PBT’s Wednesday NBA Winners/Losers: The Golden State train keeps a rollin’

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while flipping out over those extra $4 the Chinese restaurant charged you

source:  Golden State Warriors. And the train kept a rollin’… that is 14 in a row. If you were trying to knock the Warriors during this run you’d say that they haven’t played a lot of the West’s best in this stretch, but they got a quality win over the Rockets 105-93. Quality because the Rockets have still been rolling teams this season without Dwight Howard and they could have done it again with the way James Harden was playing. Harden had 35 points and he was getting into the paint and knocking down contested threes. Basically he was the full Harden but the Warriors absorbed that and won anyway. Second, the Warriors did it without Andrew Bogut — they missed his defense in the paint, they missed his passing, how he moved the ball from strong to weak. But they got 20 points on 9 shots from Harrison Barnes and a balanced scoring night (despite a rough start where they couldn’t buy a three in the first half).

source:  Andre Miller, Bradley Beal. It was the shot of the night, the game-winning tip in as the clock expired that gave Washington a big win on the road in Orlando. Beal rightfully gets a lot of credit for an athletic play at the rim (and he got a nice pick from Paul Pierce to create that space). But to me what makes this play is a perfect lob from Andre Miller — the professor threw the perfect pass.

source:  Derrick Rose. That was the attacking, aggressive Rose we have been waiting to see again. The one Tom Thibodeau has been asking to see. Rose was 5-of-6 in the paint, but also 3-of-7 from beyond the arc on his way to a a team best 23 in a Bulls win over Brooklyn. Rose was getting into the lane when he wanted, and he was putting pressure on the Nets defense, which is what he does best. It’s been a process with Rose getting back to being his old self, but when he plays like this the Bulls are so much more dangerous.

source:  Cory Jefferson’s jump shot. That was not the Bulls’ defense. Jefferson in his limited minutes as a rookie had taken just four three pointers this season. He might want to work on that a little before he breaks it out in a game again.

source:  Al Jefferson. The Hornets need some wins and Jefferson got them one against the Celtics Wednesday, putting up 23 points overall and getting 11 of them in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. What Jefferson — and Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker — seemed to do more was attack the rim. Jefferson was getting the ball on the left block where he likes it and is nearly impossible to stop. That and stretches of good defense from the starters were what Charlotte needs more of to turn this thing around.

source:  Portland Trail Blazers. What. Was. That. The Timberwolves were the more physical team. The Blazers seemed disinterested early and never were able to get out of that funk. And when you shoot 10-of-35 from three (28.6 percent) you can’t just shoot your way out of it. Minnesota picked up the win 9–82. The Blazers had won five in a row coming in, we’ll consider this a one-off. But in the brutal West you can’t have many of these nights without hurting your seeding.

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

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It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.