Kobe scores 38, leads Lakers to gritty win over Mavericks

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Each game for the Lakers becomes more important as the season progresses, as the team tries to make up enough ground to claw its way into the postseason after getting off to such a dismal start.

Sunday afternoon in Dallas, L.A. played like its beginning to realize it.

Behind a spectacular 38-point performance from Kobe Bryant, and some above-average three-pont shooting as a team, the Lakers pulled out a tight 103-99 road victory over the Mavericks to pull within two-and-a-half games of the eighth and final playoff spot out West.

The game was close throughout, and featured 10 ties and 20 lead changes. But Bryant’s ability to consistently make tough shots was ultimately the difference.

Bryant finished 12 rebounds and seven assists to go along with his 38 points, and shot 13-21 from the field which included knocking down four of his five attempts from three-point distance. While Dallas pounded L.A. inside and outscored the Lakers by 20 in the points in the paint category, L.A. made up for it by hitting 13 of its 25 attempts from beyond the arc, good for a blistering 52 percent.

Steve Nash matched Bryant with 4-5 shooting from distance, and had his best scoring output as a Laker, finishing with 20 points. It was a rough game for Dwight Howard offensively, who finished with just nine points on 2-7 shooting, and he seemed unable to gain his rhythm after battling through foul trouble for the bulk of the contest.

Howard was active defensively, however, and the Mavericks were able to get what they wanted offensively when he was forced to head to the bench. Midway through the third quarter, for example, after the Lakers overcame a five-point deficit and built a six-point lead, Dallas responded by rattling off seven straight points the moment Howard was subbed out.

In the plus/minus category (if you’re into that particular metric), Howard was a game-high plus-15 in his 34 minutes of action, and managed 13 rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Dirk Nowitzki led the charge for the Mavericks, providing his best effort of the season in finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds, while knocking down all four of his attempts from three-point distance. He even had one of the better defensive plays of the day, trapping Bryant in the corner on a double-team, then getting out and finishing on the fast break after Kobe turned it over with an errant crosscourt pass.

This game, however, was Bryant’s. He made several extremely difficult shots, without forcing too much and at the same time drawing multiple defenders and finding his teammates for open looks. He had 14 points in the final period, and secured the win at the free throw line, as well as by grabbing his team’s final two rebounds.

The Mavericks have been far from great this season, but with Dirk returning to form and the team coming into this one tied with the Lakers in the loss column, L.A. needed to make sure it came away with the victory. Bryant’s performance ensured it, and L.A. has a chance to get back to .500 for the first time since Dec. 28 when the team heads to Denver to face the Nuggets on Monday.

How much will Dion Waiters earn as a free agent?

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Dion Waiters had the best season of his career last year at age 25 in Miami. The Heat pushed Waiters to get in the best shape of his life (just check out his Instagram), and combine that with the fact that Justise Winslow went down Waiters got the ball in his hands more with a chance to create for himself, and you had a little rush of scoring. He’s still not the most efficient player ever (to be kind), but he’s close to average.

Waiters opted out of his $3.2 million he is owed next season, and he is now a free agent. How much is he will he get now on the open market? Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote this:

One scout said he would be surprised if the bidding for Waiters soars much above $10 million, if that, because of his small sample size of high-level play this past season. One prominent agent who does not represent Waiters predicted he would get $8 million to $10 million annually.

That number seems about right, if it’s a two-year deal (or a team option on the third year). The league average salary will be around $8.5 million, and that’s where Waiters should fall next year.

Whether Miami has that money to spend comes down to whether they land a big free agent such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin (both max guys). If so, the Heat will not have the money, and what they do have would be more focused on keeping James Johnson. However, if the Heat strike out then Waiters could be back in Miami.

One way or another Waiters is going to get a raise. That doesn’t mean teams are not still leery.

Report: Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose

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Were they watching the games last year?

Derrick Rose put up decent numbers last year — 18 points per game, PER of 17, true shooting percentage of 53 — but was a mess defensively and does not fit in the triangle offense. He’s a decent point guard now, a replacement level player who can help in the right system.

Since the Knicks point guard rotation right now consists of rookie Frank Ntilikina plus whoever the team signs this summer, turns out Rose is not out of the picture, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The New York Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose, league sources familiar with the matter said….

The Knicks’ interest in the point guard is dependent on several factors, including his health and his asking price. When asked last week about New York potentially re-signing Rose, team president Phil Jackson said “we’re listening.”

Money will be the key — it’s not going to be anywhere near the $21.3 million Rose made last season. No team is going to offer that.

Can the Knicks get him for less than $10 million? Will another team come in and offer $12 million or more for him? The market for point guards this summer is going to be interesting because after the big name on the free-agent market — Chris Paul (we’re not counting Stephen Curry, he’s not leaving) — there are some quality players out there that can help teams such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague and Shaun Livingston. There aren’t that many teams with money to really spend on free agent point guards, so while a couple (Holiday, maybe Lowry) re-sign with their old teams there are a number of guys who may find the market softer than they expected. Rose is among them.

And that’s where the Knicks come in. Rose is far from a perfect fit, but if the soft market drives his price down closer to the midlevel ($8.4 million) or just above, that may be worth it for the Knicks for a year while they try to develop the rookie.

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.

Bulls: No decision yet on Rajon Rondo’s future with team

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls are not ready to say whether veteran point guard Rajon Rondo will be back for a second season.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson says that “is still to be determined.” The Bulls can pay Rondo $13.4 million or buy him out for $3 million by Friday’s deadline.

Paxson spoke Tuesday during a news conference to introduce newcomers Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen, who were acquired from Minnesota for Jimmy Butler on draft night. The Bulls were planning to meet Tuesday with Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy, who represents LaVine.

Paxson also says a buyout on Dwyane Wade after he exercised his $23.8 million option “has not been broached.” Paxson says the Bulls, at least for now, assume Wade will play for Chicago.