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Most likely Kawhi Leonard trade destinations: L.A., Philly, Boston, and…

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Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio. So much so that he’s willing to leave about $31 million on the table (the difference between the supermax the Spurs could offer and what any other team could after a trade). It took a while but the Spurs know now, and San Antonio will explore the trade market. They are not necessarily going to be in a rush to do it, either. This is a pateint organization, the idea of Leonard starting next season as a Spur is certainly not out of the question.

Despite that, you can be sure 29 teams are lined up to try to trade for him — when healthy Leonard is a top-five NBA player, an MVP candidate who is a force on both ends of the floor, and already a Finals MVP.

However, with just one year left on his current contract, Leonard has leverage in this situation — if a team can’t re-sign him then he’s just a one-year rental, and teams aren’t going to want to pay the steep trade price to land him. Leonard’s camp will let teams know if they have a shot at re-signing him, and most will not. A couple of teams might be willing to roll the dice anyway (as Oklahoma City did with Paul George) betting they can win him over with a year to recruit him in house. But by and large, Leonard will have some say on where he lands.

Here are the teams at the top of the list to watch.

 
Lakers small icon The Los Angeles Lakers. This is where Leonard wants to go. While Leonard’s frustrations with the Spurs grew over the handling of his injury and his seeking a second opinion, his uncle/advisor had been in Kawhi’s ear about getting to a place like Los Angeles. There are none in the NBA bigger than the Lakers. Leonard and his camp were disappointed with the money offered in recent negotiations with the Jordan shoe brand (reportedly in the $4 million to $5 million range) and think a move to a larger market and bigger brand team changes the endorsement equation. (Not as much as Leonard thinks, he doesn’t do social media or go on Fallon/Kimmel, or all the other stuff that guys like Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard have done to create a brand despite market size. Kawhi has to play the game to get that cash.)

This is the trade everyone will talk about. It can get done financially with the Lakers sending Luol Deng‘s bloated contract, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma (and maybe the No. 25 pick in Thursday’s draft). However, the Spurs don’t really want Ball and the circus that follows him, according to sources. It’s expected the Spurs would ask for Brandon Ingram and Kuzma as the young Lakers coming back, and the Spurs likely would have to throw in Bryn Forbes just to balance the books. Either way, it may require a third team to get the job done, the Spurs will not just want to take on bad contracts.

It’s a good deal for the Spurs. If the Lakers get desperate, would they try to throw in Ball too? That likely requires a third team (at least), but the Lakers should go all in — get Leonard in a trade and it’s far more likely the Lakers get LeBron James in free agency.

Another question to ponder: Will the Spurs willingly trade Leonard to Western Conference rival with the resources of the Lakers? Don’t bet on it, especially if the Celtics, Sixers, or others come in with strong offers. The Spurs want the best offer, they don’t care if Leonard chooses to take even less money to go to LA as a free agent in 2019 (the max from another team would be $139 over four years, another massive hit to the guaranteed money pocketbook). Popovich is not inclined to help the Lakers, they will have to beat the competition with the best offer.

The Spurs will listen and be interested in what the Lakers have to say. But there could be better offers from…

 
Celtics small icon The Boston Celtics. It had been reported the Celtics tried to make a trade offer for Leonard at the last trade deadline but were rebuffed (the Spurs have turned away all calls up to this point). For a rebuilding Spurs team, this could be the cleanest choice.

Boston could offer Jaylen Brown (although the Spurs may demand Jayson Tatum), this year’s No. 27 pick, next year’s Sacramento Kings pick (which is only No. 1 protected, and that team is still going to be young and bad), plus another future first rounder. The Celtics have a lot of picks they can send.

Or, Boston could offer Kyrie Irving and a first-round pick. This lineup works for Boston: Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Tatum, Brown, and Al Horford. The question with that offer for San Antonio is could it re-sign Irving, a free agent in 2019? Would the Spurs rather have Brown and all the picks? Also, Boston could, in theory, offer Gordon Hayward and a pick (although that one is far less likely to be put out there).

