Kurt Helin

Lakers’ rookie Brandon Ingram airballs a free throw (VIDEO)

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Brandon Ingram is no candidate for the “hack-a-” strategy, he’s hitting 65.8 percent from the stripe as a rookie.

But he looked bad on this shot. Ingram airballed a free throw during the second quarter Tuesday night. Ouch.

The Lakers made the interesting defensive decision to single cover DeMarcus Cousins most of the night, and the result was 40 points — 16 in the fourth — plus 12 rebounds from the big man to lead the Kings to their fourth straight win, 97-96 over the Lakers.

 

Nuggets trade for Mason Plumlee, say center was too good to pass up

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2016, file photo Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee takes a break in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in Denver. A person with knowledge of the situation has told the Associated Press that Plumlee has been traded to the Denver Nuggets for center Jusuf Nurkic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)
Associated Press
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DENVER (AP) — This was too good to pass up: Another center who unselfishly shares the ball.

That’s what sold the Denver Nuggets on Mason Plumlee as they officially traded for the versatile center Monday, sending bruising big man Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in return.

“Mason is a guy who complements what we have presently in the front court quite well,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said. “His playmaking is something unique and really stands out. Our offense is really humming right now.”

That’s in large part because of the play of Nikola Jokic, an up-and-coming big man who’s equally adept at passing (4.2 assists per game) as he is at scoring (16.3 points) and rebounding (8.6). Like Jokic, Plumlee has a knack for getting everyone involved and should slide right in whenever Jokic needs a breather.

The two big men may even take the floor at the same time.

Although, that’s an experiment the Nuggets tried early in the season with Nurkic and Jokic, leading to mixed results. Then again, Plumlee and Jokic have more similar-style games.

“It will be great to have almost the synergy of playing the same way with two bigs capable of making the same types of plays,” said coach Michael Malone, who doesn’t expect Plumlee to play Monday night against Golden State but more likely Wednesday against Minnesota. “We feel we have two of the better passing bigs in the NBA right now.”

Still, it was a difficult decision to send the 22-year-old Nurkic to a division rival, especially one that’s right on the Nuggets’ heels for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

The offer was just too enticing to turn down.

“By no means are we a finished product, but we feel Mason definitely helps us get in the direction where we’re headed and may be a playoff team,” Malone said. “His versatility, his athleticism, his I.Q., his playmaking, his rim presence defensively – he brings a lot of things to the table that will complement the players that we have.”

Golden State All-Star forward Kevin Durant thinks this move bolsters Denver.

“Those two are going to play well off each other,” Durant said. “Having two guys, as big fellas, that can do that, it takes the pressure off your wings, your point guards, allows them to play with their athleticism. … Adding another guy that can play definitely helps.”

As part of the deal, Denver also receives a 2018 second-round pick and cash considerations, while the Blazers get a 2017 protected first-rounder.

About that first-rounder the team surrendered: Connelly said that given the Nuggets’ youth – they have a half-dozen players 22 and under – the team was already struggling to find enough minutes for everyone.

“It’s becoming difficult to continue not just to roster those guys but develop those guys on the court,” Connelly said. “For us, we have so many interesting young players as is. We weren’t overly concerned with another pick in the 20s.”

Nurkic is averaging eight points this season. The 7-footer known as the “Bosnian Beast” simply became expendable with the emergence of Jokic, who turns 22 later this month.

Plumlee was a first-round pick by Brooklyn in 2013, before being dealt to Portland two years later. The former Duke standout averaged 11.1 points this season for Portland, along with eight rebounds and four assists.

Although he’s a restricted free agent this summer, the Nuggets have high hopes they can retain him.

“The deal was not done just for today. It was done for years moving forward,” Connelly said. “When you look at our free agent board, he was a guy that we had circled early in the process and, quite frankly, we didn’t feel confident we could get him without a move like this.”

Three things we learned Tuesday: Toronto makes its play, while Cleveland just wins games

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, lays up as Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio of Spain defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Cavaliers won 116-108. James and Kyrie Irving led their team's scoring with 25 points each. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Associated Press
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Most of the news around the NBA Tuesday happened off the court, but we’ve got your back there too, breaking down the big trade of the day. Plus giving you highlights. Just because we care.

1) The Raptors make a play, but Orlando gets win too with trade. Tuesday we had our first big trade — very possibly the only big trade — in the run-up to the Feb. 23 trade deadline: Serge Ibaka went to the Raptors in exchange for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick (the worse of the Raptors’ own pick or the Clippers’ pick, which the Raptors control).

The goal with any trade is a win-win scenario — and this comes pretty close to that.

For Orlando, they get a first round pick, which never hurts. In Ross, they get a guy that fits their needs and helps uncork the logjam up front. Ross was frustrating to Raptors fans because he never quite fit in or lived up to expectations, but for Orlando the fit is better — Ross is a swingman who could start at the three and allow Frank Vogel to slide Aaron Gordon back to his more natural spot at the four. Or, if Vogel insists on the Gordon at the three experiment, Ross could be a sixth man who would provide some scoring punch off the bench. Either way he fits better with what they want to do than Ibaka had.

