Lakers lose to Suns in Nash’s return to Phoenix

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PHOENIX — Steve Nash returned to Phoenix for the first time as a member of the Lakers on Wednesday, after leaving the Suns team he played eight seasons for via a sign-and-trade deal that sent him to Los Angeles last summer.

It hasn’t turned out to be a better situation for Nash with his new team necessarily, just one with higher expectations and more scrutiny under the national spotlight as the failure to reach those goals continues.

After the Lakers blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead on their way to losing 92-86 to a Suns team near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, Nash was left searching to explain what went wrong as he has tried to do so many times this season.

“We got really stagnant,” Nash said of his team’s fourth-quarter offense which manufactured just 13 points in the game’s final 12 minutes. “We got pretty one-dimensional and stagnant and the ball stuck a little bit and we got a little predictable.”

The Lakers looked dreadful in the first half while turning the ball over 12 times, playing sloppily and finding themselves tied with a Suns team at the break that managed to knock down just 18 of its 46 shot attempts.

The third quarter was a thing of beauty for L.A., as the turnovers slowed to just two in the period, while the ball moved to the open man for high percentage shots. Pau Gasol snapped out of his first-half funk to hit three of his four shots in the period, after coming in earlier than normal thanks to Earl Clark picking up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half. Kobe Bryant had four assists in the period, and the Lakers connected on 65 percent of their shots, including hitting four of five from three-point distance.

The fourth quarter was a disaster, however, and the game seemed to turn when Dwight Howard re-aggravated the shoulder injury that forced him to miss three games a couple of weeks ago. The Lakers led 78-73 with 6:56 to play when Dwight left the game for good with the injury, and were outscored 19-8 the rest of the way.

Michael Beasley played brilliantly offensively for Phoenix, and finished with 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. Beasley got red-hot, and was able to create his own shot and score from both inside and out with relative ease.

With the game tied at 86, Beasley was able to get all the way to the rim and lay it in to give the Suns the lead for good with 46 seconds remaining. Bryant tried to return the favor on the other end, but his shot rimmed off, and the Suns finished the game at the free throw line to snap the Lakers’ three-game winning streak.

“We’re disappointed because we let one get away,” Bryant said afterward. “But we played well. We played well defensively, outside of the stretch at the end of the ballgame where we let Beasley get to his strong hand, let him get all the way to the rim with no support. That’s not acceptable.”

For the most part, the Lakers talked about missing too many easy shots and the offense not clicking as the reasons for letting this one slip, but the loss of Howard was big, both for this game and for the team’s future. Dwight was in a lot of pain afterward, and while he said he didn’t want to be shut down in order to rest the shoulder, he may not have a choice if he can’t play through the injury.

Despite the loss, this was Nash’s night in Phoenix. He received a strong ovation from the fans during pregame introductions, and an even larger one later in the first quarter during a timeout when the Suns honored him with a video tribute on the scoreboard.

Nash finished with 11 points, two assists, and two turnovers, while shooting just 3-of-8 from the field. He played just OK, but couldn’t do enough to will his team to victory as he had so many times in the past with the Suns. He remains, however, one of the most intelligent players in the game, and did a good job of explaining the issues his new team will face should Howard be forced to miss extended time with the injury.

“It’ll be tough without him,” Nash said. “This team’s built, I think, to play around a center. We’re not athletic or fast elsewhere. We’re experienced and we have some skilled players but it’s all predicated on having that defensive presence and having a big body in the paint on both ends.”

It wouldn’t seem to be able to get much tougher for these Lakers.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
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Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The questions of fit and how long this can last come later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their 2029 first-round pick multiple second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return player it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to compete to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Watch Shai Gilgeous-Alexander go off for 42, Thunder blow out Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder took what coach Mark Daigneault called a “bloodthirsty mentality” into Saturday’s rematch with the Houston Rockets.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 42 points to help the Thunder blow out Houston 153-121.

They were disappointed in losing at Houston on Wednesday and responded by setting an Oklahoma City record for points in a game, surpassing the 150 they scored in a win over the Boston Celtics last month.

“Just (wanted to) be the aggressors,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Play our style, our brand of basketball. I think we got away from that a little bit in Houston, and we just wanted to get back on track.”

Daigneault was most pleased that the approach was player-led.

“It wasn’t like I was giving motivational speeches,” he said. “But, you know, as a team, they kind of banded together and decided that they were going to come out and play the way they did. And they were impressive because of it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander set the tone by scoring 20 points in the first quarter.

“I thought tonight was, like, a pretty big leadership statement game for him,” Daigneault said. “I think when you need a response like we needed tonight coming out of the other night, you rely on your guys that are most experienced, who play the most minutes.”

Gilgeous-Alexander shot 7 for 23 from the field in the first matchup, but bounced back to make 14 of 23 field goals on Saturday, falling two points short of his career high. The first-time All-Star also made 14 of 15 free throws and had six assists for the Thunder, despite not playing in the fourth quarter because the Thunder led by 42 points at the end of the third.

Mike Muscala scored a season-high 19 points and Josh Giddey added 17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Oklahoma City.

“We’re a team that’s growing in confidence, and I think our habits are growing,” Daigneault said. “And I think a lot of things are moving in the right direction.”

Josh Christopher and TyTy Washington each scored 20 points and Tari Eason added 18 for the Rockets.

The Rockets were playing without Eric Gordon (sore right knee) and Jae'Sean Tate (right ankle injury).

Rockets coach Stephen Silas didn’t want to hear it.

“You’ve got to step up in these situations, and we didn’t do it,” he said. “We succumbed to back-to-back, three-in-four, no Eric, no Tate, all that stuff. … We succumbed to it. That’s not – we’re talking about winning habits. That’s not one.”

Oklahoma City led 79-53 at the break after shooting 55% from the field. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 28 points in the first two quarters, a career high for him in a first half.

The Thunder continued to roll in the third quarter, making 16 of 26 field goals in the period to go up 123-81 heading into the fourth.

Oklahoma City set the Thunder single-game scoring record on a 3-pointer by Darius Bazley that banked in during the final minute.