Posts Tagged ‘Steve Nash’

Four Awarded World Cup Berths

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – FIBA announced Saturday that Brazil, Finland, Greece and Turkey have been awarded wild card berths to the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, to be played Aug. 30-Sept. 14 in Spain.

The four teams complete the field of 24 (see the full list below), which will be drawn into four groups of six on Monday.

Brazil played awful at the FIBA Americas tournament last summer, but was without all four of their NBA big men (Vitor Faverani, Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Vareajao). If they have point guard Marcelo Huertas, two of the bigs and a shooter or two, they will be one of the better teams in Spain. As the U.S. has won 36 straight games in international competition, Brazil has come the closest to knocking them off. Brazil is also the host of the 2016 Olympics, which was certainly a factor in their selection.

Greece is the last team to beat the U.S., pulling off the upset in the semifinals of the 2006 World Championship. They had top-five finishes in four straight Eurobasket tournaments from 2003 to 2009 (winning in 2005), but the best players from their golden years aren’t playing anymore. They still have a solid roster, but lost in the round of 16 at the 2010 World Championship and also failed to make the quarterfinals at last year’s Eurobasket.

Turkey played great as the home team in 2010, going 8-0 before falling to the U.S. in the gold medal game. But (though most of the roster was sporting fabulous tans) they were a disappointing 1-4 at Eurobasket last summer.

Finland went 5-3 at Eurobasket, with wins over Turkey and Greece. And their wild card big was apparently aided by Finnish video game developer Rovio, which promised to provide free advertising for the national team and the World Cup if Finland was selected. So if you’re angry that Andrew Wiggins won’t be playing in Spain next summer, be angry at Angry Birds.

There were originally 15 applicants for the four wild card spots, but reports had China, Italy, Germany and Russia bowing out. That certainly thinned out the field, but not enough to get Canada into the tournament. Given their NBA-level talent and their numbers from last year’s FIBA Americas tournament, the Canadian National Team (managed by Steve Nash and coached by Blazers assistant Jay Triano) is clearly the biggest snub.

In addition to Wiggins, Canada has a deep core of young talent (Anthony Bennett, Tyler EnnisCory Joseph, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Tristan Thompson). It would have been great to see that group in Spain this summer, but they only have themselves to blame for not qualifying. After going 4-1 to start last year’s tournament (Bennett, Olynyk and Wiggins didn’t play), they dropped their final three games (by a total of 18 points) to finish sixth, with only the top four teams receiving automatic bids.

So Canada should be rooting for the U.S. in Spain. If the U.S. wins gold at the World Cup, they automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympics and have no need to send a team to the 2015 FIBA Americas tournament, where the top two finishers will receive automatic Olympic bids. But if the U.S. doesn’t win gold this summer, there’s one less spot available for a team from North, South or Central America. There will be an additional qualifying tournament in 2016 before the Olympics (for three more berths), but given the relative strengths of the Americas and Europe, Canada’s best chance at the ’16 Olympics is probably next summer  … as long as the U.S. isn’t there.

Amazingly, Canada had the best defense and best point differential of last year’s FIBA Americas tournament. Here are efficiency numbers from last summer’s FIBA events (FIBA Africa, FIBA Americas, FIBA Asia, and Eurobasket) for all 15 of the original wild card applicants…

2013 stats of wild card applicants

Team OffRtg RK AdjO ORK DefRtg RK AdjD ORK NetRtg RK ORK
Nigeria
109.4 1 +18.5 2 93.8 9 +2.9 41 +15.6 5 9
Brazil
94.9 9 -10.2 58 107.4 7 +2.3 38 -12.5 8 54
Canada
107.0 5 +2.0 26 97.6 1 -7.5 10 +9.5 1 12
Venezuela
103.7 6 -1.4 36 100.2 2 -4.8 12 +3.5 6 22
China
110.7 3 +12.4 5 90.2 3 -8.0 9 +20.4 3 6
Qatar
98.8 7 +0.6 32 99.1 7 +0.9 31 -0.3 8 28
Bosnia
101.4 14 -1.3 35 103.0 11 +0.2 30 -1.5 9 29
Finland
97.8 18 -5.0 42 101.1 6 -1.6 21 -3.4 14 36
Germany
106.0 6 +3.2 21 107.7 19 +4.9 48 -1.7 10 30
Greece
110.6 1 +7.8 9 104.0 13 +1.3 33 +6.6 4 17
Israel
98.3 17 -4.4 40 101.2 7 -1.6 22 -2.8 12 34
Italy
105.2 9 +2.4 25 102.5 10 -0.3 28 +2.7 6 23
Poland
95.5 21 -7.3 51 107.9 20 +5.1 49 -12.4 23 52
Russia
97.8 19 -5.0 43 104.5 15 +1.8 36 -6.8 19 42
Turkey
103.5 12 +0.7 30 113.3 24 +10.6 59 -9.9 22 48

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
AdjO = Points scored per 100 possessions, compared to event average
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
AdjD = Points allowed per 100 possessions, compared to event average
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
RK = Rank within that event
ORK = Rank among 65 teams in four events

As you can see, Brazil was the worst of the group and Turkey was pretty awful too. But apparently, if you didn’t automatically qualify, it didn’t really matter what you did last summer.

