Lakers continue to build chemistry, move into the playoff picture with win over Bulls

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s plenty more work to be done over the regular season’s final 18 games. But for the first time all year, the Lakers can look at the standings and see themselves as an official part of the playoff picture after Sunday’s 90-81 win over the Bulls at Staples Center.

The Lakers are now 33-31 on the season, and sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz.

In Friday night’s win over the Raptors, the Lakers needed several shots that were both miraculous and heroic from Kobe Bryant down the stretch to come back and get the overtime victory. They didn’t need much from him offensively in this one, however, thanks to a balanced attack and a strong third quarter from Steve Nash, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the period.

Bryant didn’t even reach double figures in scoring until he hit a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining in the third quarter, which pushed the Lakers lead to 15. He finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists, while five of his teammates finished in double digits.

The Bulls are not known for their offense, and struggled to score in this one. Chicago shot a dismal 37.1 percent from the field, and went just 4-16 from three-point distance. But the defensive effort from the Lakers was stronger than usual, led by an increasingly more active Dwight Howard, whose 21 rebounds helped L.A. dominate the Bulls on the glass for most of the contest.

Chicago was able to cut a lead that once reached 18 points down to eight with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Lakers responded by scoring the next five points, while holding the Bulls scoreless for the next three and a half minutes.

More important than this single game victory and the temporary playoff position that it earned the Lakers is the improved chemistry the team is showing on the court. The communication was constant in this one defensively, with players giving their all on loose ball and rebound opportunities, while the body language overall was genuinely positive. The change from the way these guys interacted with each other in the opening months of the season is both noticeable and substantial.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bumps along the way — Bryant was furious with Metta World Peace at the end of the first half, after he committed an offensive foul while Bryant was dribbling down the clock to get off a final shot. He yelled at Metta as the two walked back down the floor, but all was forgiven later when Bryant was seen with his arm around his teammate on the bench early in the fourth.

The extent of how much Howard can improve from a health standpoint as the Lakers close out the regular season, along with the amount of chemistry the team can continue to build during that time will largely determine its postseason fate.

Winning can cure a lot of issues, and certainly helps the team-building a lot more than it hurts. At least after Sunday’s victory, L.A. can now, if only briefly, officially see itself as part of the playoff picture.

Stephen Curry’s Davidson roommate, Bryant Barr, now serves as his caddy in Tahoe

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When Stephen Curry lost a golf bet to his father, Dell, at the American Century Championships over the weekend in Lake Tahoe, Curry jumped in the lake. Literally.

So did his caddy.

That caddy is no run-of-the-mill duffer, that is Bryant Barr — Curry’s roommate and teammate from Davidson. The two (and their wives) are still close friends.

And Curry still owes Barr a dinner from a game of H-O-R-S-E game back in college.

Barr explained it all to the NBC Golf team that covered the event over the weekend. Check out the great video above.

By the way, Ray Allen came in tied for third at the championship.

Warriors assistant Mike Brown: David West just trying to ‘stir the pot’ with joking post-title remarks

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After the Warriors won the championship, David West said they dealt with internal issues so shocking, people would trip if they learned the details.

Golden State head coach Steve Kerr and assistant coach Ron Adams didn’t go along with that narrative. Now, another Warriors assistant is explaining more clearly just what the heck West was talking about.

Mike Brown on The Full 48 podcast, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“There’s no deep, dark secret,” the Warriors assistant coach said. “We had our ups and downs throughout the course of the year, just like any other team. We were able to get through them.

“Steve (Kerr) asked David or talked to David about it, and David was like, ‘I was joking (laughter). I just wanted to stir the pot a little bit.’ And he sure enough did. There’s nothing to it.”

That settles it.

Unless that’s what they want us to believe…

Report: Spurs signing Dante Cunningham

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The Spurs were running low on small forwards. Kawhi Leonard remains in limbo, and San Antonio let Kyle Anderson leave for the Grizzlies.

Enter Dante Cunningham.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is probably a minimum contract. The Spurs still have whatever of the mid-level exception they didn’t give Marco Belinelli or the bi-annual exception. But that’s not way more than the minimum ($2,176,260) for Cunningham, who has nine years experience – and probably couldn’t command more, anyway.

Unlike Rudy Gay, Belinelli, Davis Bertans and Bryn Forbes, Cunningham is San Antonio’s first free-agent signing this summer who didn’t previously play for the team. He’s a combo forward who will likely be needed more at small forward. He can handle larger small forwards, and Belinelli can play the three against smaller opposing small forwards in a platoon.

Cunningham is a solid defender in the right matchup, and he holds his own as a 3-point shooter. The Spurs should use him well.

Of course, the Spurs must first determine what to do about Leonard before fitting in more pliable pieces like Cunningham.

LaVar Ball denies leaking Lonzo Ball’s knee injury

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The Lakers reportedly believe someone in Lonzo Ball‘s camp leaked his knee injury to depress his trade value and keep him in Los Angeles.

So, of course, speculation turned to his media-savvy father who has a major financial interest in maintaining footing in the Los Angeles market.

LaVar Ball, via TMZ:

“I don’t leak nothing. I always say what’s on my mind, so you don’t never see me saying, ‘I think I should say this now and let it leak.’ I don’t do that.”

It would be more in-character for LaVar just to announce Lonzo’s knee injury or – especially now that the Lakers are publicly acknowledging Lonzo’s need for surgery – brag now about his maneuvering. So, maybe he wasn’t behind this.

But it still could have been someone else in Lonzo’s camp, with or without LaVar’s knowledge.

The Balls don’t need to apologize if they disclosed Lonzo’s injury. It’s his knee. He can say what he wants about it, however it affects the Lakers.

But these accusations and subsequent denials certainly don’t signal a strong relationship between the team and player.