Corey Brewer

Associated Press

Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler lead Timberwolves rally past Lakers, 119-111

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves were flat, facing a double-digit deficit for long stretches of the game.

This is why they traded for Jimmy Butler and signed Taj Gibson, for fourth-quarter lifts like these.

Gibson scored a season-high 28 points and Butler added 24, providing the Timberwolves with the production and energy for a 119-111 comeback victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Butler and Gibson, the former Chicago teammates, muscled their way to the basket with a fierce determination down the stretch. Butler drove along the baseline and flicked a short pass to Gibson in the lane, where he dropped in a layup and converted a three-point play for a 110-104 lead with 3:59 left.

“What he and Jimmy have brought to the team has really changed things for us,” said Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who had them both with the Bulls. “Those guys, they weren’t going to let us lose.”

Jeff Teague pitched in 20 points and Jamal Crawford added 15 for the Timberwolves, who rallied from a deficit as large as 15 points in the second quarter and 12 points late in the third to raise their home record to 24-7 on an emotional evening that started with a tribute to former coach and executive Flip Saunders.

Except the Lakers had the mojo for much of the first three quarters. Julius Randle had 23 points and nine rebounds, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Brandon Ingram each scored 17 points.

“I know how good we can be when we decide to play hard,” Butler said. “But we think that we’re so good on paper that we can just go through the motions.”

Ivica Zubac, who went 8 for 8 from the floor for a season-high 19 points, threw down a dunk for a 99-98 lead for the Lakers, but that was essentially their last momentum-creating play of the game.

“They’ve got some big-time closers on that team, starting with Jimmy Butler,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He kind of set the tone in the fourth with the way he played.”

Butler blocked shots by Randle and Isaiah Thomas on consecutive possessions in the closing minutes, putting his stamp on yet another winning performance.

“I think that’s what separates him as a superstar,” Crawford said. “Most guys, they do it on one end, but those types of plays, they’re immeasurable.”

This was a win the Wolves badly needed before the All-Star break, after their 13-game home winning streak ended in humbling fashion on Tuesday against Houston. They moved within percentage points of San Antonio for third place in the Western Conference at 36-25. The Spurs are 35-24.

The Lakers shot so sharply to start the game, going 17 for 27 from the floor in the first quarter, that the Wolves produced separate spurts of 23-8 and 21-6 in the first half yet still trailed 65-62 at halftime.

Randle had 10 points in the third quarter as the Lakers again pushed ahead. He drove and scored on Karl-Anthony Towns for an 86-76 lead, and a frustrated Towns was called for an offensive foul on Brook Lopez to erase a spin-move layup on the next possession.

But Crawford got the Wolves and the crowd going early in the fourth quarter, sandwiching a 31-foot swish by Tyus Jones with a pair of 3-pointers of his own. The second one came off a slick crossover dribble that deked Corey Brewer at the top of the key and brought the Wolves within 95-94.

 

 

Karl-Anthony Towns feeling the love as Timberwolves beat Lakers

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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LOS ANGELES – Karl-Anthony Towns reached over the front row to embrace his father after leading the Timberwolves to a 121-104 Christmas win over the Timberwolves.

“He was pretty sweaty,” Karl Anthony Towns Sr. said to his wife and the Minnesota center’s girlfriend.

The younger Towns certainly had reason to be drenched. Finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, he repeatedly came up big in the fourth quarter despite playing nearly 40 minutes.

But Towns wasn’t ready for a break yet. He ran toward Shaquille O’Neal, who sat courtside to do TV work.

“Hey, Shaq!” Towns yelled. “Hey, Shaq!”

Finally getting Shaq’s attention, Towns emulated the Omega Psi Phi hooks Shaq flashed after dunking on David Robinson in the 1996 All-Star game:

“I’m great friends with Shaq. My mother and his mother are best friends,” Towns said. “It’s always good to have that Jersey love in the house.”

Towns had his own highlight dunk Monday, slamming on Corey Brewer:

Then, when the Lakers made a late push, Towns blocked shots on consecutive possessions to preserve Minnesota’s fourth straight win.

“It’s the fourth quarter. It’s Christmas Day,” Towns said. “You have to end the game on a rightful note.”

