NBA Playoffs: The Lakers are just a flipped switch away from another title

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Thumbnail image for Gasol_game.jpgIt’s very trendy to be down on the Lakers right now. They’ve given everyone plenty of reasons the last month — spotty execution, horrible outside shooting, questionable defensive rotations and a general malaise.

See, there I go doing it — we act as if these Lakers are that other team in LA. The Lakers won 57 games and won the West going away, despite a number of injuries. (Kobe had a number of injuries all by himself, it just doesn’t keep him out of games). It’s trendy to think the Lakers will fall short, and plenty of people are rooting for the Lakers to self destruct in a spectacular, Lindsay Lohan fashion.

But the reality is, these Lakers can win it all. They did it last year with almost this exact same roster. They know what it takes to climb the mountain. They can flip the switch from how they have played recently. The question is will they.

The reasons they can win are well known.

They have the best starting five in basketball, when healthy. Kobe Bryant is… well, Kobe Bryant. Injured or not, he is Kobe Bean Bryant. He’s a step slower but he gets to his spots on the floor still, and he hits shots nobody else wants to take.

For the last couple weeks, Pau Gasol has been best Laker going. He is scoring 26 a game and shooting 65 percent in the five previous games leading up to Wednesday. He is boarding. He is defending. He is draining the midrange jumper. He is finding space in the offense. He is looking like one of the best fours on the planet.

Andrew Bynum will be a key for the Lakers — when he’s healthy their defense improves dramatically. Let’s face it, at this point Derek Fisher is often little more than an orange traffic cone for speedy guards to dribble around. The Lakers need Bynum to intimidate in the paint.

Ron Artest was brought in to play lock-down defense on wings (he’ll get his first chance against the NBA scoring leader in Kevin Durant) and to provide more hair colors to the Lakers. He has done both during the season, and he can be a better defender in the playoffs where play is usually allowed to be a little more physical.

There’s Lamar Odom and his amazing gifts, which become less enigmatic in the playoffs. Fisher, for all his aging, can be trusted to hit the big shot. Luke Walton is back and with it the second unit looks far more smooth.

What gets overlooked with these Lakers is that when healthy, when focused, this was one of the best defensive teams in the league. They were for much of the season. If they return to that form they can shut teams down.

What really is the Lakers calling card is they have the mental game down. It hasn’t looked that way lately but they do. Phil Jackson has two hands full of rings for a reason. Kobe is tough. Gasol is mentally tough. The Lakers have won a title, been to the Finals two straight years. They know what it takes more than any team in the West.

When you have the mental game to go with all that high-priced talent. You can win it all. They just have to flip the switch.

Andrew Bogut comes up big for Warriors, who so often shun him to go small

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The Warriors’ Nuclear Lineup propelled them to the 2015 NBA championship. It has drawn praise from the President of the United States. It has been credited with revolutionizing basketball.

And it has marginalized Andrew Bogut.

Golden State has been at its best the last two years when benching Bogut for Andre Iguodala and shifting Draymond Green to center. That small-ball unit has defended well, pushed the pace and found quality shots.

But with the death lineup looking more vulnerable than ever – and, really, vulnerable at all for the first time – the Warriors turned to the starter who had sat and cheered his teammates in the biggest moments.

Bogut scored 15 points (his career playoff high) and grabbed 14 rebounds (his 2016 postseason high) in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the the Thunder.

The biggest number: Bogut’s 30 minutes.

He played just 17, 16, 12 and 11 minutes in the series’ first four games. Foul trouble contributed, but so did Golden State’s sloppiness – turnovers and quick shots – that turned games into track meets. At 7 feet and age 31, Bogut isn’t built to keep up. But the Warriors slowed the game just enough to let Bogut shine.

Protecting the paint has two major components:

1. Preventing shots at the rim. Even the worst finishing teams score at point-blank range more efficiently than the best mid-range teams do between the paint and 3-point arc.

2. Forcing misses at the rim when the opponent gets off a shot. Obviously.

Golden State improved tremendously in both areas tonight.

The Warriors allowed a series-low 18 attempts in the restricted area:

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And they held Oklahoma City to a series-low 44% shooting in the restricted area:

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Add it up, and that means the Thunder made just eight shots in the restricted area – a third as many as Game 3 and half as many as any other game:

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Bogut was central to the interior defense. Oklahoma City shot just 3-for-10 (30%) in the restricted area with him on the floor and 5-for-8 (63%) with him off.

