Lakers get back on track with 26-point destruction of Mavericks

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This is how it’s supposed to happen.

After a disappointing two-game stretch that had the Lakers questioning their roles and searching for answers, it took less than a full game in Dallas for the team to find its way. L.A. dominated from the start, and led by as many as 37 points on the way to a 115-89 total destruction of the Mavericks.

This game mattered for the Lakers, for a couple of reasons. One, it was nice to see a balanced effort from a rotation that went eight players deep and didn’t have a single dominant performance. Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, and Antawn Jamison all finished with 19 points apiece, and four other players managed to similarly end up in double figures.

And two, this is the same Dallas team that recorded an opening-night victory over these Lakers at Staples Center, in what was the first red flag during the tumultuous start of the season with Mike Brown beginning his second term as the team’s head coach.

Brown’s gone now, for obvious reasons, and Mike D’Antoni was able to flex the Lakers muscle on this night against a team that is truly inferior.

World Peace got things going for the Lakers early, beginning the game by scoring his team’s first 10 points. He was subbed out in favor of Jamison after less than five minutes, but that was D’Antoni’s plan with just about everyone, in order to conserve energy for a team playing its fourth game in five nights.

Jamison picked up where MWP left off, scoring six quick points before World Peace came back in to knock down a couple more three-pointers before the period was through. At the end of the first quarter, World Peace had 16 points in nine minutes on 6-of-7 shooting, and the Lakers had built a 13-point lead that was just getting started.

Kobe Bryant began the game in facilitator mode, playing nine first-quarter minutes without a shot attempt. He had two points from the free throw line, to go along with four assists and zero turnovers. The team is really much better off with Kobe running the point while Steve Nash and Steve Blake are out with injury, as his basketball IQ is second to none, which makes his reads while running the high pick and rolls that much more devastating for the Lakers opponents to deal with.

Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol got going a little bit, and Gasol got a few of those post touches he was clamoring for. Three of his seven shot attempts came on post up opportunities, and Gasol converted two of them — one with a sweeping left-handed hook in the lane, and the other with a back-to-the-basket baseline spin that he got to go with a jump hook.

The win was an important one for the Lakers — more in the way that it happened than the fact that it happened at all, because despite the impatience of the fan base, it is going to be a process getting everyone on the same page with the new head coach.

The good news with D’Antoni is that he knows what’s at stake, and has the same expectations of this Lakers team from the inside as those who are simply passionate observers.

“We should expect this every night,” D’Antoni said, via Lakers Nation. “And I think we will. I think once they feel comfortable with everything we’ll see this all the time.”

After dropping two straight and looking like a mess along the way, getting a much-needed win by crushing someone, anyone, is going to go a long way in making everyone believe what he’s saying is right.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.