This is the Timberwolves’ first Christmas win after the franchise made its Christmas debut with a loss at Oklahoma City last year. Two of Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago imports, Jimmy Butler (23 points and eight assists) and Taj Gibson (23 points and nine rebounds), are clearly pushing the franchise forward.

Maybe Towns won’t even have to import his family, immediate and extended, to Minnesota’s next Christmas game. Perhaps, this franchise even gets to host one.

But no matter the location, Towns is ready for more spotlight games – and more wins.

“This won’t be the first and only one that we ever win,” Towns said. “We’ll have a lot more opportunities, I’m banking on, to do this again and again and again.”

Three Things to Know: Too much Kyle Kuzma, Lakers end Rockets streak

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ star rookie — Kyle Kuzma, who did you think we were talking about? — drops 38, Lakers end Rockets win streak at 14. Houston had won 14 games in a row due to the lethal combination of James Harden, Chris Paul, and a surprisingly good defense. Those three things have Houston on top of the Western Conference.

Only one of those three was there at the end against the Lakers. James Harden was playing like an MVP candidate, dropping 51 points on just 27 shots, plus dishing out nine assists. The Beard was brilliant.

However, Chris Paul left the game early in the fourth with what was later called a strained left adductor, which is part of the groin muscle family (this is not related to his former knee injury and he is day-to-day now, but expect him to miss at least a game or two, those can be easy to re-injure if not fully healed). The Rockets’ defense missed Clint Capela inside (he has a bruised calf, according to the team, or a sore heel, according to beat writers). Houston came into the game with the seventh-best defense in the league, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions this season, but the “D” took the night off, allowing Los Angeles to score 117.4 per 100.

A lot of that was Kyle Kuzma. The rookie dropped a career-high 38 on Houston, leading the Lakers to the 122-116 win.

Kuzma was 7-of-10 from three, leading a Lakers team that shot 32.8 percent from three before Wednesday (dead last in NBA) to hit 42.9 percent on the night. The Lakers also got a big game from Corey Brewer, as the veteran had 21 points off the bench and made big plays in the fourth.

The Lakers are playing hard — they took the Warriors to OT the other night, they were feisty against the Cavaliers the game before that, they took the Knicks to overtime the game before that. This time they held on to the lead. Lonzo Ball‘s decision making is improving, the game is clearly slowing down for him, and his shot is improving (slowly, but improving). Brandon Ingram is becoming a more aggressive scorer. The Lakers are defending better than expected (tied with the Rockets at 103 per 100 for the season). This team is showing improvement, which is what Lakers fans should have hoped to see this season.

For the Rockets, losses happen, they just need to get CP3 back soon.

2) The Kelly Olynyk revenge game — he drops career-high 32 on Celtics, leads Heat to win.
Don’t make Kelly Olynyk angry, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The usually reserved big man was chirping at the Boston bench on his way to dropping 32 on the best defense in the land, hitting 6-of-8 from three, and in a close game he scored the Heat’s final eight points, holding off a late charge from the Celtics (who were down 11 with 2:40 left) to get the 90-89 win.

Marcus Smart was blunt after the game, “Kelly kicked our ass.” Still, Boston fought back and almost pulled it off, Kyrie Irving got a clean look at a leaning game-winner near the elbow and just missed it. The Celtics are now 3-3 in their last six. Jayson Taytum dislocated his pinky in this game but said he expects to play Thursday.

Miami is in a fight for one of the final playoff slots in the East (they are currently the nine seed, half a game back of New York), and this is a quality win in that chase.

3) Thunder win handily, are over .500 for the first time since Halloween. The Utah Jazz, without Rudy Gobert (again) and on Thursday without standout rookie Donovan Mitchell, look like a demoralized team. They have lost three in a row (and 7-of-8 overall) as they go through the toughest stretch of their schedule this season shorthanded.

For a Thunder team trying to find an offensive groove, that’s just what the doctor ordered. Oklahoma City cruised to a 107-79 win over the Jazz behind 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists from Russell Westbrook. OKC was sharing the ball, making the extra pass to the open man, and basically playing like Billy Donovan has wanted the team to all season. We’ll see if it lasts as the schedule gets tougher (Houston on Christmas Day, for example), but this is what the Thunder needed.