The Celtics don’t necessarily have to be convinced they could re-sign Leonard to roll the dice on a trade — this is a franchise, a coach, and a passionate city of hoops fans who would be willing to bet they could win him over. Danny Ainge doesn’t fear a good gamble, and this would be one — with Leonard and their other stars getting healthy the Celtics become a threat to Golden State (as much as any team is).

 
Sixers small icon The Philadelphia 76ers. Another team on the rise in the East, a team with max cap space so they would have some flexibility still, and this is a team that Leonard has been linked to in the past. With Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid taking steps forward (and staying healthy *knocks on wood*) Leonard pushes this team firmly into contender status.

The trade would likely be Robert Covington, Markelle Fultz, and the No. 10 pick in this draft (the Lakers’ pick). Or, it could be Dario Saric, Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and the No. 10 pick. How tempting that would be to the Spurs depends on what they think of Fultz, his health, and his shot, as well as who they can draft at No. 10. It’s a good deal, and the Sixers could throw more picks to tempt the Spurs. However, is this offer better than what the Lakers or Celtics can put on the board?

 
Clippers small icon The Los Angeles Clippers. If Leonard really wants to be in Los Angeles, this is the other option (and being the face this team did a lot for Chris Paul‘s brand and endorsements, State Farm has paid him a mint).

The offer would not be quite as enticing as what the Lakers can put on the table but it’s interesting: Tobias Harris, Sam Decker and this year’s 12th or 13th pick. Or both but without Decker. That would send the Spurs a decent package, however, it’s all nice role players and not a star (it’s unlikely they draft one that late in the lottery, possible but not likely). Still, the Clippers will try to get in the mix, and they would stand a chance to keep him because of the city (especially if they pay this summer to keep DeAndre Jordan).

 
Knicks small icon The New York Knicks. Another team on this list because it’s a large market that Leonard has been linked to. Reportedly people around him like this idea, but it’s hard to see it working out. It’s also not known for sure if the Knicks could win over Leonard to re-sign, promising him a healthy Kristaps Porzingis. Eventually.

A trade of Tim Hardaway Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and this years No. 9 pick will get the Spurs to at least listen. (The Spurs are not taking on Joakim Noah or Enes Kanter‘s contracts, the Knicks are stuck with those.) Just hard to see that being enough, considering who they are up against.

 
Heat small icon Miami Heat. Another team whose name comes up — like Sacramento, which would love to get in the sweepstakes — where it seems unlikely they could re-sign Leonard so how much do they really want to offer? There are a few teams in this circumstance.

For the Heat, they could offer Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo
in a trade for Leonard and Patty Mills.

Maybe the Spurs have a little interest in the young players, but it’s likely not enough. Also, how much better does this make the Heat in the short term, and if they are just fighting to make the playoffs in the East is that going to entice Leonard to stay?

If and when the Spurs decide to trade Leonard — they are in no rush, this could drag out through the summer — they are going to get closer to market value for a superstar than most teams get. Much closer than the Kings did with DeMarcus Cousins, for example. There are a few teams that can make quality offers, and the Spurs will choose the best one — they don’t care where Leonard lands. Leonard’s leverage is where he will re-sign, but a team that trades for him can offer $49 million more and one more guaranteed year, that’s a lot of cabbage — not enough to keep Leonard in a place he doesn’t like or want to be, but if the team is winning and the experience is good… anything can happen.

This summer is going to be wild.

Report: Gregg Popovich wants to sit down with LeBron James, pitch Spurs

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In Cleveland, it feels like LeBron James is out the door. Maybe his family can change his mind, but it’s more likely the Summer of LeBron.

Three teams, besides the Cavaliers, have been linked to  LeBron — the Sixers, the Rockets, and the Lakers. Others, such as Miami, get mentioned at times. Beyond that, there’s a whole lot of teams that would like to get a chance, just get a sit down with LeBron and his team and make a pitch.

