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Luke Walton says he has reached out to Phil Jackson for coaching advice

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LOS ANGELES — For those trying to spin the “Phil Jackson will leave the Knicks to come to the Lakers” drama: Jackson was at Staples Center Sunday night when the Lakers took on the Knicks, sitting in a regular seat (not a suite), but the Lakers chose not to show him on the scoreboard and test the reaction of the crowd. The Lakers may have lost six in a row, but the organization — and most fans — feel it is on the right track now and Jackson would be a left turn in that process.

That doesn’t mean Laker coach Luke Walton doesn’t lean on his mentor Jackson now and again.

“I’ve definitely reached out to him about different things,” Walton said before the Lakers took the floor, eventually falling to the Knicks 118-112. What things? “On how to coach (Walton said that jokingly). When I call him now, instead of random check-ins, it’s about specific things. I try to get his opinion on how he thinks I should handle something, on getting better at certain things, just picking his brain. So far he’s batting 100 percent.”

Jackson may come off as a bit out of touch and old at times now, but the man still coached 11 teams to titles, he has experience in how to handle players. He’s a great source of knowledge, for those that can take what he advises and adapt it to their way of working. Walton seems able to do just that.

Walton and Jackson understandably have a close relationship, they were together both as player/coach and as coaches on the same staff. After the game, Jackson waited in the Lakers’ coaches office off the locker room to talk to Walton. The two should work well together.

That doesn’t mean the Lakers should bring in Jackson as GM.

Week 8 NBA Power Rankings: Clippers slide, Rockets climb, Warriors still reign

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The Clippers have slipped all the way to sixth as hot teams in Toronto and Houston leapfrog the stumbling team in Los Angeles (well, I guess they both are stumbling in that city). Brooklyn slid to the bottom of the rankings, but they get Jeremy Lin back this week, that should help them move back up.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (21-4, Last Week No. 1). The Warriors starting five — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia — outscore opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions, and assist each other on 81.3 percent of their made shots. The “death lineup” (I prefer “death star lineup” now, but whatever) is averaging just over 5 minutes a game on the court, but is outscoring opponents by 26.4 points per 100 possessions.

Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (17-5, LW 5). We know the Cavaliers starting five is good, and Tyrone Lue has leaned on them for 281 minutes this season (16.5 minutes a game, when they’ve all played). The next most used lineup has just 46 minutes — Lue is still searching for other combinations and rotations he likes. Despite that the Cavs have won four in a row, beating the Raptors and other teams from the East. Interesting home-and-home with the suddenly hot Grizzlies this week.

Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (19-5, LW 2). After a slow start to the season on the defensive end, the Spurs have started to look like the Spurs on that and and now have a top-10 defense, although the numbers are odd — for example, they still struggle some with a pick-and-roll ball handler who can score. It helps to have Kawhi Leonard on that end… and on offense. The Spurs won 3-of-4 on the road and 5-of-6 overall recently, with a soft schedule this week.

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (16-7, LW 4). Which team is in a virtual tie for best offense in the NBA with that star-laden team in the Bay Area? Yes, the Raptors, who are scoring at 114.2 points per 100 possessions. They do it an old-school way, with a lot of midrange jumpers and more isolation, but it has worked for them. Toronto settled into it’s place in the Eastern pecking order last week: They still can’t beat Cleveland, but they can beat the third best team in the East, Boston, and everyone else.

Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (17-7, LW 6). Winners of six in a row, including some quality wins over Boston and Westbrook’s OKC. In their last 10 games, the Houston defense is 18th in the NBA — middle of the pack on that end will get this team a lot of wins because their offense is so good. The defense and bench play improved dramatically since the return of Patrick Beverley. Soft schedule this week could see the win streak extend into double digits, but it likely will not see the return of Donatas Motiejunas to the court.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (16-7, LW 3). They are 5-5 in their last 10, and the issue (as it always seems to be) is depth. No lineup in the league has played more minutes this season than the Clippers starters — Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have loved 411 minutes together (almost 20 a game) and are +18.6 points per 100 possessions. The second most used lineup by Doc Rivers is the all bench lineup at 143 minutes (and it’s +6.6 per 100).

Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (17-8, LW 11). Winners of six in a row, that started out with four sub .500 teams but the last two were over Portland and Golden State. The Grizzlies are surviving without Mike Conley thanks to their defense, now the best in the NBA. Statistically, this season the Grizzlies should be a .500 team (+0.2 points per 100 possessions) but they are 12-0 in games within three points in the final minutes. That will start to even out at some point, but maybe not enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Marc Gasol had his first triple-double of the season, and he continues to dish out assists at a record pace.

Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (15-9, LW 9). Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak may have ended at seven, but he still dropped 37 points and lifted the Thunder to a win Sunday. OKC is 9-3 when Westbrook has a triple-double, 6-6 when he doesn’t, so it matters, but so does the improved defense the Thunder are playing the past few weeks. The defense keeps them close, Westbrook puts them over the top. More interesting tests on the road in defenseless Portland and against the elite defense of Utah this week.

Jazz small icon 9. Jazz (15-10, LW 8). The best statistical sign of a contender? A top-10 offense and defense. That’s Utah, which is ranked seventh in offense and fifth in defense in the league. The Jazz are doing what good teams do: Racking up wins when the schedule is favorable. Utah could really use George Hill back in the lineup, he has missed six in a row due to a left toe injury (he has missed 14 games total this season). The Jazz could especially use him against the Thunder and Grizzlies this week.

Hornets small icon 10. Hornets (14-10, LW 15). Kemba Walker deserves to be an All-Star this season. He is averaging 23.3 points per game, shooting 41.8 percent from three (and a career-high true shooting percentage of 58.8), plus a career-high PER of 23.8 — all while taking on a heavier load on offense (29.7 percent usage rate). Guys who take on more don’t get more efficient, but Walker has. The Hornets are 8.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and that’s because their offense drops off a cliff when Walker sits. Charlotte will get tested with all their games on the road this week.

Celtics small icon 11. Celtics (13-11, LW 7). Avery Bradley is having a career best year in points (17.9 per game), rebounds (7.5), assists (2.5), three-point shooting percentage (42.7 percent), and PER (16.1). No, that does not mean he’s an All-Star this season Celtics fans, but he’s been a key part of the team’s success. The Celtics have lost 3-of-4 against a tough stretch of the Eastern Conference, and things don’t lighten up now — four of their next five are on the road, and they face the Spurs and Hornets this week.

Bulls small icon 12. Bulls (13-10, LW 10). Tuesday night, Tom Thibodeau brings his Minnesota Timberwolves team in, and the fans are going to give him a rousing reception (which should eat at the stomaches of the Chicago front office). The Bulls gave the Spurs their first road loss of the season last week — Chicago seems to play to the level of it’s competition most nights — and this week have an interesting home-and-home with Milwaukee.

Knicks small icon 13. Knicks (14-10 LW 13). The Knicks have won 6-of-7, and four in a row on the road, despite Phil Jackson finding a way to create unnecessary drama around the team with his comments about Carmelo Anthony. Why? “Trusting, just trusting one another, believing in what we are doing. Believing in our schemes, defensively and offensively,” Anthony said after beating the Lakers Sunday night. The Knicks remain on their West Coast swing this week.

Pistons small icon 14. Pistons (13-13, LW 14). Reggie Jackson is still finding his groove since his return from knee and thumb issues, and is shooting just 35.4 percent. That will start to turn at some point. The good news is Ish Smith moving to the bench has been huge for the second unit. Detroit is up-and-down — and that was a huge down Sunday losing to a Sixers team without Joel Embiid — but they have winnable games against some of the league’s most disappointing teams this week: Dallas, Washington, and Indiana. And KCP should be back in the lineup.

Bucks small icon 15. Bucks (11-11, LW 12). When you see how much this team misses Khris Middleton is when it is time to close-out games — the Bucks blew a 20-point lead to Atlanta and had an ugly loss to the Wizards last week. All their games lately seem to be close, but they can’t get the stops and efficient offense at the same time. It’s not easier this week with Toronto then a home-and-home with Chicago on the schedule.

Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (12-12, LW 17). No team seems more up and down in the league than Indiana, which beat the Clippers and came from 20 down to knock off the Trail Blazers recently, but then lost to Dallas. The team turns to Paul George in the clutch, and that has worked well enough (he led the comeback against Portland). Still, it’s still surprising how much the team’s defense has fallen off since last season. Indiana is fighting for a playoff spot and games this week like Charlotte and Detroit (both on the road) are the kinds of wins they need.

Hawks small icon 17. Hawks (12-12 LW 19). Their seven-game losing streak came to an end with wins against Miami and Milwaukee, thanks to big games from Dwight Howard against the Heat and Dennis Schroder against the Bucks. They did that without Kent Bazemore, but that will be tough this week going against Orlando, Toronto, and Charlotte. That will test if the Hawks are really right again.

Blazers small icon 18. Trail Blazers (12-13, LW 16). Memphis did Thursday what was the playoff book on Portland: Blitz Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and force someone else to beat you. This is precisely why the Blazers spent money on Evan Turner this summer, to be the third playmaker, but against the Grizzlies the rest of the team shot 24 percent in the loss. Portland has dropped three straight on the road and face the Clippers, Thunder, and Warriors this week.