Oklahoma City is 16-15, over .500 for the first time since Halloween, and if the playoffs started today they would be the six seed, 2.5 games clear of the nine-seed Jazz. The Thunder are on pace for a 49-win season (according to Ben Falk’s stat site Cleaning The Glass), which may have been a little short of lofty preseason expectations but likely would be the four seed in the West and having home court for the first round, and that’s better than the start of the season had this team looking.

NBA Power Rankings: Rockets, Warriors 1-2, Pacers climb into top 10

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Houston remains hot and on top of the rankings, but the Warriors have climbed back up to second place, and we see the Bucks jump into the Top 10 (and they are still aggressively looking to add more talent to the roster). Also, we have a new team on the bottom, and Mike Budenholzer is not going to like it.

Rockets small icon 1. Rockets (21-4, Last Week No. 1). Winners of 10 in a row (although they needed big comebacks vs. Portland and New Orleans). Five of those 10 wins were on the road to push the Rockets’ record to 12-1 away from the Toyota Center this season. Chris Paul’s passing has taken the already potent Rockets offense to a new level, teammates are shooting better than 60 percent off his passes.

Warriors small icon 2. Warriors (22-6 LW 3). The Warriors are 3-0 without Stephen Curry in the lineup, winning thanks to defense and a lot of Kevin Durant (the big concern is the GSW offense has fallen apart when KD sits in those games). Patrick McCaw is back from his concussion, which will help with depth until Curry returns. Golden State has 8-of-9 at home coming up, and they don’t leave California again until next month.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (23-6, LW 2). After playing around with smaller lineups, Brad Stephens has gone back to starting Aron Baynes at center and it’s working as the Celtics are getting off to faster starts. That said, the Celtics lost 2-of-3 on the road last week, albeit the last one without Kyrie Irving (a bruised thigh, nothing serious). Also, don’t forget what Jaylen Brown did to Pau Gasol this past week.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (20-8 LW 4). LeBron James has been a marvel this season. He has had to take on more of the Cleveland offense yet his efficiency is up (a career best 65.8 true shooting percentage), his assist percentage is up, he’s shooting better than 70% on contested two pointers (defender within four feet), and remove garbage time he is shooting 78% at the rim and 42% from three (stats via Cleaning The Glass). Cleveland’s win streak ended at 13 in Indiana, but they bounced back with a wins over Philly and Atlanta through the first half of a four-game homestand.

Spurs small icon 5. Spurs (19-9, LW 6). Kawhi Leonard returned on Tuesday night and scored 13 points in 15 minutes, but he understandably looked a little rusty and the Spurs looked out of synch. Like they were trying to integrate a star player back into the rotation. The result was an ugly loss to Dallas. This is going to take a little time, but the Spurs have built a cushion with their play so far this season. It’s not getting easier for the Spurs during this process either with the Houston Rockets on the schedule for Friday.

Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (17-8, LW 5). DeMar DeRozan is scoring 23.2 points per game, but he’s improved his passing this season and with his assist rate is up, too — he is assisting on 24% of teammates buckets when he is on the floor (stat via Cleaning the Glass). The Clippers snapped the Raptors’ six-game win streak, but with the next four being Suns, Nets, Kings, and Hornets Toronto could quickly get another streak going.

Pacers small icon 7. Pacers (16-11, LW 9). Indiana has kept on winning through a tough part of the schedule, including ending Cleveland’s 13-game win streak, and Victor Oladipo is a main reason. This week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game. Oladipo deserves to be an All-Star this season (but will he be in 2021 when Indy gets to host the All-Star Game?). Paul George makes his return to Indiana on Wednesday night, and he is going to hear it from the fans, and we’ll see if he can slow Oladipo.

Bucks small icon 8. Bucks (15-10 LW 11). The Bucks are switching more and trapping less on defense in recent weeks. This is a good thing — their hyper-aggressive defense was easy to exploit with good ball movement — but this team is still a work in progress. In their last 10 games they have given up 104.6 points per 100 possessions, ninth best in the NBA, but that has been much worse in recent games. Also of note, Malcolm Brogdon has struggled with his efficiency since moving to the bench with the arrival of Eric Bledsoe, he has not lifted up the bench as hoped.

