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Pau Gasol says a trade seems more likely this season after being sent back to the bench

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Before the Lakers took the floor in Chicago against the Bulls on Monday, Mike D’Antoni announced that Pau Gasol would be removed from the starting lineup in favor of going small, with Earl Clark getting the minutes at the starting power forward spot.

This decision, D’Antoni told reporters, was not just for one game, but a long-term solution to try to get his system more firmly in place. Efficiency statistics were cited that said when Gasol and Dwight Howard play together, the team ranks near the bottom of the league, but when just one plays, the team’s numbers are much improved.

It may turn out to be the right decision, and it may not. If Gasol plays with the rest of the starters in crunch time, as he did against the Heat when he played the entire fourth quarter after coming off the bench, then it’s not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of the team’s rotations.

Except for one thing: It is to Gasol.

He was extremely vocal and pointed in his remarks after that Miami game, saying he absolutely wanted to return to the starting lineup. Now that he’s been overridden in this request by the whims of his head coach, Gasol said he feels now more than ever that he may be a part of a deal that sends him out of town before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Craig Sager reported this early in Thursday night’s TNT telecast, as seen in the video clip above.

“Pau Gasol I talked to before the game,” Sager said. “He is not at all happy with the decision. He says I have never been a role player in my life. I don’t like it right now. I said, what about the possibility that maybe your time with the Lakers could be coming to an end at the All-Star break or the trade deadline? He said it certainly looks like a possibility to me.”

We’ll have to see how Gasol and the team react over the next few games to get a sense of whether or not this was in fact a good decision from a lineup standpoint, or if it was simply a desperate move by a head coach willing to try anything at this point, even if it means alienating one of his tram’s best players.

[Video clip via LakersNation]

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.