One who both wants to and might get that chance is Gregg Popovich of the Spurs, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times

I’ve also been advised that the ever-persuasive San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is bound to try to force his way into the conversation to sell James on the merits of South Texas.

Is LeBron going to leave Cleveland for a smaller market? Is LeBron going to come to the West where the Warriors and Rockets already are dominant forces? LeBron will consider all his options, but the Spurs seem a longshot. That said, LeBron’s respect for Popovich could lead to a meeting — likely over dinner and a couple excellent bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

If LeBron did consider it, there would be massive advantages. And challenges.

A pairing of LeBron with Kawhi Leonard — assuming he stays and signs a super-max contract extension with the Spurs, Popovich is working on it and groundwork is already being laid on that front, according to league sources — would be one of the league’s elite one-two punches on offense. Put the two of them with Dejounte Murray and it would give the Spurs the kind of long, switchable, physical perimeter defenders needed to hang with the Warriors and Rockets.

We also know Murray wants LeBron to come.

In addition, you know the Spurs’ role players would step up, play smart, and give LeBron the kind of support he lacked this past season — San Antonio won 48 games essentially without Leonard last season. Over the final days of the playoffs, LeBron was wistfully talking about playing with high IQ players again — the Spurs can give him that. It’s easy to see guys like Manu Ginobili (he would come back for one more year if LeBron were there), Pau Gasol, and Rudy GayDavis Bertans, and others making it work with LeBron.

For the Spurs to land LeBron would mean some serious salary cap gymnastics in San Antonio. If the Spurs renounce free agent Tony Parker and if Danny Green opts out and the Spurs don’t bring him back, the Spurs still would be floating around the luxury tax line before LeBron comes in (and the Spurs, ideally, would like to have both of them back if LeBron is there). The Spurs would need to trade several big salaries — including LaMarcus Aldridge, who would be an odd fit on the court with LeBron anyway — without taking any money back to get far enough under the cap to sign LeBron to a max contract. The easier way would be for LeBron to pull a Chris Paul move and opt-in to the last year of his deal ($35 million) then force a trade to the Spurs, who would send Aldridge, Patty Mills, and some young players and picks to the Cavaliers. (Good luck convincing Cleveland to take on a $70 million or more luxury tax bill to put out a team with Kevin Love, Aldridge, Mills and the No. 8 pick — there likely would need to be a third team in this trade to make it work.)

Never say never with Popovich, he is respected enough by LeBron to get the meeting. However, it’s hard to see this coming together.

 

Switch flipped: Warriors rout Spurs in Game 1

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Who is vulnerable, exactly?

Tell me again how the Warriors would struggle to flip the switch in the playoffs.

From the opening tip Saturday Golden State played with energy on defense, moved the ball on offense, and exploited their considerable athleticism advantage over San Antonio. The Warriors shed the disinterested, coasting skin they had worn for weeks and came out playing with the passion — and playing with the flair, having fun — we have come to expect from them.

The end result was a 113-92 Warriors win that was never really in doubt by the middle of the first quarter.

“At the end of the season, I think we were thinking too far down the line and worrying about the playoffs when we should have been worrying about today,” Kevin Durant said in his postgame interview about the Warriors flipping the switch. “Today we worried about the present, came out with a good game plan and executed it.”

The Warriors need to guard against the return of complacency game-to-game — especially if they have a couple of easy wins in a series in a row — but for one day that question was put to rest.

The Warriors now lead the series 1-0, and while Gregg Popovich will make adjustments, it’s hard to imagine what he could do with the players at his disposal that would change the outcome of this series with the way the Warriors have dialed in. The Warriors are just vastly more athletic and it allows them to create matchups and opportunities that work for them.

Nothing highlighted that athleticism gap early like the play of JaVale McGee. The Warriors started McGee at center and guarding LaMarcus Aldridge and he was a force — at one point in the first quarter it was McGee 9, Spurs 8 (the Warriors had 15). In the first half, MeGee had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting plus a couple of blocked shots inside.