Sixers small icon 9. 76ers (14-13, LW 7). They had lost four in a row until the win in Minnesota Tuesday, the losses in part due to injuries that have kept Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, and T.J. McConnell out of games. Markelle Fultz is still out and it will be a few weeks before they re-evaluate him. At least they finally traded Jahlil Okafor, and in doing so got themselves a quality backup big man in Trevor Booker. That was the move of a team looking to go to the playoffs, but they need to keep Embiid healthy to do that (they are 14.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court).

10. Timberwolves (16-12, LW 10). Minnesota’s defense remains an issue, ranked 26th in the league, and the problems start in transition — 16.6% of opponent possessions start in transition, 28th in the league, and teams score 110.7 points per 100 on those plays, 26th in the league (stats via Cleaning the Glass). That is just too many easy buckets given up to be a good defense. Minnesota has gone 1-1 to kick off a five-game homestand (the loss was to the Sixers) before they hit the road for most of the end of the month.

Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (15-12, LW 16). They have gone 3-3 without Nikola Jokic (sprained ankle), with 5 of those 6 on the road. What’s surprising is they have struggled more on defense than on offense without Jokic. The Nuggets are truly a Jekyll and Hyde team going 10-2 at home and winning by an average of 8.9 points per game, however, get them on the road and they are 5-10 being outscored by 6.4 points per game.

Wizards small icon 12. Wizards (14-13, LW 13). John Wall is expected to return Wednesday night, with Wizards went 4-5 without him (and 2-3 on a just completed road trip without him). Bradley Beal has carried the Wizards through this, averaging 29.8 points per game in this stretch (although he’s struggled a little from three in that time). The Wizards are now home for 4-of-5.

Pistons small icon 13. Pistons (14-13, LW 8). Losers of seven in a row, although to be fair it has been a tough slate of games, Detroit has fallen back from second in the East to scrambling to stay in the playoffs. The problem is on the offensive end, where over those seven games the Pistons are scoring less than a point per possession and have been the worst offense in the NBA. The reason is pretty simple, they have shot the ball terribly as a team, with Avery Bradley (35.4%) and Stanley Johnson (26.8%) leading the way, but Stan Van Gundy laid the blame at the feet of his stars.

Pelicans small icon 14. Pelicans (14-14, LW 17). The Pelicans have become the team that gets in shootouts — they score a lot and give up a lot of points. This recent trend has led to entertaining games and the loss Monday to Houston was the best example (a 78-76 halftime score, but the Pelicans wore down from the pace in the fourth). Injuries just keep on coming for the Pelicans. Anthony Davis missed four of the last six games (the Pelicans went 2-2 without him), and now Tony Allen will be out 3-4 weeks with a fibula fracture (the Pelicans defense is 5.6 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court).

Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (14-13, LW 20). With Tim Hardaway Jr. sidelined Doug McDermott has stepped up and played well for the Knicks, averaging 12 points a game on 56.8% shooting, and 37.5% from three, in his last five games. He’s been efficient in his limited chances all season, shooting 60% eFG% on spot up chances. he’s not creating shots (89% of his buckets are assisted) but he’s knocking them down when he gets the chance.

Jazz small icon 16. Jazz (13-14, LW 12). Expect to see a lot of lineup experimentation in the coming weeks because it’s become clear the twin towers approach of playing Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert together simply does not work (opposing teams outscore Utah by 10.6 points per 100 when they are on the court together). Those two have to be staggered. Utah expects to get Joe Johnson back from injury this week, which will be a boost as they fight to hang on to a playoff slot in the West.

Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (13-13, LW 14). Portland just went 0-4 on a homestand where they needed to rack up wins, because Monday started a tough five-game road trip and they lost the opener of that to the Warriors. The recent slump is due to the defense, which is fourth overall in the NBA for the season but lately has fallen apart, allowing 115.3 points per 100 possession. Portland will try to right the ship on the road with winnable games: Heat, Magic, Hornets, then Timberwolves.

Thunder small icon 18. Thunder (12-14 LW 15).. Welcome to the Thunder’s “You Can’t Go Home Again” week of the schedule. Paul George returns to Indiana Wednesday night, then on Saturday Carmelo Anthony will return to New York. George is going to get booed mercilessly, but the reaction to ‘Melo in NYC will likely be positive (with a few outliers). ‘Melo meant a lot to that organization. The problem for his new team is ‘Melo in a shooting slump (worse than the one the other stars are in), and that plus his lack of defense and ball stopping, has become a part of the problem in OKC.