2014 World Cup of Basketball field

Team Qualified
Angola FIBA Africa champion
Argentina FIBA Americas champion
Australia FIBA Oceania champion
Brazil Wildcard
Croatia Eurobasket 4th place
Dominican Republic FIBA Americas 2nd place
Egypt FIBA Africa 2nd place
Finland Wildcard
France Eurobasket champion
Greece Wildcard
Iran FIBA Asia champion
Korea FIBA Asia 3rd place
Lithuania Eurobasket 2nd place
Mexico FIBA Americas 3rd place
New Zealand FIBA Oceania 2nd place
Philippines FIBA Asia 2nd place
Puerto Rico FIBA Americas 4th place
Senegal FIBA Africa 3rd place
Serbia Eurobasket 7th place
Slovenia Eurobasket 5th place
Spain Host
Turkey Wildcard
Ukraine Eurobasket 6th place
USA 2012 Olympic champion

Time For Kobe To Call It A Season




VIDEO: Kobe Bryant opens up to TNT’s David Aldridge about his injury, this season and much more

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Since no one else wants to say it, I will.

It’s time Kobe Bryant, time to call it a season and hunker down and get ready for the 2014-15 season.

I don’t care that those words constitute blasphemy in the world of Kobe’s followers. Sometimes, even for a great player like Kobe, someone else has to make that call. And someone in the Lakers’ organization needs to make this one. Now that we know Kobe will miss another two to four weeks recovering from the fractured knee that has cost him the Lakers’ last 20 games (news courtesy of our man Kevin Ding from Bleacher Report).

The Lakers’ 4-16 record since the knee fracture was diagnosed is the most obvious nod to Kobe’s greatness but also the most glaring exhibit as to why he needs to forgo the rest of this season. His absence has already buried a mediocre team that is not going to recover in time to make a serious playoff push.

The hole is already too deep.

Kobe pushing it to get back in time to finish out this season in uniform would be a useless exercise for a player who should not be subject to playing exhibition games during the regular season at this stage of his career. Kobe can’t save the Lakers’ season, coach Mike D’Antoni‘s job or anything else by coming back this season. In fact, I think it helps the Lakers’ cause more if he stays off the court the rest of this season and focuses more on his recruiting effort for free agency. (Yeah, I know he said he’s not going to recruit Carmelo Anthony or anyone else, but don’t believe that hype!)

I don’t want to see a Lakers team with Kobe and Steve Nash (who is reportedly close to making his long-awaited return to active rotation duty soon) struggling to find their footing knowing that the season ends for the Lakers on April 16 against the San Antonio Spurs.

It would be different if Kobe was younger, if he was still in the physical prime of his career like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose. Rushing back on young legs and resilient joints and bones is a completely different challenge than what Kobe is and will deal with in the future.

Let the rebuilding job begin in the Southland, with Kobe as chief recruiter. His legacy is safe. He can afford to have a six-game season given all that he’s done in his career.

Now it’s time for him to rest up and recharge for next season and put an end to the foolish speculation as to when he’ll come back and what sort of miracles he can whip up for the Lakers this season!

Report: Kobe To Miss 2 More Weeks

From NBA.com staff reports

The Lakers seemed to be getting some better news in regards to their walking-wounded crew, what with Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake being cleared to resume basketball-related activities and Steve Nash getting somewhat closer to a return. While those players coming back is nice for Los Angeles, the one name Lakers’ fans have been clamoring to see back on the court is Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Kobe Bryant (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

They’ll have to wait at least a few weeks longer. BleacherReport.com’s Kevin Ding reports that Bryant will miss two to four more additional weeks to heal up from his knee fracture:

If you’re not accustomed by now to Kobe Bryant sitting out and the Los Angeles Lakers losing, weeks more are still to come.

The fractured lateral tibial plateau in Bryant’s left knee hasn’t healed yet, even though the Lakers had initially been pointing to a medical re-evaluation Tuesday as a point at which he might be cleared to play. Bryant’s level of discomfort is such that his visit with Lakers doctor Steve Lombardo on Tuesday evening before the Lakers face the Indiana Pacers will not even include an MRI or any other diagnostic procedure to judge the bone’s healing, according to a team source.

Bryant is expected to miss at least two more weeks, perhaps even another month.

The Lakers are 4-16 since Bryant’s knee fracture was diagnosed and will struggle to turn that around without him, although injured point guards Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar might be back next week.

Bryant has been reluctant to start the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans after being voted in by the fans. That matter seems likely now to resolve itself: If Bryant isn’t back for the Lakers by then, he won’t have to play at all in the All-Star Game and the NBA will name an injury replacement for him. If Bryant misses another two weeks exactly, that would leave two Lakers games for him to play before the All-Star break.

Bryant’s original diagnosis was to miss approximately six weeks; Thursday marks six weeks from that announcement.

At 16-29, the Lakers are tied with the Utah Jazz for the second-worst record in the conference. Nash, for his part, told Ding that he feels like he’s ready to go and help L.A. climb out of this massive hole. But when he and Bryant will team up on the court again remains to be seen.

A bearded Nash, looking fresh out of a Rocky workout montage, said Monday that he might actually be good to go. Like Bryant, he has played only six games this season—although the two of them have never played together—because of a major nerve-root issue in his back that has limited his legs.

“I don’t feel the nerve irritation,” Nash said Monday after returning from his latest extended rehab session in Vancouver. “Thus far, as I’ve ramped up training and rehab, I’ve been able to sustain more and more demands, so that we feel like it’s safe to practice now.”

But in a scene that epitomized everything about Nash’s two seasons as a Laker, he had only a handful of minutes of optimism Monday morning about his progress before another setback.

“Woke up, jumped out of bed, ready to go,” he said. “I reached for something and kind of tweaked something.”

Nash said the tweak, unrelated to the nerve irritation, is “fine” and he intends to go through Lakers practice Thursday, though he doesn’t expect to play Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Lakers’ last game before that trip to Minnesota, Cleveland and Philadelphia begins next Tuesday.

