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Three Things to Know: Tyson Chandler was exactly what Lakers needed

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Tyson Chandler was exactly what Lakers needed. At least for a night. Magic Johnson’s hypocritical wake-up call meeting with Luke Walton came the day after a loss last week in Minnesota. It was a game where the Lakers defense was a mess that let the Timberwolves have clean looks from three, nor did they have an answer for Jimmy Butler (32 points) or Karl-Anthony Towns (25).

Wednesday night in Los Angeles the Timberwolves set a franchise record for threes (20-of-40) led by Derrick Rose (31 points, 7-of-9 from three) and Jimmy Butler (5-of-8 on his way to 24 points). This time, however, the Lakers were the team that made the plays down the stretch and came out on top, 114-110.

The difference? Tyson Chandler.

Karl-Anthony Towns had a rough night (5-of-16 shooting) and while there are multiple big-picture reasons for that — Tom Thibodeau does not draw up plays that highlight Towns’ immense gifts, nor does Towns just demand the ball and take over games — part of it was Chandler. Towns was 1-of-7 when Chandler was the primary defender, according to the NBA’s Second Spectrum tracking stats.

Chandler was playing so well Walton went to the veteran — in his first game as a Laker, having just driven six-hours from Phoenix to Los Angeles — to close the game. After a couple of Rose threes made it a one-point game in the final minute, Chandler got two of his five offensive rebounds in the next sequence for the Lakers, extending the play until Kyle Kuzma could draw a foul and pad the lead. That proved to be enough (although Rose got a clean look at a game-winning three and just could not knock it down).

For Minnesota, this loss continued to expose the team’s identity crisis — a year ago this team knew who it was, and while it was a bit old-school to pound teams inside and with two-pointers (a system exposed in the playoffs) it worked to give them an efficient offense. This season the Timberwolves have no idea who they are or what they want to do on that end, they try to run and shoot threes, they still don’t get Towns enough touches in places he can do damage, at least Rose has (capably) filled in the gaps. But it’s not enough. Jimmy Butler has thrived in the chaos created by his trade demand, but the team as a whole seems off-balance, especially when he asserts himself. It’s a hot mess.

Meanwhile, Lakers have won 3-of-4 since Magic’s sit down with Walton. Part of what came of that meeting was the crystallization that this flawed roster needed another defensive big man. The Lakers got one in Tyson Chandler — thanks to LeBron James‘ friend and former teammate James Jones, now the Suns’ GM, who bought out Chandler far earlier than he had to. We’ll see if the 36-year-old Chandler can sustain this, but for a night he was exactly what the Lakers needed. And unlike the Timberwolves, the Lakers seem to be settling into their identity.

2) Dunks. Dunks. And more Dunks. Wednesday night was the night of the huge dunk around the league.

The dunk of the night, and maybe the new early leader for Dunk of the Year, is Domantis Sabonis skying up and throwing it down all over Joel Enbiid.

Sixers fans will tell you that was an offensive foul because Sabonis uses his off-arm to clear Embiid out. Yes. So what? Doesn’t change the fact it was an amazing dunk (and Sixers fans really don’t want the refs calling every offensive foul on Embiid when he goes to the rim).

Sabonis was not alone with the massive throwdowns Wednesday, however. Donovan Mitchell was reminding us why he won the Slam Dunk Contest last year.

And again for Mitchell.

Then Orlando’s Aaron Gordon went Karl Malone with his big dunk.

3) Hassan Whiteside was just one block short of a triple-double. The San Antonio Spurs are the perfect matchup for Hassan Whiteside: They don’t play at a fast pace, they would rather grind it out; and they don’t space the floor with their bigs like some teams, preferring instead to go inside or shoot from the midrange.

Whiteside took advantage: 29 points, 20 rebounds (the Spurs were a shocking 6-of-30 from the midrange, creating plenty of rebound opportunities) and nine blocks.

Whiteside and his backers will use this to say “this is why Whiteside needs more minutes, Eric Spoelstra just doesn’t use him right.” However, until Whiteside can perform like he did Wednesday against a team that always pushes the pace and has bigs who launch threes (which is a growing number of teams) Spoelstra will continue to lean on Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. As he should.

 

Watch Stephen Curry drain shots from center-court logo during warmups like it’s nothing

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In case you need any kind of reminder that Stephen Curry is a flat-out ridiculous shooter — particularly during warm-ups, well, you’re in luck.

Check out this pregame video of Curry knocking down shots from the center-court logo at Oracle like it’s nothing.

The man changes the game. Even in warmups.

James Harden being out clouds latest Rockets-Warriors clash

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Houston Rockets have had the Golden State Warriors’ number this season. However, when the teams meet on Saturday, the Rockets will have to play without the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player.

Houston guard James Harden is out due a cervical neck strain. Harden was bothered by soreness Thursday during the Rockets’ 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was seen receiving treatment to the neck and right shoulder during the contest.

The Rockets have used different means to beat the two-time defending champs in their first two head-to-heads since Golden State prevailed in a seven-game conference finals last May.

