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Lakers’ James to make home debut against Rockets tonight

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James will make his regular-season home debut as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when they host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

James, a four-time NBA most valuable player, signed with the Lakers in July after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to four straight NBA Final appearances, including their first championship in 2016.

He has played in every NBA Finals since 2010, also winning titles in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

James had 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his Los Angeles debut against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday night, but the Lakers lost 128-119.

The Lakers will likely need a better start with their long-range shooting against the Rockets. Los Angeles missed its first 15 tries from 3-point range before finishing 7 for 30 (23.3 percent) against Portland.

James said he and his new teammates are still going through a feeling-out period.

“It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are,” he told reporters after his Lakers debut. “It’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us, to just figure out one another, figure out what we are good at, figure out what we are not so good at, how we can be better at it.”

The Rockets returned their core players from last season’s team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and they added 10-time NBA All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the mix. They seemed to run low on energy in their season opener against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, however.

After getting outscored by 17 points in the first half, the Rockets were unable to generate a push against the Pelicans and lost 131-112. New Orleans shot 53.1 percent from the floor.

“I thought they were tired,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Lakers for two seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14).

James Harden, who averaged an NBA-leading 30.4 points last season en route to winning NBA MVP honors, was held to 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Anthony, who played the last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored nine points off the bench on 3-for-10 shooting.

Harden, a Los Angeles-area native, is averaging 30.3 points in 32 career games against the Lakers.

One of the bright spots for the Lakers in their season opener was the play of reserve shooting guard Josh Hart. The second-year player scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range.

Hart played 27 minutes, the same as starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. who was limited to five points on 1-for-3 shooting from the floor.

Hart didn’t want to talk about his offense afterward, but rather how he could improve on his defense after Portland reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 24 points and shot 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

“Just got to make sure we get the adjustments down and get better on defense,” he told Spectrum SportsNet.

LeBron James: “I suck from the free throw line right now”

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LOS ANGELES — With the Lakers down one at home and just :21 seconds left in the game, LeBron James drove the lane and was fouled by rookie Omari Spellman. LeBron walked up calmly to the free throw line…

And the first shot clanked off the rim and bounced out.

Then LeBron missed the second free throw, too.

The Lakers escaped with the win thanks to Kyle Kuzma keeping the ball alive with offensive rebounds, eventually allowing LeBron to make up for his misses with a putback dunk that proved to be the game winner (aided by a Tyson Chandler dunk).

But LeBron missing clutch late free throws is a thing this season.

LeBron is owning it.

“I’m garbage,” LeBron said sitting in front of his locker postgame. “I suck from the free throw line right now. I’ll get my rhythm back but I thank Kuz [Kuzma] for giving us another opportunity. He gave me another shot so I tried to get him another shot.”

LeBron has had free throw and shooting slumps before, and he will snap out of it. The Lakers have won three in a row in spite of that, but against teams they should beat right now (stumbling Minnesota, Sacramento, and Atlanta). Things get tougher Wednesday against Portland and heading out on the road after. The Lakers margins are slim right now and if LeBron doesn’t shake out of this slump at some point it will come back to bite them. Of course, he knows that better than anyone.

Watch Jimmer Fredette’s 75-point game in China

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BEIJING (AP) — Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette scored 75 points in a Chinese Basketball Association game Sunday, the last 40 in the fourth quarter of the Shanghai Sharks’ 137-136 loss to the Beikong Fly Dragons.

Fredette gave Shangai a two-point lead on a layup with 7.2 seconds left, but Pierre Jackson countered with the winning 3-pointer for Beikong. Jackson had 63 points.

Fredette was 24 of 34 from the field, going 7 of 10 from 3-point range, made 20 for 21 free throws and had eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes. He set a league record with the 40-point fourth quarter.

Fredette is in his third season in China. His previous career high of 73 came in a double-overtime game in his first year with the Sharks. He played for Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans and New York in the NBA.

Report: Pelicans rebuffed Wolves on Jrue Holiday in Jimmy Butler trade talks

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The Minnesota Timberwolves finally found a trade partner for Jimmy Butler in the Philadelphia 76ers. The league is expected to finalize the deal early this week and get Butler on his way back to the Eastern Conference.

Before everything went down with Philadelphia, the question on the lips of just about everyone in the NBA was why something hadn’t happened sooner regarding Butler. Between the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat, there appeared to be suitors abound.

Rumored offers notwithstanding, one team that reportedly tried to get into the mix was the New Orleans Pelicans.

According to a report from ESPN, the Pelicans tried to get Butler in conversations with the Wolves, but rebuffed when Minnesota asked for Jrue Holiday back in return.

Via ESPN:

Minnesota desperately tried to cobble together trade offers in the past week, including extensive discussions with New Orleans, league sources said. The Pelicans are limited on tradeable assets, but desperate to find star power to keep Anthony Davis for the long run. The Pelicans wouldn’t include point guard Jrue Holiday in its offer, nor multiple draft picks, league sources said.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric were the eventual package that the Timberwolves got in exchange for Butler, which is completely reasonable and helps Minnesota be less top-heavy with their rotations moving forward.

Asking for Holiday and multiple picks seems like a bit of a stretch, but it’s not surprising given the rumored negotiating tactics by the Timberwolves front office over the course of this entire saga.

Good for New Orleans for not budging on Holiday, even as the rumor of Anthony Davis potentially exiting their franchise via a trade demand seems to be ramping up lately.

I don’t know how Butler will fit with the Sixers, but I’m glad this story appears to have reached its final chapter.

Report: Wolves considered firing Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden this summer

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Tom Thibodeau should have never been given front office responsibilities when he was made head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016. Wolves owner Glen Taylor didn’t pay attention to countless examples in NBA history of the dual positions of executive and head coach coming with poor results.

Now things have turned horribly sour in Minnesota and it’s hard to see how Thibodeau keeps his job much longer. The former Chicago Bulls coach will likely remain with the team through end of the season, but it’s been so tumultuous leading up to the Jimmy Butler trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that a future between Thibodeau and Minnesota seems unlikely.

According to a report from ESPN, there was even some consideration given to firing both Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden earlier this summer.

Via ESPN:

Taylor considered firing Thibodeau and Layden in the summer — well before the Butler situation escalated — and has continued to consider possibilities to eventually replace both of them, league sources said. There’s immense pressure on Minnesota’s management structure to see dividends on this trade.

This seems like a perfectly professional way to say that both Thibodeau and Layden could be on their way out after the Wolves fail to make the playoffs come April.

It’s entirely possible that the players Minnesota gets back in a trade with Philadelphia could help them make a push post-Butler. Robert Covington and Dario Saric are both guys who can help space the floor and bolster a top-heavy Timberwolves lineup. It was a reasonable return.

But we don’t know how the remaining players on Minnesota’s roster feel about Thibodeau, and whether the situation is salvageable. Is Karl-Anthony Towns going to stop quitting mid-game? Is Andrew Wiggins going to hone his shot selection?

These items are still of concern as we watch this Wolves team rise from the creaking embers left behind after the Butler situation’s extinguishment.