A tale of two contenders


The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers are the crown jewels of the league. Both lead their respective conferences, both will have homecourt advantage through their conference Finals, both are elite.

And Wednesday they provide a fascinating cross-examination of one another.

The Lakers mailed one in in Atlanta, getting wiped off the map by the Hawks 109-92. It was not pretty. The Lakers have very little to blame. It wasn’t a matchup problem. It wasn’t a back to back. It was the tail end of a road trip, but still. To be down by double digits nearly the entire second half is pretty incredible for a team many consider to still be the best in the league. The answer? Even the Hawks announcers knew, the Lakers had no interest in being on the floor tonight.

It’s nothing new for the Lakers, who have lost three of their last five, two by double digits in routs. This team has simply played lazy for the majority of the season, turning it on for select quarters in most games, and yet there they are, top of the standings, top of the world. For all this team’s talent and ability, their effort indicates that they simply do not care about the regular season. I could spout off to you something about how true champions give their all in every game, every contest, but that’s a lie.

This is the NBA, and 82 game death march, and only the strongest survive, sure, but part of being strong is knowing when to drag your feet to conserve strength. The Lakers just happen to be dragging their feet, occasionally coming to a complete stop and getting trod over. Even the most confident Laker fan has to wonder how much is simple boredom and how much is actual problems with the team, most notably their play inside. They’ve earned the faith of the acolytes, but they’d better deliver at the altar.

Meanwhile, the Cavs let the Bucks who, no lie, they could very well end up seeing in the second round, hang around for 48 minutes, needing a LeBron James steal on the last possession off a horrible Luke Ridnour pass to ice it. This despite a 45-9 free throw advantage for the Cavs, at home. What’s more, if you watched the game, the Cavs were plugged into this one. While the Lakers were FedExing theirs in, the Cavs were locked in, putting forth the same effort that’s gotten them where they’re at. Yet the result was still in doubt, even with everything that was in their favor.

Last year the Cavs blistered the regular season, torching their way into the Conference Finals, laughing and dancing all the way. And all they got for it was a lousy t-shirt that said “Dwight Howard WUZ HERE.” And a win’s better than a loss. But so much of a team’s success depends on the ability to “turn it on” and get hot at the right time. Peak too early and you’re Cleveland last year. Peak too late and you’re the Pistons nearly every year in the 2000’s.

We’ve got two contenders who are still the favorites. Two titans who are still the Lords of their conferences. But to pretend that the Lakers loss is meaningless is as shortsighted as putting too much stock in it and equally foolish. And to assert that all is well with Cleveland because they got the W is to forget their history, and to ignore that the Lakers got blown out, but they also didn’t give anything, either.

Sixers Nerlens Noel to miss time following surgery on sore knee

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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During the ProBasketballTalk podcast with Sixers coach Brett Brown, you could hear the frustration in his voice. He has all these talented young front line players — Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor — but he can’t begin to figure out how they all fit together if he can’t get them on the court at the same time.

That problem just got worse.

The Sixers announced that Nerlens Noel will miss time following surgery to deal with soreness in his left knee. Here is the word from the press release itself:

During the normal course of evaluation and treatment for his left adductor strain, which was identified on October 6, Noel reported localized soreness in his left knee. After consulting with multiple specialists, the source of the soreness was identified as inflamed plica. Noel has elected to address the injury via a minor surgical procedure in the coming days.

The team gives no timeline for Noel’s return. Soreness from the plica — a band of tissue around the knee that is not important following birth — happens in some players and can be fixed by an arthroscopic surgery that removes the area being irritated. While the surgery is minor, it usually takes around six weeks to bounce back from this.

That likely means a little more run for Jahlil Okafor (just coming back from an injury of his own) and Richaun Holmes. But it’s just another injury setback for a Sixers team plagued by them.

The Sixers also announced that Jerryd Bayless will not have surgery on his wrist, but will remain out and be evaluated in two weeks.

If you didn’t watch the final seconds of the WNBA Finals, you should


This was flat out incredible.

After a back-and-forth, even series between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, it came down to the final seconds (although maybe it shouldn’t have, the WNBA admitted Friday the referees missed a call with 1:14 left, giving the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike a bucket on a shot after the shot clock expired).

The biggest stars took over at the end, as you can see in the video above: L.A.’s Candace Parker drives and scores with 19 seconds left putting the Sparks up 75-74; Minnesota responded with a Maya Moore jumper to take the lead back, then it came down to Ogwumike (the WNBA’s 2016 MVP) getting the ball after a block by Sylvia Fowles and following it up with a fadeaway bucket that gave Los Angeles the title.

Congrats to Candace Parker on the win, after how she’s been overlooked on the awards circuit in the WNBA this season, this is some sweet revenge.

Report: Jrue Holiday’s wife, Lauren Holiday, undergoes successful brain surgery

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 31:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center on October 31, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is away from the team as his wife, Lauren Holiday, battles a brain tumor.

First, Lauren gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Now, more good news.

John Reid of The Times-Picayune:

Hopefully, the Holidays continue to find good health.

UPDATE: Sixers coach says he “misspoke” about January timeline for Ben Simmons

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A Jones fracture — the broken bone in the foot that Philadelphia rookie Ben Simmons recently has surgery to repair — is difficult to put on a recovery timeline. That part of the foot (the outside of the foot closer to the ankle) does not get good blood flow and that can slow recovery. Plus with a prized rookie, the Sixers have a history of being cautious — and Simmons’ agent may want to be even more cautious.

But Brett Brown, the Sixers coach, said Friday afternoon he expected Simmons back on the court in January. Here is what he told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“It’s not doom and gloom,” Brown said when asked when asked how his team is adjusting to its various injuries at the moment. “Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd [Bayless]. Jahlil [Okafor] is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game.”

Within a couple hours, Brown had backtracked off that timeline. Here is his pregame quote Friday night, via CSNPhilly.com.

“I did mention a January hopeful return, and that was premature. That was a coach doing a lot more wishing than receiving instruction…

“We will play this out,” Brown said of Simmons. “Everything is on track with his rehab. It’s only been two weeks since the surgery. Over a short period of time, we will be better prepared to give a statement that will map out his future.”

While it is certainly possible Simmons is back in January, the Sixers history shows they are not going to push this. Even if it takes longer — maybe closer to the All-Star break — Brown would certainly work with it. As Brown told us when he joined PBT for a podcast, he wants to spend a lot of this season seeing how his young, athletic front line can play together? Can Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric all play together in a big front line? How do Simmons and Embiid mesh? Simmons and Saric? Where does Nerlens Noel fit in all this once he returns from his latest injury?

Until Brown gets guys healthy and on the court it’s impossible to know.

For all our sakes, I hope Simmons is back in January. And if he is, the possibility of him still winning Rookie of the Year exists.