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Three Things to Know: Playoff Lakers activated, come from 19 down to upset Rockets

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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) Lakers activated, come from 19 down to beat Rockets — now can they sustain it. Led by “playoff mode activated” LeBon James, Thursday night was exactly the kind of win the Lakers need if they are going to climb back into the postseason in the West.

But only if can they build on it. Remember that the Lakers’ biggest win of the season, on Christmas Day over the Warriors? That was followed up by losing 5-of-6. LeBon lifted up his teammates and his team on Thursday night — now he needs to do it again. And again. One good win is not enough at this point.

However, make no mistake: Thursday night was a good win for Los Angeles. Trailing by 19 midway through the third quarter, LeBron James (16 points in the game’s final 18 minutes, 29 for the game) and Kyle Kuzma (18 points on the night) sparked the comeback.

Los Angeles won 111-106, moved back to .500 (29-29), are just 2.5 games back of the Clippers, and it helps that the Kings lost, too (now just one game up on the Lakers).

James Harden kept his streak of 30-point games alive with a floater late in the fourth (32 in a row now at 30+), but he shot just 2-of-7 overall and 0-of-4 from three in the fourth quarter and fouled out late in the game. Harden was frustrated with the calls — and had a right to be. Harden picked up three offensive fouls late, one on a nothing contact at midcourt with Rajon Rondo that Rondo sold, and one on a charge call where Kuzma slid under Harden while he was in the air. The Rockets are convinced referee Scott Foster is out to get them (Chris Paul fouled out, too) and the game film from this one will fuel their paranoia for a while.

Of course, the referees didn’t force the Rockets to miss wide open shots down the stretch, either. The Rockets finally had their full team back — Clint Caplela and Chris Paul played — but looked like a team rusty after a week off.

LeBron and the Lakers got an aggressive, attacking game from Brandon Ingram — something else that has come and gone this season — on his way to 27 points. Reggie Bullock knocked down a key three and — in something incredibly rare for the Lakers — hit his free throws when it mattered on his way to 14 points. Josh Hart looked healthy and moved well, he had his best game in a while.

The Lakers’ next two games are winnable — at New Orleans and at Memphis — and if they are serious about making the postseason, those are games they have to pick up. For a night playoff mode was activated, but the real test for LeBron and company remains ahead of them.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo looks every bit the MVP — especially on defense — and the Bucks remind everyone they are for real. In an often-sloppy one-point game every play matters, and Giannis Antetokounmpo not giving up on this one and getting the chase down block on Jayson Tatum was one that mattered a lot.

That was an MVP-level play. Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 13 boards on the night and was just rock steady on a night little else was.

With the 98-97 win in a sloppy game, the Bucks improved to 8-3 this season against the other elite teams in the East (Toronto, Indiana, Philadelphia, and Boston). Milwaukee has won 15-of-17.

It’s fair to wonder what happens in the playoffs when the defensive pressure is cranked up on Eric Bledsoe (he’s struggled before), and will the Bucks’ shooters keep hitting through the smaller windows afforded them in the postseason. But don’t doubt this — they are capable of hitting those shots and playing under pressure. They are more than capable of winning. The Bucks are real contenders and want to show that on the biggest of stages.

Boston was frustrated not getting some calls, including thinking the Greek Freak fouled Tatum on that breakaway dunk above. Then on the final play, with Boston down one, Brad Stevens drew up something where Kyrie Irving set a backscreen and Marcus Morris cut to the rim and he was coming open — until Khris Middleton fouled him. The Bucks ended up just getting the ball to Irving, who drove and put up a wild shot that missed, but Morris was hot after the game about the no-call. He was right. However: 1) The Bucks had a foul to give so it still would have been ball out of bounds; 2) That one play was not why they lost the game — Irving was 9-of-27 shooting and the Celtics as a team shot just 38.2 percent on the night. The Celtics had their chances but just missed.

3) Stephen Curry dunks! Oh, and hit 10 threes in Warriors win. Stephen Curry had zero dunks this season (according to Basketball-Reference), but he ended the All-Star Game in Charlotte with a reverse throwdown, then on Thursday night he did this.

The bench’s reaction is the best.

Curry also did Curry things — 10-of-16 from three on his way to 36 points.

The Warriors won 125-123 and swept the season series from the Kings — but every game was close, every game hard-fought and the Kings made the Warriors work. It would make a fun first-round playoff series. Sacramento had a chance to steal this game but Buddy Hield passed up a three from a spot he’d hit one 12 seconds before to drive the lane and miss the floater to tie. If the Kings are going to get into the playoffs and face the Warriors in the first round they can’t hesitate — Hield has to take that shot.

The Kings are now 1.5 games behind the Clippers for the final playoff slot in the West, and LeBron and the Lakers are one game behind the Kings. It’s going to be a wild ride the rest of the way at the bottom of the West.

Report: Ball family has discussed shutting down Big Baller Brand

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I could write a thousand words about what seems to be happening with the Big Baller Brand — the shoe/apparel company that’s the brainchild of LaVar Ball and provides the shoes for the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball — but sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Or, in this case, a social media message.

If you haven’t been following the saga — something maybe actually worthy of watching on Facebook Live from the Ball family — over the weekend it was reported Lonzo Ball cut ties with Alan Foster, a co-founder of the Big Baller Brand (BBB) who served as the business manager, over inappropriate use of funds. That was in addition to news the Lakers reached out to Lonzo to ask if his shoes were part of the reason for his ankle injury and slow recovery. This was followed by social media buzz (and some hints) Ball was going to switch over to Nike as a sponsor (since he is shut down for the season because of the ankle, we won’t see what shoes he wears on the court until summer at the earliest, when the inevitable “look how hard I’m working out” Instagram posts come out).

