Los Angeles Lakers

Scuffle, ejections overshadow Davis' monster game

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Scuffle, ejections overshadow Davis' monster game

NEW ORLEANS -- Anthony Davis had 42 points and 15 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Los Angeles Lakers 139-117 on Wednesday night.

Davis went 15 for 18 from the field with three assists, three steals and two blocks. Jrue Holiday had 24 points and 11 assists, and reserve Darius Miller scored 19 points.

It was the highest scoring game of the season for New Orleans, which has won three in a row heading into the All-Star break.

Kyle Kuzma scored 23 points and Brandon Ingram had 21, but Los Angeles surrendered its most points in a regulation game this season. Julius Randle scored 20 points for the Lakers, and Josh Hart had 15.

Los Angeles guard Isaiah Thomas and coach Luke Walton were ejected in the first half. Thomas was involved in a minor altercation with Rajon Rondo late in the first quarter, also resulting in the ejection of the New Orleans guard. Walton was ejected in the second after protesting a technical foul on Kuzma.

Brook Lopez made two 3-pointers during an 11-0 run that got the Lakers within two early in the third. But Nikola Mirotic scored 11 of his 16 points in the quarter, helping the Pelicans to a 103-91 lead heading into the final period.

Davis made three baskets and Mirotic hit a 3-pointer that gave New Orleans a 120-100 lead with seven minutes remaining.

E'Twaun Moore had 14 points for New Orleans, which shot 53.1 percent (53 for 99) from the field. Miller made four of the Pelicans' 14 3s (see full recap).

Jordan has huge night as Clippers stay hot
BOSTON -- DeAndre Jordan had 30 points and 13 rebounds and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Boston Celtics 129-119 on Wednesday night for their fourth victory in five games.

Tobias Harris added 21 points, Danilo Gallinari had 20, and Lou Williams 19.

Kyrie Irving led Boston with 33 points and eight assists. Al Horford had 20 points, and Marcus Morris added 13 points and 11 rebounds. The Celtics lost for the fourth time in five games, a stretch that has seen them fall behind Toronto for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Boston had opened a 99-95 lead early in the final quarter on Terry Rozier's 3 from the left wing before the Clippers went on 10-0 run over a 1:57 stretch.

Williams sparked the spree by scoring the initial six points, with the first 3 coming on a shot from beyond the arc in front of the Celtics' bench. He added a conventional 3-point play after his driving basket.

Los Angeles saw its lead sliced to three twice before Jordan had an alley-oop dunk and Harris followed with a 3-point play with just under three minutes to play.

Williams' 3-point play made it 126-116 in the final two minutes.

In the third quarter, the lead changed hands 10 times in the final 3:11, with the Clippers taking the final one, 93-91, on Harris' 3 from the left wing (see full recap).

Raptors cruise to 7th straight victory
CHICAGO -- Kyle Lowry had 20 points and 10 assists, Serge Ibaka also scored 20 points and the Toronto Raptors cruised into the All-Star break with their seventh straight victory, 122-98 over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night.

Lowry made four 3-pointers, and he and Ibaka each grabbed seven rebounds.

Jonas Valanciunas added 14 points and nine rebounds to help the Raptors complete a four-game sweep against Chicago even though they only got seven points from four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan. But Toronto shot just over 52 percent against a weak defense, sending the Bulls to their ninth loss in 11 games.

Bobby Portis scored 18 points for Chicago, and Lauri Markkanen had 14s. The Bulls were simply overmatched by the Eastern Conference leaders, even though they had point guard Kris Dunn back in the lineup. He had eight points and three assists in 20 minutes after missing 11 games because of a concussion.

The Raptors took a 61-49 lead to the locker room after outscoring the Bulls by 18 in the second quarter.

DeRozan ended a quiet first half with a neat 12-footer, faking David Nwaba and Justin Holiday while leaning in for the basket as time expired.

The Raptors continued to pull away in the third. Lowry converted a four-point play and answered a three-point play by Markkanen by nailing another 3 to make it 75-57 three minutes into the quarter (see full recap).