Klay Thompson finished with 27 points and hit 5-of-6 from three, Durant had 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, Draymond Green finished with 12 points and 11 assists, and McGee ended the game with 15 points.

Most importantly, the Warriors were engaged defensively from the start, holding the Spurs to 40 percent shooting for the game (although the Spurs did go 9-of-22 from three).

From the opening tip, Golden State was executing smart plays. The Warriors used the Spurs switching defense against them, forcing a smaller guy — Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Patty Mills — on Kevin Durant, and while the Spurs smalls pressured KD just shot over the top of them on his way to 16 first-half points on 10 shots.

Spurs came out more physical and aggressive in the second half, but it didn’t matter. As the game wore on, the Warriors looked more and more comfortable. They looked more and more like their vintage self.

San Antonio’s offense all season used at its core LaMarcus Aldridge working out of the post, where he can score two on a fadeaway over anyone. But he doesn’t have a lot of shooting around him to space the floor, so he might hit a cutter on the pass, but the Spurs come away with two. Then the Warriors drain a three. The math just doesn’t work for the Spurs, and they have no answer for Durant.

If the Warriors stay engaged and defending at this level, the math is going to end this series quickly for the Spurs.

Austin Rivers hits go-ahead 3-pointer to help Clippers beat Spurs (VIDEO)

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Thanks to the Los Angeles Clippers and Austin Rivers, the San Antonio Spurs’ 18-season streak of hitting the half century mark in wins will end.

During Tuesday night’s matchup between the two Western Conference rivals, San Antonio’s streak of 50 or more wins each season since 1999-00 hung in the balance. The Spurs, with the ability to move up in the standings as they chase the Portland Trail Blazers, needed to come out with a victory on the road.

But it was not to be.

The game came down to the final minute, with the teams trading 3-pointers by both Lou Williams and Patty Mills. The Spurs led with 37 seconds to go after Mills hit a deep three, making it 108-106 in favor of San Antonio.

Less than 10 seconds later, Rivers responded with a 3-pointer of his own, giving the Clippers the lead for good.

Via Twitter:

Mills would miss on the next Spurs possession, and Los Angeles closed the game on free throws.

The win was good news for the Blazers, who dropped a game to the lowly Dallas Mavericks earlier on Tuesday. That allows Portland to remain in third place, three games ahead of both the Utah Jazz and the Spurs.

NBA Power Rankings: Rockets back up to second, Cavaliers keep sliding

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Houston is getting healthy and is back to winning, so they move back up to the No. 2 slot in our weekly rankings (Golden State is still on top, even after the loss to Houston, still can’t move them down yet). Cleveland keeps on falling down the rankings, and Boston slides to fifth.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (38-10 Last Week No. 1). The Warriors usually strong defense has been unimpressive of late, giving up 108.5 points per 100 possessions over the past 10 games, 19th in the league in that stretch (more than 5 per 100 worse than their top five defense for the season). It cost them against the Rockets, but it’s more of a focus and effort thing they will correct when it matters. Four Warriors made the All-Star Game for the second straight season, the first time that has ever happened. The Warriors meet Boston on Saturday night, is that a Finals preview?

 
Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (33-12, LW 5). James Harden is back after missing just 7 games with his hamstring issue (which is good for his MVP case, especially as LeBron’s Cavaliers struggle). He and Chris Paul led the Rockets to a confidence-boosting win against the Warriors Saturday, and now the Rockets are 18-0 when Harden, Paul, and Clint Capela are all in the starting lineup together. This is the team with the best chance at knocking off the Warriors in a 7-game series.

 
3. Timberwolves (31-18, LW 3). A sign how much Minnesota has improved this season: The win over the Clippers Monday gave them as many wins this season as they had all of last season (31). Minnesota beat the Raptors without All-Star and MVP candidate Jimmy Butler, a good sign for the growth of the team, but the loss to Houston was a reminder they still have a ways to go to really contend. The win in L.A. was the start of 5-of-6 on the road. Congrats to Karl-Anthony Towns on his first All-Star nod.

