Pau Gasol shines in his first matchup with the Lakers


CHICAGO—Every time the Los Angeles Lakers play a road game, the arena is littered with purple and gold jerseys. It doesn’t matter the city or the home fanbase. The Christmas Day crowd at the United Center was no different, but the Lakers and Bulls fans in the crowd were united on at least one thing: an enormous standing ovation for Pau Gasol when the starting lineups were introduced.

“It was weird,” Gasol said after the Bulls’ 113-93 win over the Lakers, in which he had 23 points and 13 rebounds. “It was an emotional game. I was excited to play against the team that I played with for so many years. At first it was hard to get going, but once you start playing you start playing the game the best way you can.”

Soreness and old age deprived Gasol of a matchup with his longtime Lakers running mate, Kobe Bryant. Bryant sat out his second consecutive game, his heavy work load catching up to his 36-year-old body.

“It was extremely difficult [not to play],” Bryant said before the game. “I love this city. The fans have always been great. There’s always a lot of energy in the building.”

Bryant would have loved to play because it was a Christmas Day game, and because of his long-standing respect for Gasol, who meant so much to him in Los Angeles. It was after the Lakers’ 2008 deadline trade for Gasol that the team began their late-decade run, making three straight Finals and winning the title in 2009 and 2010.

When Gasol hit free agency this summer and decided he needed a change of scenery, it was tough for both stars.

“We started this rebuilding process together,” Bryant said. “When he came here, that’s when things turned around. He’s a part of this franchise. It was tough for him to go and leave what he’s helped build, and it was tough for me to see him go.”

“It probably meant something to [Gasol] because he was there so long,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “When you win two championships with an organization like he’s done, he’ll be tied to those teams forever. That’s what makes winning a championship so valuable and important. So I think that organization will always have a special place for him.”

After a few disappointing, injury-plagued seasons, Gasol has been rejuvenated in his first season with the Bulls. He’s averaging 18.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2 blocks in 35.3 minutes per game, and playing with a focus and energy that had been missing by the end of his Lakers tenure. It helps that he’s playing for a team that’s looking more and more like a title contender each day, while the Lakers team he left behind is still in the lottery and not getting much better.

Gasol became a target for criticism towards the end of his years with the Lakers, an easy scapegoat who was hurt often and never really fit in with Mike D’Antoni’s offense. But Bryant was always a strong advocate, and lobbied hard for him to stay this summer as he was wooed by contenders like the Bulls, Thunder and Spurs.

“I told him, even when I talked to him about trying to bring him back, that I’d support him no matter what,” Bryant said. “Our relationship goes beyond basketball. That’s my brother. I support him no matter what he does.”

For now, Gasol is just happy this reunion is behind him. At least, until January 29, when he returns to Staples Center for the first time.

“Their team is struggling right now,” he said. “But I will move on and it will be much tougher emotionally when we play them in Los Angeles.

NBA says Horford foul on Butler correct call, as was added time


While Game 6 will be remembered as the Derrick White game, a series of controversial moments on the previous play set the stage for the winning shot.

There was the Heat’s Jimmy Butler driving left, getting bumped by Al Horford and fumbling the ball, recovering it and starting to dribble again (which appeared close to earning a double-dribble call). Then Butler drew a shooting foul on Horford initially called inside the arc with :02.1 seconds left, but after Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla challenged and it was ruled a 3-point attempt (it clearly was) at the :03 second mark. The referees added 0.9 seconds to the clock, ultimately enabling White to get the game-winning putback with O.1 left.

The referees got all that right, the NBA said in its Last Two Minute Report from Game 6. The report found just two incorrect calls in the final five minutes:

Caleb Martin should have been called for a lane violation on Jaylen Brown‘s missed free throw with 1:01 left in the game.
Gabe Vincent should have been called for a foul on Jayson Tatum‘s stumbling layup attempt with :31 remaining.

None of that changes the results, the Celtics escape Miami with a 104-103 win to force a Game 7 on Monday night. Even though that is a Game 7, it will be hard for that game to surpass the drama of Game 6.

Nick Nurse reportedly enticed by idea of working with Morey again with 76ers

Coach Nick Nurse in Canada vs Czech Republic - FIBA Men's Olympic Qualifying
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When news came out about the Milwaukee Bucks hiring Adrian Griffin to be their new coach, one part of that was a report that Nick Nurse pulled himself out of consideration for the job. That felt a little chicken and egg — did he pull out because he realized he would not get the job?

Either way, he is interested in the Philadelphia 76ers and particularly working again with Daryl Morey, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inqurier. Morey was the GM of the Rockets when Nurse was the coach of their G-League team, the Rio Grand Valley Vipers.

