Lakers retire Shaq’s number then retire Mavs playoff hopes with win

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LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans celebrated Shaquille O’Neal getting his number retired Tuesday night.

They did so by dancing about on the fresh grave of the Mavericks playoff chances. And while they did that, they could celebrate that the Lakers still have playoff life.

From the opening tip the Lakers pounded the Mavericks on the glass — 19 offensive rebounds — and got a triple-double from an active and energetic Kobe Bryant to beat Dallas 101-81. The win ties the Lakers with the Jazz at 39-36 on the season for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West (Utah has the tie breaker winning the season series). That race is on.

Dallas is now 2.5 games back of them with 7 games to play and both Utah and the Lakers have the tiebreaker on Dallas. While it’s not mathematically impossible that is going to be too big a mountain to climb and the Mavs know it. The Mavericks playoff streak ends at 12. You could sense it in a Dallas locker room that felt like a morgue after the game.

“It’s disappointing,” Elton Brand said. “This is one we really thought we were supposed to get, we had a chance. So losing this one really dampens the spirits (in the locker room).”

“We have some inexperienced guys that haven’t been (in an important playoff-like game) so this is a valuable learning experience for them, but it has a price,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

Carlisle tried to counter the Lakers size by starting Chris Kaman, who played solidly, but the Lakers length still controlled the game. Los Angeles grabbed 39.6 percent of their own missed shots with the offensive board.

But the bigger issue was the Lakers length really bothered Mavericks shooters — particularly Dirk Nowitzki, who had to deal with Pau Gasol much of the night. In his previous three games Nowitzki had shot 63 percent but the Lakers held him to 4-of-15 shooting and often took the ball out of his hands.

“They had long bodies on him, they were physical with him,” Carlisle said. “When we got him touches a lot of times he was forced to pass. Unfortunately, we were unable to hit a lot of the shot where he kicked out.”

Meanwhile Kobe Bryant was dishing and the Lakers were hitting, particularly late in the second quarter when they started to pull away. Kobe had a triple double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

When the Mavs doubled Kobe or Dwight Howard, the other guys made them pay (usually). Earl Clark was back from his slump and had 17 points (and played some good defense on Nowitzki as well). Steve Blake, starting for the injured Steve Nash (who will return Friday) had 11 points.

Kobe played heavy minutes — more than 47 — but never showed it, throwing down some big dunks — the kind he used to have when he played with Shaq — and being more active on defense than we have seen in recent games. It mattered.

“I feel sore right now,” Bryant said after the game, his feet and ankles soaking in ice. “My back is a little sore and my hamstrings are a little sore. I just have to get ready for next week.

“I just have to push through a little bit right now. Hopefully we can get a game and a little breathing room.”

Don’t bet on it. The Jazz have won five in a row and have and easier schedule the rest of the way than the Lakers. Every game is still must win for Los Angeles.

Starting with a tough one Friday night against Memphis. A team that can match that Lakers length that overwhelmed Dallas in the paint.

Why did Nick Young play for Warriors last season? “I just needed to win”

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Coming off a season where he was part of an NBA champion, Nick Young is a free agent. Still. Which is a bit of a surprise — he’s a gunner, but a lot of teams could use the buckets he brings off the bench. Even if he didn’t always do that within the flow of the Warriors’ offense.

Young had been in the NBA for a decade when he went to the Warriors, and in speaking with Adam Caparell of Complex Magazine (hat tip NBC Sports Bay Area), he said that Lakers’ coach (and former Warriors’ assistant) Luke Walton opened up the door for him with some calls.

“I just needed to win. I had been on a lot of losing teams. Always rebuilding,” says Young. “I feel I needed to experience [winning] and be around guys who are just really good teammates like Draymond, even though he’s crazy.”

It worked. Swaggy P has a ring.

And he wants you to know he earned it — and he earned being in the league for a decade plus. He puts in the time on his body and craft.

“I love basketball. I wish people could see that it’s hard to be in the NBA—not only to get there, but to stay there this long,” he says. “I know players who were drafted higher than me that are gone.”

The big question now is where Young plays next season. He played 17 minutes a night for the NBA champions last season and 41 percent from three, some teams could use that. They may be looking at younger players they think they can develop, but before long some team will turn to Young because they know he can get them buckets.

It just may not be the same winning situation he was in a year ago.

 

C.J. McCollum on stars joining Warriors: “I think that’s disgusting”

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It remains the best “I want to start a passionate and irrational debate” topic around the NBA: Stars jumping to a contending team. Mainly the Warriors. Kevin Durant got a lot of “he took the easy way” flack when he did it (and he could calm a lot of the debate around him by just saying “I’m winning, I’m happy, that’s all that matters” but that’s not KD’s nature, so he pushes back on the narrative).