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (31-14, LW 4). DeMar DeRozan is a deserving All-Star starter (he had my vote), now Kyle Lowry is headed to Los Angeles with him (and he dropped 40 on Minnesota on Saturday. Despite having a couple of All-Stars, the Raptors offense has had some stumbles of late, but a soft part of the schedule coming up should help them. After the game in Atlanta Wednesday night, the Raptors have 8-of-10 at home.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (34-14, LW 2). This has been a debate amongst league watchers: Who is more important to Boston, Al Horford or Kyrie Irving? There was a good case to make for Horford because of his defense and high IQ execution, but without Irving they were blown out by the Bulls and Sixers. Then Irving returns, drops 40, and the Celtics still lose (their offense continues to stumble). None of that may answer the question Irving vs. Horford question, but both men are All-Stars. The Celtics have lost four in a row now after a close road loss to the Lakers Tuesday.

 
Spurs small icon 6. Spurs (31-18, LW 6). Kawhi Leonard remains out, and now Tony Parker is out of the starting lineup with Dejounte Murray given the starting point guard job (even though the starting lineup statistically has been better with Parker this season, and Patty Mills starting when Leonard returns may well be the best lineup). The Spurs offense had been in a little slump until they went against the Cavaliers’ “defense” Tuesday night and put up 114 (doing it without Pau Gasol in the lineup, too).

 
Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (27-20 LW 8).. Really interesting note from Ben Dowsett of Basketball Insiders: When Russell Westbrook gets a triple-double, the Thunder win about 80% of their games, better than the historical average of about 75% . When Westbrook takes 25+ shots and gets a triple-double, the Thunder win about 75% of the time, way up from the historical average of about 55%. Paul George has the right to feel snubbed about the All-Star game. Carmelo Anthony should score his 25,000th point this week, maybe Thursday vs. Washington.

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (27-20, LW 9). Miami now has 18 wins this season in games that were within five points in the final two minutes of play, the most in the NBA. That’s a tough way to live, but their comeback against the Hornets over the weekend may be the best comeback win of the season (check it out below). The Heat went 2-3 on a five-game road trip, but because the Cavaliers are collapsing they are just ?? games out of the three seed.

 
Pelicans small icon 9. Pelicans (25-21, LW 13). Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are both starting in the All-Star Game, and that seems to bode well for them staying together past this season (which is what most sources around the league expect). Cousins had a game for the ages against the Bulls, but Jrue Holiday remains the bellwether for this team — when he is playing well and closing games, this is a much more dangerous team. They need the outside to go with the inside. Holiday has played well of late, and the Pelicans have won 5-of-6.

 
Wizards small icon 10. Wizards (26-21, LW 7). Bradley Beal is headed to his first-ever All-Star Game, where he will be joined by John Wall. Despite that the Wizards continue to play down to lesser opponents — they got blown out by Charlotte a week ago, then lost to the Mavericks by 23 Monday (the only win in there was a come-from-behind against Detroit). The Wizards are 1-2 on a current road trip, with 8-of-11 on the road still ahead of them.

Bucks small icon 11. Bucks (24-22 LW 10). Jason Kidd is out as coach — and that was the right move, no matter how much the players loved him. This team was not progressing, particularly on defense. Well see if interim coach Joe Prunty can turn that around, but it’s a tall task. Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out a couple of games as the Bucks are managing his knee issues, trying to keep them from becoming anything serious (the knee issue was known and Kidd played Antetokounmpo a lot of heavy minutes, something else that caused friction between Kidd and the front office).

 
Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (25-22, LW 11). Victor Oladipo is headed to his first All-Star Game, the first of many accolades to come his way this season the way he is playing (we may have half a season left, but he has Most Improved Player all but sewn up). The Pacers went a solid 3-2 on a road trip out west, and now have 6-of-8 at home and the chance to pad their record (and solidify their playoff spot) with a soft part of the schedule ahead.