Regardless of how Nash heals up, Kobe’s comeback being put on hold puts another damper on a difficult season for Los Angeles.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

CP3′s return date still unknown | Nash suffers ‘tweaked’ back in practice | Report: No extension talks for Casey | La La Anthony thinks ‘Melo will stay in N.Y.

No. 1: CP3 works out, but return still unknown — The Los Angeles Clippers have done an admirable job of keeping things together since star point guard Chris Paul injured his shoulder on Jan. 3. L.A. has gone 10-3 during that span to remain in thick of the chase for the Pacific Division title. Paul continues to rehab and workout, but his return date remains largely an unknown, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Chris Paul got in a good, strong workout before the Clippers played the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night.

Paul got in a good sweat shooting jumpers and runners. He got in a good sweat running up and down the court after he shot.

But Paul still is a ways away from playing because of a separated right shoulder.

The original timetable had Paul out up to six weeks, meaning he would be out another three weeks, returning sometime in mid-February.

“No one said there were any changes or a deadline or anything,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “But he feels great. I still think it’s All-Star break, in that area. I don’t think that changed.

“But he feels good. I know he’s shooting a little bit now. The fact that he can run and do the conditioning is great. But other than that, it still has to heal.”

Rivers said the final decision on when Paul will return will be up to the Clippers’ team doctors and head athletic trainer Jasen Powell.

And, Rivers said, Paul won’t be able to say he’s ready until he’s fully healed.

“On this one, this is one of those injuries where no matter how he feels, you still have to let it heal,” Rivers said.


VIDEO: Coach Doc Rivers talks about Chris Paul’s rehab work and more

***

No. 2: Nash ‘tweaks’ back, can’t practice yet — The good news for Los Angeles Lakers fans? Steve Nash‘s workouts in Vancouver with a trainer went well and he is healing up nicely from the nerve root irritation that has bothered him since Nov. 12. The bad news — if you want to take it as such — is that Nash tweaked his back in an unrelated injury and still isn’t able to practice. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com has more on the Lakers’ injury situation concerning Nash and others:

According to team spokesman, John Black, everything “went well” for Steve Nash in Vancouver while working with his trainer/physical therapist during the team’s 12-day road trip. Nash was expected to go through practice on Monday, but unrelatedly “tweaked his back,” and thus, did not participate.

“The plan for him is to have a practice on Thursday and he’s basically day-to-day,” Black said. “We’ll update you on whether he’ll play Friday based on how Thursday’s practice goes.”

Nash has been sidelined since Nov. 12 with nerve root irritation. Coach Mike D’Antoni remains hopeful the two-time MVP can return to the court again this season.

“I hope so,” D’Antoni said. “I hope for him. If anybody can do it, he can.”

Both Steve Blake (elbow) and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) have not been cleared for full practices yet, but are able to participate in basketball-related activities, as the two went through today.

“They’ll continue to ramp up through the week as they progress,” Black said. “Neither will play Tuesday or Friday, but the plan on them is to ramp up practices this week and we’ll update both of them at the end of this week.”

Blake was diagnosed with a torn collateral ligament in his right elbow and has been out since Dec. 13. Farmar, meanwhile, has been out since Jan. 3 after suffering a tear in his left hamstring.

“It was great,” he said. “I’ve been bored. That’s been the hardest thing. With this injury, you don’t feel too injured. It’s not painful; you don’t feel hurt. Just having to sit down, be patient and wait your turn, especially seeing them struggle, I just want to be out there and contribute.”

Xavier Henry (knee strain) went through some on-court work in Miami and was expected to be out another 10-14 days, but visited with a doctor today. There is no new update regarding his injury.


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni talks about the team’s various injured players

***

No. 3: Report: Raptors not discussing Casey extension yet — When Dwane Casey took over as coach of the Toronto Raptors before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, he was dealing with a team in the midst of a rebuild following Chris Bosh’s departure to the Miami Heat a season earlier. As such, the on-court product often struggled to show progress throughout his first two seasons on the job. But the Raptors appear to have turned the corner under Casey as they are 16-9 in their last 25 games and lead the Atlantic Division. Casey, despite winning his first Coach of the Month honors in December, is in the last year of his contract and is in position for an extension, but those talks haven’t happened yet with Toronto’s brass, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News:

With a 16-9 record in his last 25 games, a Coach of the Month award for December on his mantle and a legitimate opportunity to get the Raptors to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, Dwane Casey could hardly be blamed for pestering the Toronto front office for a contract extension.

But, as a source told Sporting News, that hasn’t been the case—there have been, “no really significant discussions,” on extending Casey’s contract, which runs up at the end of this season.

Instead, it appears that Casey and the Raptors will finish out what has been a decidedly strange year in Toronto, and re-evaluate. That’s perfectly fine with Casey, who would have no problem returning to his home in Seattle and focusing on lures and casts rather than Xs and Os.

“I never worried about having a job,” Casey said. “I say that with all sincerity. I never worried about losing a job, getting a job. Because I learned a long time ago how to fish.”

Casey says concern over his next contract has no bearing on how he is handling his team now. When the Raptors hired a new general manager, Masai Ujiri, in the offseason, there was speculation that Ujiri would immediately make a coaching change. But after meeting with Casey—the two have known each other for years—Ujiri decided to stick with the coach, for at least one more year.

“I tell players every day, whatever happens, happens,” Casey said. “I am going to get up and approach my job the same way every day, 6:30 till whenever, midnight or whatever it is, every day, regardless of how things are going, whether we are winning or not. My job is to get the ship ashore. That’s the best way for me to approach it.”