Sixers fans have earned a loud cackle at the Lakers' expense

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Sixers fans have earned a loud cackle at the Lakers' expense

Though the methods of their rebuild process have received far less scrutiny than those of the Sixers, it's worth remembering that the Los Angeles Lakers have been bottoming out for nearly as long. The last time the Sixers made the playoffs was 2012, the Lakers last made it in 2013, their last chances of contention having limped away weeks earlier, along with Kobe's busted Achilles. In 2014, the Lakers drafted seventh while the Sixers picked third, and the three years after that, L.A. has picked second. 

The third time, L.A. jumped all the way from No. 6 in the lottery standings -- due to an unexpected late surge of Ws at season's end, after coach Luke Walton had already sent multiple vets home for the holidays -- to No. 2. Afterwards, Walton offered, "I've always believed that things work out the way they're supposed to. and we decided to play the end of the season to try to win ball games and not go into tank mode, and the Basketball Gods shined down on us for that today." This was a half-callback to earlier in the season, when Walton previously referenced the Basketball Gods and their distaste for tanking, explaining, "Philly's been there for a while. They look like they're doing pretty well right now but they're still a long way from being a true contender. I would prefer not to be stuck in the lottery for very long."

The Sixers entered this week 19-19, in line for the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Lakers started it 12-27, on pace to earn a fourth consecutive No. 2 overall pick at this June's draft. 

For the second straight season, Los Angeles got off to a promising-enough start -- beginning the season 8-10 with one of the league's best defenses and one of the season's most productive rookies (though not the one they picked with this year's second pick) -- and then completely fell apart. While the Sixers were fumbling their way to a 5-10 December, the Lakers went 3-11, then proceeded to lose their first three games of the New Year. They've since amassed Ws against the lowly Hawks and Kings, but despite already picking in the top ten four straight years, it certainly doesn't look like Walton's crew has any chance of getting unstuck from the lottery this year. 

It might be a couple years for them still. The Lakers have a stock of legitimately promising young players -- rookie forward Kyle Kuzma, second-year swingman Brandon Ingram, even lightning-rod point guard Lonzo Ball -- but no prospect yet on the obviously game-changing two-way level of Joel Embiid, or even Ben Simmons. They hoped to be a landing spot for LeBron James this summer, but the Lakers' on-court ineptitude has blocked them from being a legitimate player in free agency for a half-decade now, and it's hard to see The King jumping to a team still nowhere near sniffing .500 this late in his career. Other free agents like Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins may or may not be easier sells, but even if so, they're not the sort of players that fix flailing franchises overnight. 

Not to mention the media circus the Lakers are currently engulfed in, surrounding a dude not even directly involved with the team. LaVar Ball caused a press firestorm over the weekend by opining to Jeff Goodman of ESPN that Walton had "lost the team" and that his son Lonzo needed a different coach to help him realize his potential. The rest of the NBA may not be as engaged with the story, but they're likely at least slightly annoyed by its pervasiveness, and the idea of being tethered to LaVar as a part of the Lakers' future probably lurks as a real factor at this point for anyone thinking of joining L.A. in the offseason -- especially while his son continues to put up historically lousy shooting numbers and maybe not even prove worth all the trouble. 

This is all to say: The Basketball Gods do not appear to be smiling on the Los Angeles Lakers thusfar in the 2017-'18 season. And of course, I haven't even gotten to the best part of all of it: The Lakers don't even have their pick this year. It belongs to the Sixers. 

For now, anyway. Due to the Markelle Fultz pickswap trade with Boston over the summer, we give the Celtics the Lakers pick if it falls between 2-5 this season, otherwise we give them the Kings pick we got from the original pickswap deal years ago next year (unless it falls No. 1, in which case we give them our own pick). After their win against Sacramento last night, the Lakers currently sit at No. 4 in the Tanking Rankings, tied with Sacramento -- if they ended the season at No. 4, they'd have about a 29% chance of handing over the No. 6 pick to Philly, with a 12% chance of giving us the No. 1. 

There's been some debate about what the best-case scenario is for Philly of how the Lakers should end the season -- whether we're better off with L.A. winning enough to slide to No. 6 or 7, or basically losing out. I'm with Derek Bodner of the Athletic that I'd rather just have the Lakers lose as much as possible, ending up with as much as a 25 percent of handing us the No. 1 pick (under the last year of the old lottery odds, before reform flattens the possibility a little), though no chance of getting it below five. 