 
Cavaliers small icon 13. Cavaliers (27-19 LW 12). LeBron reaching the 30,000 point threshold is historic, but it doesn’t change the team’s current situation, having lost 6-of-7 after falling to the shorthanded Spir. The Cavaliers have the point differential of a team that should be 23-23. Cleveland is one of the most active teams in talks at the trade deadline, and they have been linked to George Hill, DeAndre Jordan, and Lou Williams among others. Cleveland is trying to reshape its roster, but don’t expect them to give up that Brooklyn pick in the process.

 
Sixers small icon 14. 76ers (22-21, LW 15). Joel Ebmiid is head to his first All-Star next month, a well deserved honor (plus the game is more fun with him in it). The Sixers have won 7-of-9, but that only got them up to the eighth seed in the East and now the schedule gets tougher — they are going to need All-Star Embiid to hold on to that playoff spot.

 
Blazers small icon 15. Trail Blazers (25-22, LW 17). Damian Lillard got back into the All-Star Game this year and it’s well deserved. He also sat down with owner Paul Allen and wanted to talk the future of the franchise — he wants to win more and contend, but the Blazers have a lot of big contracts and kind of are what they are right now. Allen and GM Neil Olshey want to be active at the trade deadline, but there may not be a deal out there that works for them in a tight market.

 
Clippers small icon 16. Clippers (23-23 LW 14). Lou Williams has good reason to feel snubbed, he is having a career-best season and is the main reason the Clippers are in the playoff hunt in the West. That may not be enough to keep him in Los Angeles past the trade deadline — he is more likely to be moved than DeAndre Jordan, although the Clippers are still going to want a player or pick of real quality to make a move. Owner Steve Ballmer isn’t going to blow this thing up and tank (he would have done that this summer if he wanted to) so to get a Clipper player in a trade it’s going to have to be legit. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Pistons small icon 17. Pistons (22-23, LW 16). Andre Drummond was the odd-man out in the Eastern All-Star frontcourt, and he has every right to be ticked (I would have had him in my reserves). However, teams that win get players in the All-Star Game and the Pistons have lost 5 in a row and are 2-8 since the start of January to fall out of the postseason. Stan Van Gundy is looking for help at the trade deadline, but a motivated Drummond may be the best thing for this team.

 
Nuggets small icon 18. Nuggets (24-23, LW 18). Denver got a quality win Monday night over Portland — it looks like those two and the Los Angeles Clippers will battle it out for the final two playoff spots in the West (OKC is set and New Orleans looks like it will get in). All three teams are looking around at the trade deadline, but the Nuggets have one huge advantage — they will get Paul Millsap back. That can’t happen soon enough. Denver is 1-1 on their current homestand and have 6-of-7 at home where the team needs to rack up wins.

 
Hornets small icon 19. Hornets (19-26, LW 21). Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded out of Charlotte, and Michael Jordan doesn’t want to move him (his comments cooled that market), but the Hornets are at least open to the idea. That said, it’s going to take a really good offer to make this work, something that would jumpstart the rebuild in Charlotte. That may be more likely to come this summer as opposed to at the deadline. Starting Saturday the Hornets hit the road for 7-of-8.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (21-27, LW 19). Kristaps Porzingis has deservedly made his first All-Star Game, but will his team get him to his first playoff game? A hot early start in New York (thanks to a home-heavy schedule) raised hopes, but the Knicks are 3-9 in their last 12 and 2-3 on this road trip, with 4-of-5 on the road still ahead (welcome to the Grammys trip, ask the Lakers/Clippers about it). Fivethirtheight.com has the Knicks with an 11 percent chance to make the playoffs and that feels about right, they have 3.5 games to make up to get there.