Ujiri said Casey would not be sized up by wins and losses, but by development. Oddly enough, though, development has coincided with a revival in the standings, with the Raptors playing much better on both ends of the floor, getting themselves above .500 and into first place in the Atlantic Division.

The Raptors are still developing. The winning is just an unforeseen side effect.

“It’s difficult,” Casey said. “The question has come up quite a bit. It’s the most difficult thing in sports, is have two second-year guys as our starters and trying to win and win the division at the same time. So we talk about the process, getting better every time we play or practice, moreso than wins or losses. The development of our young guys is just as important, believe it or not, for the organization as winning is.”

***

No. 4: ‘Melo’s wife expects him to stay in New YorkKnicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony has said he plans to opt out of his deal to test the free-agent waters this summer. He’s also said in previous interviews that he both wants to try out the free-agent wooing process and that he wants to retire in New York. So which one is true? His wife, La La Anthony, says she thinks her husband will ultimately choose to stay with New York. The Associated Press has more on the story, as does ESPNNewYork.com:

The wife of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony says she thinks he will be back with the New York Knicks next season.Anthony has said he intends to become a free agent this summer. The Knicks can give him an extra year and some $30 million more than any other team, but their 17-27 record has created speculation he would consider leaving the team.

Speaking on “Watch What Happens Live” on Bravo on Sunday night, La La Anthony said she “definitely” thinks Anthony will stay in New York. She said he wants to stay and she supports him “where ever he wants to go.”

Anthony is averaging a team-high 27.2 points for New York, which acquired the Brooklyn native from Denver in a three-team trade in February 2011.

And here’s ESPNNewYork.com’s take on the story:

“I definitely think he will stay,” La La Anthony said in an interview with Bravo TV’s “Watch What Happens Live.” “I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.

“Listen, I used to live in Denver with him. If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere. I just want him to be happy.”

La La Anthony playfully mocked those who speculate that she will have a heavy influence on her husband’s decision.

“I get blamed for everything. No matter what happens, it’s my fault,” she said. “[There are] all these talks if he’s staying in New York or not, [and] I’m somehow the mastermind behind if he stays or not.”

One potential destination is Los Angeles. The Lakers are among several teams, including the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, that may have the requisite salary-cap space this summer to sign Anthony.

Kobe Bryant, a friend of Anthony’s, said Sunday that he will not be actively recruiting the Knicks forward to join the Lakers.

“Well, everybody wants to play in Los Angeles,” Bryant said when asked about Anthony’s potential interest in joining the Lakers. “I mean, New York is a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong, but it is colder than s— out here. You know, palm trees and beaches obviously are a little more appealing.

“All jokes aside, I think that players, when that time comes, will have to make the best decision for them and their families. I try not to think about it too much. If he wants to call me for advice later as a friend, I will be more than happy to give it to him.”

Anthony, who is in his 11th season, said Monday that his sole motivation is to win an NBA title.

“That’s the only thing I care about. Anything else is irrelevant to me when it comes to basketball,” he said. “Championship is the only thing that’s on my mind, is the only thing I want to accomplish, I want to achieve, and I’m going to do what I got to do to get that. That’s my motivating factor. Nothing else even motivates me anymore, just that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This was a bit of an early-afternoon publish on NBA.com, but our own David Aldridge delivers a solid oral history of Commissioner David Stern’s life and times in the NBA … A group of scientists are trying to determine if “team chemistry” is quantifiable … Bucks GM John Hammond gives his view on the state of the worst team in the NBA … Raptors swingman Terrence Ross gave the ball from his 51-point game to his mom … Sixers rookie Lorenzo Brown took part in an odd day-night double header — NBA D-League game during the day, and an NBA game at night

ICYMI of The Night: The Brooklyn Nets were more or less one inbounds pass away from closing the gap in the standings on the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. Then the Raptors’ Patrick Patterson stepped in the passing lane and put that notion to rest …:


VIDEO: Patrick Patterson caps off a must-see finish in Brooklyn

Curry’s On The Rise And Dubs Following


VIDEO: Stephen Curry finishes incredible, off-balanced layup against the Bucks

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Something BIG happened Thursday in the third returns of All-Star fan voting regarding the Western Conference backcourt.

Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry overtook his Los Angeles Clippers counterpart Chris Paul as the No. 2 vote-getter. Paul is regarded almost unanimously in the basketball universe as the top quarterback in the game today, yet the fan vote positions Curry to start ahead of him at the 63rd All-Star Game in New Orleans on Feb. 16.

On the verge of making his first career All-Star appearance — whether it’s as a starter through the fan vote or he earns the nod of the Western Conference coaches who left him off as a reserve last year — Curry surged past the wildly popular CP3 and leads him by some 26,000 votes heading into the final stretch. Fan voting ends on Jan. 20.

Paul likely won’t be able to play anyway because of the separated right shoulder he sustained a week ago in Dallas. There’s no telling how the injury might have shifted would-be Paul votes to Curry. But it’s reasonable to think it made no difference at all. Kobe Bryant has played in just six games yet has garnered more votes by a wide margin than all West backcourt candidates. Chicago’s Derrick Rose is third in the East despite playing in just 10 games.

Perhaps Curry got a bump from overseas fans or maybe the Warriors faithful is stuffing the ballot box at Oracle Arena and online after he trailed Paul by nearly 52,000 votes after the second returns and almost 66,000 after the first. Or maybe we’re just witnessing a young, incredibly exciting player on a meteoric rise to stardom. Still, his surge past the incumbent Paul is astonishing.

