We say again, San Antonio should aim for LA in 1st round

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Gregg Popovich said before Sunday’s game with the Lakers that every Western Conference team is trying to avoid the Lakers in round one. Via ESPN:

“The ones that say, ‘We don’t care who we play,’ they’re full of
baloney,” Popovich said. “We’re all trying to hide from the Lakers in
the first round and that’s the truth.

“Really, it’s like, ‘Who do
you want to play in the first round?,'” Popovich continued before
sarcastically answering his question. “Oh, the Lakers! We’ll play the
Lakers!”

After San Antonio’s 100-81 win, in Staples, without Tony Parker and George Hill (who sprained an ankle early in the ballgame), we’d like to say again what we said earlier.

Yes. The Lakers.

Greg Popovich has forgotten more about basketball than we’ll learn in a lifetime, but even he has to see some of the same signs we do.

While our fearless leader pointed out that today’s game doesn’t show us anything new, it did reinforce some ideas that are important to consider. For starters, Andrew Bynum is a huge missing piece against Tim Duncan. Pau Gasol did a great job back on March 24th, when Duncan was struggling. Today, Duncan ran over Gasol like a freight train. Gasol might as well have been tied to the tracks by some 1920’s film villain with a handlebar mustache.

Playing the Lakers in the first round? Means either no Bynum, or one struggling to get back into rhythm. We informed you earlier that Bynum’s struggling to recover from the Achilles strain that’s sidelined him for two weeks. Another two weeks is in no way out of the realm of possibility. If San Antonio can get a matchup with LA without Bynum? That’s preferable than if Bynumzilla is at full strength.

Then there’s Kobe Bean Bryant. Bryant is somehow managing to take tons of shots and miss a high percentage, impressive for a superstar. Bryant was 8 of 24 today, going 13 of 47 since signing his massive extension. But this is Kobe Bryant. He’s going to wake up. But if this slump is the result of the myriad injuries Bryant’s suffered, you want to catch him before he heals and goes back to, you know, being Bryant. It’s probably not going to work, but it’s the best shot.

There’s also the matter of avoiding Dallas. If everyone is avoiding LA, Portland and Utah are at least not trying to avoid the Mavericks. The Spurs, on the other hand, have lost to Dallas in the playoffs twice, including last season, and the Mavericks have won the past two meetings this season. But if the Spurs fall to eighth and the Blazers move up to seventh, there’s a chance that if the Spurs were to somehow make it past LA they may not have to go through Dallas as well.

Beyond all that is the fact that Popovich has essentially said the Spurs are hoping an act of God knocks off the Lakers, like a matchup advantage a la Golden State ’07 or the Kraken or something. But you tell an aging group of veterans (but not the press under any circumstances), “We’ve beaten them this year. We can beat them. We’re not running from them, we WANT to play them” and they’re going to gear up for that.

You want to win the West? You have to go through LA. And while going through them early may not make a difference rather than later, it may present the best opportunity. And besides, is LA really playing to finish as a runner-up? It’s championship or nothing. The Spurs are playing their best ball of the season. They should try to cash in on that.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.

Bulls Fred Hoiberg complains Isaiah Thomas gets away with palming. Thomas shrugs.

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The Boston Celtics have evened their series with Chicago Bulls, and more than that seem to have been able to take the Bulls best punch and now are responding.

At the heart of that is Boston All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who had 33 points on Sunday. He was attacking and getting into the heart of the Bulls defense all night, telling Michael Carter-Williams “you can’t guard me” so many times Thomas got a technical. Thing is, Thomas was right. No Bull has been able to guard Thomas the past two games.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said the reason for that is the officials let him get away with a palming the ball when dribbling. Via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com (video above).

“Let me say this: Isaiah Thomas is a hell of a player, an unbelievable competitor, a warrior, everything he’s going through right now. He had a hell of a game tonight,” Hoiberg said. “When you’re allowed to discontinue your dribble on every possession, he’s impossible to guard. Impossible to guard. When you’re able to put your hand underneath the ball, take two or three steps and put it back down. It’s impossible to guard him in those situations.”

I liked the follow-up comment from the reporter (not on the video), which was essentially “the league doesn’t call that on anyone, so that’s your complaint?” Thomas doesn’t get away with palming any more than any other ball handler in the league. If you want to define the rule by a 1950s standard then yes, he does carry, but so does pretty much every Bulls’ ball handler. So does 3/4 of the league by that measure.

Fortunately, Hoiberg never had to coach against Allen Iverson or he might have completely lost it watching him dribble.

This came off as a desperation ploy by Hoiberg. Or it was the worst attempt ever at a “take that for data” rant ever.

Thomas, for his part, basically shrugged when told about it.

When told about Hoiberg’s comments, Thomas said, “That’s not the reason. It is what it is. I guess (Hoiberg) is just going to continue to say it. I’ve been dribbling that way my whole life, I don’t know what to say to that.”

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.