Magic small icon 19. Magic (10-15 LW 20). Another of the league’s up-and-down teams, they win three straight on the road only to drop their next three. Frank Vogel has Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic coming off the bench now, something Scott Skiles would like to have done last season but wasn’t allowed (the Magic didn’t have Bismarck Biyombo to plug in up front last season, to be fair). Not an easy week with the Hawks, Clippers, and Raptors all on the schedule.

Wizards small icon 20. Wizards (9-13, LW 24). Washington’ starting five — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, and Marcin Gortat — are +7.7 points per 100 possessions, but once you mix in the bench things fall apart quickly. John Wall dropped 52 on Orlando last week, but the Wizards lost — they work better with some balance in the offense. Like against the Bucks later in the week. Washington has won four of five, but it’s a tough week ahead with the Hornets, Pistons and Clippers scheduled.

Nuggets small icon 21. Nuggets (9-15, LW 26). The Nuggets are 2-3 on a six-game road trip that wraps up Monday night in Dallas. Mike Malone has to keep working to develop Emmanuel Mudiay, but he has struggled of late at the point (leading to more Jameer Nelson minutes, he’s a stabilizing influence on the court right now). Jamal Murray continues to show promise, but in games like the ones against Utah, Washington, and Orlando he’s also looked like a rookie (3-of-15 shooting in those games). A couple interesting tests for the Nuggets this week, the high-flying offense of Portland, then Saturday watch the young and talented Nuggets front line deal with Kristaps Porzingis up front when the Knicks visit (oh, they have that Carmelo Anthony guy, too, he played in Denver a little, if you remember).

Kings small icon 22. Kings (8-15, LW 23). The playoff dreams are fading in Sacramento as the team has dropped 5-of-6 games (and the team has played poorly down the stretch in the close games in that group). The worse they do the more the DeMarcus Cousins trade speculation will ramp up, but the Kings still seem to show no interest in making a move before the February trade deadline (well, not for Cousins, Omri Casspi is another story). Ben McLemore is starting again, but he’s just not panned out in Sacramento. Kings spend most of the week on the road in Houston, Memphis, and Dallas.

Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (8-16, LW 22). They had lost 7-of-8 before going to overtime to beat the Suns on Sunday night (where at the end Alvin Gentry went very small, Davis and four guards basically). Anthony Davis remains a guy on the fringes of the MVP discussion with his play, but this team is still him against the world — they need scoring depth badly. Tough week ahead with the Warriors, Rockets, and Spurs all on the schedule.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers (10-16, LW 18). The Lakers defense isn’t intimidating anyone — Derrick Rose went right at the heart of it Sunday night then postgame talked about all the space he found in the paint. Luke Walton said this: “We have to get off to better starts as far as our physicality on the defensive end, and then throughout the game we have to cut down on the mistakes.” The Lakers head out on a six-game road trip starting Monday.

Heat small icon 25. Heat (7-17, LW 21). Losers of five in a row, but at least they come home for six games after a tough stretch of the schedule. If this team can find a way to start defending — something that has fallen off a cliff since Justise Winslow’s injury — they can win some games on this homestand and maybe make a push back up toward the playoffs in the East. But the hole they dug may well be too deep (and the Heat may just not be that good).

timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (6-18, LW 25). They played the Warriors tough Sunday for three quarters, but then Golden State — playing their fourth game in five nights — showed far more energy in the fourth quarter and pulled away for the win. Minnesota’s defense remains a disaster, and Tom Thibodeau can’t seem to get through to these young players. Thibodeau takes his new team to his old stoping grounds in Chicago this week (where the fans still love him, but won’t recognize this defense).

Suns small icon 27. Suns (7-17, LW 27). They lost a 15-point lead to the Pelicans on Sunday, but that will happens with a team playing at the fastest pace in the league but with the 25th ranked defense. The opposition gets a lot of opportunities. This week the Knicks, Thunder, and Spurs will get those chances.

Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (6-18, LW 30). The Sixers have won two in a row, both on the road in New Orleans and Detroit. Nerlens Noel is back, he got 10 minutes off the bench in Detroit and scored eight points (but got no rebounds). Expect the Sixers to give him more and more run going forward as they showcase him for a potential trade. Winnable games at home this week for Philly against the Lakers and Nets.

Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (5-18, LW 28). Dallas’ defense was already a bottom-10 mess, and then Andrew Bogut went down injured on Monday. In the next three games, the Dallas defense got 12 points per 100 possessions worse. At least Rick Carlisle is still being creative, selling the idea that calling timeouts he didn’t have was a strategic move (just with a price). Still no timetable on the return of Dirk Nowitzki.

Nets small icon 30. Nets (6-16, LW 29). Jeremy Lin is expected to make his return this week, after missing 17 games with an injured ankle. The Nets have gone 4-13 without their offensive spark plug and they desperately need his return. Smart gamble by GM Sean Marks trying to land Donatas Motiejunas, who knows if it would have worked out (Houston matched the offer) but with the Nets limited resources to rebuild that’s the kind of roll of the dice he needs to take.

Anthony Davis finishes off-the-backboard alley-oop pass (VIDEO)

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This is an impressive finish, but credit Terrence Jones for the better pass. It was creative.

The result was the dunk of the night — Anthony Davis finishing an off-the-backboard alley-oop pass.

Beyond this play, Davis had a rough night — 14 points on 17 shots — but the Pelicans got 23 from Jrue Holiday and beat the Suns in OT, 120-119.

Three things we learned Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis leaves Lakers fans wondering “what if?”

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Notes from deep inside Staples Center on a Sunday night.

1) Kristaps Porzingis puts on show in Los Angles, beating Lakers while fans dream of what might have been. You can’t blame Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers for drafting D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick — he’s a gifted passer, shot the ball well in college, and after working him out they saw a potential star. He’s showing promise (at worst, he’s going to be a good point guard in the league for years.)

However, the most talked about player in the 2015 draft was Kristaps Porzingis. He was 7’3” with t a 7’6” wingspan, moved fluidly on the court, and had three point shooting range. However, even the scouts that thought he had the most upside in the draft (him or Karl-Anthony Towns) considered KP a major project that could take years to develop. If he developed at all. He was higher risk and higher reward than Russell (the point guard was going to be solid at worst, where Porzingis had a long line of Euro bigs who went bust in front of him), and most GMs play it safe in that spot rather than risk a potential job-ending bust. Porzingis fell to the Knicks with the fourth pick (one Phil Jackson tried to trade out of on draft night, but that’s another story).

No need to be patient for Knicks fans, Porzingis has already developed into the best player on the team.

Sunday night, Porzingis came to Staples Center and put on a show for Los Angeles fans — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocked shots, leading the Knicks to a 118-112 win over the Lakers. It was the blocks that may have been most impressive.

“I was just trying to protect the rim as always, and they didn’t really have a stretch four so I was able to be closer to the basket,” Porzingis said after the Knicks . “I told my teammates not to foul because I was going to go for the block close to the rim, and I was able to do that.”

Porzingis was scoring inside, hitting threes, showing off an impressive array of shots for a second-year player, and also displaying a great feel for the game. He also got help. In the first quarter, it was Carmelo Anthony passing out of double teams in ways that left the Lakers defense scrambling. In the fourth it was Brandon Jennings hitting threes and pushing the ball in transition (he had 15 in the quarter). Then there was the hot shooting of Derrick Rose, 12-15 for 25 points on the night, with his floater in full effect.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

You couldn’t watch the game and not be wowed by what Porzingis can do. Lakers fans were. And you can’t blame them for daydreaming about what might have been.

2) Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak ends at seven games. See, he sucks. Thunder get win anyway. It doesn’t always have to be the Russell Westbrook show for Oklahoma City… okay, yes it does, and he’s usually up to the task, but sometimes he gets help. Westbrook’s triple-double streak ended at seven games against the Celtics, but he still had 37 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. He had 13 in the fourth quarter when the Thunder outlasted the Celtics for the win. He was flat-out phenomenal again.

The difference in this game was angry Russ got some help — Thunder players not named Westbrook shot 15-for-22 in the second half. The Thunder outscored the Celtics 24-13 in the final eight minutes of the game. Despite that, Marcus Smart got a clean look at a three to tie it at the end of regulation, but missed. But the story wasn’t Boston and it’s at times disjointed offense on the night. It was Westbrook falling short of a record but getting the win he wanted more.

3) Minnesota falls again, this time to Golden State, now Thibodeau takes his team back to Chicago.
There is no shame in losing to Golden State, but it’s how the Timberwolves did it that will sting — they caught the Warriors on the fourth game in five nights, coming off a blowout loss, and looking fatigued. This would be a “schedule makers’ loss” for the Warriors.