All-Star starting spots don’t just pop free. Players are often entrenched in starting roles for years. Paul has been selected to six consecutive All-Star Games. He’s started the last three and four of the last five with only Steve Nash nabbing the spot in 2010. Before Curry captured the world’s imagination with breathless playoff performances, he finished eighth in last year’s fan voting. Paul was named the All-Star Game MVP, and he’s having another terrific season.

Yet suddenly, Mr. Assist is taking a back seat to a player some call the baby-faced assassin.

This is big for Curry and the Warriors, who for most of their existence have languished in mediocrity and far off the radar of NBA fans beyond their own long-suffering devotees. They produced mostly bad teams interspersed with entertaining ones that still never accomplished much. Some caught lightning-in-a-bottle like Don Nelson‘s 2007 bunch that he dubbed “schmoes” during their upset of No. 1 seed Dallas.

Think of this: Curry’s Warriors, barring a major catastrophe, are headed to the franchise’s first consecutive playoff appearances since 1991 and 1992. They went from 1995 to 2006 without making the playoffs once. In 2011-12, Curry played in 26 of 66 games due to injury. The Warriors won 23. Last season he played in 78 and the team won 47. This season, his fifth, Golden State (24-14), having withstood an early injury bump, is on pace to crack 50 wins for the first time in 20 years.

Curry delivers undeniable star-power and brand-power at a time when the franchise finally means business under the well-heeled and opportunistic ownership group headed by Joe Lacob. Curry makes the Warriors must-see TV and a target on every free agent’s wish list. That was witnessed last summer with Golden State’s late entry into the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and their signing of free-agent forward Andre Iguodala, a vital addition that has helped a team with an explosive offense now rank fourth in defensive rating behind only Indiana, Chicago and Oklahoma City.

With Curry, anything seems possible. The Warriors are a percolating franchise and a Western Conference contender at this very moment, and for the foreseeable future. The impending move into a sparkling, waterfront arena in San Francisco (as much as I personally hate to see the team leave the East Bay) will strengthen the franchise’s profit margin and transform it into a “big market” club that chases top free agents and willingly steps into the luxury tax when applicable. Golden State is on the NBA map.

If Curry, 25, finishes second in fan voting and is a starter in his first career All-Star Game, he will have earned the popular vote through performances that almost seem mythical. He’s averaging career-bests of 23.1 ppg and 9.4 apg — blowing away last season’s career-high of 6.9 apg. While his shooting percentages (44.0 percent overall  and 38.9 percent on 3s) are actually career lows, and turnovers (a career-worst 4.2) continue to be an issue, he’s taken on more responsibility than ever and is the go-to gunner and leader of a team with growing aspirations.

Yes, Curry is on the rise, and he’s taking the Warriors with him.

And that’s BIG.

Lakers Target Returns For Kobe, Nash


VIDEO: Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan talks about the state of the Lakers

HANG TIME WEST – Hoping for a chance to evaluate the roster at full strength before the trade deadline, or at least what passes for full strength in their season of health miseries, the Lakers could get both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash back for the Jan. 28 game against the Pacers, coach Mike D’Antoni said Friday.

While that is still too far in the future to get definitive, D’Antoni said, “Hopefully both of them are ready,” as quoted by Mark Medina of the Los Angeles News Group.  That target date is the day after Bryant and Nash are scheduled to be re-evaluated, meaning they could go right from being cleared to the active list without a practice.

Bryant has been out since fracturing his left knee Dec. 17 against the Grizzlies, which came six games into his return from a torn Achilles’ tendon. He was originally expected to miss about six weeks.

Nash last played Nov. 10, a 13-minute stint against the Timberwolves, before being forced out by nerve damage in his back. Dealing with the injury since last season, Nash appeared to be nearing a return to the lineup just as Bryant rejoined the Lakers the first time on Dec. 7. But now it appears he is aiming for late this month.

The Lakers are 14-22, six games out of the final playoff spot, and have lost nine of 10. They play the Clippers tonight (10:30 ET, ESPN) and still have a seven-game, 12-day trip ahead before Bryant and Nash get re-evaluated.

The trade deadline is Feb. 20, with the Lakers facing decisions if they feel the playoffs are out of reach.

Lakers Give Marshall A Second Chance

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers

Kendall Marshall is making the most of his time at the helm for L.A. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS – All week in Reno, Nev., the D-League Showcase has provided some 200 basketball players — some former NBA first-rounders, some with legitimate NBA service time and many more who fell through the cracks — a stage to perform in front of a horde of NBA team decision-makers.

Kendall Marshall is not among them. He almost assuredly would have been as a member of the Delaware 87ers if not for an unbelievable string of injuries to all three of the Los Angeles Lakers’ point guards. On Dec. 21, the Phoenix Suns’ No. 13 pick in 2012, who was traded to Washington on Oct. 25 and waived that day, became the Lakers’ emergency plan.

“Honestly,” Marshall told NBA.com Tuesday night, “I’m just thankful for the situation I’m in. I’m trying to make the most of it, trying to get better and find a way to help this team.”

Instead of playing his heart out during this five-day stretch in northwest Nevada on a shoestring D-League salary of about $25,000, Marshall is auditioning nightly — strange to say of a lottery pick one year removed, but altogether true — in front of league executives on the biggest stage. And as of Tuesday he’s doing so on a fully guaranteed contract for the remainder of the season at about a half-million dollars.

Still, it guarantees nothing beyond a few more weeks, perhaps more, of genuine playing time for the former North Carolina Tar Heel, a heady although not overly athletic, smooth-passing point guard aptly nicknamed “Butter.” Soon Steve Blake will return from an elbow injury. Jordan Farmar will come back from a hamstring injury. Steve Nash is targeting a February return.

