Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Ingram all ejected for punches-thrown fight in Rockets win

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LOS ANGELES — By the end, LeBron James‘ home opener as a Laker wasn’t about him.

It was about a rare, actual punches thrown NBA fight that saw Houston’s Chris Paul, and Los Angeles’ Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram ejected. All are likely to face suspensions.

It was also about another Lakers’ loss, 124-115. The Lakers have started the season 0-2 and been out-executed at the end of both games (they scored just 18 fourth-quarter points Saturday).

“I talked to the guys, fights happen in sports, but we’ve got to keep our composure,” Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said. “We somewhat did, but they made a lot of shots down the stretch. (James) Harden made a couple ones, one possession with a rebound on one, we missed a switch on a high pick-and-roll…

“We didn’t execute well enough to win that game down the stretch.”

The Rockets did, bouncing back with some fight after a punchless loss to New Orleans in their opener.

“We had to win a game… ultimately the most important thing is to win the game,” said James Harden, who took over after the fight to secure the win and finished with 36 points on 19 shots. “All the commotion going on, that’s what I tried to go do.”

With it being LeBron’s home debut, the L.A. crowd was fired up from the start. The game was entertaining, back-and-forth and getting physical at points, but nothing out of the ordinary.

That was until in the fourth quarter when Houston’s James Ennis clotheslined Josh Hart who was driving the lane. Ennis got a flagrant one.

“The clothesline, three minutes prior to (the big fight), I saw that. Zero idea how that’s a flagrant one,” Walton said. “(Ennis) clotheslined a guy, he picked him up off his feet and slammed him on his back, and that’s a flagrant one. To me, if I’m a player or a teammate, and that’s a flagrant one, then we can play a little more physical.”

It did get physical after that and a few minutes later is when things spilled over into the fight.

Los Angeles’ Brandon Ingram was particularly frustrated with Harden drawing foul calls (welcome to a big club, Brandon) and after Harden drew another with 4:13 left in the game Ingram let his frustration go and shoved Harden. That was met with a quick and deserved technical, which was followed by some jawing, which is when Lance Stephenson stepped in to pull Ingram out and protect him from himself (yes, Stephenson was the level headed one… it was weird to type that).

Usually in an NBA “fight” that’s when things calm down.

Saturday night, that’s when things went crazy.

Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo — two guys who don’t like each going back most of a decade — were jawing after the play when CP3 took his finger and pushed Rondo in the face. Rondo responded by throwing a punch.

Paul insists Rondo spit on him, which provoked his reaction. Rondo and the Lakers vehemently deny this. (A new video angle suggests Rondo did spit on Paul, and the league has seen it.)

That’s what (Paul) is saying. And as a man, the only thing you can do is react,” Harden said. “Stand up for yourself.”

Once that punch was thrown it was mayhem on the court.

In the middle of that is when Ingram came sprinting back into the scene and threw another punch. He was quickly pulled out of the pile, but the damage was done. He was going to be ejected and could face the longest suspension of anyone because he was the third man into the fight (and instigated everything shoving Harden).

Once everything settled down, the ejections came — Ingram, Rondo, and Paul were all gone. Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s lead disciplinarian, was in the building and saw everything first hand. Expect the suspensions to come down Sunday, before the Rockets play the Clippers on Sunday night.

For the Rockets, it’s a win to build on, although they may have to do that without Paul for a game or two.

For the Lakers there were positives — Lonzo Ball had a strong night and was 4-of-8 from three, and the offense looks good when they get out in transition (in the halfcourt, there’s work to do) — but they need more consistent shooting and improved defense to the close games they will find themselves in a lot in the West.

“I’m not disappointed at all,” LeBron said postgame. “I knew we were going to have some early struggles. Nobody said this was going to be easy….

“We got a long way to go to get to the Rockets, to get to a lot of teams in the Western Confererence, they’ve just been together for so long.”

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.