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

5 Comments

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.

Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffers shoulder dislocation, leaves game

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had been back just six games after suffering a torn labrum in the preseason that required surgery. The Hornets had won four of those six, were playing improved defense, and looked like a potential playoff team in the East.

Now this.

He went straight to the locker room and did not return to the game (the Pacers got the win).

You can see the injury above. In a scramble for a loose ball, the Pacers’ Ian Mahinmi falls on MKG’s arm, dislocating his shoulder.

We don’t know the severity of all this and if MKG is going to miss time beyond this game. But it isn’t good.

Wife of former Pelicans coach Monty Williams dies in car accident

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 12:  Ingrid Williams, wife of New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams and other member of the Pelicans organization feed the homeless on December 12, 2013 at the New Orleans Mission 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

There are no words to describe how sad this is.

Ingrid Williams, the wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach and former New Orleans Pelicans head coach, Monty Williams, died Wednesday at the age of 44 from injuries suffered in a car accident the day before.

Williams’ car was hit head-on by another vehicle that had crossed over the center divider, according to the Oklahoman.

The Monty and Ingrid had been married more than 20 years and have five children, ranging in age from 17 to 5. Williams is one of the better respected and personally liked coaches around the league, and the tributes have just started to pour in.

Our thoughts are with Williams and his family.

Kobe reflects on LeBron before final matchup in Cleveland

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers greets LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers after the game on January 15, 2015 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND (AP) — Kobe Bryant remembers giving a pair of his sneakers to LeBron James as a gift and offering the teenager some advice.

The years in between have passed in a blur.

On his final visit to Cleveland to play against James on Wednesday night, Bryant reflected on his relationship with a player who once hung a poster of him on his bedroom wall in Akron, Ohio, and has grown into a valued friend.

And as gets ready to say goodbye to the NBA after two decades, Bryant was stunned to learn that James, too, is on the back half of his career.

“Is this his 10th year?” Bryant asked, before being told that James has been in the league longer. “Eleventh year? Thirteenth year! He’s a true, true vet. It’s strange. To me, it still seems like he just got into the league. Pretty crazy. … He might retire soon, too.”

Bryant was at ease during his interview session with reporters before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Cavaliers. This is Bryant’s sendoff, his farewell tour, and the 37-year-old is trying to savor every moment.

When he was in high school and on the verge of becoming a household name, James met Bryant before playing against Carmelo Anthony in an All-Star game in Philadelphia. It was then that Bryant dropped some knowledge on James.

“I remember sitting down and talking with him,” Bryant said. “The advice I gave him, because he would have so much coming at him, was focus on the game. Stay true to the craft. Everything else would sort out. That was the most important piece of advice I could give him.”

On several occasions this season, James has spoken with reverence toward Bryant, one of the game’s most celebrated players with whom he is often compared. The two didn’t always have the strongest connection, but is has matured over the years, helped by them playing together on the U.S. Olympic team.

Bryant and James once seemed on a collision course to meet in the NBA Finals, but the matchup never materialized, disappointing a basketball world wanting to see the greats go head-to-head with everything on the line.

“We never crossed paths unfortunately,” Bryant said. “I just wanted to win the damn thing. I didn’t care who we played. For the fans it probably stinks because it would have been a great matchup, but from a player’s perspective it doesn’t matter who you play. … Just want to win the championship.”

Bryant recalled previous visits to Cleveland, including the 1997 All-Star Game when he participated in the dunk contest as a rookie. That year the showcased the game’s Top 50 players, a who’s who of hoops immortality that had Bryant in a daze.

“Man, I remember walking around the hotel, I remember walking around this arena, and just running into a great after great after great after great after great,” Bryant said. “I grew up watching all of these players. So I watched all of the classic videos, the films, the books. So to see these players all walking around, it was pretty amazing.”

This weekend, Bryant will take his All-Star bow. It will be the last time he mingles with his peers, who will undoubtedly honor him throughout the festivities in Toronto.

Bryant’s career has come full circle.

“I can’t wait to be around them and talk to them and see how far the game has progressed, see all this young talent the different generations of players,” said the 16-time All-Star. “To me, LeBron is still young. I can’t fathom this is his 13th season and the generations that come after him – the Durant generations, the Curry generations. There are so many generations in between that. It’s going to be fun for me to be around.

“When I first played in an All-Star game, imagine an 18-year-old, 19-year-old kid walking into a locker room and here’s John Stockton with his little itty-bitty shorts. There’s Barkley. There’s Clyde Drexler. There’s Gary Payton. I was a 19-year-kid.”

Report: Grizzlies want to pitch Kevin Durant. Join the long line.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in New York. Durant had 32 points but the Nets upset the Thunder 116-106. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
1 Comment

If Kevin Durant makes his intentions known he plans to leave Oklahoma City — and that is far from certain, if anything the odds still lean toward him staying — you can expect 29 teams to line up trying to make their pitch. We are talking about a top-three NBA player, a franchise-changing force, a guy that turns a team into an instant contender.

Consider the Memphis Grizzlies in that group.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

They are working to keep Conley in summer free agency, with Memphis planning to be one more contender with two stars that will try to persuade Kevin Durant to make it a Big Three, league sources said. Durant’s the longest of long shots in summer, but the short-term trade deadline directives are unchanged: The Grizzlies are determined to use the trade deadline to better the roster for a playoff push.

The first thing that means: Despite the rumors, do not expect a Mike Conley trade. They will keep him at the deadline and make a major push to re-sign him in the summer. The Knicks and a host of other teams will be lined up to pitch Conley, and he said he will consider his options, but remember he helped recruit Marc Gasol to stay a season ago. And the Grizzlies can offer more guaranteed money than anyone.

The Grizzlies can make an interesting pitch. With him, they are legit title contenders so  Durant can chase his ring. Also, this is a small market — KD has had testy run-ins with the media playing in the smallest market in the NBA. The OKC media relations people do their best to shield him. Does he want the scrutiny that comes with New York or Los Angeles? Even Golden State? Memphis is a small market where he would be comfortable. Plus, awesome barbecue.

But the Grizzlies are just going to be in a long line to talk to Durant. If he even talks to anyone.