Except Golden State went on a 25-4 run to open the fourth quarter and pull away enough to hold on for the win. Klay Thompson poured in 14 of his 30 in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Timberwolves shot 36.8 percent in the fourth, didn’t hit a shot outside the paint in the quarter, plus just didn’t defend well. Sure, the Warriors have another gear that the Timberwolves do not have (actually, a few of them), but this was a tired Warriors team at the end of a road trip that could have been beaten. Instead, it was the Warriors that showed heart.

We all thought Tom Thibodeau would whip the Minnesota defense into shape, they would defend like beasts, and we would see this team take a step forward this season. Clearly, there is some disconnect between Thibodeau and the players right now, and it’s up to the coach and GM to fix that.

But first, Thibodeau has to take his team back to Chicago. That should be interesting.

With four straight wins on road, Knicks believe they are a team figuring it out

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — If the playoffs started today, the Knicks wouldn’t just be a playoff team, they’d have home court in the first round.

More importantly, after winning five-of-six and four in a row on the road, they believe they are that good, that they are figuring it out. Together.

“I love the camaraderie of this team,” Joakim Noah said Sunday night. “From the beginning, no matter what’s thrown at us, no matter what people are saying, I think it’s really important, especially in New York, that the camaraderie stays tight. Because, when you win it’s like they put you on a pedestal, and when you lose it’s the end of the world, they try to find anything to make a headline out of, and it’s just the nature of playing for the Knicks. It’s not like that anywhere else.”

The Knicks will be on a pedestal, at least a small one, after a 118-112 win over the Lakers Sunday night. The win improved them to 14-10 on the season, and they are the current four seed in the East. It’s too early to celebrate, but the Knicks feel optimistic that they are on the right track.

The right track would mean getting the ball to their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, more often. Porzingis had a monster night — 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 blocked shots — and he got help from a hot shooting Derrick Rose, who started the game 8-of-8 from the floor and finished with 25 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

“I was just taking what the defense was giving me, and they were giving me the lane,” Rose said.

To a man after the game, the Knicks talked about this latest run being a function of team chemistry.

“We want to build a culture of winning, and I think we’re taking baby steps toward that,” Porzingis said.

“Trusting, just trusting one another, just believing in what we’re doing, our schemes offensively and defensively, guys feeling comfortable,” Carmelo Anthony said.

“In the first half, they were doubling Carmelo,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We did a good job of passing the ball and he had about five or six assists at halftime (it was five). That’s how you know you have a good team, when a guy gets doubled, kicks out of there and you get easy shots and easy looks.”

“I figured out the double team early, we were spacing out… just kind of making the right play,” Anthony said.

Have the Knicks figured it out? Time will tell, but there is still one big reason for concern that these Knicks are not as good as their record: Defense.

The Knicks are winning in spite of their defense, and that could ultimately be their undoing. It almost was against the Lakers, except Los Angeles’ defense was worse.

“Well, you know I think we really stopped them in the fourth quarter…” Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek tried to say with a straight face. Then he laughed. “We gave up 37 points in the fourth quarter. Good thing we had a couple of guys — Derrick (Rose) was great, Brandon (Jennings) got hot there and hit a couple threes, Courtney (Lee) hit some big threes for us in the fourth quarter.”

The Knicks have the 26th ranked defense in the NBA this season, and it has been two points per 100 possessions worse during this six-game streak. The Knicks are running and shooting their way to wins in spite of the defense, but that only works for so long.

“We have to stop fouling…” Rose said. “The way the NBA is, if you go down big, the first thing you do is start shooting threes. We just have to contest the shots a little bit harder and communicate while we’re out there.”

Rose — who returned after missing two games with back spasms — was impressive, pushing the pace in transition, and he was fearless going at the Lakers bigs knowing that there was no shot blocking to slow him.

“He’s been moving really well all year,” Noah said. “He’s getting more and more confident in his game, the way he’s moving, his floater is coming back — his floater game was really on tonight.”

The Lakers got D’Angelo Russell back on the court Sunday (in limited minutes), as well as Nick Young. Lou Williams continues to look like a sixth man of the year candidate, he comes in and not only gets buckets by attacking, but does little things such as getting in Derrick Rose’s way the second he got the outlet pass to prevent a break and force the Knicks to come up and run a half court. He finished with 24 points.

The Lakers can get credit for coming from behind in the second half to make the game close for a stretch, but as bad as the Knicks’ defense can be the Lakers defense makes it look like the 2004 Pistons. The Knicks had the players to make the Lakers pay for that, even on a night ‘Melo was off (4-of-15 shooting). The Knicks have depth and can score a variety of ways.

Whether they are a four seed — or for that matter, are even in the playoffs — come late April will be about the other end of the floor. They need to find some defense.

At least they’ve found some chemistry. It’s a start.