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.

Dwyane Wade does #SoGoneChallenge, calls for banana-boat buddies to join him (video)

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  General manager Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls (L) listens as Dwyane Wade speaks during an introductory press conference at the Advocate Center on July 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Rasheed Wallace isn’t the only NBA player doing the #SoGoneChallenge.

Dwyane Wade is also rapping to the music of 2003 Monica song “So Gone”:

Having alil fun haha!!! I challenge #TeamWade @kingjames @cp3 @carmeloanthony do this #Sogonechallenge

A video posted by dwyanewade (@dwyanewade) on

Wade also invites LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to take the challenge. Will any accept?

John Wall: Bradley Beal and I ‘have a tendency to dislike each other on the court’

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23:  Bradley Beal #3 and John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards talk in the first half against the Atlanta Hawks at Verizon Center on March 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Why is new Wizards coach Scott Brooks going so far out of his way to praise Washington’s backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal?

Maybe because the guards need positive reinforcement about their ability to excel together.

Wall, via J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“I think a lot of times we have a tendency to dislike each other on the court. … We got to be able to put that to the side. If you miss somebody on one play or don’t have something go right … as long as you come to each other and talk. If I starting arguing with somebody I’m cool. I’m just playing basketball,” Wall said in a sitdown interview with CSN’s Chris Miller that airs tonight, Wizards Central: Offseason Grind, at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Beal, via Michael:

“It’s tough because we’re both alphas. It’s always tough when you have two guys who firmly believe in themselves, who will bet on themselves against anybody else, who want to be that guy. We both can be that guy,” Beal said.

“Sometimes I think we both lose sight of the fact that we need each other. I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in without John. John wouldn’t be in the situation he’s in without me, without the rest of the team. It goes hand-in-hand so it’s kind of a pride thing. We got to (hash) out our pride, fiigure out what our goals are individually, help each other achieve those goals, figure out what our team goal is, where do we see ourselves five years from now, 10 years from now and go from there.”

Wall and Beal have spent four seasons together. Wall is locked up for three more and Beal five more.

This isn’t a fleeting problem.

In theory, Wall and Beal should play off each other well. Wall is more of a slasher and passer. Beal excels as an outside shooter.

But complementary skills matter only so much if there’s a personality difference.

Michael credited Alan Anderson and Garrett Temple with soothing tension, but both those veterans have left Washington. It’s time for Wall and Beal to handle this better on their own – or, without the right support around them, interpersonal issues could sink the Wizards.

Jazz sign second-rounders Joel Bolomboy, Marcus Paige

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04:  Marcus Paige #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels prepares to shoot a three-pointer to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left in the second half against the Villanova Wildcats during the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Jazz expedited their rise this offseason by trading their first-round pick for George Hill, using cap space to acquire Boris Diaw in another deal and signing Joe Johnson.

But Utah still has room for youth.

The Jazz signed two of their three 2016 second-round picks – No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy and No. 55 pick Marcus Paige.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick forward/center Joel Bolomboy (Ball-um-boy).

He will wear jersey #22 for the Jazz.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today that the team has signed 2016 second-round pick guard Marcus Paige.

He will wear jersey #16 for the Jazz.

Bolomboy is an energetic and athletic rebounder, and that should translate to the NBA. Will the rest of his game round into form? If not, will rebounding and hustle be enough to carve out a role? The power forward from Weber State was worth betting on late in the second round. He might not get much playing time behind Derrick Favors, Diaw and Trey Lyles, but it’s probably worth keeping Bolomboy on an NBA contract and monitoring his development.

Paige is in a similar situation, though point guard is even more crowded with George Hill, Dante Exum, Shelvin Mack and Raul Neto. After four years at North Carolina, how much untapped potential remains?

The Jazz have 14 players – one shy of the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries plus Jeff Withey and Chris Johnson. So, barring something unforeseen, there isn’t room for both Bolomboy and Paige (let alone unsigned No. 60 pick Tyrone Wallace) to stick. Utah could waive either rookie and assign his D-League rights to its affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. But that player would become an NBA free agent.

That’s why I’m a little surprised the Jazz signed both. Perhaps, Paige forced their hand by accepting the required tender (a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain a player’s draft rights).

Essentially, this sets up a training-camp competition between Bolomboy, Paige, Withey and Johnson with one NBA salary on the line. My money is on Bolomboy.

Kevin Durant wants to top Carmelo Anthony’s Olympic scoring record, still unsure about 2020

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Gold medalist Kevin Durant of the United States celebrates after defeating Serbia during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Olympics served a therapeutic purpose for Kevin Durant, who won gold with Team USA after facing immense backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

What about 2020? What will motivate him to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Games?

Maybe Carmelo Anthony‘s American Olympic scoring record. Durant is just 25 points behind the Knicks star.

Durant, via Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

“I can’t say right now,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’ll be 31, going on 32 …”

Overhearing the conversation, Anthony jumped in and shouted, “He’ll be playing in 2020 and 2024! I’m right. I’m right.”

Durant laughed and shook his head as Anthony darted ahead as the most decorated American Olympic basketball player. For now. “I want to pass him, for sure. Just because it’s ‘Melo, I would love to pass him. But I don’t know if I’ll play or not,” Durant told The Vertical. “Who knows? We’ll see. You never know what’s going to happen in four years. I’m just going to enjoy this one right now.”

Durant has already won gold medals (in 2008 and 2012). Potentially, he’ll rack up heavy mileage with multiple deep playoff runs with Golden State in the coming years. And as he said, he’ll be nearly 32 in four years.

That’s the type of record that usually leads a player to skip the Olympics.

But Durant would still be young enough that it’s plausible, and his game should age well enough that he’ll remain one of the top American players. Breaking Melo’s record could entice him, too.