Associated Press

Jimmy Butler returns, Timberwolves pick up crucial win vs. Lakers 113-96

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jimmy Butler scored 18 points in his return from right knee surgery, Jeff Teague had 25 points and eight assists, and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Los Angeles Lakers 113-96 on Friday night.

Butler played 22 1/2 minutes and was 7 for 10 from the field in his first game since getting hurt against Houston on Feb. 23. He had surgery two days later for a cartilage injury and missed 17 games.

Minnesota moved into sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference with the win (half a game ahead of Denver, but the teams are tied in the loss column).

Taj Gibson also scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who were on the second night of a back-to-back. They lost to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

Julius Randle scored 20 points and added 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who have lost nine of their last 13. Brook Lopez had 18 points and six rebounds, while Josh Hart tallied 20 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

The Timberwolves took a 96-76 lead on a jump shot by Jamal Crawford. Los Angeles cut its deficit to 13 with 4:42 remaining in the game, but Minnesota scored six straight points, then opened up a 21-point lead with 2:06 left.

Minnesota started the third quarter with a 16-6 run and took a 67-64 lead on a basket Butler. Teague, Andrew Wiggins and Towns all made 3-pointers to give the Timberwolves an eight-point lead with 3:25 remaining in the period.

Towns capped an 11-2 run with a put-back layup to give Minnesota a 78-68 advantage with 2:12 remaining in the third. Josh Hart made a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer and the Lakers trailed 80-73.

Los Angeles went on a 9-0 run after trailing 36-32 in the second quarter. An 11-0 run four minutes later gave the Lakers a 52-40 lead with 3:08 remaining in the first half.

Gibson’s basket cut Minnesota’s deficit to 56-50. The Timberwolves trailed 58-51 at halftime. Despite shooting only 29 percent from the field, the Lakers outscored the Timberwolves 32-21 in the second quarter.

Lopez scored the first 15 points for the Lakers, outscoring Minnesota by himself over the first six minutes of the game. The rest of the team, however, scored only 11 points the rest of the quarter.

 

Three Things to Know: Shorthanded Wizards find way to beat even more shorthanded Celtics

Associated Press
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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) Shorthanded Wizards find way in double overtime to beat shorthanded Celtics in thriller. Every coach in the NBA preaches the “next man up” mentality to dealing with injuries. But Wednesday night in Boston, the next man up for the Celtics might have had to be some guy coach Brad Stevens pulled out of the first row — the Celtics were without four out of five starters. There was a whole lot of star power not playing — no John Wall, no Kyrie Irving, no Al Horford — but we were still entertained, this was a thriller.

One the road, the Wizards started out with a flat effort, especially defensively, and the Celtics got a big first quarter from Marcus Morris, then Greg Monroe was scoring off the bench, and midway through the second quarter the Celtics were up 20. Marcus’ brother Markieff Morris wanted in on the action, scored 11 in the second quarter to started the Wizards comeback, then in the second half it was like Bradley Beal said “I’m the only All-Star in this game” and just took over, and pretty soon we had a ballgame again.

Boston had the lead by three with 5.5 seconds left, and Washington’s Otto Porter was driving the lane for a layup, Marcus Morris started to contest then realized he should let Porter have a two, but ended up in a no-man’s land and had forgotten about veteran sharpshooter Jodie Meeks in the corner, so we are headed to overtime.

Boston could have won it in the first OT — down two with 8.4 seconds left rookie Jayson Tatum drove the lane, hit the free layup and drew the foul. But you have to hit the free throw to get the and-1 point, and Tatum missed forcing a second overtime.

Tatum had a three at the buzzer in the second overtime but that did not fall either, and the Wizards escaped with a 125-124 win.

The Celtics are pretty much locked into the two seed in the East, they just need to get healthy and the loss doesn’t hurt them in the standings. For the fifth-seeded Wizards in a jumbled middle of the East, this win helps them hold on to their spot and stay within striking distance of the fourth-seeded Cavaliers (Washington is just one game back).

