to outweigh the negatives. They are making progress. Lots of it.

The only problem is the hole they’ve dug themselves in the process of getting to this point. The moral victories are piling up, but the Lakers need real victories to sustain them. They currently sit 5 games below .500 with 17 wins and 22 losses. They’re the 11th seed in the West with only a half a season left to play. So as much as D’Antoni would love to hit the reset button on this season, the Lakers’ season did not, in fact, start this past Sunday.

The time to turn their season around was weeks ago, but is only starting to happen now. Do the Lakers have enough time left?

Over the past 4 seasons, the 8th seed in the Western Conference has averaged 48 wins. For the Lakers to get to that mark, they would need to close with the season with a 31-12 push. Possible? Yes. Plausible? The friendliest response would say maybe. A neutral observer would say it’s pretty unlikely.

There is a formula for the Lakers to reach their goal of making the post-season. If they can get above the .500 mark by the all-star break they’d put themselves in position to make one last push to sneak in as the 8th seed. In Phil Jackson’s last year with the team, the Lakers came out of the all-star break winning 19 of 20 games before injuries saw them sputter into the playoffs. Is this team capable of making that type of push from the middle of February into March?

The way the team is playing now does make it seem anything is possible. If observed in a vacuum, their improvement on offense and recommitment to defense is the foundation of a team that can rattle off a bunch of wins in a short amount of time. Of course, this season isn’t taking place in a vacuum.

Funny how things work. The Lakers are starting to play well, right on the schedule we thought they would. But because of how bad they were to start the year, it may still be too late.

Howard, Millsap, Hardaway lead Hawks past Wizards 114-99

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks shoots against Andrew Nicholson #44 of the Washington Wizards at Philips Arena on October 27, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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ATLANTA (AP) Dwight Howard dominated the boards in his Atlanta debut, Paul Millsap scored 28 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. ignited the new-look Hawks to a 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards in their season opener Thursday night.

Howard grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with 11 points, just what the Hawks expected from their new center, and it certainly wasn’t unusual for three-time All-Star Millsap to lead the way in scoring.

But Hardaway’s performance was totally unexpected given the way he struggled in his first season with the Hawks, when he was largely confined to the bench and even forced to spend time in the D-League.

He scored 21 points, matching his high in an Atlanta uniform, and broke open a close game with back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth. The Hawks, who led only 81-80 heading to the final period, outscored the Wizards 33-19 over the final 12 minutes.

Markieff Morris led Washington with 22 points, but it was a tough night for the Wizards’ dynamic backcourt duo. John Wall finished with only 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting, while Bradley Beal was held to 13.

Hardaway, on the other hand, scored 12 points in the final period, breaking open a game that was close through the first three quarters.


Wizards: Marcin Gortat had 11 rebounds but didn’t have much help. Washington was outrebounded 52-40. … Otto Porter was the only other Washington player in double figures with 10 points. … The Wizards locked arms during the national anthem.

Hawks: Howard posted the most rebounds for anyone in their Atlanta debut, breaking the mark of 18 that Shareef Abdur-Rahim set at Houston on Oct. 30, 2001. … Dennis Schroder, taking over as the starting point guard after the trade of Jeff Teague, had 14 points but only two assists.

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

Report: Kevin Garnett in talks with Cavaliers, other teams about coaching consultant role

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If you’re wondering what Kevin Garnett is going to do now that he’s retired, turns out sitting on the couch with a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and watching Judge Judy is not the answer.

He seems headed to the TNT studio show, and may be consulting with some teams — including the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. So reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

There are a lot of teams that could use KG as a consultant, I would expect the Timberwolves are part of that mix as well. He’s going to have the respect and ear of players for teams trying to get a message across to a young squad.

Garnett isn’t doing this for the money, he can pick-and-choose where he feels comfortable and needed.

Watch Dwyane Wade hit dagger three to lift Bulls past Celtics

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What spacing problems?

Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Rajon Rondo combined to shoot 9-of-14 from three in the Bulls season opener at home Thursday night. As a team, the Bulls shot 44 percent from three.

That included Dwyane Wade’s dagger three with a hand in his face to seal the 105-99 win.

The Bulls are not going to shoot like this every night, but they looked good on Thursday.



76ers players may respond in wake of national anthem flap

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01:  Actress Sevyn Streeter speaks onstage during the 'Ringside' panel discussion at the TV One portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers held a team meeting Thursday and may take action in the wake of the organization’s decision to cancel the national anthem performance by a singer wearing a “We Matter” jersey.

Sevyn Streeter said she was told by the team she could not perform the anthem before Wednesday night’s season opener because of the slogan.

The Sixers players met at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, and are considering whether to respond to Streeter’s cancellation.

“Everybody expressed their emotions about it,” forward Robert Covington said. “We want to take steps about it. We just don’t know exactly what steps we want to take. We talked about a lot of different things.”

The Sixers play at home Saturday afternoon against Atlanta.

Streeter said in an interview with The Associated Press late Wednesday she was told she would not sing just minutes before her performance.

“I’d say two minutes before we were about to walk out … the organization told me that I could not wear my shirt while singing the national anthem at their game,” the R&B singer said by phone. “I was never given any kind of dress code. I was never asked beforehand to show my wardrobe.”

The Sixers declined to say why Streeter’s performance was canceled.

“The Philadelphia 76ers organization encourages meaningful actions to drive social change. We use our games to bring people together, to build trust and to strengthen our communities. As we move from symbolic gestures to action, we will continue to leverage our platform to positively impact our community,” the Sixers said in a statement.

The Sixers had a member of their dance team sing the anthem.

Sixers management declined comment on Thursday.

Coach Brett Brown said there are several options on the table.

“We understand the situation and we respect the social issue involved,” Brown said Thursday. “We completely get it. As a group, we will try to find a way to deal with this.”

Streeter has written songs for Chris Brown, Ariana Grande and other stars. In 2013, she had a Top 40 hit with “It Won’t Stop,” a duet with Brown that reached RIAA gold status.

The singer, born Amber Denise Streeter, said she was hurt by the NBA team’s actions.

“I was angry, extremely, extremely angry and disappointed and honestly brought to tears by all of it. It broke my heart,” she said. “Honestly, I was very excited about being able to perform the national anthem. I was really looking forward to that.”

This isn’t the first time the Sixers were brought into a national anthem controversy. A woman performing the national anthem before the team played a preseason game in Miami did so while kneeling at midcourt.

Denasia Lawrence opened her jacket just before she started to sing, revealing a “Black Lives Matter” shirt, then dropped to her left knee and performed the song. She said it was her way of protesting racial oppression.

The anthem issue has been a major topic in sports in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand while it is played. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports – and many levels, from youth all the way to professional – have followed his lead in various ways.

“I also felt it was important to express the ongoing challenges and ongoing injustice we face as a black community within the United States of America – that’s very important to me,” Streeter said. “Yes, we live in the greatest country in the world but there are issues that we cannot ignore. This can’t be ignored.”