Lakers admire Dirk Nowitzki’s path toward greatness

DALLAS – The defensive principles all looked perfect, as Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. appeared determined in every way imaginable not to allow his opponent to score on him.

Nance planted both of his feet and kept his balance. He placed his left hand lightly behind his opponent’s back to keep him in check. Once his opponent established triple-threat position, Nance moved closer to give him little room to operate. But like most of his defenders that have tried to use the same tactics, Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki showed once again how very few times do those strategies actually work.

In signature fashion, Nowitzki stepped back into the air, lifted his arc of his shot and sank the ball into the net. It only seemed fitting that Nowitzki scored his 30,000th career point in the same way he logged the 29,998 others. In the Lakers’ 122-111 loss to the Mavericks on Tuesday at American Airlines Center, Nowitzki became the sixth player in NBA history to reach the 30,000 points mark after posting a team-leading 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Nowitzki also became the first international member of an elite club occupied by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

“I happened to be who he crossed the line on, but there’s a lot of other games between me and that last first point, I’m not worried about it,” Nance said. “I played solid defense. But Dirk is Dirk. There’s a reason he has 30,000 points. He’s a seven footer leaning back that can shoot. Good luck.”
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Dallas’ Mark Cuban supports Jeanie Buss, but loves sibling dispute

Los Angeles Lakers Team President Jeanie Buss, during The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC) 13th annual LAKERS ALL-ACCESS, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Monday, February ,27, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

DALLAS — The verbal jabs have become an enjoyable hobby for Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who delighted in tweaking former Lakers coach Phil Jackson and even Kobe Bryant. Cuban, who rarely shies away from offering his opinion, set his eyes on a new purple and gold target.

Cuban admitted feeling joy in Lakers president Jeanie Buss thwarting an effort from her brothers, Jim and Johnny, in voting her off the team’s board of directors and stripping away her power as the team’s acting governor.

“The worse it is, the better for me,” Cuban said before the Lakers visited the Mavericks on Tuesday at American Airlines Center. “There’s no NBA thing involved. We survived the other franchise going through some hell that didn’t begin to rival what may be going on. The more turmoil with 29 other teams, the happier I am.”
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Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. to play vs. Dallas, while Ivica Zubac considered questionable

Los Angeles Lakers guard Tyler Ennis (11) and Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. (7) defend the basket against Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lamb (3), during the 2nd quarter, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Tuesday, February ,28, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

DALLAS — The Lakers experienced mixed progress pertaining to the health of two key frontcourt players.

Lakers reserve forward Larry Nance Jr. said he received clearance to play when the Lakers (19-44) play against the Dallas Mavericks (26-36) tonight at American Airlines Center. But the Lakers listed reserve center Ivica Zubac as questionable after nursing a right quad contusion in recent days.

After completing all of Monday’s practice and Tuesday’s morning shootaround, Nance will not need to wear any wrapping around his right wrist. Meanwhile, Zubac missed Monday’s practice and only completed part of Tuesday’s morning shootaround.

“Didn’t look great,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said about Zubac. “We’ll see.”

While Nance has averaged 6.6 points on 55.3 percent rebounding and 5.5 rebounds, Zubac has averaged 5.9 points on 49.6 percent shooting and 3.8 rebounds. Zubac also missed Sunday’s loss to New Orleans, which opened up playing time for starting center Tarik Black and Timofey Mozgov, who had fallen out of the rotation so Walton could allocate more minutes to his younger players for development purposes.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” podcast on iTunes.

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Luol Deng on being on Lakers’ inactive roster: “I totally understand what we’re doing”

Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng (9) fouls Utah Jazz’s Rodney Hood(5) during the 2nd quarter against the Utah Jazz, at the Staples Center. Lakers lost 107-101. Los Angeles Calif., Monday, December ,5, 2016. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / LA Daily News / SCNG )

The move marked the latest sign on how Lakers coach Luke Walton has accelerated his shift toward developing his young players. It also marked the latest sign of the Lakers’ stock plummeting on reserve forward Luol Deng, whose four-year, $72 million has yielded only a 7.6 points per game average on a career-low 38.6 percent shooting in his 13th NBA season.

Lakers coach Luke Walton put Deng on the inactive list during the Lakers’ 115-95 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday at Staples Center for a simple reason. As Walton put it, “We’re trying to get looks at all the young guys that we can.”

“I totally understand what we’re doing,” Deng told Southern California News Group. “He wants the guys to be in situations where they learn and play minutes. It’s always about what we’re trying to do. Why am I going to be on the bench if I’m not playing?”
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Lakers’ Luke Walton says it’s “easy” to stay focused despite Buss sibling drama

Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers Luke Walton, center, Los Angeles Laker Julius Randle and Los Angeles Laker D’Angelo Russell on the court with fans, during The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC) 13th annual LAKERS ALL-ACCESS, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Monday, February ,27, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

LOS ANGELES — The continual developments have played out as a real-life soap opera that few Hollywood screenwriters could script.

