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The Extra Pass: Nets believe they’re headed in the right direction, and Wednesday’s recaps

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NEW YORK — The Nets fell to 4-11 on the season after an early blowout ended up becoming a heartbreaker before the final buzzer sounded. But the vibe around the team is good despite the rough start, because some of the key players believe that the recent effort shown has the beginnings of trending things in a positive direction.

Brooklyn’s 99-94 loss at the hands of the Lakers on Wednesday was a prime example.

L.A. raced out to a 27-point lead early in the second quarter, thanks to some red-hot three-point shooting and some buckets in transition that looked as easy as you’d expect considering they were being scored against the Nets’ league-worst defense. But by the game’s end, the Nets had battled back to within striking distance on their final offensive possession.

Plenty has gone wrong in Brooklyn in a season where injuries have derailed things before they’ve had a chance to get started, much like the situation these Lakers found themselves dealing with a season ago when they similarly stacked their roster with high-profile free agents in hopes of assembling a championship contender on the fly.

After wallowing in their despair for long enough, the players that remained simply decided that giving maximum effort for 48 minutes would have to be the place to start. And while there are no moral victories and injuries will not be used as an excuse (even though it would be a legitimate one at the moment), the Nets believe that what they’re seeing will pay dividends in the future if the team stays committed to achieving its long-term goals.

“I think we’re trying to turn the corner,” Joe Johnson said afterward. “As long as we give ourselves an opportunity, that’s what matters. Tonight we were able to fight back from a deep deficit, and were able to gain control of the game to where we had a chance to win. That’s all we ask for.”

Nets head coach Jason Kidd, he of the crafty drink spilling incident that gave his team a break in the action late when they were out of timeouts, was similarly pleased with what he saw out of his club in this one.

“It’s simple — they’re competing,” Kidd said. “We’re not going to be perfect. The Lakers came out and they hit us right off the bat, but we kept fighting. You can see that in the last couple games, that we’ve gotten down and been able to come back, and we’ve stayed together. This is just another example of that.”

“We’re executing down the stretch,” he said. “We’re getting wide open looks. It’s just a matter of them going in. And they will, and that’s what we believe in as a coaching staff and as players. If they keep presenting themselves, we’ll be fine.”

Once a team is able to come back from an overwhelming deficit like the Nets were facing, they usually find a way to finish. “Usually when you turn it off a little bit, it’s hard to turn back on,” Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni said. That wasn’t the case, however. When Paul Pierce’s wide open three from the top of the arc rimmed out with two seconds left — a shot that would have tied the game and set up a likely overtime session — Brooklyn’s comeback officially fell short. But there was an expectation to win within the team’s players, which is an important step in the building process.

“It’s a tough loss at that point because we come in here knowing that if we don’t give up that many points in the first quarter, we’ve got a really good chance to win the game,” Johnson said. “So that’s probably the most discouraging thing about it.”

It’s a process. And though it’s taken longer than expected, the Nets feel that they’re beginning to see some dividends, even if they’re not translating into wins just yet.

“I’ve been on teams where we’ve struggled a little bit, but worked our way through it,” Kevin Garnett said. “Obviously we’ve been a team on paper that’s been assembled to be successful, and we have the personnel to be just that. … We’re working through things.”

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Lakers 99, Nets 94: The Lakers got out to a 27-point lead in the second quarter, blasting the Nets with hot three-point shooting that everyone knew wouldn’t last. What we didn’t know was that Brooklyn would dig deep enough on the second night of a back-to-back to battle all the way back to actually have a chance to send the game to overtime in the closing moments. Mirza Teletovic provided an energetic spark off the bench, scoring 17 points on just eight shots while grabbing five rebounds in just under 21 minutes of action. Paul Pierce got a great look at a three from the top of the arc that would have tied it with two seconds left, but it came off the iron and the Lakers improved to 8-8 on the season. The vibe around the Nets, though, is that the the team is on the right track and beginning to figure some things out. — BP

Pacers 99, Bobcats 74: Indiana has the league’s best defense, and wasted no time in showcasing it in Charlotte. The Pacers opened the game by holding their opponent to just 11 first quarter points, and the starters put forth a similar effort in the third by allowing just 17. The game didn’t get completely out of hand until the fourth, however, when the Pacers scored 39 points behind a three-point shooting barrage from C.J. Watson, who put in 15 points off the bench in the final period to help Indiana pull away and improve to a league-best 14-1 on the season. — BP

Magic 105, Sixers 94: Spencer Hawes missed this one with soreness in his left knee, and Nikola Vucevic feasted in his absence. Vucevic put in a dominating performance with 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting, to go along with 16 rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. Just about all of the damage was done in the first three periods, however, and it took an 11-point fourth quarter from Arron Afflalo to help the Magic pull away for the win. — BP