Heat small icon 19. Heat (13-13, LW 19). After losing three of four, Erik Spoelstra was looking for something that would spark the team and work better on the court, so he’s now starting James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk (both of whom had played well off the bench). It has worked, the Heat have won two straight and gotten back to .500. They are entering a soft part of the schedule and need to rack up wins over the next few weeks to pad their record.

Nets small icon 20. Nets (11-15, LW 21). Great comeback win against the Thunder to earn a split in Mexico City, then on Tuesday they knocked off the Wizards, showing this continues to be a scrappy team that plays hard. All these wins continues to destroy the Cavaliers dreams of a high pick (right now the Nets pick the Cavs have would be the 10th, which makes it more likely the Cavs are willing to deal it). Jahlil Okafor has seen very limited minutes, his time will come down the line.

Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (10-16, LW 18). Injuries continue to set back the Hornets — Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, coach Steve Clifford — but the other problem is their offense. In their last 10 games, the Hornets have averaged 101.9 points per 100 possessions, 28th in the NBA. Kemba Walker has played well, but can do only so much on his own, and the Hornets still-solid defense can’t cover for that offense.

Clippers small icon 22. Clippers (10-15 LW 24). Milos Todosic was back in the lineup on Tuesday, but after a few games back Danilo Gallinari was sidelined again with the same glute injury. Most of the buzz around the Clippers league wide is about what they can get back for DeAndre Jordan in a trade, but expect some teams to call about Lou Williams as well, he has played well off the bench and more than a few playoff teams could use a scoring punch in the second unit right about now.

Magic small icon 23. Magic (11-17, LW 22). Nikola Vucevic has been having a quietly efficient season (17.4 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 57 (a fair amount above the league average), but he outdid himself against the Hawks with a triple-double of 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. Vucevic had to go off in that game because injuries remain an issue with the Magic — Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, and Jonathan Isaac all were out against the Hawks. This team just doesn’t have the depth to handle key guys missing time.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (10-16 LW 26). The Lakers lead the NBA in shots attempted from the restricted area per game this season (42.4% of their shots come within four feet of the rim), but their kryptonite may be when teams foul them on the drive. As a team, the Lakers have struggled from the free throw line this season — as a team LA shoots 70.4%, last in the NBA, and key players such as Lonzo Ball (48.6%), Julius Randle (65.4%), Corey Brewer (66.7%), and Brandon Ingram (67.2%) are below 70%. The Lakers play at the Cavaliers Thursday night, which is a chance to remind everyone that LeBron James and Luke Walton were both taken in the 2003 draft (LeBron No. 1, Walton 32nd, and Dwyane Wade also was in that draft class too at no. 5).

Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (8-20 LW 25). While the Mavericks struggle and try to develop young players on the court, ticket sales for the team remain surprisingly brisk according to secondary ticket market company TickPick, up 161% over a year ago. This could be Dirk Nowitzki’s final season and people want to see him play. Dallas lost three straight on the road recently before picking up a win at home Tuesday against the Spurs. Now they head out on the road for two tough ones, Golden State and San Antonio.

Grizzlies small icon 26. Grizzlies (8-19, LW 23). After breaking their 11-game losing streak, the Grizzlies have started a new one losing four more (and blowing leads of 17 or more in two of those games). So, maybe the problem wasn’t David Fizdale. GM Chris Wallace said the team would not be looking to trade Marc Gasol and start rebuilding, but they have to consider it (the in-flux ownership situation in Memphis may impact the decisions about long-term planning as well).

Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (6-20 LW 30).. Winners of three in a row, and part of the reason is Kris Dunn. He was a mess last season in Minnesota, but the former No. 5 pick has looked better recently, scoring 16.4 points per game in the last five games, plus dishing out 7 assists a game in those contests. He’s not a future All-Star, but he’s looking like a rotation-level point guard, which is miles ahead of where he was one season ago.

Kings small icon 28. Kings (9-18, LW 28). Buddy Hield is shooting 47.2% from three this season, taking 4.2 threes per game. More than half those attempts from three are catch-and-shoots where he is hitting 59.4% Zach Randolph is just 15 rebounds away from having 10,000 for his career. That would put Z-Bo in some good company, the only other active players with more than 18,000 career points and 10,000 rebounds are Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.