 
Grizzlies small icon 21. Grizzlies (17-29, LW 25). Memphis has won 4-of-5 during a home-heavy part of the schedule because they are getting help from guys not named Gasol or Evans for a change. Monday night against Philly it was Mario Chalmers with 18 off the bench. Wayne Selden had 31 points against the Pelicans (in a Memphis loss), and Dillon Brooks has played better of late. Keep an eye on the Tyreke Evans trade rumors as the deadline nears, he’s the one guy who could well get moved to a playoff team. Great tribute to Zach Randolph on his return, well done Memphis.

 
Lakers small icon 22. Lakers (18-29 LW 26). Kyle Kuzma continues to put up numbers — he had 17 of his 28 in the fourth quarter against Boston Tuesday, just taking over that game for a stretch. He can be more efficient, and he can be a lot better defensively, but the Lakers have a keeper in Kuz. The Lakers have won three in a row and 7-of-9, doing it without Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for much of that.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (18-29 LW 20).. The Bulls are 3-1 since Zach LaVine returned. Rookie Lauri Markkanen is on pace to break Damian Lillard’s record for most threes in a season by a rookie (185), but it’s going to be close. It’s still expected around the league they will move Nicola Mitotic before the deadline, but the first-round pick hey want has yet to materialize so they could just hold onto him (the Bulls are 15-8 since his return).

 
Mavericks small icon 24. Mavericks (16-31 LW 23). Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. has found his second wind and is averaging 20.2 points and 5.2 assists per game over his last five. Smith also is headed to the All-Star Weekend Dunk Contest where the explosive leaper has a real chance. Dallas (like Brooklyn) has become the team where they play hard, push teams that go up against them, and can pull the upset if teams don’t take them seriously. They’re scrapy.

 
Jazz small icon 25. Jazz (19-28, LW 22). Rudy Gobert is back, but with the Jazz five games out of the playoffs it’s probably too little, too late. Utah quietly has been one of the more active teams as the trade deadline approaches, look for them to make moves as sellers (Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, and other role players are available). Any move will not be about this season but putting guys in place to help the Gobert/Donovan Mitchell core in future years.

 
Nets small icon 26. Nets (18-30, LW 24). D’Angelo Russell has looked expectedly rusty since his return, but Spencer Dinwiddie behind him continues to have a breakout season (his floater beat the Pistons’ Sunday, and he almost hit a three at the buzzer to beat the Thunder on Tuesday). The Nets are playing better defense but that’s not translating to consistent wins because they just don’t have players who can generate quality shots and points consistently.

 
Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (14-32, LW 28). What have the Hawks done well this season? They are creating turnovers, forcing them on 16.8% of their opponents non-garbage time possessions, second best in the NBA (stat via Cleaning the Glass). Not that it matters when they are terrible on the defensive glass (worst in the NBA) and don’t defend shooters well, leaving the team with the 26th ranked defense in the league. They are 3-2 on their current homestand with 4-of-5 at home still ahead.

 
Suns small icon 28. Suns (17-30, LW 27). Devin Booker is ticked he didn’t make the All-Star team, and he’s put up good numbers — 25 points per game, 38.2 percent from three, a PER of 19.2 — but the West is stupid deep with guards and some guys are going to get snubbed every year. The fact that he’s the best player on a bad team doesn’t help his cause, but he is a future All-Star. Booker and the Suns have been jacking up more threes the past couple of weeks, which makes them dangerous on any given night.

 
Kings small icon 29. Kings (14-33, LW 29). They won the battle of “who is on the bottom of the rankings” Tuesday knocking off the Magic. The Kings had given a little more run to George Hill until Tuesday, a sign they wanted to show the Cavaliers (and anyone else interested) he is healthy and ready to play. George is certainly available via trade, but the Kings don’t just want salary back, they want a pick to help their future.

 
Magic small icon 30. Magic (14-33, LW 30). It’s hard to have Orlando still in the bottom spot after they beat the Timberwolves and Celtics recently (plus put a scare into Cleveland), but they lost Tuesday to the team that was going to slide into last, so here we are. Another team with a lot of players who could be moved at the trade deadline, and they’re talking, but another team that is not just going to give talent away, they want something of value in return, and that may not be there.