Three years since the late Lakers owner Jerry Buss passed away, his beloved franchise has morphed into disarray. As the Lakers marched their way toward their fourth missed playoff appearance in consecutive year in place of the NBA lottery, Lakers president Jeanie Buss made changes to the front office. She ousted her brother, Jim Buss, as the Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations just before his self-imposed three-year timeline officially hit the expiration date. Jeanie Buss replaced her brother with longtime Lakers luminary Magic Johnson. She fired longtime general manager Mitch Kupchak, who Johnson then replaced with player agent Rob Pelinka.

Just over a week since making those changes, Jeanie Buss then filed a temporary restraining order on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court to block an effort by Jim and Johnny Buss to vote her off the Lakers’ board of directors, a charge the brothers’ attorneys have publicly denied. Jeanie Buss then withdrew her temporary restraining order after the brothers dropped their request for a board meeting she felt was a move against her.

If this backdrop has annoyed and flustered Lakers coach Luke Walton, he isn’t showing it. He pledged “it’s easy for me” not to become distracted with the Lakers’ ownership dynamics playing out in front of the entertainment capital of the world.

“I coach. I focus,” Walton said. “We have a lot to focus on with our players and what we’re trying to do. Stuff that is not in my control, I don’t spend much time thinking about.”

While the Buss siblings were busy with court filings on Friday morning, Walton was busy leading the team’s morning shootaround and then preparing for Friday’s eventual loss to the Boston Celtics at Staples Center. So even if the latest development has created angst within the Buss family, Walton said he has not forced himself not to pay attention.

“I don’t know enough about it,” Walton said, “to have any sort of comment about that.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” Lakers podcast on iTunes.

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Luke Walton credits David Nwaba for slicing deficit in loss to Celtics

LOS ANGELES — The moment represented one of many dreams David Nwaba held as a life-long Lakers fan.

He would wear a purple and gold uniform. He would play against the hated Boston Celtics. He would play in crunch time.

That glamorous backdrop marked a stark contrast toward what the undrafted guard experience as he spent most of the past season with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders. But even as Nwaba walked on the biggest stage he has ever stepped on with his basketball sneakers, the former standout at Los Angeles University High and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo maintained he hardly felt nervous.

So even if his first experience in the NBA’s historically most renowned rivalry ended with a Lakers’ 115-95 loss to the Celtics on Friday at Staples Center, Nwaba earned heavy praise from Lakers coach Luke Walton after posting seven points on 2-of-2 shooting and two rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. And to Nwaba, this happened all because of his lack of stage fright in his second NBA appearance.

“I have more confidence and I know what it feels like after the first game,” said Nwaba, who signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers on Tuesday. “It felt a lot better and less nerves.”
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Luke Walton, Metta World Peace embrace Lakers-Celtics rivalry, while stressing more about future

Jordan Farmar looks at Ron Artest as he hugs Kobe Bryant at the end of the game. The Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in game 7 of the NBA Finals 83-79 in Los Angeles, CA 06/16/2010 (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)

The joy and agony still feels like a recent feeling for Luke Walton, who still remembers in vivid detail the conflicting emotions surrounding the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.

Walton first felt the agony when the Lakers lost to Boston in six games in the 2008 NBA Finals. Walton conceded “it still bothers me a lot” that the Celtics celebrated with a Gatorade bath in the waning minutes of their 39-point series-clinching win over the Lakers in Game 6 at the TD Garden. Although he understood and respected the gesture, Walton still found it “pretty painful” it took the team bus about 2 1/2 hours to drive from TD Garden back to the team’s hotel because of rowdy Celtics fans celebrating in the street. Two years later, though, Walton sensed that “nerves were strong” before experiencing “a pretty special evening” when the Lakers exacted revenge on the Celtics by beating them in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals.

Although those memories still sounded vivid, Walton has abstained from sharing stories with his players as the Lakers (19-42) host the Boston Celtics (39-22) on Friday at TD Garden. Instead, Walton has talked about recent memories, including the need for the Lakers to end a five-game losing streak and two straight losses this week at Staples Center.

“They should get to know to respecting the game that treats us all so well,” Walton said. “They should know the history of it and where everything came from. That’s a big part of the history, the rivalry. But it’s not important as far as the way we play for right now. Right now, we’re at the beginning stages of where we need to get to. It’s more we have to come out and compete again and talk on defense. We’re going to play defense without fouling. Those are the type of things our focus needs to be.”
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Lakers’ Luke Walton tries his best to watch college basketball only as a fan

Lakers coach Luke Walton attended Wednesday’s UCLA-Washington game. Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

EL SEGUNDO — Once again, Luke Walton sat on the sidelines and watched a basketball game. Instead of wearing a suit, Walton dressed in street clothes. Instead of coaching the Lakers, Walton observed UCLA’s victory over Washington on Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion as a fan.