Most of the talk about this trade, however, is what it means for Toronto: Will this snap them out of their recent funk? More importantly, where does this put them in the pecking order in the East? Are they contenders and a threat to Cleveland? I wouldn’t go that far (assuming the playoff Cavaliers are healthy), but this move does make them better. On offense, Ibaka is shooting 38.8 from three this season and hits his midrange jumpers, he can space the floor and give them a quality four next to Jonas Valanciunas (one who can defend and cover some of Valanciunas’ flaws), and once Patrick Patterson returns healthy it allows the Raptors to go a little smaller with Ibaka and Patterson up front — a lineup that seems better suited to taking on Cleveland. In the short term, it fills a real need until Patterson does get healthy. I’m not as high on this move as some because of Ibaka’s reduced athleticism and movement (he’s not the player he was three seasons ago) and what it will cost them to keep this summer (the Raptors are going deep into the tax). But this trade makes the Raptors better. It may push them back up to being the second best team in the East, it certainly makes a second-round matchup with Boston interesting (if the Raptors can climb past the Wizards and get the three seed). But I still don’t think Toronto threatens Cleveland if the Cavs have all their players healthy.

2) Cavaliers pick up win without Kevin Love. The news that Kevin Love is going to miss about 30 games following knee surgery (if he’s back on schedule) raised this question about the banged-up Cavaliers: Can they hold on to the top seed in the East? Not are they the best team in the East, when healthy they certainly are (even after the Ibaka trade by Toronto), but Boston is hot and entered Tuesday night just two games back of Cleveland for the top spot in the East.

Without Love, and for the next few weeks at least also no J.R. Smith, are the Cavaliers in danger of dropping out of that top spot? LeBron James says not to worry, he’s got this. And on Tuesday night against the Timberwolves he did. First off, LeBron did this to poor Andrew Wiggins.

LeBron also scored 25 points and led the Cavaliers to the 116-108 win. The Cavs are going to need a lot more nights like this from LeBron for the next six weeks — so much for tapering his minutes and getting him some rest.

3) DeMarcus Cousins 40-point, 12-board night leads Kings to win in Los Angeles. Kings ownership still is hell-bent on making a push for the playoffs this season — new building, new attitude, they want to snap a 10-year playoff drought. The Kings are just 1.5 games back of the Nuggets for the eighth seed, and with a road win over the Lakers Tuesday Sacramento has won four in a row.

The reason they won? DeMarcus Cousins. Well, that and the Lakers deciding to single-cover Cousins most of the night, rather than daring any other King player to beat them. Cousins had 40 points, 16 of those in the fourth quarter, plus pulled down 12 boards, and looked every bit the best big man in the game. Lou Williams put up a fight for the Lakers scoring 29, but it wasn’t enough.

The Kings’ four-game win streak likely ends Wednesday against Golden State (the team the Kings are hoping to get the chance to get swept by face in the first round of the playoffs).

To be fair, Andrew Wiggins also put up 41 points on Cavaliers (VIDEO)

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Andrew Wiggins is all over the highlight shows Wednesday morning because LeBron James made him look bad with a nutmeg pass for the ages.

But we need to be fair here — offensively Andrew Wiggins had a good game, dropping 41 on the Cavaliers. It just wasn’t enough to keep him off the highlights or get the Timberwolves the win (Cleveland won 116-108). Wiggins had a good night. Give the man a little credit.

Then watch that highlight again.

With trade, Raptors place big bet on Serge Ibaka, his athleticism to find old form

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 13: Serge Ibaka #7 of the Orlando Magic looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 13, 2017 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.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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This was the long play by Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors GM. He has long coveted Serge Ibaka as the four his team needs — someone who can protect the rim on one end, knock down threes and space the floor on the other. A modern four that fits the modern game and the rest of the Raptors roster.

Toronto has All-Stars and gold medalists in the backcourt with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, it has a solid center in Jonas Valanciunas, and a “3&D” wing in DeMarre Carroll. With guys like Cory JosephLucas Nogueira, Norman Powell, and when healthy Patrick Patterson, the team has a solid bench.

However, they lacked the four they needed — and the Raptors think they found in trading for Ibaka. The Raptors surrendered a late first-round pick (the worse of theirs or the Clippers, which the Raptors control) plus a solid wing in Terrence Ross (who might be a better fit in Orlando, where they can move Aaron Gordon back to the four where he belongs now).

This looks like a win for the Raptors on the day of the trade. A trade that should both help turn around a recent losing streak, and a move that gets them closer to the Cavaliers.

But it comes with risks.

At the top of the list, Ibaka’s athleticism is not what a lot of fans remember from a few years back. Blame balky knees and the miles on them if you want, but the Ibaka the last year in Oklahoma City and then in Orlando was not the same player. He’s still good — he can defend inside, he hits the three better than he once did hitting 38.8 percent this season — but he simply does not move the same way. And that’s not likely to change.

Which leads to the next question — how much are the Raptors going to pay him this summer? Lowry is a free agent and the Raptors need to max him out to keep him (other teams will if the Raptors will not), but will Toronto go around $100 million over four or five years with Ibaka (they have his Bird rights)? That may be the market for Ibaka this summer, and while there has been interest in Toronto by Ibaka, he’s still going to go where he gets paid. This is a business. The question for Raptors’ ownership is how much tax are they willing to pay for this team?

With what the Raptors did to get him, the Raptors need to pony up and keep him.

In the short term, Ibaka and the energy from the trade should shake the Raptors out of their slump over the past few weeks that has dropped them to a tie for fourth/fifth in the East. They should be back in the mix for being the second best team in the East, but can they climb back up to the two or three seed — and avoid Cleveland in the second round?

And that’s the elephant in the room — even with this move, are the Raptors a real threat to Cleveland? Are the Raptors real contenders?

Part of that depends on how healthy the Cavs are in the playoffs.

But part of it depends on what Ibaka the Raptors get, what numbers come up in this big roll of the dice. It’s a good move by the Raptors, but it may not be the home run some expect.