For Marshall, the time is now. In his first two starts, the 6-foot-4 southpaw unleashed flashbacks to Linsanity with a combined 32 assists and 29 points. In eight games, including starting the last four after point-guard fill-in Xavier Henry went down with his own knee injury, Marshall has 56 dimes. A quick study in coach Mike D’Antoni‘s point-guard friendly offense, Marshall is averaging 9.1 ppg, 7.0 apg and 3.0 turnovers. Before a brutal 2-for-13 (1-for-6 on 3-pointers) shooting night in Wednesday’s loss at Houston, L.A.’s ninth in 10 games, he had shot better than 56 percent overall and made half of his 22 3-point attempts.

Considering he jumped head-first into a bare-bones Lakers lineup, Marshall’s performances have ranged from impressive to steady, and have, at the least, provided the Lakers’ offense with structure and some rhythm. He had managed to keep his turnovers down until the last two games with six in each, but some of that falls on teammates unable or unprepared to handle his thread-the-needle passes through traffic.

His best game remains his first as a starter on Jan. 3 when he outplayed rookie and No. 9 pick Trey Burke, scoring 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, with 15 assists and six rebounds to beat Utah and snap the Lakers’ six-game skid.

And think about this: Marshall has gone from averaging 14.6 mpg in just 48 games as a rookie last season with Phoenix to playing 37.6 mpg in seven games with Delaware to now having logged more than 38 minutes in three of his four starts with the Lakers.

“He’s passing the ball, he’s finding a lot of seams,” said Henry, who grew up playing against Marshall in AAU tournaments from the time they were 9 years old through high school. “As our only true point guard right now he’s moving the ball pretty well and getting us into stuff fast. That’s good for us because we have a lot of guys that can score and play the game, but we don’t have that true point guard right now because everybody’s injured.”

The Suns envisioned Marshall, ironically, to be Nash’s replacement and as something of a Nash starter kit — crafty, smart, good floor vision, excellent facilitator. Marshall doesn’t possess tremendous speed or athleticism and when new management took over in Phoenix last offseason they weren’t enamored with him. They already had Goran Dragic, then drafted super-athletic Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin and traded for Eric Bledsoe to run new coach Jeff Hornacek‘s up-tempo attack.

At the Las Vegas Summer League in July, Goodwin outplayed Marshall and the writing was on the wall.

“I thought there was a chance I might be traded,” Marshall said. “I didn’t know they would wait until right before the season started. Obviously, the timing was unfortunate. The whole situation was unfortunate.”

Phoenix packaged Marshall with center Marcin Gortat in a trade with Washington just days before the season opened. Marshall’s agent called him 45 minutes after he found out he had been traded to tell him the Wizards would waive him.

Marshall, 22, was out of the league. With rosters set and no offers forthcoming, he signed with Delaware, the Philadelphia 76ers affiliate in the D-League, after Thanksgiving. The weeks in between went by brutally slow as he simultaneously concentrated on picking up his career while trying not to become negatively consumed by his circumstance.

“You want an honest answer?” Marshall said when asked who or what he leaned on during that time. “Vine, the social media site. I met a lot of friends on there that half of them didn’t even know I played basketball. So it was cool to interact with people that I wasn’t constantly hearing about what I was going through. So honestly that’s what kept me positive throughout that couple of weeks of not being in the league.”

Now comes the question of whether he can stick in a league predicated on athleticism and at a position dominated by speed.

“I joke with him all the time about how he can’t jump and stuff like that,” Henry said. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he just plays it smart, he knows what he has to do to complete his task. He’s smart with the game of how to make things happen. That’s what he does.”

Added Marshall: “Fifty percent of this league doesn’t get by on their athleticism. A couple of guys we played against [Tuesday at Dallas]; Dirk [Nowitzki] never relied on athleticism, Jose Calderon has never relied on his athleticism and they found a way to be successful. It can be done. But it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it and finding ways to do it.”

That’s the opportunity Marshall has in front of him, not in Reno for Delaware, but on the NBA stage for the Los Angeles Lakers. His audition will continue until likely the Lakers’ regulars return and reclaim their spots.

“My only objective right now is to help this team,” Marshall said. “That’s all I’m worried about is finding ways to win games and continue to get better.”

Gasol Calmly Waited As Rumors Swirled


VIDEO: Lakers fall to Mavericks on Tuesday night

DALLAS – Enjoying a production of The Lion King at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood with his parents and younger brother, Marc, on Saturday night, Pau Gasol used intermission to stretch his legs and check Twitter on his phone.

He wasn’t expecting any news affecting him, not yet, not with still a few days before the deadline for the Cleveland Cavaliers to trade Andrew Bynum in time to avoid having to pay him the second half of his contract. Yet there it was on his timeline, his long-elusive finality with the Lakers staring back at him.

“It was done,” Gasol said of seeing what proved to be an erroneous tweet from a Los Angeles radio station account that read the Lakers had completed a deal to send Gasol to the Cavaliers for his former teammate. “I see it’s almost official, [Monday] it’s going to be official, but it’s done. I was seeing all these messages of farewell Pau, thanks for all your services and all that stuff. I was like, ‘All right,’ well I guess it’s good to get a heads-up the day before. Most guys don’t get that.”

He hadn’t. The Lakers quickly and vehemently denied the report and so Gasol, again, reset his mind, one that is now practically trained to expect to be traded at a moment’s notice. On Sunday night he played spectacularly, posting 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists even as the Lakers were blown out at home by the Denver Nuggets.

Monday for Gasol was D-day. The deadline for Cleveland to trade Bynum was ticking down with one false alarm already doused. For the Lakers, Monday meant a practice at the team’s training facility in El Segundo followed by a flight to Dallas where they would play the Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Tick. Tock.