The symbolism may have seemed rich. Walton watched UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, who is considered one of the top prospects. The Lakers (19-42) enter Friday’s game against the Boston Celtics (39-22) at Staples Center with a 46.9 percent chance of retaining their top-3 protected pick. And for what it’s worth, Walton called Bell “good” after scoring 19 points against the Huskies.

Yet, Walton said he has occasionally watched college basketball this year more as a fan than as an NBA coach evaluating future draft prospects. On Wednesday, Walton, Lakers second-year guard D’Angelo Russell and rookie forward Brandon Ingram attended UCLA’s game in hopes to see Ball and Huskies guard Markelle Fultz, who has missed four of the team’s last six games because of a right knee injury.

“If I have a free night to watch basketball, I’d rather try to my best to sit there and enjoy watching the game,” said Walton, who also saw UCLA play against Oregon State in late December. “We have a whole scouting department that has been watching them all year. We got European scouts. When the time comes, we’ll take the appropriate amount of time to sit down and actually watch it from more of a scout’s view than when I casually have the game if I’m out at dinner or whatnot.”

Still, Walton conceded he has maintained that mindset only 50 percent of the time he watches games.

“For the most part, you can’t help it,” Walton said. “A lot of times in the hotel, I think I can rewind it. I want to see what play they really ran so I can either steal the play or see how they got into it from the beginning.”

Walton, a University of Arizona alum, hardly wanted to make much about the possibility the Lakers could draft Ball. Or that Ball’s dad reportedly has expressed interest in the Lakers selecting him.

“I heard he said it, and then he didn’t say it,” Walton said. “I don’t know. That’s why I try not to pay attention to any of that stuff anymore.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” Lakers podcast on iTunes.

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Luke Walton cited David Nwaba’s defense for Lakers signing him to 10-day contract

The Lakers’ coach Luke Walton lets loose a smile against the Spurs during a NBA game at STAPLES Center Sunday, February 26, 2017, Los Angeles, CA. The Spurs led at the half 61-41. Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs Photo by Steve McCrank, Daily News/SCNG

EL SEGUNDO — As he wore a smirk on his face, Lakers coach Luke Walton suggested he will change his bench rotation for when the Lakers (19-41) host the Charlotte Hornets (25-34) on Tuesday at Staples Center. “Tune in and see,” Walton smiled.

Here’s an early prediction: Walton will feature guard David Nwaba after the Lakers signed him on Tuesday to a 10-day contract. While the Lakers will monitor Nwaba’s growth after the undrafted 6-foot-5 guard starred with their Development League affiliate, Walton also held out hope Nwaba could improve something that has plagued his roster all season.

“I love his defense,” Walton said. “As we continue to try to be a more defensive oriented team as far as growth, I think it’s important we get defensive minded people around here. Going to D-League games and watching him on tape, I think he’s the type of the guy that can help us build an identity where we want to play defense.”
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Magic Johnson said he’ll “never interfere” with Luke Walton’s efforts to coach the Lakers

Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers Luke Walton, left, and Magic Johnson, Lakers President of Basketball Operations, share a laugh during the The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC) 13th annual LAKERS ALL-ACCESS, at the Staples Center.
Los Angeles Calif., Monday, February ,27, 2017.
( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

LOS ANGELES — From up above, Magic Johnson imposed a towering presence as he sat on a balcony overseeing the practice court during Monday’s session. Down below, Johnson’s stature has loomed large as he has offered players individual instruction.

As the Lakers’ new president of basketball operations, Johnson has wasted little time stamping his imprint on a team he once led to five NBA championships during the Showtime Era. He became involved with the trade deadline. He traveled with the Lakers for their two-day trip to Oklahoma City where he dined with the Lakers’ coaching staff, watched practice and provided feedback. He did the same thing during Monday’s training session in El Segundo.

Even with how much he has exerted his influence thus far, Johnson maintained he has his limitations. During the Lakers’ 13th annual All-Access event on Monday at Staples Center, Johnson pledged he would “never interfere” with Lakers coach Luke Walton, “his players and his coaching.”

“It’s been really easy. This man is the coach of the Lakers,” Johnson said, pointing to Walton sitting beside him on stage. “I’m not the coach. He is the coach. I sit back and I just watch games, I watch practice. His job is to coach. I may come to him and say, ‘So and so needs to work on this.’ I’ve done that a couple of times. But that’s up to him.”
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