Suns small icon 29. Suns (9-20, LW 27). The Suns have gone 0-3 without Devin Booker (who is out for a couple of weeks still, and after scoring at least 104 points in six games before his injury they have averaged 97.3 points per game without him. Good to see Mike James moving from a two-way contract to a regular one, he earned it, and he is leading the team in usage rate since Booker went down.

Hawks small icon 30. Hawks (6-21, LW 29). The Hawks are off to the second worst start the franchise has had since moving to Atlanta. What has to really eat at coach Mike Budenholzer is the defense, which was fourth in the NBA a season ago, is is 29th now and giving up 5.6 points more per 100 possessions than they did last year. The Hawks have 5-of-7 at home coming up through Christmas.

Three Things to Know: Damian Lillard knows what time it is

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Damian Lillard knows what time it is, drains game winner to beat Lakers. Portland was hot all night from three, starting the game 6-of-7 from deep and racing out to an 18-point lead early. The young Lakers fought back to make it a game in the second and third (thanks in part to the fact Portland is terrible on defense), but more and more as the game went on Blazers’ coach Terry Stotts started calling Damian Lillard’s number, both as the pick-and-roll ball handler, and in isolation. The Lakers had no answer.

Lillard finished the night with 32 points on 18 shots, he got to the line 14 times, and when the game was on the line Stotts called for a Lillard isolation. Luke Walton countered with the very long Brandon Ingram on him (why not Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?), but it didn’t matter. It’s Lillard time.

2) Bad news: Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. breaks hand. Good news: this is team making strides. The news first: Luke Walton is going to have to find a new starting power forward for a while because Larry Nance Jr. fractured the second metacarpal in his left hand against the Blazers and is out indefinitely. Nance left the game in the third quarter after contact with Caleb Swanigan and did not return, the Lakers say he will be evaluated by team doctors Friday and a timeline will be established. Nance has averaged 11.1 points and 7.9 rebounds a game this season. Walton has to now figure out who starts in his place. Julius Randle had the starting job going into training camp and could get it back, but Walton likes Randle as a spark with the second unit so my guess is Kyle Kuzma gets the call (he had 22 points vs. Portland, but he struggles defensively). If Walton wanted to go with a veteran, Corey Brewer or Luol Deng are available.

As for the Lakers, the team is getting a little better each game, but this is what learning hard lessons feels like. The NBA is an unforgiving place. The Lakers battled back from being 18 down early and led by as many as five points in the fourth, and that’s a good sign, but closing out the Trail Blazers in Portland is hard for any team. The Lakers still have a top 10 defense this season (10th now), and they are putting out effort on that end, but their rotations are not sharp and good offenses like Portland’s will pick that apart. The Lakers’ defensive numbers will get worse, but they are improved on that end.

Lonzo Ball was much more passive than normal (0-of-2 shooting, 4 assists), not pushing the tempo in transition and not looking for his shot off picks despite the Portland big man laying off and daring him to shoot. Ball can pass, but he has to become comfortable as a shooter/scorer, that includes being better at attacking off the dribble into that space when teams play back and scoring at the rim. He’s not a threat as a scorer most nights (he scored in single digits six of the eight Lakers game) and the league is adjusting to him. Ball and Brook Lopez also learned some hard lessons about playing pick-and-roll defense, where Jusuf Nurkic tore them up as the roll man and finished with 28 points (the Laker help rotations were slow all night) and in the second half Lillard torched them. It’s a process, but Lakers fans have reason to be optimistic.

3) Spurs come out strong, go up 19 on Warriors… and it doesn’t matter. Golden State is back. San Antonio came out with great energy — they were deflecting passes and knocking the ball out of Warriors’ hands, plus contesting everything. LaMarcus Aldridge had 11 first quarter points, and after a 21-3 run the Spurs had a 19-point lead before the quarter ended.

It didn’t matter. Golden State found its groove, went on a 15-4 run before halftime and a 20-8 run to open the third quarter and that was the ballgame. The Warriors shot 51.8 percent overall, 50 percent from three, and held San Antonio 35.9-percent shooting in the second half. The Warriors we all expected are back, they have cured their championship hangover, and the rest of the league is searching for answers they will not find.

Klay Thompson had 27 points, Kevin Durant 24, and Stephen Curry had 21. Draymond Green pitched in 16 plus was key defensively, as always.