Frank Vogel benches Westbrook for final four minutes of Lakers ugly loss


LOS ANGELES — Frank Vogel was looking for something… no, anything that would stem the tide as the game slipped away. He searched for players giving consistent effort, some consistent offense, maybe someone who could slow a scorching hot Caris LeVert (who scored 22 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the fourth, on his way to 30 for the game).

In that search, Vogel benched Russell Westbrook for the final 3:52 of a game within reach. Vogel closed with a lineup of two starters, LeBron James and Avery Bradley, plus Carmelo Anthony, second-year player Talen Horton-Tucker and rookie Austin Reaves.

What was Vogel doing?

“Playing the guys that I thought were going to win the game,” he said. And he left it at that.

Westbrook left The Crypt without speaking to reporters. When LeBron was asked if Westbrook was unhappy after being benched in the clutch, he answered, “have you followed Russ’ career?”

Vogel and the Lakers’ coaching staff was frustrated with Westbrook’s defense on LeVert and had the green light from management to bench the star, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

The tension around Vogel and how much longer he will be the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers was palpable Wednesday night in the arena even before the Lakers blew a second-half lead and lost to the struggling Pacers 111-104.

Vogel will not be fired before the team leaves on its six-game Grammys road trip Thursday, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

It’s not a good sign when there needs to be leaks and anonymous sources that a coach will NOT be fired before the next game.

That the leak was needed speaks to the sense of inevitability around Vogel’s future with the Lakers. Sources described a sense of pressure from the top down with the Lakers to do something to change the course of a disappointing 22-23 season.

That could be make a trade, with the deadline approaching Feb. 10, except GM Rob Pelinka and the front office backed this team into a financial corner. They could trade Horton-Tucker and Kendrick Nunn (who has not played this season due to injury) and a future first-round pick in 2027, and with that maybe bring back a starter-level player from another team. But does that change the course of the season?

Or, they could fire the coach.

The guy who benched the front office’s prized offseason acquisition for the final 3:52 of the game (even if he had approval to do so).

“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” Vogel said before the game. “It’s not hard to do my job. I’m very focused on the task at hand. I’ve always been that way. It’s really not up to me whether it’s fair or not. It comes with the territory. It comes with being the Lakers’ coach. We have high expectations. This fan base really cares. It’s a big market. I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care. I want people to want the best, and to demand excellence of our group. That’s what we demand of ourselves.”

LeBron continued to put up MVP numbers in the loss, 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting, plus 12 rebounds. He didn’t start the game at center — Dwight Howard did — but LeBron did close it at the five.

After the game, LeBron said this loss — and this season — was not all on Vogel.

“The coaching staff has been great,” LeBron said. “They put us in position to succeed and it’s up to us to go out and handle the business. So, there’s always things we all can do better.”

When pressed, LeBron was not going to play the blame game.

“Listen, I’m not in that business of pointing fingers, or pointing blame or trying to put a quote at the end or at the start of somebody’s [story]… If it’s not positive for me, I’m cool. That’s not my lane. I’m not a negative person.

Vogel, for his part, said he just wanted to keep his head down and do his job.

“In this business and with this team, if you’re not winning at a super-high level, you’re going to get this type of noise,” Vogel said pregame. “I’m good at blocking it out. I feel good about the job we’re doing, and obviously we believe the results are going to come. But over the course of an 82-game season with a new group, you’re going to have some ugly nights.”

Wednesday was one of those ugly nights.

And it added to a sense of inveviablility about what comes next.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points


Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images

It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.