2) Lakers’ Isaiah Thomas, Julius Randle get into it on the bench during game, but afterward it’s all good. On the court, Isaiah Thomas and Julius Randle have developed a little chemistry — Thomas as the playmaking guard, Randle as the bull using his physicality and athleticism to get what he wants inside.

But the two got into it on the bench during Wednesday night’s game against the Warriors. Brook Lopez and Lonzo Ball had to step in and be the voices of reason.

Randle was heated, Thomas looked like he just wanted to explain himself, and by the end of the game it was all good, they were joking and talking Randle put it this way:

“It’s great, honestly. We expect a lot out of each other. It was just communicating. We expect a lot out of each other, we want to win, we expect to win these games and we expect each other to play at a certain level. It’s just us being teammates. There’s nobody I’d rather go to war with than I.T., so it’s nothing personal. We’re just trying to get the best out of each other to try and win the game.”

Nothing to see here, move along. Oh, also the Warriors won the game 117-106 behind 26 from Kevin Durant.

3) Bucks, Heat both lose to tanking teams on Wednesday night. In theory, we don’t know that the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are going to be stuck where they are and finish the season as the seven and eight seeds in the East — both teams are within a game (Bucks) or 1.5 games (Heat) of moving up in the standings.

In practice at this point in the season, if you’re losing to tanking teams it’s a bad sign. And you’re going to finish at the bottom of the seedings (although neither is in danger of falling out of the playoffs).

The Heat fell to the Sacramento — who have been losing but scrappy of late — when Kings rookie De'Aaron Fox nailed another buzzer beater to force overtime.

Buddy Hield had 4 of his 24 points in overtime to help secure the Sacramento win.

The entire Milwaukee squad looked like they had a Disney World hangover — usually teams do this in Miami/New York/Los Angeles, but to each his own — and came out flat from the start against Orlando. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to form with 38 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, but the rest of the team just looked disinterested. Meanwhile, the Magic cared. Jonathon Simmons had a career-high 35 points and drained 7-of-12 from beyond the arc, D.J. Augustin outplayed Eric Bledsoe on his way to 32 points, and Nikola Vucevic dominated inside for stretches and pitched in 22 points.

Too early to panic, but banged-up Cavaliers unimpressive getting swept in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — It’s way, way too early to hit the panic button in Cleveland. A month from now, when the playoffs start, this weekend of ugly losses in Los Angeles could be lost to the dustbin of history.

Kevin Love should be back in a week or so, providing an offensive boost and a passer out of the post/elbow in the half court the Cavaliers need. Tristan Thompson will be available again to bang with guys like the Lakers’ Brook Lopez or Julius Randle (that pair torched the Cavs to the tune of 58 points Sunday). Rodney Hood and Cedi Osman should be back and providing depth and shooting. Once guys are healthy, the rotations should stabilize and improve. Plus, with more time together for this revamped roster, the offensive sets and defensive communication should improve. Coach Tyronn Lue said pregame they were still in the “simplistic” phase of implementing what he wants this team to do on offense.

Still, Cavaliers fans might want to locate that panic button. Just in case.

Since the All-Star break the Cavaliers are 4-6, with the 13th ranked offense and 22nd ranked defense in the NBA. Cleveland just got swept in Los Angeles over the weekend where in consecutive games the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan and the Lakers’ Julius Randle bullied Cleveland’s small-ball lineups to the tune of 56 combined points.

With those two weekend losses, the Cavaliers have fallen back to the four seed in the East, half a game behind Indiana (which beat Boston Sunday). In Los Angeles, the Cavaliers did not look like the team Toronto and Boston have to go through to reach the Finals, rather it appeared to be the other way around.

Which tends to fuel the “LeBron is leaving Cleveland for X” rumors (which were alive and well in Los Angeles this weekend). All of those rumors are crap, LeBron hasn’t made a decision yet, his next decision a topic for July.

Right now, injuries are at the forefront of that in Cleveland.

“At the end of the day, you have to want the most out of whoever you have on the floor,” LeBron said Sunday night. “You want the most from whoever is playing, but sometimes you just can’t overcome this many injuries. We have pretty much five guys out of our top nine or 10 out of the of the rotation or not playing because of their injuries. In this next man up (mentality), sometimes you just fall short.”

