Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

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

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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.

JaVale McGee, Shaq beef on Twitter

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JaVale McGee hasn’t liked Shaquille O’Neal targeting him, and the Warriors center sure disliked the above video.

Due to the All-Star break, there was no fresh content for Shaqtin’ A Fool. So, TNT ran that spoof video with Shaq mocking McGee lowlights.

After Golden State beat the Clippers, McGee and Shaq engaged on Twitter:

And attention was received by all.

DeMarcus Cousins on talking to Kings: ‘It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response’

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, center, is applauded by Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive, left, and Vlade Divac, Kings vice president of basketball and franchise operations, after he was presented with his NBA All-Star jersey, during ceremonies before playing the Chicago Bulls in an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Vlade Divac said the Kings wouldn’t trade DeMarcus Cousins, and then two weeks later, once they dealt their franchise center, the general manager said, “character matters.”

Though he’s clearly trying to move on, Cousins, now with the Pelicans, can’t escape how he was treated in Sacramento.

Cousins, in a Q&A with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Is there any part of you that wants to talk to Ranadive or Divac?

Nah. For what? It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response. For what? And I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve been there through all same types … I was there with [coach] Mike Malone’s [firing]. I’ve seen how they operate. I know what kind of answer I will get anyway. So, what is the point?

When did the Kings tell you that you wouldn’t be traded?

A week before the trade. The sick part about it is that Vlade came in my house with my agent [Jarinn Akana]. We sat in my theater and just talked. That was maybe three weeks ago. We sat there and [he] told me what moves he wanted to make. All of that. I just didn’t understand.

I got a text from the owner right before I went to All-Star. He was asking me about a player, how I felt about him and making a move. The owner! When it happened, I was just in shock. I didn’t understand.

The Kings might differ on how well they informed Cousins of their intentions as the trade deadline approached, and it’s perfectly reasonable of owner Vivek Ranadive to consult Cousins while his front office explores a trade.

But the Kings stated often enough that they wouldn’t trade him, including offering him a designated-veteran-player extension, that he can rightfully feel aggrieved.

The Kings torched Malone after dismissing him, and Cousins has already gotten similar treatment. There’s little reason for Cousins to expect anything other than a rocky relationship with Ranadive and Divac from here.

Hawks suspend Dennis Schroder for reporting late after All-Star break

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks dealt before the trade deadline with an eye on winning this season.

That mission will start without their starting point guard, Dennis Schroder.

Hawks release:

Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schröder has been suspended by the organization for one game without pay for failure to report to the team on time after the all-star break. He will serve his one-game suspension tonight when the Hawks host the Miami Heat.

“Dennis has played an important role for our team and been a significant contributor to our success this season,” President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We are disappointed that he did not return to the team on time and we have discussed this with him. We look forward to him rejoining the team in Orlando tomorrow night.”

Schroder missed Wednesday’s practice, and Budenholzer attributed it to a travel issue. The guard corroborated that with this Instagram post:

FINALLY GOT MY VISA & CAN GET BACK TO WORK !!! @fg_pa @atlhawks #iBelieve #DS17 #FG #TeamBros #TheGoldenPatch

A post shared by Dennis Schröder (@ds17_fg) on

Ultimately, the responsibility was on Schroder to get back to Atlanta. Extenuating circumstances might have offered him a reprieve, but the Hawks clearly believed he didn’t deserve a break.

Wizards rookie changes name from Sheldon McClellan to Sheldon Mac

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: Sheldon McClellan #9 of the Washington Wizards dribbles in front of Sean Kilpatrick #6 of the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Wizards trading for Bojan Bogdanovic pushes Sheldon McClellan even deeper on the bench.

Actually, “McClellan” is now off the team entirely.

Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

Yes, the player formally known as Sheldon McClellan is now officialy Sheldon Mac. The 24-year-old returned to Houston, Texas over the past week and, with the blessing of his mother, changed his name.

Mac expects to have his jersey changed at some point and he will now be referred to in print as ‘Sheldon Mac.’ He said the reason was because ‘McClellan’ was a name he got from his father, whom he has no relationship with.

“I just added a little swag to it.”

If this makes him happier, I’m all for it.