Gasol tried to make it feel like any other day, but it was impossible to totally shake the odd feeling of not knowing if he would join his teammates on the flight to Dallas, or make arrangements to catch one to Cleveland.

“I packed my bags like I was going on the plane and doing my job, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Gasol said. “But you know, the thought crossed my mind, obviously. I came into practice like any other day. If something would have happened, somebody would have come to me or called me and told me, ‘Look it’s done.’ “

Nothing.

The Lakers’ charter departed LAX at 2 p.m. Pacific Time and arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport around 7 p.m. local time. The team then bused to the hotel. Still nothing.

“Pretty quiet, pretty calm,” Gasol said, describing how the day was unfolding.

Tick. Tock.

Then, about 15 minutes before midnight Central Time, Twitter erupted with news of a major trade. An All-Star forward was headed to Cleveland in exchange for Bynum and Draft picks. Only it was the Chicago Bull’s Luol Deng, a regular in the rumor mill, but a something of a stunner to be the one going to the Cavaliers at the midnight hour.

“I was up,” Gasol said. “I guess that was kind of the confirmation that it didn’t involve me. At that point I thought that nothing was going to happen either way for anyone, but I guess it did, and now obviously, I’m glad I continue to be a Laker.

“It felt like it was pretty much done at times and that’s the way the media put it out or leaked it,” Gasol said. “It feels good to survive, I guess, and live to fight another day. That’s what they say, right? I’d like to continue to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

Still a Laker on Tuesday night, Gasol put on his purple No. 16 jersey and went to work against Dallas. He scored 15 points with 13 rebounds and five assists, but it wasn’t enough. The struggling, injury-depleted Lakers kept it close into the fourth quarter, but lost 110-97, falling to 14-21.

They head to Houston for a game Wednesday night and embark on a daunting road trip next week. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, both traveling with the team, are a ways away from returning. Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar remain out as well.

Gasol is in. For now.

“I don’t really know how it really played out. I don’t know what was the reason that it didn’t happen, I don’t know that,” Gasol said. “So I know there are probably going to be other rumors and potential trades coming up, but I can’t really worry about it. I just need to continue what I’ve been doing, which is come in, be ready to play and focus on what I need to do as a player for myself and my teammates.”

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Collison to step in and up for CP3 | Cavs have multiple options for Bynum | Smith’s latest blunder costs Knicks | Lakers Nash eyeing a February return

No. 1: Clippers need Collison, and others, to step in and up for Paul – Clippers point guard Chris Paul will be sidelined for anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks, and potentially even longer, with a separated shoulder, which puts his back up, Darren Collison, into the pressure cooker for the next month or so. That would be the same pressure cooker he was in Friday night when Paul went down and the Clippers needed a huge effort from him and others (DeAndre Jordan on this night) to save the day against his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. It’s a tall order, filling the shoes of the MVP candidate and team leader, but one that the Clippers need Collison to tackle every night. As Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times reports, Collison’s time is now:

Jordan scored a career-high 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting. He also had 18 rebounds and two blocked shots.

“DJ was great,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “DJ got deep post position, and that’s where he’s effective. If he can get them deep, he can score.”

Collison scored a season-high 20 points on six-for-10 shooting.

Collison played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter after Paul went down in the third.

“Darren was terrific tonight,” Rivers said. “We just kept him aggressive. He obviously doesn’t see the floor like [Chris Paul]. There’s only one guy like that and that’s CP. But [Collison] has great speed and pace and he has a big heart. That’s what we needed tonight.”

Jordan said his job is to be a defender, not to score.

“It’s not really my first priority or second priority,” Jordan said. “I want to be the best defensive player out there. If I can go out there and control the paint for us and only have two points but grab 20 rebounds and a couple of blocks for our team and I play well defensively … that’s my only concern.”

Collison will perhaps have the toughest job going forward.

He’ll have to fill in for Paul while the All-Star point guard is out three to five weeks recovering from injury.

“It’s going to be tough because he’s our engine,” Collison said. “He’s our leader. He does a lot for us. But at the same time, this team is very talented. We have the depth to overcome this. We’re all hoping that CP comes back as soon as possible.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Chris Paul’s injury and what it does to the Clippers

***

No. 2: Cavaliers have multiple options on Bynum trade front – One door closes for the Cavaliers on the Andrew Bynum trade front while another one seemingly always opens where the big man behemoth is concerned. With the chances of a Bynum-for-Pau Gasol swap fading in recent days, the Cavaliers have moved on and are exploring other options, according to Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. Those options include a potential deal that would require Richard Jefferson to pack his bags and relocate from Utah:

Sources said Utah Jazz veteran swingman Richard Jefferson has emerged as a new trade target for the Cavaliers after ongoing talks with the Los Angeles Lakers on a deal centered around the swap of former teammates Pau Gasol and Bynum remained at an impasse Friday.

A deal with Utah that would send Jefferson to Cleveland and likewise allow the Jazz to acquire and waive Bynum before the other half of his $12.3 million salary this season becomes guaranteed is one of three primary options for the Cavaliers. The other two, sources said Friday, are continuing talks with the Lakers this weekend in hopes of hashing out trade terms both teams can stomach, or electing to keep Bynum beyond Tuesday’s deadline and then reshopping him as a trade asset before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, or, if necessary, again in late June and early July.

Any team that has Bynum on its roster Jan. 7 can immediately wipe $6 million of its books this season by waiving him that day by 5 p.m. But sources said that Cleveland is strongly weighing the idea of keeping Bynum if it can’t trade him by then, despite the fact it would fully guarantee the former All-Star center an extra $6 million.