“Bogues is our best defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, providing news to the voters who picked Golden State forward Draymond Green second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Green defended well tonight. But Bogut – who had two blocks and two steals – really drove the turnaround.

“It’s probably the key if you want to look for one thing – Bogues’ play leading to better defense,” Kerr said.

Add his quality finishing (7-for-9 from the field) and plus passing from the post (which generated two assists), and this was a real gem from Bogut – at a time the Warriors needed it most.

But can Bogut help them in Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City? He hasn’t played 30 minutes twice in three days in more than a year.

“I believe in Bogues,” Kerr said. “I think he can play that way in Game 6.”

Golden State will need him – or another way to defend the paint. Given the results of this series so far, including Green uncharacteristically struggling to protect the rim as the small-ball center, I’d turn to Bogut again.

Stephen Curry attacks rim, makes defensive plays, lifts Warriors to 120-111 win

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Stephen Curry wasn’t hitting threes like the video-game version of himself (the one we have come to expect), so he attacked the rim and made plays in the paint. The result was 31 points on 20 shots — and he set the tone for the Warriors all night.

Not just on offense, Curry had a key steal plus blocked a Kevin Durant shot late — highlighting an improved Warriors defense.

“I thought he looked like 91 percent,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr joked about Curry after the game (referencing the report Curry is just 70 percent healthy).

Curry played better than he had since Game 2 — so did Draymond Green, who had some offensive struggles but played the defense we know. The Warriors also got 27 points from Klay Thompson, and 15 points plus a lot great play in the paint from Andrew Bogut allowing the Warriors to stay with bigger lineups. Also, with Golden State attacking the rim, they got to the free throw line 34 times.

The result of all of it was a 120-111 Golden State win at home in Game 5, making the series 3-2.

Now the biggest test of the season comes for the Warriors — they will need to play better than this Saturday on the road in Oklahoma City to force a Game 7.

“We played with great energy, we played with great desperation, that’s the way you have to play in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “We were out of sorts the last two games, and we looked more like ourselves.”

The best way to describe Curry’s night was “good enough.” Credit to him attacking when his threes were not falling, look at his shot chart on the night.

Curry Game 5 shot chart

The Warriors also took the Thunder out of what had been successful for them the past couple games — OKC had just 15 fast break points (compared to 28 for the Warriors), the Warriors were +18 on points in the paint, and the Warriors outrebounded the Thunder on the night. The Warriors didn’t overthink thier defense on the Thunder in this one, they just did a better job of executing switches and, thanks to Bogut, taking away easy buckets inside.

Russell Westbrook and OKC struggled out of the gate — as a team, they shot 8-of-28 in the first quarter and at one point Westbrook missed 10 shots in a row. The Warriors were not hot with their typical shots — 2-of-10 from three — but they were getting to the rim and finishing better inside, which got them a lead in a game where Oracle Arena is rocking.

Steve Kerr did not dramatically change what had worked so well for Golden State all season, counting on his team to just be better — and it was, they outscored the Thunder small-ball lineup 20-15 in the first half (after being destroyed by it in the previous two games). The Thunder hung around in the second thanks to mid-range jumpers (5-of-7 in the second, plus 3-of-5 from three). But the Thunder did not get the same lift from their stars, Kevin Durant had 15 first half points on 15 shots, Westbrook had 13 on 14 shots (but still had six assists). Golden State led 58-50 at the half.

The Thunder opened the second half on a 9-2 run and things yo-yoed between tied and a small Warrior lead for much of the second half, until the Golden State’s bench pushed the lead into double digits again late in the third and early in the fourth. That lead held until the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run fueled by some sloppy Warriors turnovers.

But the Warriors showed more poise than they have in the past few games, holding on for the win, making plays at the end when they needed to.

Now, can they do that and better on the road?

Draymond Green banks in shot from logo after whistle (video)

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors warms up prior to Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Draymond Green missed both his 3-pointers prior, but he made this.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, it didn’t count because it came after a whistle (that few heard over the loud Golden State fans).

Stephen Curry sunk a 3-pointer later in the possession. That one counted.

Report: Khloe Kardashian files for divorce from Lamar Odom

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
AP Photo/Evan Agostini
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1. Khloe Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom.

2. With Odom facing health problems after a drug overdose, they rescinded the filing.

3. Odom reportedly continued drinking, frustrating Kardashian.

Associated Press:

Court records in Los Angeles show Kardashian filed for divorce Thursday, citing irreconcilable differences.