Los Angeles Lakers players huddle after a breakdown in defense playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles

Real test for Lakers starts Wednesday — keep it up on the road

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For two games, the Lakers have had success going away from Mike D’Antoni’s system.

They have slowed the pace down (93 possessions against the Thunder, 90 against the Jazz, both below their 97 a game average). Kobe Bryant is running the point, drawing the double team and making the pass (and you can bet when the doubles slow a little he will start shooting again). He’s having a lot of success doing that from the right mid-post, with a screen coming for him. With Kobe at the facilitator the ball doesn’t stick, it moves. When it moves you see Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard cut off the ball to open spaces and the rim. That has led to a high shooting percentage because of the good looks (54.5 percent shooting as a team for two games, with Kobe shooting better than 68 percent).

The bigger change is the Lakers have defended a lot better (they were at their season average against the Thunder, but as that is the best offense in the NBA keeping them in any kind of check is an accomplishment).

The changes, the win over the Thunder has given Lakers fans hope.

But this week the real tests start.

Tuesday night the Lakers get an improving Hornets team. Then they head out on the road for seven games — the Grammy road trip when Taylor Swift and Frank Ocean kick the Lakers (and Clippers) out of the building for a couple weeks.

On paper the road trip isn’t that brutal, only the Nets and Heat are over .500. But road trips are never that simple. The Pistons have been playing much better of late, the Celtics defend and no rivalry game is ever easy, plus other teams will be up for it.

Teams are going to start adjusting to what the Lakers are doing and the Lakers are going to have to go to their counters while on this trip — the Thunder came with hard doubles at Kobe, which had worked in the last meeting but did not this time around. Teams will watch that tape and learn. Teams are going to maybe not double at all, make Kobe the scorer and see if they can beat you with him shooting 30-plus times. The Lakers are going to have to stay true to what is working and not start having Kobe just looking to shoot or Steve Nash deciding to run.

Give Mike D’Antoni credit — a lot of people, myself included, have watched the Lakers up to now and question how much he was really willing to adjust to win with this roster. Finally that change is becoming the kind of radical change the Lakers need.

But two games is not real change. It’s a step, but it’s not real change.

And the Lakers are going to get tested between now and the All-Star Break. By then we’ll know if the change is for real, and if their playoff dreams still are.

Rajon Rondo reportedly threw towel toward Bulls assistant during game, and they fedued more after

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 10: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls gestures during the first half of the game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on November 10, 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. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Getty Images
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The Bulls suspended Rajon Rondo for tonight’s game against the Trail Blazers for conduct detrimental to the team.

But what does that really mean?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Rondo had an emotional exchange with an assistant coach during and after Saturday’s loss to the Mavericks, according to a source. One source said Rondo threw a towel in the direction of associate head coach Jim Boylen during the game and the situation escalated postgame.

Rondo has already apologized to the coaching staff and his teammates, the source said. He met with coach Fred Hoiberg on Sunday and also attended a team function that day.

Rondo has long been notoriously difficult to coach. That reputation has only intensified in recent years as his play has declined, which is probably not a coincidence. Struggling on the court – Rondo had two points, two assists and five turnovers against Dallas – will only lead to frustration. Plus, tolerance for players acting out exists on a sliding scale with their ability.

But it’s also worth noting teammate Jimmy Butler and coach Fred Hoiberg continue to speak positively about Rondo:

Butler said following Monday’s shootaround that Rondo “has been great” during his stint with the Bulls.

“I think this is just another bump in the road,” Butler said. “He’s a phenomenal damn teammate and I back him on everything.

Hoiberg refused to get into details about the suspension but echoed Butler’s opinion on Rondo’s stint with the Bulls.

“Rajon, as we’ve all said, has been great,” Hoiberg said. “A great teammate. I’ve enjoyed the relationship that we developed, and … it’s not going to change moving forward.’’

This could explain why Rondo got a one-game suspension for throwing a towel at a coach when Markieff Morris, who was already feuding with the Suns, got two games just last year (as could the fact that Chicago is not Phoenix and can administer discipline differently).

Player-coach feuds happen over a long season. The reaction is often telling. Some get ignored. Some result in suspensions.

The Bulls are treating this like an isolated incident from an otherwise model player – but a situation serious enough to warrant a suspension. Rondo will eventually prove that approach right or wrong.

Matt Barnes’ rep says Kings forward acted in self-defense in nightclub fight

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks to pass the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 27, 2016 in Sacramento, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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New York police reportedly want to question Kings forward Matt Barnes over a nightclub fight early this morning.

What happened between Barnes, teammate DeMarcus Cousins and other clubgoers?

TMZ:

A rep for the NBA star tells us … Barnes was having a good time at Avenue Nightclub with his teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, when he went to sit at his VIP booth and accidentally “butt bumped” a woman who was at the next booth over.

Barnes claims the woman reacted by slapping him in the face, hard — and that’s when all hell broke loose.

Barnes claims the woman’s crew — which included several men — jumped in and began to get violent. Barnes was knocked to the ground in the melee and one of the men began to choke him.

We’re told Barnes got physical in an effort to protect himself. Cousins also jumped in to defend Barnes.

We spoke with  Barnes’ attorney Alex Spiro who tells us, “We do not believe a crime was committed and are hopeful no charges will be pressed.”

By this telling, it sounds as if a crime was committed – with Barnes as the victim. I have no idea whether this account is accurate – what else would Barnes’ representation say? – and it’s reasonable for Barnes not to desire charges even against the other side. But it’s a little strange to hear Barnes’ lawyer give the other side such a quick reprieve while Barnes’ camp circulates this story of Barnes as a clear victim.

Bulls suspend Rajon Rondo for Trail Blazers game

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls looks on from the bench in the final minutes of their 115-107 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 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)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Starting for an injured Rajon Rondo, Jerian Grant had 18 points and five steals in the Bulls’  25-point win against the Trail Blazers last month.

Grant will likely get another crack to start against Portland tonight.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

Chicago’s net rating with each starter on the court is lowest with Rondo:

But I doubt that’s the detrimental conduct the Bulls are referring to.

Chicago’s other starters have been dynamite with Grant instead of Rondo, outscoring opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions (relative to +10.6 with Rondo, still a robust mark). That’s a small sample with Grant, but we’ll get another opportunity to learn how this team meshes without Rondo.

Remember, though it started with a team-imposed one-game suspension, the Mavericks eventually told Rondo to stay away.

DeMarcus Cousins pushes handsy Joakim Noah (video)

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Joakim Noah kept his hands on DeMarcus Cousins after getting called for a foul, and that – and/or the Kings heading toward their third straight loss – agitated Cousins into pushing the Knicks center.

Remember, Cousins and Noah have a history.