Lakers cruise past Timberwolves for laugher of a win

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There haven’t been many of these games for the Lakers this season — Kobe Bryant icing his knees in the fourth quarter, guys joking around on the bench and nobody really stressed about the outcome.

The Lakers created a little space in the second quarter, pulled away in the third behind 11 points from Kobe Bryant (he finished with 33) and the Lakers cruised to a 116-94 win over the Timberwolves. That would be 21 consecutive wins for the Lakers over Minnesota.

The win also moves the Lakers within two games of the Houston Rockets for the eighth seed and final playoff spot in the West, and within two-and-a-half games of the seventh seed Utah Jazz (both of whom lost last night.

The two take always from this game are: 1) The Timberwolves are not very good; 2) The Lakers continue to play a little better each game as they find their identity and play with a little more desperation. Games they lost, leads they gave up in the past they do not now.

The Lakers never took their foot off the gas in this game, leading wire to wire. Kobe was at the heart of that — he pushed the team to grab the lead in the first quarter then was key to them pulling away in the third. He did that by returning more to his scorer mode — but he should have with the looks the Timberwolves were giving him early. Minnesota let Kobe get comfortable and after that, no matter what they did, he was going to be knocking down shots. By the third quarter he was three feet behind the arc and it didn’t matter.

Minnesota actually tried a lot of zone but the Lakers did a good job of attacking the soft middle of the zone and shooting over the top of it. Los Angeles hit 8-of-16 three pointers in the first half and maintained that pace throughout the game — L.A. shot 54 percent overall and 16-of-sf32 from three for the game. Dwight Howard had 11 points and 12 rebounds but was back to being active again, particularly on defense.

Minnesota stayed within striking distance thanks to their guard play — J.J. Barea had 20, Luke Ridnour 19 and Ricky Rubio had 13 points and 13 assists.

This was the kind of laugher the Lakers thought they would have a lot of this season. Hasn’t worked out that way. But they will take the easy, relaxing win any time they can get it.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.