Now the entire thing is so tainted the Ball family may just shot Big Baller Brand down, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

If they did (no sure thing), the company could be re-formed under a new name. This is as much about cutting out Foster as anything.

What role Lonzo would play in any new Ball family business is up for discussion. Lonzo’s next season will be his third, after which the Lakers (or whatever team has his rights) can offer him an extension on his rookie contract, or choose instead to let him go into a fourth season followed by restricted free agency (an extension deal could be reached in the fourth season, too). This coming season is a huge one for Ball: Can he stay healthy (he has missed 65 games over two seasons) and can he prove he’s a key guy that a franchise would want to lock up and pay?

Ball has talked about finally being healthy during the summer and getting to work on his body and game. That would be good, but we’ll if he remains focused.

Report: Lakers not actually interested in Jason Kidd

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The Lakers hiring Jason Kidd as their next coach went from rumor shared by Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report to report by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

I’ve been told there’s no way they’re really considering Jason Kidd. He’s not on their list. Now, that’s what I’m hearing. But I also want to emphasize I’m not covering the NBA like that. As much as I cover these games or what have you, I’m not on the phones with these executives every single day as intimately as the great Adrian Wojnarowski is. So, I’m certainly not trying to cast any aspersions on any of his reporting. Listen to this man, because he’s usually right on the money. He’s my friend. I respect the hell out of him. But in this particular story, the Lakers are saying, no, we’re not interested in Jason Kidd. And they want to make sure that that’s clear. I don’t know why, but they wanted to make sure that that was clear.

If the Lakers are spreading word they’re not interested in Kidd, I have one strong guess why: He’s a bad coach.

The latest Kidd rumors have caused panic among Lakers fans. Kidd really struggled guiding the Bucks, who’ve taken off since firing him.

Kidd is better at getting his name connected to openings – and even potential openings. Remember the Lakers haven’t fired Luke Walton, though that’s expected after the season. Kidd has been linked to the Suns, Pistons, Warriors, Knicks and Lakers. And that’s just since leaving Milwaukee. He also attempted a coup with the Nets then, when that failed, took a soft landing with the Bucks.

Magic Johnson’s decision-making with the Lakers has been suspect at best. Hiring Kidd, an old-school-style coach, would have been right in line with Johnson’s other failures. There are reasons Kidd-to-the-Lakers was at least believable.

There are also potential reasons the Lakers could have leaked interest in Kidd. Not all of this necessarily came from him.

Now, if the Lakers hire Mark Jackson, that will look far better by comparison. Tyronn Lue could look like an absolute steal by comparison.

DeMarcus Cousins: Fans have called me n-word a few times

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The NBA has fined DeMarcus Cousins for swearing at fans four separate times.

Cousins wants to call attention to the other side of interactions like those.

Cousins, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“Oh, I’ve been called n—–,” he told Yahoo Sports in the latest Posted Up video podcast that will be released this week. “And it’s crazy because this has happened to me on a few occasions. I reported it to the league, and, you know, I may have said whatever I said back and I was still punished for it. But obviously it became a bigger issue when it was Russ [Westbrook], and he was still fined for it. I don’t really understand it. We’re the product. We push this league, so I don’t understand. When does our safety, when does it become important?”

When asked which cities he heard racial slurs, the nine-year veteran and four-time All-Star declined to answer. However, league sources told Yahoo Sports one of the incidents occurred in Sacramento.

“I don’t really want to [name cities or teams], because I’m not really trying to put a label on an entire fan base,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “There are ignorant individuals in every city. I’ll just put it like that. … [The league] tells you to ignore it, or whatever the case may be, but how many times am I supposed to ignore that. Me coming from where I come from [Mobile, Alabama], they lucky all they got was a response.”

Players would ignore out-of-line fans if the players believed teams were properly holding fans accountable. If teams removed fans who made racist and/or personal comments toward players, the players would let arena security handle it.

As is, players often feel they must take matters in their own hands to get a proper resolution.

This conversation is happening now only because Russell Westbrook got videoed vulgarly confronting a Jazz fan. Westbrook got fined for that, but overdue attention is being paid to fan-player interactions. The Jazz banned that fan from their arena, but they didn’t eject him from the game against the Thunder. Could they have investigated more quickly? They don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. The Jazz just banned a fan who called Westbrook “boy” last year! The incident received attention now only because of Westbrook’s recent squabble with a Utah fan.

Players too often face racist and personal taunts. There’s no way to eliminate that. But teams must do better at punishing fans who act inappropriately.

The NBA should fine players who swear at fans. That’s bad for business and should be discouraged.

The key difference: The league is already on top of punishing players. Punishing misbehaving fans hasn’t taken enough of a priority.

The NBA should pay more attention to the root of some of these incidents. This isn’t just happening in a vacuum.

Report: Spurs signing Donatas Motiejunas

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In 2016, both the Pistons (who agreed to trade for him) and the Rockets (who agreed to match his offer sheet from the Nets) failed Donatas Motiejunas on physicals. He finally signed a prorated minimum contract with the Pelicans for 2016-17. He has spent the last two seasons in China. It has been rough for him.

Now, Motiejunas is somewhat surprisingly returning to the NBA.

ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a deal with veteran Donatas Motiejunas, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

San Antonio needed another big man after buying out Pau Gasol, who signed with the Bucks. Motiejunas provides depth behind LaMarcus Aldridge and Jakob Poeltl.

The 7-foot Motiejunas is capable inside and out. But NBA centers have gotten so good at 3-point shooting so quickly. I’m not sure Motiejunas remains ahead of the curve on the perimeter.

Whatever his current ability, he should at least fit well with the Spurs. They maximize skilled bigs.