Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

LeBron James drops 31, leads Lakers comeback to beat Rockets

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HOUSTON — LeBron James had 31 points and 12 assists and the Los Angeles Lakers rode a big third quarter to a a 124-115 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

The Lakers bounced back after a loss to Orlando on Wednesday night that snapped their nine-game winning streak. The loss was the third straight for the Rockets, which ties a season high, and they have dropped four of five.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points, and Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope each had 20 for the Lakers.

Russell Westbrook scored 35 points for his fourth straight 30-point game and James Harden had 34 for the Rockets, who also lost three in a row in late November.

Los Angeles didn’t lead in the first half but used a 32-point third quarter to take a nine-point lead into the fourth.

Houston used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 10 with about seven minutes left, but the Lakers scored the next six points to extend it to 110-94 midway through the quarter. That sent many Rockets fans streaming for the exits and caused a large contingent of Lakers fans to start chanting, “Let’s go Lakers.”

The Rockets did not get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

The Lakers opened the second half with a 10-3 run to take their first lead of the game, 69-68, with about eight minutes left in the third quarter. James capped that run by making a basket and then added another one seconds later after JaVale McGee blocked a dunk attempt by Clint Capela. McGee beat his chest and screamed after in Capela’s direction after the play and received a technical foul for taunting.

There were about seven minutes left in the third when Westbrook and Anthony Davis, who missed the game with an injury, both received technical fouls for jawing at each other.

The Lakers led by three later in the third when Kuzma scored the first four points of a 9-2 run that stretched the lead to 85-75.

Houston had a chance to cut the deficit at the end of the third quarter, but Westbrook missed two free throws to leave the Lakers up 91-82 entering the fourth.

Report: Lakers willing to trade anyone besides LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Lakers LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma
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The Lakers are building around LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

And nobody else.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka is prepared to trade anyone on the roster, except Davis and LeBron James, if it means filling a gap the Lakers need in order to win a championship, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

As it should be. Beyond their two stars, the Lakers have a roster deep with expendable players. The Lakers’ title window is both open and in danger of slamming shut along with 35-year-old LeBron’s prime. Some teams place more value on continuity. But the Lakers already have so many newcomers this season. It’s worth pursuing talent upgrades.

The pressure is on.

Some Lakers are more available than others. Kyle Kuzma comes up most frequently in trade rumors. As players on one-year contracts who’d have Bird Rights after, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo must consent to being traded. Between Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope/McGee/Rondo on the spectrum, most non-star Lakers fall closer to Kuzma. They’re available.

A concern: How will those players react? Trade rumors sapped morale last season. Now, it’s time for that chatter once again to kick into high gear.

Maybe Lakers players’ tradability is so self-evident, reports like this don’t cause a stir. This is also a more veteran-laden roster than last season. And the Lakers surely don’t regret doing whatever was necessary to land a star like Davis.

But it’s at least worth monitoring chemistry, focus and motivation amid reports like this one.

Lakers promote, extend contract of General Manager Rob Pelinka

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When Magic Johnson surprisingly stepped down as Lakers president, he implicated GM Rob Pelinka for betrayal. There was an expectation around the league Pelinka would be shown the door soon after (he is not popular with other front offices, dating back to his days as an agent). However, Pelinka had backers who had owner Jeanie Buss’ ear — Linda Rambis — and Los Angeles ultimately gave Pelinka more power.

Then Pelinka nailed this past summer.

Or at least he fell into something that worked. Pelinka pulled off an Anthony Davis trade (but gave up a ransom in the process). Then, after getting a late jump on rounding out the roster (due to Kawhi Leonard taking is time) the guys the Lakers got — Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, etc. — have worked out well. So has hiring Frank Vogel as coach, even if he wasn’t the first choice. Or second. Pelinka’s Lakers are 30-7 lead the Western Conference.

With that, the Lakers have extended the contract of Pelinka and promoted him to Vice President of Basketball Operations, the team announced.

“I’m extremely pleased with the work Rob has done in order to put this franchise in a position for success, “said Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss. “His strong leadership skills, as well as his commitment to building a winning culture, both on and off the court, have brought us one step closer to being a championship-caliber team and I look forward to our continued work together.”

Pelinka reportedly had two years left on this contract, now he will be around (or at least get paid) much longer than that.

While the Lakers are contenders for a title, Pelinka has work to do. They need a secondary ball handler and, next summer, to replace the veteran role players that likely take more money elsewhere.

But for now, Pelinka can celebrate a little. He’s not going anywhere.

 

Knicks’ Bobby Portis fined $25,000 for “recklessly making contact” to head of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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Bobby Portis had to know this was coming. The fact he was apologetic and contrite after the game probably saved him some money here.

