Lakers send message to Spurs (and anyone else watching)

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Phil Jackson did not treat this like any other game.

He spent extra time in film preparation for this game, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave Miller (a former Hornet assistant coach).

He sent Kobe Bryant back into the fourth quarter of a blowout, when Kobe usually has ice on his knees. With 3:11 left in the game and the Lakers up 20, he sent Pau Gasol back in from the bench.

Championship teams don’t normally try to send messages in the regular season. Phil Jackson is not usually the message-sending type. But the Lakers clearly felt they needed to and did with an absolute thumping of the San Antonio Spurs, 99-83 (and it wasn’t nearly that close) on national television. After slumps that had some questioning if they were really championship material.

The message — we’re still here and if you want that Larry O’Brien trophy you are going to have to rip it out of our cold, dead hands.

The veteran Spurs heard that message but you can bet were not intimidated. If they meet the Lakers in late May — in the Western Conference Finals — you can bet they will remember Kobe and Gasol in at the end of the game. The Spurs have their motivation, their pride, too.

The actual game itself was a thrashing from the opening tip. The Lakers clearly learned a lot from a similar beat down the Spurs gave the Heat a few nights before. The Lakers defense chased the Spurs off the three-point line all game long. The Spurs were 2-11 from three in the first half.

But the real key to that was Andrew Bynum — the Lakers center controlled the paint. Every time a Spur tried to get a shot off in the lane, he altered or blocked it. Then he got the rebound. That allowed the perimeter defenders to pressure guys at the arc. Pretty soon the Spurs were reduced to what they have reduced other offenses to for so many years — the contested midrange jumper. You don’t win games with that shot.

The Lakers meanwhile played their best game of the season. They ran the offense and it was fluid. They had just two first half turnovers.

The Lakers were up 21 in the first quarter and this was the preverbal boat race. Kobe Bryant had 26 (but needed 25 shots), Pau Gasol had 21 (on 12 shots). The Lakers length was dominant, their bench was solid, every decision they made seemed to be the right one.

The Lakers looked like champions. They looked like a team that has won seven in a row.

You can bet the Spurs will be ready next time. They are champions as well, they know what it takes. But the message has been sent — the Lakers are back and ready to defend their turf.

Blake Griffin’s dunk attempt stuffed by Jarrett Allen. Again (video)

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Pistons star Blake Griffin learned his lesson after getting his dunk blocked by Nets center Jarrett Allen in the preseason. In the regular-season opener, Griffin went up even harder.

And Allen still stopped him!

Kevin Durant’s brother says Instagram comment wasn’t about star leaving Warriors this summer

AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Rumors about Kevin Durant leaving the Warriors are intensifying. Even people within the Golden State organization are bracing themselves for him to depart in free agency next summer.

Not even the Warriors collecting their championship rings could stop the momentum.

In fact, last night’s celebration contributed to the noise.

Kevin’s brother, Tony, commented on Kevin’s Instagram post featuring the rings, “Filling the hand up before we get outta here!”

Rob Perez of The Action Network:

My best guess was “here” meant the Warriors’ arena in Oakland. This is their last season there before moving to a new arena in San Francisco Francisco.

Or maybe “here” meant in the NBA. Careers in the NBA are finite.

Another thought that crossed my mind: “Here” could have meant in this world. Lives, too, are finite.

The only clear part: Tony wants Kevin to win a handful of rings. The deadline is nebulous.

Of course, the loudest speculation was “here” meant playing for the Warriors and this being the last run. But Tony sharply denied that.

Perez:

If you want to be a conspiracy theorist, perhaps Tony meant leaving Golden State after this season but Kevin just instructed him to downplay it to quiet chatter. I suppose that’s possible, though it wouldn’t jibe with Kevin’s tell-the-truth-about-free-agency approach.

Occam’s Razor suggests taking Tony at his word, and that’s what I’ll do.

Report: Tom Thibodeau raised asking price for Jimmy Butler after infamous practice

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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After sitting out while awaiting a trade rehabbing after injuring his wrist, Jimmy Butler practiced with the Timberwolves for the first time last week. He reportedly showed up late, talked a ton of trash and led third-stringers to a win over the starters then left early.

Amidst widespread speculation they had to trade Butler after that, the Tom Thibodeau-run Timberwolves put out word they considered it their best practice of the year.

Maybe Thibodeau is that insanely competitive. Maybe he was just trying to preserve leverage.

If it were the latter, he sure stuck to his story.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

Teams who talked to Minnesota after his first practice, literally the day after his practice, Minnesota was asking for more then than they were before the day. Which tells you this: Minnesota is not trading him. They’re asking for packages that know teams aren’t going to agree to.

The Timberwolves are in a though spot. Butler is an excellent player, but everyone knows he wants out. I don’t blame them for trying to maximize their limited leverage.

How will Butler react to this revelation, though? Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said he told Butler the team would seek a trade. Butler pledged to play hard in the meantime.

But if Butler playing hard just makes it less likely Minnesota will trade him, will he feel as if the team isn’t holding up its end of the bargain? Then what?

It has long seemed Taylor and Thibodeau are on different pages on several issues. Though Taylor just backed Thibodeau, Butler could drive a wedge even deeper between the owner and president-coach.

Russell Westbrook sneak-snacking steals show on NBA’s opening night

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NBA’s opening night was quite tame. The Celtics and Warriors won as expected, neither the 76ers nor Thunder mounting much of a challenge.

That allowed Russell Westbrookout with an injury — to have the most fun moment when he looked around deviously, turned to his side and ate something.

What did did Westbrook eat? Was he not supposed to be eating? Did he not want to share? Big questions remain unanswered surrounding this important incident.