In ugly mess of game, George Hill’s pretty shot lifts Pacers over Lakers

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At least Lakers fans got to leave Staples Center Tuesday night with a Chick Hearn bobblehead (the Lakers honored their legendary former broadcaster).

I say that because I’m trying to help them find something positive.

And there isn’t much else – the Lakers lost in an ugly game 79-77 to the Indiana Pacers. This was the kind of embarrassing performance that would have the Lakers trying to fire Mike Brown if they hadn’t already done so. They shot 31.6 percent, 21.4 percent from three, missed 22 free throws (6-of-28) including four in crunch time, Kobe Bryant alone had 10 turnovers and their defense was spotty.

The Indiana Pacers weren’t much better (they shot 36.7 percent) but they played better team basketball and in the end were redeemed by George Hill, who hit a pretty layup high off the glass (over the sweeping hand of Dwight Howard) with .01 seconds left to give Indiana the win.

That shot was one of the few pretty things in a game that was ugly. Top to bottom. It was the kind of game that while watching it you thought neither team deserved to win. The two teams combined for 33 turnovers. It was ugly right down to Joey Crawford being in full “look at me” mode and handing out technical fouls like a Pez dispenser.

For the Pacers, who have struggled on offense this season it was another confirmation that their defense can keep them in games. But their offense was once again a mess — they shot 36.7 percent. They were 4-of-19 from three. They turned the ball over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.

What Indiana did well was defend. You knew they would going in (they had the second best defense in the NBA). That and George Hill (19 points on the night) and David West (16 points) were enough.

For the Lakers, it was a night where they fell back into the worst habits they had of the Phil Jackson era:

They expected Kobe Bryant to do everything and the Lakers stood around and watched him. There was too much Kobe for the Lakers — her finished with 40 points and the rest of the team had 37. When this happens you don’t get the efficient Kobe the Lakers have seen earlier in the season — he was 12-of-28 shooting and had 10 turnovers.

This wasn’t Kobe the ball hog, this is what Kobe always has been — he wants to win and if the rest of his team is going to stand around and miss their shots, he will take on the extra load himself to push them toward a win. Kobe has an unwavering belief in himself and his teammates gave him no reason to trust them in this game with their play.

The rest of the Lakers settled. They didn’t move well off the ball. They didn’t hit the good look shots they did have. And they missed their free throws — the Lakers were 6-of-28 from the stripe. Dwight Howard was 3-of-12 but the rest of the team was 3-of-16, and that includes some crucial misses by Metta World Peace late.

The Lakers clearly miss Steve Nash in this offense, Kobe cannot be the primary ball handler every time down (especially when battling the flu). Kobe makes some good decisions but is gets taken out of what he does best (scoring) when the team’s entire playmaking responsibility falls to him.

But Nash is not a cure all. The return of Nash and Steve Blake is not going to be transformative for this team if they put up an effort like they did Tuesday night. If they don’t defend better and knock down shots when they are open.

Right now the Lakers are just not a very good team. And they displayed that in all their glory Tuesday night.

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

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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.

Joel Embiid on 76ers-Celtics: ‘This is not a rivalry … They always kick our ass’

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The 76ers-Celtics rivalry is being renewed.

But it’s not there yet, according to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

The 76ers are 3-19 against Boston since drafting Embiid, and though that includes multiple tanking years, Philadelphia hasn’t fared much better since getting good. The 76ers went 2-7 against the Celtics last season, including 1-4 in their second-round playoff series. Philadephia followed that with a season-opening loss to the Celtics last night.

Embiid, via Matt Haughton of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“JJ (Redick) mentioned it earlier, this is not a rivalry,” Embiid said to reporters after the Sixers’ 105-87 season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics (see observations). “I don’t know our record against them but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.”

I appreciate Embiid’s directness. We can all see the problem. There’s no point denying it.

The subtext is Embiid’s motivation to change this status quo, and a lot of it does fall in Embiid. Al Horford has given him fits. Even Aron Baynes worked him at times last night. Embiid is talented and far younger than those two. He’ll eventually get there.

In the meantime, he’s not mincing words.