Grizzlies 100, Celtics 93: This one was over in the first quarter, after the Grizzlies put together a strong effort on both ends of the floor to finish the period with a 27-13 advantage. Memphis got a good defensive game from Kosta Koufos, who filled in for the injured Marc Gasol in the starting lineup with 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. Boston got more than 50 percent of its offense from two players with Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger combining for 49 points, but there’s not much help beyond that from a talent perspective on the team’s roster. — BP

Bulls 99, Pistons 79: The hangover following the loss of Derrick Rose for the season was ended in blowout fashion, thanks to big offensive games from Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, and some stifling defense in the second half. The Pistons managed to score just 26 points over the final two periods, making just 10 shots total over that span while shooting a dismal 27.8 percent. — BP

Heat 95, Cavaliers 84: You’d like to think LeBron James’ returns to Cleveland wouldn’t raise an eyebrow anymore, but he still gets booed in the arena while other Cavs fans want the prodigal son to return. Anyway, Cleveland played well early attacking the paint, getting the ball inside and they shot 55 percent in the quarter. Then the Heat bench put on a 12-0 run in the second as the bench cranked up the defense and the Cavs shot 3-of-18 in the second quarter and 28.6 percent the rest of the game after the first quarter. LeBron coasted to 25 points, Michael Beasley played well and had 15. —Kurt Helin

Rockets 113, Hawks 84: James Harden was out, Jeremy Lin played just four minutes, but the Rockets bench came through — Francisco Garcia and Aaron Brooks each had 21. The Rockets got off to an 11 point first quarter lead and never lost it because they shot 55 percent on the night. That’s three straight losses for the Hawks. —KH

Wizards 100, Bucks 92 (OT): In spite of how these teams played in the fourth quarter — both teams shot 35 percent in the final frame — NBA rules dictate one team has to win. Marcin Gortat had 6 of his 25 points in the overtime and led Washington to the win. Martell Webster added 18 and a key late three for Washington. O.J. Mayo had 21 to lead the Bucks.—KH

Nuggets 117, Timberwolves 110: We need to give credit to Denver for playing well — Ty Lawson had 23 points including the dagger drive late in the game, but you barely notice anymore because he does it nightly. But what has happened to Minnesota, which has lost 5-of-6 and is now below .500. Minnesota’s defense was a mess as with the game on the line Denver just got to the rim any time it wanted. That’s an issue.—KH

Thunder 94, Spurs 88: San Antonio did what it wanted — it held both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in check (Westbrook was 2-of-16 from the floor). But Reggie Jackson (23) and Jeremy Lamb (12) provided a spark off the bench while Serge Ibaka held down the paint (five blocks and a lot of changed shots). The Spurs new big three of Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker combined to shoot 17-of-48 (35.4 percent).—KH

Mavericks 103, Warriors 99: Golden State point guard Stephen Curry had as many turnovers as the entire Mavericks team (6), and that pretty much sums up the night. On the second night of a back-to-back the Warriors were sloppy and the Mavericks made them pay. Dirk Nowitzki had 22 points to lead six Mavs in double figures.—KH

Suns 120, Trail Blazers 106: Portland was up by 11 in the first quarter and it looked like they might cruise to another win. But the Suns started playing faster and the Trail Blazers did not adjust. The head of the snake for Phoenix was Goran Dragic who finished with 31 points and 11 assists. Channing Frye had his best game of the season, 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting, as the plodding bigs of the Blazers could not keep up. Yes, we’re looking at you Miles Plumlee.—KH

Clippers 93, Knicks 80: Here’s what really matters to the Clippers — the hamstring strain that Chris Paul left the game with was not serious and he could be ready to go Friday night. The Clippers took control of this game in the second half and got 15 points and 13 rebounds out of Blake Griffin. Carmelo Anthony had 29 points on 9-of-23 shooting.—KH

Report: Pelicans trying to trade Terrence Jones

AUBURN HILLS, MI - FEBRUARY 01: Terrence Jones #9 of the New Orleans Pelicans gets off a shot next to Aron Baynes #12 of the Detroit Pistons during the first period at the Palace of Auburn Hills on February 1, 2017 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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After their trade today, the Pelicans have the NBA’s most dynamic big-man tandem: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Davis and Cousins are tall, athletic and skilled in a combination we might have never seen from any power forward-center duo since Charles Barkley-Hakeem Olajuwon. New Orleans’ two could thrive together, and while they develop chemistry, they’ll each likely get minutes without the other.

