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.

Report: Las Vegas also in contention for 2017 NBA All-Star game

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Where will the NBA hold the 2017 All-Star game?

Charlotte? No.

New Orleans? Probably.

New York/Brooklyn or Chicago? Maybe.

One more maybe: Las Vegas.

Scott Kusher of The Advocate:

The NBA held All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2007. By all accounts, it was wild.

I’d be surprised if the league returned the event to Las Vegas, but at this point, I’d really be surprised by any option besides New Orleans.

Report: 76ers, Sam Hinkie’s ‘handpicked analytics crew’ splitting up

Ben Mikesell/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
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The 76ers hired Bryan Colangelo, and Sam Hinkie bounced.

Now, much of Hinkie’s front-office is also heading out the door.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

that regime — including deposed GM Sam Hinkie’s handpicked analytics crew — will be mostly gone by the end of August, league sources say.

If Colangelo hires his own analytics staff and integrates numbers into his decision-making, this is no big deal.

If Colangelo leaves those positions vacant, Philadelphia will be working from behind.

I’m betting on the former. He isn’t Hinkie, but Colangelo has discussed the importance of analytics. Let Colangelo hire his own staff, and everything might even flow more smoothly.

Mike Krzyzewski: Team USA having too much fun, needs to tone it down

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  DeMar DeRozan #9 of the United States Men's National Team looks on during a break in the action against the China Men's National Team during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Mike Krzyzewski hates fun (even more than he admits).

So, the coach wasn’t thrilled after Team USA’s exhibition win over China, which included DeMar DeRozan nearly 360-degree dunking on someone.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

I want to see Team USA make highlight plays. Dunk from the free-throw line. Shoot from halfcourt. Throw behind-the-back passes. Show up weaker competition.

So, it’s hard for me to get behind Coach K’s criticism.

But I also want to see the Americans win gold medals in the Olympics, and I’ll blame Krzyzewski if they’re not adequately focused.

Fair? Not one bit.

Doesn’t change what I want, though.

Report: Kevin Durant told Russell Westbrook he’d re-sign with the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook #0 look on prior to game six of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant said he had to distance himself from Russell Westbrook entering free agency. Yet, Durant listened to the Warriors recruiting him all season and had clearly been interested in Golden State for months.

The writing was on the wall.

Except, a few days before taking meetings in the Hamptons (which led to signing with the Warriors), Durant dined with Westbrook.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant’s sitting there at dinner, telling him “Hey, I’m coming back, man. Don’t worry about it.” And now, Russell Westbrook has been kind of thrown into this in having to decide his future a summer earlier than expected.

Kevin Durant, more so than even that, was telling people, “Hey, yeah, I mean I’m coming back.” Like I said in there, a week before Kevin Durant sat down in the Hamptons, he was in Oklahoma City ready to make an offer on a multi-million-dollar house. So, the guy was pretty serious about coming back, and then things turned rather quickly for him to leave. And there’s no doubt that the organization felt a little bit burned by this.

Maybe Durant said that. Maybe he meant it in the moment. Maybe he was just trying to appease someone he didn’t want to let down. Maybe he was unclear. Maybe Westbrook read too much into a more clear statement.

There’s a lot of room for imperfect recollection/interpretation. We’re dealing with human beings.

Likewise on the house. Who says Durant was “ready” to make an offer? That’s an awfully difficult assessment to make outside his head. Just as the Celtics had a list of players Durant wanted them to add, it seems he was preparing for all contingencies. It’s hard to nail down whether he was house hunting because he was certain he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City or whether he just wanted a new place if he stayed in Oklahoma City.

So much of what we know about Durant’s process for picking the Warriors suggests a rational decision. He considered them for months, met with multiple teams, conferred with his inner circle then made a choice.

If Durant told Westbrook or anyone else he’d re-sign with the Thunder, that obviously changes the equation. But I’m left wondering:

How many people in Oklahoma City heard what they wanted to hear rather than what Durant actually said?

How many people are incentivized to paint Durant as impulsive, because the alternative — Durant thoughtfully deciding the Thunder weren’t his best option — indicates deeper flaws in the franchise?