This summer it was DeMarcus Cousins. It’s not like there was some great demand for his services coming off a torn Achilles, but his signing with the Warriors was the biggest surprise of the summer and led to a lot of “how do we stop them?” comments. (I don’t know, maybe offer Cousins more than an exception contract. Just a thought.)

C.J. McCollum — touring China to promote his shoes — was on China Central Television and said he would never do that.

“I would never do anything of that nature, I think that’s disgusting… I was not built like those guys, I was raised differently… I think some players will take that route, but most guys have too much pride, they want to do well or certain organizations that are not going to jump the bandwagon.”

Plenty of fans and other players agree with McCollum.

I don’t — I like the fact players such as Durant (and LeBron James, and others) are taking control of their own destinies more. They shouldn’t be just puppets of GMs. It’s okay that the Warriors drafted and developed Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the rest because that’s “natural” but the second a star player says “I like the culture and style they built there, I want to be part of that” it’s wrong? I don’t buy the “guys have to do it themselves” line of thinking because guys never won titles on their own — not Bill Russell, not Magic Johnson, not Michael Jordan. They were all on stacked teams. The difference is the players are making more of those choices now rather than leaving it to the white guys in suits.

McCollum is on a 49-win, three-seed team with another elite player in Damian Lillard, a franchise that was looking all summer for a way to add another star or more talent to the roster. But I guess that’s different somehow.

Bucks bring in Christian Wood for training camp, give him chance to make roster

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For three seasons now, Christian Wood has bounced between the NBA and G-League (he played for the Sixers, who cut him to bring in Elton Brand, and Charlotte). He has been trying to improve and show he has NBA skills — a 6’11” forward who has a face-up game, an improving outside shot, and his defense seems to be coming together. He’s still just 22 years old.

The best he looked was playing for the Bucks at Summer League in Las Vegas this year, where he averaged 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, shot 55.4 percent, and made the All Summer League First Team.

That got him a training camp invite to Milwaukee this fall.

The Bucks have a final roster spot open, and they have now signed Woods and Shabazz Muhammad for camp, giving them a chance to compete for it and impress new coach Mike Budenholzer. (Tyler Zeller also is on a non-guaranteed and could get that spot.)

Budenholzer likes bigs who can shoot and space the floor, and Woods shot 30.4 percent from three in Las Vegas — not earth shattering, but he’s a more willing shooter from the outside than Muhammad. It’s going to be an interesting battle to watch in Bucks training camp. In Las Vegas, Woods looked like an NBA player, but Vegas can be a desert mirage, he needs to carry that play over to training camp to get a roster spot.

Kyle Kuzma on LeBron James’ Lakers: “a lot of people are underestimating us”

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Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angles Lakers?

Las Vegas’ Westgate Sports Book put their under/over win total at 48.5. I’ve seen predictions that range from the three seed to talk of them missing the playoffs. Nobody really knows because, while LeBron’s greatness isn’t in question, there are plenty of questions about the fit around him: Lance Stephenson? Can Lonzo Ball play well off the ball more considering his shot? Where does Rajon Rondo fit in the PG rotation? What kind of step forward will Brandon Ingram take? Michael Beasley? Is JaVale McGee ready for a larger role? Will the Lakers go small at times with LeBron at the five? (I think that could be their best lineup, if used right.)

Kyle Kuzma thinks you’re selling the Lakers’ short.

Back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, this week for a YMCA promotion, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN he has worked out with LeBron and they like this roster.

“We are both definitely excited about the roster and the pieces that we have,” Kuzma told ESPN on Tuesday, after visiting with 20 kids from the Safe Places program at his hometown Flint YMCA as part of the “My Y Story” content series. “And we think that a lot of people are underestimating us. It is definitely going to be fun playing with all these new guys.”

“A lot of people say we got a lot of different people, a lot of new people,” added Kuzma, who also is holding a three-day camp for children in his hometown. “But change can be a good thing. It is not necessarily always a bad thing. There’s a lot of teams in the NBA that need to work on their chemistry; we are just one of them…

“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry. We are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”

The big change the Lakers made this season is good — LeBron makes the Lakers a threat. Kuzma is right on that front.

However, the question has never been “will the Lakers be good?” They have LeBron and some quality talent around him, of course they will be. The questions are more along the lines of “how fast can they come together?” and “where do they slot in the West, where there are a lot of good teams?” Assuming Golden State and Houston finish as the top two seeds in some order, where do the Lakers rank against Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, and San Antonio? And that’s without getting into teams such as Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers who have potential if they can stay healthy. That’s 12 teams I just mentioned battling for eight playoffs slots, 12 teams capable of winning at least 45 games if not more. The margin for error in the West is minuscule.

But are we underestimating the Lakers? Depends on what the standard is. These Lakers are not contenders yet. But do you really think a LeBron James team is going to miss the playoffs?