Houston held a Stephen Curry-less Warriors team to 86 points — Golden State’s lowest output of the season — and just 42 percent shooting in a 107-86 home win in November.

The Rockets then turned Harden loose in the January rematch at Golden State, watching him pour in 44 points — including a game-winning 3-pointer — in a 135-134 overtime thriller.

More than a month later, that game still weighs heavily on the mind of Curry, who countered Harden with 35 points of his own that night.

“They just made one more shot,” he noted to reporters after the Warriors Thursday win over the Sacramento Kings. “We understand how talented they are, how well James has been playing. It’s going to be a dogfight … a defensive test for us.”

At the time of Curry’s statement, the extent of Harden’s injury had not been made public. The NBA’s leading scorer at 36.5 points per game, Harden was bothered by a left shoulder strain prior to the All-Star break but didn’t miss any contests. He has played in 55 of Houston’s 58 games as he missed three games early in the season due to a hamstring injury.

In the overtime win at Oakland, Harden complemented his 44 points with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for a triple-double.

While there was no triple-double against the Lakers, Harden did extend his streak of games with 30 or more points to 32.

The Rockets lost their second in a row and fell to 33-25, a full 12 games below where they stood at this point last season. It’s gotten some analysts grumbling about the club’s style of play and reliance on Harden.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni labeled such talk “absurd” before the Thursday game.

“I don’t know if they watched last year,” he said of the naysayers. “Nobody else can do what he does. … If you’re a ball-stopper, usually you’re inefficient. He’s very efficient. So when the ball stops, it’s a good thing.”

The Rockets earned the home-court advantage over Golden State in last year’s playoffs by finishing seven games ahead of the Warriors during the regular season.

That almost surely won’t be the case should they meet again this postseason. The Warriors (42-16), with the best record in the West, have a nine-game advantage over Houston, currently in the No. 5 seed.

Golden State won for the 17th time in its past 19 games by surviving a late rally from the Kings on Thursday in a 125-123 home decision. Curry finished with 36 points, making 10 of his 16 3-point attempts.

Harden (276) and Curry (246) enter the game ranked first and second, respectively, in the NBA in 3-pointers made.

Harden also led the league last season with what was then a career-best 265.

Curry got the better of his rival in 3-pointers in last year’s playoff showdown, however, making 27 of 75 (36 percent) while Harden was harassed into 19 of 78 (24.4 percent).

Curry saved his best for last in the series, going 7 of 15 on 3-point tries in a 27-point effort in Golden State’s 101-92 win at Houston in Game 7. Harden went just 2-for-13 from long range on his 32-point night.

 

James Harden fined $25,000 for calling referee Scott Foster ‘rude and arrogant’

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“Scott Foster, man. I never really talk about officiating or anything like that, but just rude and arrogant. I mean, you aren’t able to talk to him throughout the course of the game, and it’s like, how do you build that relationship with officials? And it’s not even that call [Harden’s sixth foul, ending his night]. It’s just who he is on that floor.”

Houston’s James Harden knew the fine was coming before he even uttered those words following the Rockets loss to the Lakers Thursday night, in which Foster called two offensive fouls on Harden, one that limited his minutes early and another that set him up to eventually foul him out of the game.

Harden got what was expected on Saturday, the NBA fined him $25,000 for “public criticism of the officiating.”

Harden wasn’t alone in his frustration. Chris Paul fouled out and picked up a technical, and coach Mike D’Antoni picked up a technical as well.

For the game, Foster called 12 fouls on the Rockets and six on the Lakers. This season in games Foster has officiated, the Rockets are 1-1.

The Rockets are not the only team to have frustrations with Foster, he has a reputation around the league for a short fuse that doesn’t let you question calls. LeBron James‘ Heat teams and others have felt how Harden does.

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball could be out longer due to bone bruise in ankle

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Lonzo Ball has missed the last 11 Laker games. In that time the team is 4-7 with a bottom 10 offense and defense, and they have been outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. Granted, LeBron James was out for a number of those games as well, but even LeBron is talking about how much Ball is missed in the rotation.

The Lakers could be missing him a while longer.

While we are starting to approach the ballpark return date projected for Ball’s Grade 3 ankle sprain, he could miss more time due to a bone bruise in the ankle, reports Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.

Ball moved quickly through the early stages of his rehab. He used crutches for about a week and wore a protective boot on his left ankle for less time than that.

Ball began running on an underwater treadmill two weeks ago and last week he began work on an antigravity treadmill, but was limited because of the bone bruise.

Ball injured his ankle back on January 19 and it looked bad when it happened.

The Lakers could use him as they make a push down the stretch to get into the playoffs — the Laker defense is 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Ball is on the court this season. The Lakers, 29-29, enter Saturday as the 10th seed in the West, three games back of the Clippers in the eighth seed and final playoff spot. The Sacramento Kings are also between the Lakers and the postseason — to get in the Lakers are going to need to go on a LeBron-led run. Ball would help with that, but it may be a little while longer before we see him on the court.