However, injuries are not all of it.

Cleveland’s new, younger core is at least trying on defense — a step up from what the Cavs did in January — but this not a team of great individual defenders after LeBron. Plus, building a cohesive team defense takes time this group hasn’t had (and will not have enough of): Cleveland’s communication on things such tagging roll guys, helping the helper, and challenging shooters at the arc have a long way to go. On Sunday, the Lakers’ league-leading pace scrambled the Cavaliers defense on multiple occasions (the game was played at a 104 possession pace). Most glaringly on Sunday night, the Cavaliers just did not have an answer for the Lakers’ big men Randle (36 points, a career high) and Brook Lopez (22 points).

“We knew if we got out in transition on this team, we could have some success,” Randle said.

“I think the rebounding hurts us, I think the physicality on the block, having to double team the post left us scrambling around,” Lue said after the Lakers’ loss. “That’s what we have to do right now, so no excuses. But we’ve got to play better.”

There are a lot of issues to address and not a lot of time to do it. The Cavaliers’ offense often gets stagnant and ends with LeBron in isolation — against the Clippers 38.5 percent of LeBron’s offensive possessions (where he finished the possession) were in isolation, and if you combine isolations and postups and it gets to 50 percent of his possessions. Against the Lakers 38 percent of LeBron’s possessions were isos or post ups. It can work for the Cavaliers because LeBron is so dominant a scorer, and because he is a brilliant passer.

 

Right now, LeBron just doesn’t have the guys around him to take advantage of his skill set or the MVP-level season he is in the midst of (he will finish in the top five in MVP voting).

Sunday, the Cavaliers tied the game up at 76-76 in the third, then the Lakers went on a 22-6 run and that was ultimately the ballgame. LeBron played well at the start of the fourth, but the Cavs couldn’t get stops and Los Angeles was never really threatened again.

Walking to the bench after a timeout midway through the fourth with his team down 19, LeBron had a look of frustration and disgust on his face — the same look he had through much of a dismal January.

Come the playoffs (and, more importantly, July) those looks may be a thing of the past, something long forgotten in the grind of a long NBA season.

But it’s something to file away. Just in case.

Clock malfunction costs Magic chance to take game winner vs. Lakers

Associated Press
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It was a strange ending in Los Angeles. The referees followed the rule book — and that screwed the Orlando Magic out of a chance at a game-winner to beat the Lakers.

Here’s what happened. After a driving Aaron Gordon bucket had the Magic up by one with 5 seconds left in the game, the Lakers had their final chance of the night and got the ball down low to Brook Lopez, who was fouled on his shot attempt with just 0.6 seconds remaining. Lopez hit both free throws, and the Lakers were up 108-107. Orlando called a timeout to set up one last play, and to advance the ball to half court.

On the inbound pass (Orlando attempted an alley-oop) the clock started the second the ball left the hand of the sideline passer — not when it was touched inbounds, as is the rule. The clock expired while the ball was in midair, untouched.

However, the rule there is that if the clock expires while the ball is in the air due to a clock malfunction (meaning nobody has possession of the ball), then time is put back on the clock and the ball is jumped at center court. The Magic didn’t get another chance at an inbound play, it had to be a jump ball at center court.

To be clear, both a scorekeeper on the sidelines can start the clock, as can any of the referees on the court. It’s unclear who made the mistake this time.

Orlando coach Frank Vogel was understandably hot after this — logic dictates the Magic get a do-over on the out of bounds play. However, that’s not the rule — it does state if there’s no possession then the ball will be jumped at center court.

The rules committee should look at this. It’s unlikely the Magic score on that last play, but they should have had another chance.

Larry Nance Jr. destroys Mason Plumlee on dunk, then points at him as reminder

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Larry Nance Jr. didn’t win the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but he is the best in-game dunker in the NBA right now.

Ask Brook Lopez. Or David West. Or now just ask Denver’s Mason Plumlee.

Saturday night, on a possession where the defense was scrambled after a Nance offensive rebound, Nance was left alone on the baseline, got the rock back, attacked, and at that point there was nothing Plumlee could do.

Then Nance taunted him a little with some pointing. Just because.