Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash of Canada intervenes as Kobe Bryant berates Metta World Peace for committing a foul during their NBA game in Los Angeles

Lakers continue to build chemistry, move into the playoff picture with win over Bulls

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s plenty more work to be done over the regular season’s final 18 games. But for the first time all year, the Lakers can look at the standings and see themselves as an official part of the playoff picture after Sunday’s 90-81 win over the Bulls at Staples Center.

The Lakers are now 33-31 on the season, and sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz.

In Friday night’s win over the Raptors, the Lakers needed several shots that were both miraculous and heroic from Kobe Bryant down the stretch to come back and get the overtime victory. They didn’t need much from him offensively in this one, however, thanks to a balanced attack and a strong third quarter from Steve Nash, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the period.

Bryant didn’t even reach double figures in scoring until he hit a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining in the third quarter, which pushed the Lakers lead to 15. He finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists, while five of his teammates finished in double digits.

The Bulls are not known for their offense, and struggled to score in this one. Chicago shot a dismal 37.1 percent from the field, and went just 4-16 from three-point distance. But the defensive effort from the Lakers was stronger than usual, led by an increasingly more active Dwight Howard, whose 21 rebounds helped L.A. dominate the Bulls on the glass for most of the contest.

Chicago was able to cut a lead that once reached 18 points down to eight with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Lakers responded by scoring the next five points, while holding the Bulls scoreless for the next three and a half minutes.

More important than this single game victory and the temporary playoff position that it earned the Lakers is the improved chemistry the team is showing on the court. The communication was constant in this one defensively, with players giving their all on loose ball and rebound opportunities, while the body language overall was genuinely positive. The change from the way these guys interacted with each other in the opening months of the season is both noticeable and substantial.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bumps along the way — Bryant was furious with Metta World Peace at the end of the first half, after he committed an offensive foul while Bryant was dribbling down the clock to get off a final shot. He yelled at Metta as the two walked back down the floor, but all was forgiven later when Bryant was seen with his arm around his teammate on the bench early in the fourth.

The extent of how much Howard can improve from a health standpoint as the Lakers close out the regular season, along with the amount of chemistry the team can continue to build during that time will largely determine its postseason fate.

Winning can cure a lot of issues, and certainly helps the team-building a lot more than it hurts. At least after Sunday’s victory, L.A. can now, if only briefly, officially see itself as part of the playoff picture.

Report: Raptors acquire P.J. Tucker from Suns for Jared Sullinger, second round picks

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The Toronto Raptors went into the last few weeks in a slump on the court and with the need to improve at the forward slot if they had any dreams of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals again.

Then the Raptors added Serge Ibaka.

Now they have added P.J. Tucker from the Suns to the mix, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is a strong move for Toronto. Tucker is a physical guy who can play the three or the four, and he brings a strong defensive presence to the court — he is statistically one of the better defending small forwards in the league this season. He and DeMarre Carroll can give the Raptors a needed boost on that end, and Tucker is going to be great as a defensive matchup in certain playoff situations.

Toronto has made its move — first they hope to get back up to the two or three seed in the East (and avoid Cleveland in the second round). Then to make a stronger run at Cleveland in the conference finals — remember they took the Cavs six games last year.

What the Suns wanted was the picks. Sullinger is a solid player who can step into their rotation now, but is a downgrade — especially defensively — from Tucker. What the Suns start doing is looking for draft steals they can find in the second round.

Reports: Bulls trade Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott to Thunder for Cameron Payne, Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls reacts after being called for a foul against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Back in 2014, the Bulls front office of John Paxson and Gar Forman traded two picks to the Denver Nuggets — picks that became Gary Harris and Josef Nurkic — to move up in the draft so they could pick Doug McDermott.

Thursday, the Bulls all but admitted that was a mistake.

Chicago traded McDermott and Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City for Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow, as reported by Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

This is a good trade for Oklahoma City, especially while Enis Kanter remains sidelined. Gibson, in particular, gives them a rock-solid power forward out of the old school. Gibson can score inside and help Steven Adams, he can crash the boards, and while he’s not what he once was on that end he’s a solid defender.

Gibson is also a free agent this summer, and the Bulls were not going to pay the market value. Oklahoma City may, but Gibson will have options.

McDermott can shoot the three, hitting 37.6 percent this season, but that’s about all he brings to the table. Maybe that’s all the Thunder need. McDermott doesn’t create his own shot and he’s a big defensive liability. Maybe he can spread the floor a little for the Thunder, hang out at the arc waiting for a Russell Westbrook drive and dish, but he’s not doing much else.

Chicago gets a player with a lot of potential in Cameron Payne, he could be the point guard of the future there next to Jimmy Butler. That’s the best player on their end in this deal. But Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow are nice players who don’t actually move the needle.

This trade by the Bulls echoes their moves over the summer bringing in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — what exactly is the plan? Payne could be part of the future, but are the Bulls a team rebuilding around Butler? It remains difficult to see what the vision is in Chicago. Which has to frustrate Butler.

Report: Rockets trade K.J. McDaniels to Nets in move to clear cap space

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 13:  K.J. McDaniels #32 of the Houston Rockets looses the ball as he attempts a shot against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the preseason NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 13, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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K.J. McDaniels was already buried deep on the Rockets bench behind not just James Harden but guys such as Trevor Ariza and Sam Decker. Now Lou Williams comes to town and will get some of those minutes, and the Rockets decided to see if anyone wanted to take a flier on McDaniels.

Brooklyn did, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

For Brooklyn, why not take a flier on him — McDaniels put up some numbers and played fairly well a few seasons back in Philly, when they had nobody else to take shots. He went from there to Houston, where they had a lot of guys who were better shooters. Now he heads to Brooklyn, a team that could use the scoring, so he gets another shot.

As for Houston, this was a salary dump looking ahead.

The buzz is the Rockets would like to get Langston Galloway if the Kings decide to waive him, but there will be a number of quality players waived in the coming week, and the Rockets now have the roster spot and cap room to go after one of them.

Report: Pelicans to workout Jarrett Jack as they look for more guard, wing help

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 28: Jarrett Jack #2 of the Brooklyn Nets dribbles during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 28, 2015 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Pelicans have potentially the best front court in the NBA now with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

What they need is more help on the perimeter. A lot more help.

It’s not all going to come this season, but the Pelicans are going to take a look at their options. One of those options could be veteran and free agent Jarrett Jack, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

It’s a smart move by New Orleans. Jack averaged 12.8 points and 7.4 assists in 32 games for the Nets last season, but then he blew out his ACL. At 33, how well will he bounce back from that?

It may work, Jack relies far more on his outside shot than his ability to drive the paint (the hallmark of his game five years ago). He’s not going to be a great defender, but if healthy maybe he fits a bench role.