The NBA fined the Knicks’ Portis $25,000 for “recklessly making contact above the shoulders of an airborne shooter,” the Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It was deserved. At the time, Portis was given a flagrant 2 and ejected for the play.

Portis may have been trying to make a play on the ball but any contact like that to the head will lead to a fast ejection. After KCP’s headband went flying, there was no arguing that one.

Lakers’ doctors examined Caldwell-Pope and he was cleared to return to the game.

Three Things to Know: Lakers now 4-0 on second night of back-to-back thanks to defense

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LOS ANGELES — 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 now 4-0 on the second night of back-to-backs, thanks to win against Mavericks. Los Angeles can thank its defense for its 26th win of the season.

Dallas came into Staples Center with the best offense in the NBA and statistically one of the best offenses in NBA history — an offensive rating of 115.3 is better than the Durant/Curry Warriors or the Showtime Lakers or any other team over the course of a season.

The Lakers held them to less than a point per possession — a 94.1 offensive rating.

That led to a comfortable 108-95 win for Los Angeles Sunday night, making the Lakers 4-0 on the second night of a back-to-backs this season. The reason for the record is their defense — the Lakers have a 98.5 defensive rating in those games (104.8 is their rating for the season, eighth-best in the league).

“I was proud of our defensive effort and competitive spirit,” Frank Vogel said after the game. “I thought we just competed whatever defense we were in.”

The Lakers did a good job containing Luka Doncic — who still had 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting — but LeBron James added there was a real focus on the Dallas bench.

“We know not only the season that Luka’s having, but they’ve been successful because of their bench as well,” LeBron said. “Their bench gives them so much of a push. Luka comes out, [Kristaps Porzingis] comes out, their starters come out and their bench seems to rise to the occasion.”

Dallas still had 42 points off the bench, which is right at their season average of 42.8 per game (fifth-best in the league). However, the Mavericks bench could not take over the game the way they have in the past, and the Lakers were able to maintain a comfortable lead with their bench (who scored 46 on the night).

What does the 4-0 back-to-back record tell us about the Lakers? Nothing, frankly. It’s an incredibly small sample size and it’s not predictive because there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs. It’s just an interesting little fact.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 23, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 19 off the bench.

This game happened the day before LeBron turns 35, and he was reflective talking about reaching that milestone.

“When you grow up in the inner city, around a lot of things you don’t want your kids to see, to be able to get to this point, an age where the statistics are stacked up against you, that’s a blessing,” LeBron said. “It’s more of a blessing to be able to do what I love to do every day, and be able to let my family reap the benefits of that.”

Does he have any birthday wishes?

“I don’t really have birthday wishes. I’m not a birthday wish guy,” he said.

Party?

“Yea, I’m going to have one of those,” LeBron laughed. “That’s not a wish, I don’t wish to have one of those, because I’ve got to pay for it. I got to pay for my own damn birthday party… this one is going to be mild. Forty, that’s going to be a party.

2) LeBron James logs 9,000th career assist. LeBron James has taken on the point guard/playmaking duties with the Lakers this season and having a career-best year in assists, averaging a league-leading 10.8 per game.

That made it fitting he picked up his 9,000th career assist Sunday night on a look-ahead to his favorite target, Anthony Davis.

LeBron is ninth on the all-time assist list and will move up to eighth in the coming weeks when he moves past Isaiah Thomas.

“It’s something that was instilled in me when I first picked up a basketball,” LeBron said of his love of playmaking and assists. “Little league coach Frank Walker always talked about it. It’s the greatest part of basketball to be able to see the ball move from side to side, to be able to attract the defense and get your teammates an open shot. When I was a little kid, I was somewhat better than some of my teammates, it was much more of a greater reward to see some of the teammates who can’t dribble or can’t score for themselves, to get them an open look…

“I knew that was the way I wanted to play. Been that way all my life.”

And he’s been one of the best at it his entire career.

3) Lonzo Ball’s seven threes, near triple-double, sparks 41-19 fourth quarter for Pelicans, who beat very shorthanded Rockets. James Harden was out with a sprained toe. Russell Westbrook had the night off for load management. Clint Capela is sidelined with a right shoulder issue.

That made it Lonzo Ball’s night — 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and 7-of-12 from three — in a 127-112 Pelicans win.

Ball said postgame he knew it would take time for his new shot form to pay off, but that he’s starting to feel more comfortable with it. With him in a contract year, if Ball can find that shot consistently the second half of the season, his value — and his contract size — will go up.

E’Twaun Moore scored 14 of his 25 in the fourth quarter to help the Pelicans dominate that quarter. New Orleans has looked much better with Derrick Favors in the lineup and healthy, they have won four in a row and 5-of-6. Keep playing this way, get Zion Williamson back in the next month, and things will start to look a lot sunnier in the Big Easy.