That doesn’t leave much playing time for someone like Terrence Jones.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Jones settled for a one-year minimum contract after an injury-plagued and inconsistent tenure with the Rockets. His inconsistency remains, but considering his salary, his highs more than justify dealing with the lows. At just 25, Jones could still figure out how to reliably contribute.

Jones’ contract dictates he be rental, which will lower his trade value. But he could help teams trying to win down the stretch — including New Orleans.

Dante Cunningham seems more favored at power forward, and Donatas Motiejunas can fill in. But the Pelicans could still use Jones.

Shopping him might be a favor to the player, but we’ll see whether an actual trade is part of the gesture.

Source: Other team pulled ‘better’ trade offer for DeMarcus Cousins due to agent’s threat

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The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for a first-round pick, a second-round pick, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Gallowayshockingly little return for Sacramento’s franchise player.

“I had a better deal two days ago,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said.

Um, what?

Divac made Sacramento look foolish with that quote, but according to a league source, the problem was more poor communication with the media — something Divac is no stranger to — than terrible trading.

According to the source, the potential trade partner made an offer only to pull it once Cousins’ camp threatened the star center wouldn’t re-sign in 2018. Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, publicly said before the New Orleans deal was consummated that it was “highly unlikely” Cousins would re-sign with any team that trades for him.

The trade made Cousins ineligible to become a designated veteran player, costing him at least a projected $29.87 million on his next deal. So, Cousins had clear incentive to stay in Sacramento.

Another source involved in Cousins trade discussions confirmed Cousins’ camp attempted to dissuade teams from trading for him, though that source did not confirm a pulled offer.

It’s unclear whether the Kings could have completed the “better” offer before the other team pulled out. The offer was presented as available to Sacramento for a day or two, according to the first source, though the other team could have always backed away at any point as it received more information.

This situation isn’t unfamiliar to anyone who follows college recruiting, where there are differences between offers, Offers and committable offers and everyone has their own definitions of each term.

Divac has struggled as Sacramento’s general manager, and his track record opens him to the type of mocking he received in the wake of his “better offer” remarks. But, though there’s still some mystery in the Kings’ trade process, attacking Divac based solely on this comment is probably piling on too far.

There are already enough reason to believe Sacramento erred on this deal.

John Wall’s reaction to the Cousins’ trade is to have a drink (VIDEO)

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It was a strange situation in the “mix room” interview zone after the All-Star Game Sunday, the place the majority of players went for a post-game media obligation (MVP Anthony Davis, the coaches, and a few other players who had big games such as Russell Westbrook went to a different, larger room).

Strange because in the three hours or so the players had been away from their phones and social media accounts, the DeMarcus Cousins trade had gained steam and seemed destined to be done (the story the deal was done broke about 15-20 minutes later). The players walked in and had no idea what had happened — including Cousins.

But I loved John Wall‘s reaction.

When the news broke about the Cousins trade, it seemed everyone needed a drink. Wall had his recovery drink handy — notice the label was stripped off of the bottle, meaning it was not the NBA sponsor’s product — so he went with that.

Kyrie Irving on All-Star Game: ‘I would love to play in a competitive game’

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NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be a star-studded exhibition, and not one necessarily aimed at the core of basketball fans. Sort of like the Super Bowl, the goal of the All-Star Game is to suck in the casual fan to watch both great athleticism and the show around it — The Roots, John Legend and on down the line. In the city the weekend of the event, it’s as much about showing league sponsors a good time as it is basketball.

Let’s be honest, the basketball itself isn’t good. From the Rising Stars challenge through the All-Star Game itself, there’s matador defense and cherry picking all game long. The defense was so bad Stephen Curry was literally laying down on the job.

Kyrie Irving would like to see that change, and he speaks for at least some players.

“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” Irving said. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense going forward.”

Will it? Guys are trying not to get hurt and — like the entire weekend itself — are focused on the fun off the court far more than anything on it.

“It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game,” Irving said.

The onus to change this falls to the players, something. West coach Steve Kerr echoed.

“I think that in the past, at least generally in the fourth quarter, guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen (Sunday),” Kerr said. “I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players really.

“As a coach in the All-Star game, you ever seen that movie ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’? They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We’re not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”

To get guys to play harder, the league is going to have to find an incentive to motivate the players. Currently, the winning team’s players get $50,000 each, the losing team $25,000 — while that extra $25K would make a big difference in your life or mine, for All-Stars with eight-figure annual salaries it doesn’t matter as much as staying healthy and getting some rest.

“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow, Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”

There is, but until the NBA comes up with a new plan we’re not going to see it All-Star Weekend.