Sources have said that reuniting with Morey is very much enticing to Nurse…

A source has confirmed that Nurse pulled out of being considered for the Milwaukee Bucks head-coaching job, leading to the team hiring his former Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin on Saturday. Nurse interviewed with the Sixers on Monday before meeting with the Suns on Thursday. The 55-year-old coach is pondering the best destination for him, according to sources. However, a source would not say if the Sixers offered him the gig.

Nurse makes intuitive sense for the 76ers or Suns, an out-of-the-box coach who won a championship four years ago to teams with title aspirations next season and beyond. His connection to Morey has had some around the league thinking that would be his ultimate destination from Day 1.

However, the stars of those teams will have a say, as Giannis Antetokounmpo did in the Bucks hiring Griffin (a former player, something Antetokounmpo reportedly prioritized). How does Joel Embiid feel about Nurse? What about Kevin Durant and Devin Booker? Marc Stein reported that Booker endorsed Suns assistant Kevin Young for that job.

Both teams are reportedly getting close to deciding on their next head coach, but for contending teams that need to get this hire right they do not want to be rushed.

Report: Mavericks have no interest in Irving sign-and-trade with Lakers that brings back Russell

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
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Kyrie Irving may say he doesn’t want to be in the middle of NBA free agency speculation, but when he sits courtside in Los Angeles at a couple of Lakers’ playoff games he has to know that will spark talk.

LeBron James has sent his not-so-subtle message he wants more help, and the rumors he’s open to a reunion with Irving are nothing new. All of that has driven a lot of speculation in recent weeks of a Lakers’ sign-and-trade to reunite the core of the Cavaliers’ 2016 title team. While Irving is a free agent, the Lakers have made clear they intend to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura as restricted free agents, making signing Irving directly off the table (unless he wants to take a massive pay cut and play for the midlevel exception, which his actions indicate he does not). If Irving comes to the Lakers, it’s on a sign-and-trade.

Then who goes back to Dallas in this trade? The speculation centered on free agent D'Angelo Russell signing and trading to play next to Luka Dončić. However, the Mavericks have no interest in that, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

A popular topic all week, in the wake of Denver sweeping the Lakers out of the Western Conference finals, was the notion that L.A. could emerge as a potential sign-and-trade destination for Dallas’ free agent-to-be Kyrie Irving.

While we await a clear indication about the Lakers’ intentions there, with no verifiable signal to date that pursuing Irving is among their offseason priorities, league sources say that the Mavericks would have no interest in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers that features D’Angelo Russell as the primary Dallas-bound player. All indications are that the Mavericks remain intent on re-signing Irving

While the questions of fit between Dončić and Irving remain, when the Mavericks traded for Irving they committed to this path, both financially and on the court. If Irving walks in free agency Dallas has no way to replace him, and they are better off with him than without him. Irving is a much better player than Russell and with Dončić on the roster the Mavericks are a win-now team. Their preference is clear.

As for Irving, he wants to get paid (remember he opted in with the Nets rather than leave to play for less, then pushed for a trade when Brooklyn would not give him the extension he wanted). There is logic for both Dallas and Irving to work out a new contract and, if this marriage doesn’t work out, trade him down the line. The only questions are money, years, and does Irving really want to be in Dallas (he has said he does).

League sources have told NBC Sports that the Lakers’ front office’s primary focus is not on Irving. While the Lakers could clear as much as almost $30 million in cap space, free agency is not the path the Lakers appear to be walking. Re-signing Reaves and Hachimura and putting them next to LeBron and Anthony Davis — both of the Lakers stars make more than $40 million next season — plus rounding out the roster has the Lakers quickly pushing above the cap and into the tax, and the second tax apron is within sight. The Lakers are more likely to make moves like picking up the $16.5 million team option on Malik Beasley and trading him and or other players for the shot creation and shooting they want. A Russell sign-and-trade is certainly in play, or they could bring him back, just not on anything near the max Russell likely wants (more likely a deal starting around $20 million a year). Russell was good for the Lakers in the regular season and had a 31-point playoff game to close out the Grizzlies, plus a 21-point game against the Warriors, he just was in a bad matchup against Denver.

Irving to the Lakers is a long shot. But if LeBron wants it, and Irving wants it, nothing is off the table.

Reactions from NBA players to White’s game-winning putback for Celtics


It was an all-time classic game, one that could be part of a legendary chapter in Celtics’ lore. Boston was on the verge of being sent home for the summer by the Miami Heat when Derrick White‘s putback as time expired won the Celtics Game 6 and forced a Game 7 Monday night.

NBA players were as stunned and excited as fans everywhere. Check out the reactions from players around the league — and a few others — to the Celtics’ dramatic win.