Phil Jackson would be a perfect mentor for LeBron. But it's not going to happen.

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Thumbnail image for pjackson.jpgPhil Jackson’s team is once again peaking right as it heads deep into the playoffs. Again. Why does this surprise us? Sure, there were the injuries and the ugly last couple weeks of the regular season for the Lakers, but we should have all seen that. We should have known better. History has shown us time and again Jackson knows how to get players ready to perform their best on the biggest stages.

LeBron James could use that.

We don’t really know how badly LeBron’s elbow was bothering him. Or how much his teammates play was bothering him. What we know is that for two straight years the Cavaliers fell short. And by extension, James has fallen short.

James and this team have not come through on the big stage. Jackson’s teams do. That led Kevin Ding (best of the Lakers beat writers, for my money) to talk about how LeBron could use Jackson.

James clearly needs someone who understands how to manage him through the daily grind, press firmly on psychological buttons without apparent malicious intent and provide just enough open-ended structure to ensure it’s not going to be a one-overworked-man show.

Jackson’s teams respond when it matters because he teaches them to grow, he teaches them self-reliance. Lakers fans scream at their televisions in December when Jackson sits passively while his team flounders against Memphis or keep turning the ball over in Philadelphia. Jackson wants his players to figure it out for themselves. No timeout to bail them out. No substitutions. You determine your own fate.

It’s more than that, it’s psychological efforts to get the team to understand itself all season long, that is just the most visible part of it. But players beat drums and meditate as a unit. Call it mumbo jumbo. Call it BS if you want. You have to call it successful. A lot of other coaches have had talent and not won with it — including in LA and Chicago before he got there.

He could do the same with LeBron. But he won’t.

Sure, Jackson has no deal for next year right now, he is a free agent too. The media keeps asking and prodding Jackson about what he is going to do next, then read the tea leaves about what he said. But as Ding notes it’s all a big waste of time. And he is not leaving LA right now.

The reason these media sessions with Jackson about his future are so pointless is that he doesn’t even know himself what he’ll do. He honestly puts off deep thinking on the issue until after it’s over and he can take stock of everything. According to those close to him, though, there is no reason to believe he is ready to stop doing what he does so well when he feels so fine.

Given Jackson’s ongoing relationship with Jeanie Buss and his comfort in this zone at his advanced age, no one expects him to restart elsewhere, even if the most logical thing in the world would be proving his absolute pre-eminence in basketball history by turning Michael, Kobe and LeBron all from losers to winners.

Plus, who else is going to pay $12 million a year for all that mumbo jumbo? That much money to go against the Midwestern sensibilities of Cleveland or Chicago?

Only in LA.

Jimmy Butler: “So much more fun to play with these guys”

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Jimmy Butler is in Philadelphia now, but he is not done throwing shade at his former teammates in Minnesota.

Butler had 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting, including the game-clinching layup, as the 76ers beat the Jazz 113-107 Friday night. After the game, he got the walk-off interview with Serena Winters and took a dig at his former Minnesota teammates.

“It’s so fun to win. So much more fun to play with these guys… Everybody wants to win, and when somebody messes up, you talk to them and they do their job.”

Part of Butler’s issues with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins was he felt they didn’t want to win badly enough, that they didn’t measure up to his level of passion. Butler is still in the honeymoon phase with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Sixers, but so far he likes the intensity so far and is happy to make a note of the difference.

By the way, they’re happy in Minnesota without him — the Timberwolves are 3-0 since the trade, Karl-Anthony Towns is back to playing like his All-NBA self, and he says the communication is better now and guys are taking responsibility.

 

Pelicans Elfrid Payton returns, starts, injured again

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) —The New Orleans Pelicans say point guard Elfrid Payton has a fractured finger on his left hand.

Payton injured his finger in the first quarter of his first game back on Friday night after he’d missed New Orleans’ nine previous games with a right ankle sprain.

Soon after, Payton was ruled out for the remainder of the game against the New York Knicks.

Acquired as a free agent this past offseason, Payton has played in six games for New Orleans. He entered Friday night’s games with averages 11.6 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games, but did not have a point or assist in eight minutes against New York before his latest injury.

 

Kyrie Irving scores 43, Celtics beat Raptors 123-116 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 11 straight Boston points down the stretch and scored 17 in all in the last 8:06 of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime, he really turned it on.

The Celtics guard made or assisted on every basket in the extra period, finishing with 11 assists and a season-high 43 points on Friday night to lead Boston to a 123-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

“Man, he made some shots tonight where you’re just like, `Wow,”‘ forward Gordon Hayward said. “You catch yourself being a fan. When he gets into that mode, the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors. They just couldn’t stop him.”

It was the first time Irving has scored at least 40 points with 10 or more assists in a game. He was the first player do it in the NBA this year, and the first Celtics player since Antoine Walker in 2001.

“Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. “We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”

Jayson Tatum had 21 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who evened the season series at one game apiece against the only team to finish above them in the Eastern Conference last season. The home team has won nine straight matchups.

Serge Ibaka scored 21 and Pascal Siakam had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost three straight since opening the season with 12 victories in their first 13 games. Toronto never led in overtime.

“It was just a veteran game out there, just great competition for a Friday night in the NBA,” Irving said. “You’ve got to appreciate that, two great teams going at it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see them down the road.”

 

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”