Pau Gasol to Charlotte? That’s not likely, nor is any other Pau Gasol trade

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Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak is trying. He doesn’t want to lose Pau Gasol for nothing.

The Lakers are talking to teams about moving Gasol at the trade deadline. However, finding a team that wants to rent a guy making $19.3 million (he is a free agent after this season) and give the Lakers anything of value in return has been very difficult. To put it mildly.

The latest talks were with the Charlotte Bobcats, reports Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, but those are unlikely as well.

The Charlotte Bobcats have been in contact with the Los Angeles Lakers concerning veteran big man Pau Gasol, but a source familiar with the discussion downplayed the likelihood Gasol would end up a Bobcat by Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

Most likely after the trade deadline Gasol is a Laker.

First and foremost, teams are hesitant to deal for Gasol because he is not healthy, he has a lingering groin strain that has him out. He could potentially return and be showcased for one game before the trade deadline, that call has yet to be made, but is that really enough? Are teams going to make this kind of a deal for a guy battling a lingering issue?

To make this work Charlotte would have to send the expiring contract of Ben Gordon (unless Los Angeles wanted Al Jefferson) plus more out West. The Lakers are known to want a first round pick or a promising young player in any such deal, they want to jump start their rebuilding.

Charlotte has future picks from Portland and Detroit, but it want to slow its own rebuild down to have Gasol help them secure a low playoff seed? That shouldn’t be how they operate and Bonnell says it is not.

While adding Gasol could give the Bobcats the short-term boost to make the playoffs, giving up a first-round pick would make Gasol more of a long-term investment. That’s where the Bobcats would have pause.

Gasol turns 34 in July and is playing his 15th NBA season. Is he a long-term fit for the Bobcats, particularly the way Steve Clifford coaches defense? Would Gasol, a Spaniard who has played in Los Angeles the past six seasons, be receptive to finishing out his career in Charlotte?

The Suns are sort of in the same boat — they may have four first round picks this season to sweeten the deal (plus Emeka Okafor’s expiring deal) but is that worth it just to rent a banged-up Gasol for the playoffs? Phoenix is not giving up it’s protected top two first round picks (Minnesota’s and Washington’s), but maybe their bottom one (they own the Pacers’ pick) or their own with protections. Maybe.

Brandon Bass of the Celtics may be a more realistic option for Phoenix, reports Paul Coro at the Arizona Republic.

The Lakers are trying because Gasol is not going to be back with this team next season. Kobe Bryant may love him but he doesn’t fit with Mike D’Antoni’s system and he will get other offers (Chicago? Although they could have Nikola Mirotic coming) where the money and style of play suit him better. Both sides are ready to move on. We’ll see if the Lakers can get anything for him before he walks.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.