I think that's fine: Getting the highest odds at the game-changing No. 1 pick and taking our chances next year with an unprotected Kings pick seems higher-upside than grabbing the No. 7 pick this year and potentially hand over a top-three choice to the Celts next year. There's basically no reason to think the Kings won't just be bad forever, so I have no problem riding with them in 2019. Meanwhile, we get to continue rooting for the Lakers to lose outright, to enjoy every slip of public dysfunction, every clanked Lonzo Ball three, every sports pundit who claimed LeBron-to-L.A. as a done deal now backpedaling on their words. 

Which isn't to say the Sixers have been drama- or embarrassment-free in the '17-'18 season by any means themselves -- there are certainly a handful of teams who would be at least slightly within their rights to be cackling at us right now. But hey, we're .500, we've got a reasonable chance of postseason ball, we've got at least two of the best young players in the league, and we've got every reason to be optimistic about the immediate and near-future -- none of which the Lakers could confidently say about themselves. 

So yeah -- while the Sixers wrap up their five-day layover in between games and continents, make sure to take a second to let loose a resounding, throaty, ha-HAH! at Luke Walton and the Lakers' expense. It's what the basketball gods would want. 

Kuzma's career night helps Lakers cool off Rockets

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Kuzma's career night helps Lakers cool off Rockets

HOUSTON -- Rookie Kyle Kuzma set career highs with 38 points and seven 3-pointers, and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame 51 points from James Harden to end the Houston Rockets' 14-game winning streak with a 122-116 victory Wednesday night.

It was Houston's first loss since Nov. 14 and snapped a three-game skid for the Lakers.

The game was tied before Los Angeles scored 10 straight points -- while Houston missed seven shots in a row -- to go up 110-100 with about four minutes left.

Houston ended an almost four-minute scoring drought when Harden made a free throw, and he added three more after being fouled on a 3-point attempt a few seconds later to cut it to 110-104. But former Rocket Corey Brewer made a 3-pointer before Lonzo Ball hit two free throws to make it 115-104.

Harden powered Houston on a night when Chris Paul had just eight points before leaving early in the fourth quarter with a sore left leg.

The Rockets made seven free throws down the stretch but hit just four field goals in the last eight minutes -- all in the final 1:05.

Kuzma was unstoppable in the first half, making all nine of his shots, including six 3-pointers. He cooled a bit after the break and finished 12 of 17 overall and 7 of 10 from deep (see full recap).

Olynyk goes off on former team as Heat top Celtics
BOSTON -- Kelly Olynyk scored a career-high 32 points in his rousing return to Boston, and the undermanned Miami Heat hung on Wednesday for a 90-89 victory over the Celtics.

On a night when the Celtics honored their former forward in his first game back, the popular Olynyk received a standing ovation from Boston fans and led the Heat (16-15) to another win against the top team in the Eastern Conference. Josh Richardson had 19 points and six assists for Miami, which took two of three in the season series. The Heat ended Boston's 16-game winning streak earlier this season with a victory at home.

Olynyk signed with Miami as a free agent during the offseason. His previous high was 30 points on Dec. 15, 2014.

When this one was over, he took photos with fans.

Kyrie Irving paced the Celtics (26-8) with 33 points, but missed a jumper from the right wing that bounced off the rim at the buzzer. Jaylen Brown scored 16 and Marcus Smart had 15 (see full recap).

Bulls blast shorthanded Magic for 7th straight win
CHICAGO -- Denzel Valentine had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Nikola Mirotic had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and the Chicago Bulls beat the Orlando Magic 112-94 on Wednesday night for their seventh straight win.

The Bulls had lost 10 straight with Mirotic out of the lineup prior to his return Dec. 8, and they haven't lost since to improve to 10-20.

Nikola Vucevic scored 18 points for Orlando, which lost its sixth in a row.

Facing the league's fourth-worst scoring defense, the Bulls took a 43-27 lead with 9:05 left in the second quarter on Mirotic's layup, one of many easy baskets. Chicago's strong ball movement resulted in easy looks inside and out, and the team had assists on 10 of its first 15 shots.

Robin Lopez connected on his first four attempts for a club averaging 111.1 points per contest since Mirotic returned to the lineup -- up from 95.7 points in 23 games without the forward.

Injury-riddled Orlando, which played without leading scorers Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, struggled to keep pace. The Magic made only 3 of 15 first-half 3-point tries en route to their 17th loss in 20 games (see full recap).