No drama in reunion, just easy Rockets win vs. Lakers (VIDEO)

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Wise move, NBA television executives, choosing to pull Wednesday night’s Lakers at Rockets game off the national broadcast (not that the Spurs/Mavs game that replaced turned out to be a thriller). There is no Kobe Bryant and the “Dwight Howard reunion” drama had played itself out long ago.

This was simply another mid-season NBA game where the more talented, deeper team won handily — but it would never seem to end thanks to a few minutes of hack-a-Howard.

Didn’t matter, the Rockets blew the game open in the third quarter and won 113-99 behind 38 points from James Harden. Howard finished with 20 points and 13 boards.

For the Lakers, the pain continues — after Tuesday night’s loss Nick Young said the Lakers’ locker room felt like a “funeral.” I’m not sure what feels worse but the Lakers are headed there — they have dropped nine of 10 (losing those games by an average of almost 14 points) and they are about to head out on their annual Grammy road trip and eight of their next nine are road games. Kobe will not be back for that stretch. Things look pretty bleak, and while being bad to get a better draft pick may be the right thing to do on paper it is no fun for the team going through it.

Los Angeles led in this one early, simply by outworking the Rockets in the paint. Pau Gasol hit three of his first four (and had 15 in the first half), Robert Sacre and Jordan Hill being physical with Howard. Then in the second quarter Nick Young had eight points (he finished the night with 25), Jodie Meeks added 7 points (21 on the night) and the Lakers were up five at the half.

Part of that was the Rockets just did not play good defense — they are an inconsistent team and it showed on that end. James Harden got beaten off the dribble by Kendall Marshall, and there was no defensive rotation to cover the basket.

The third quarter was completely different.

James Harden exploded for 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, the Rockets were more aggressive on defense forcing seven turnovers and turning them into easy transition buckets. The Lakers shot just 33 percent in the quarter.

Houston won the third quarter 33-15. That theme continued on into the fourth and the Rockets were up 20 and in control.

So with just under five minutes left Mike D’Antoni ordered “hack-a-Howard” and at first it worked. Howard started 2-of-6 from the line and the Lakers closed the gap to 11. But then the Lakers just started missing their chances and Howard ended up 7-of-16 (he hit five of the last 10) and the Lakers couldn’t close the gap.

In the end the Lakers started to expose the Rockets flaws, but with all the injuries this roster can’t sustain that level of play against a good team when it is focused. And the Rockets got focused and won.

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.