In that scenario — even if he never played another second for the Cavs — Bynum theoretically could be an attractive trade piece in connection with the June draft or immediately after it because his $12.5 million salary in 2014-15 is fully nonguaranteed. Any team that has Bynum on its roster in July can erase the $12.5 million as long as he clears waivers by July 10.

***

No. 3: Smith’s ill-advised 3-pointer costs Knicks in loss to Rockets – If it was anyone else other than J.R. Smith and the New York Knicks, you might be surprised. But it’s not. And there is little left to the dark side of the imagination when it comes to the blunders committed by the Knicks during this time of horrors. Smith forgot the score late in Friday night’s game in Houston and hoisted a bone-headed 3-pointer with the game tied and the outcome still hanging in the balance. He later acknowledged that he’d forgotten the score and took that shot thinking the Knicks were trailing. It’s just the latest in a season-long series of miscues for a Knicks team that, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News points out, cannot afford many more of these sorts of gaffes before someone gets run out of town:

Last month, the Knicks lost a home game to Washington when they failed to use one of their three remaining timeouts after the Wizards had taken a lead in the closing seconds. Within days, [Andrea] Bargnani nearly blew a game in Milwaukee by attempting a 3-pointer with the Knicks leading by two and the shot clock turned off.

“It was déjà vu,” said Anthony, referring to Smith’s and Bargnani’s untimely shots.

As for Smith’s brain freeze, Mike Woodson said he was “surprised” by the shot but added that “we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he had made it.”

The Rockets, who improved to 22-13, certainly weren’t at their best. Dwight Howard was outplayed by Chandler, while Lin scored all of his 14 points in the first half. James Harden was electric and lethargic at times. He scored 37 points on 10-for-19 shooting and went 12-for-12 from the line. But he also committed five turnovers, one of which led to Chandler’s game-tying free throws with 1:02 left.

[Carmelo] Anthony finished with 25 points — on 23 shots — and eight rebounds and spent much of the game wincing. Before Thursday night’s win in San Antonio, he had missed three straight games

with a sprained left ankle, and having to play 37 plus minutes in two consecutive games took its toll.

If Smith remembers the score and

Anthony holds for a final shot, the Knicks could have been headed to Dallas with a two-game winning streak. Now, they’re looking to avoid falling a season-high 13 games under .500.

“We had a great opportunity,” Anthony said. “We have to learn from this.”


VIDEO: James Harden goes off for 37 in a win over the Knicks

***

No. 4: Report: Nash eyeing a February return to Lakers – Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash back together again, at the same time, too. That would be an excellent New Year’s prize for the Los Angeles Lakers, who don’t have either one of their future Hall of Famers at their disposal right now. Bryant is on the mend from a fractured knee that cost him all but six games this season, while Nash remains sidelined with the chronic nerve issues in his back and hamstrings that have derailed his entire season to date. But sometime in February is the target date Nash has pegged for what, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin suggests, could be the two-time MVP’s final comeback attempt:

“At some point, I have to also realize, do the safest thing, the best possible opportunity to play basketball again rather than letting my angst get the better of me and jumping back in there,” Nash said after the Lakers’ shootaround Friday. “I know I can get healthy. It’s a matter of, ‘Can I sustain it?’ And I’m just trying to get that health under my belt for an amount of time where we feel confident that it can be sustainable is the tricky part, and that’s probably going to take a little while longer than I was hoping.”

Nash, the league’s oldest player — turning 40 next month — originally hoped to return to the lineup sometime during the Lakers’ upcoming seven-game Grammys road trip Jan. 15-26, but he has since decided to use that time to go back to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the fourth time this season to undergo rehab with personal trainer Rick Celebrini.

If all goes well, Nash will practice with the Lakers for a week when they return from their extended road trip and attempt a comeback during the first week of February with about 35 games left in the regular season.

“It’s all super speculative at this point because it’s such a weird, tricky dimension when you’re talking about this nerve issue,” Nash said.

Nash exited at halftime of the Lakers’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10 and has not played since. He is averaging 6.7 points and 4.8 assists per game this season while shooting 26.1 percent from the field. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.4 million this season and $9.7 million in 2014-15.

Nash said that the time away from the team — missing the past 24 games — is starting to wear on him.

“That just eats away at me every day — how far away I am from the game,” Nash said. “It’s been almost two months now. It takes a while to get your rhythm and everything down. So the anxiety and stress over the last eight months have been very unwelcomed.”

After his last trip to Vancouver in early December, Nash was able to participate in three straight days of Lakers practices without a setback. However, two days after the string of consecutive work, discomfort set in.

“My left leg just like shut off,” Nash said. “I remember just shooting and couldn’t feel the muscles working, and it was like fatiguing in like 10 minutes of light shooting. That’s classic neuropathy. Apparently I’ve become a bit of an expert.”


VIDEO: Steve Nash admits that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to his NBA future

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Might the solution to the Knicks’ problems be a discussed Melo-for-Blake Griffin swap — could be?  … This was a scary moment for the New Orleans Pelicans and Ryan Anderson … The Raptors’ revival is real, seriously, it’s legitimate. Just ask the Washington Wizards … They might have to keep it going without Kyle Lowry, though. The veteran point guard is apparently in demand … Thunder swingman Perry Jones is trying to solidify his spot in the rotation by mastering the “corner 3.”

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Andre Iguodala’s work this season on the Horry Scale has been stellar. And he added to it Friday night at Philips Arena, delivering the Golden State Warriors a victory at the buzzer over the Atlanta Hawks.


VIDEO: Iggy does it again, this time against the Hawks at the buzzer

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014