NBA Playoffs: Now we find out what the Lakers are really made of

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Kobe_Artest.jpgThe Lakers meandered through the second half of the season without a care in the world. At least they played like it.

So Los Angeles fans and media set up imaginary tests for them. The five game road trip was one. Late season matchups with the Thunder, the Magic, a couple with the Spurs all got that “test game” billing. There were others.

Those weren’t real tests. There were no consequences for failure. They were the pop quizzes of the NBA season, and the Lakers treated them as such.

Now game five Tuesday night — that is a real test. Lose and it’s may be a final exam.

Winner of game five wins the series 83 percent of the time. Los Angeles drops game five and the odds of winning two straight — one in Oklahoma City — against a good and growingly confident team are not good. Climbing Mount Everest in shorts might be easier.

Does anybody really have any idea what Lakers team will show up?

Not in terms of pure effort — backs against the wall, the Lakers always come out with energy. It’s a matter of execution and matchups. The Lakers know what they need to do, but for the last two games (three, really, despite the win) they have not been able to execute it. Credit Oklahoma City with some of that – they are a very good team. This is not the Lakers rolling over, they are getting knocked to the ground.

Still, the Lakers have a game plan. First, they have to slow the Thunder down. Kobe Bryant compared the two teams to deer and elephants, and the Lakers were not the nimble ones. Los Angeles can slow the pace down by not turning the ball over — they have been pretty good about that — and making shots. That second part has been the problem.

In game four, Los Angeles focused on getting the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but didn’t get as many points out of that as they would hope. The reason is the Thunder can afford to collapse down on the Lakers close to the basket because LA is not making them pay with three pointers. Inside only works if there is an outside to balance it. Ying and Yang.

It was the little things in game four — a couple times the double came down on the Laker big, who tried to reach around the defender for a kick-out pass, but the shooter never moved to a good position to receive the pass. The result was a deflection out of bounds.

In game three the Lakers shot okay from the outside but stopped trying to get the ball inside and jacked up 31 threes. There is no balance. No inside at the same time as the outside.

So they just expect Kobe to bail them out. And that isn’t working. Again credit the Thunder, who have the athletes to defend him. Is there anything Kevin Durant can’t do?

Game five is going to be telling. These Thunder do not back down, not for anyone. Their confidence is growing. The Lakers have, when they have needed it, been able to summon another gear. But now they need one they haven’t reached all season. They need a level of execution that has not been seen.

It’s not going to be easy. But no real test is. However, passing tests like this is what champions do.

Clippers guard Chris Paul leaves game with sprained thumb, more tests coming

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The Clippers have now won seven games in a row, but if they don’t have Chris Paul in the lineup that streak is going to turn around very quickly (remember just a couple of weeks ago when he missed seven games with a hamstring strain?).

Which is why Paul leaving the game with what the team has called a sprained thumb is potentially troubling news. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook who had pulled up to take a three, Paul’s hand hitting Westbrook’s hip and seemingly getting caught up in his shorts. Paul walked off the court and went straight to the locker room, making it seem worse than the team said it is so far.

From the press release from the Clippers:

X-rays during the game were negative, but further tests still need to be done to determine the extent of the injury, which occurred in the second quarter after Paul jammed his left hand on Russell Westbrook’s right leg.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but could fall down that ladder if Paul is out for any stretch of time. Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s going to be a tough run of games even with Paul.

Kevin Durant scores 21, Stephen Curry 20 to help Warriors cruise past Cavs (VIDEOS)

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Pretty much everything the Warriors did Monday against the Cavaliers worked — transition buckets, pull-up threes, drive-and-dish plays, curls off screens, you name it and the Warriors got enough space to get a shot they wanted. Then they knocked them down. Which is why the Warriors won going away.

Stephen Curry had a big night with 20 points and 11 assists, which you can see highlights of above. It was a big night for Curry’s confidence: In the Cavaliers four-straight wins against the Warriors, Cleveland trapped Curry off picks, were physical, and when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams Cavaliers’ help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. Monday night Curry took the pressure in stride, used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers in the first half.

Kevin Durant benefitted from some of those passes and had 21 points on the night, and he chipped in three blocks.

 

Get out of my head: Golden State routs Cleveland in last regular season meeting before Finals

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No regular season game is going to erase the memory of blowing a 3-1 NBA Finals lead.

No January game is an accurate crystal ball into an NBA Finals matchup.

But the Warriors can put to rest the “Cleveland is in their heads” rhetoric and take a little confidence away from an absolute drubbing of the NBA Champions on national television Monday night.

Golden State caught fire midway through the first quarter and led by 15 after one, put up 78 points in the first half to lead by 29 at the break, and it all happened so fast it left Tyronn Lue’s face as the meme of the night.

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From there, the Warriors cruised in (sloppily at times, but cruised) for the 126-91 win.

“It was very important to come out and get off to a good start, but more importantly to hold on to that, to continue to keep our foot on the gas,” Draymond Green, speaking to the blown leads issue in his postgame TNT interview. “We did that the entire night, they had one little stretch there, I think it was the end of the third quarter, but other than that we kept our foot on the gas the entire time.”

Everyone in a Warriors uniform looked sharp. Klay Thompson had 26 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. Kevin Durant had 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Stephen Curry had 20 points and 11 assists. Green had a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Conversely, for the Cavaliers LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love were a combined 13-of-43 (30.2 percent shooting), with just five assists to 13 turnovers between them. As a team, the Cavaliers shot 35.2 percent overall and 9-of-34 from three (26.5 percent). Love didn’t play in the second half due to lower back soreness.

The Cavaliers looked like the team on the last night of a six-game road trip counting the minutes until they got back home, which is exactly what they were.

Neither side thinks this game portends anything going forward.

“It wasn’t about sending a message,” Green said in his interview. “At the end of the day, that’s the defending champs, we played them guys in two straight Finals, you’re not sending a message with a regular season win.”

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good for the Warriors (and is cathartic for their fans).

The only real moment of drama in the game was when Green shouldered LeBron to the ground in the second quarter and picked up a Flagrant 1 for his efforts.

Golden State started the game slow, getting good looks but shooting just 1-of-7 from three. Still, it felt like with the looks they were getting the shots would fall at some point, and they did as the Warriors hit six of their next eight from deep. Cleveland tried to match that but found no rhythm, shooting 2-of-12 from three early. With the hot shooting continuing for them, the Warriors stretched the lead up as high as 22, but the Cavaliers had Richard Jefferson come in and muck the game up, LeBron started attacking off the drive, and the Cavaliers cut the lead down to 14.

Then the Warriors got a couple of live-ball turnovers — including Curry stripping LeBron — and converted those to fast-break buckets the other way, then all that was left was Lue looking dazed. The Warriors were moving the ball and not getting sucked into isolation, racking up 26 first half assists. The Warriors also were out and running and had 34 fast break points in the first half — credit Golden State for pushing the tempo, but the Cavaliers transition defense was a horror show. And not in a cool, “Let the Right One In” kind of way, but in the “Cavs fans never want to see that again” kind of way. Dazed Lue is right there with them.

No more meetings between these teams until the Finals we all expect to see. It’s six months of these teams getting better, trying to stay healthy, and gaining confidence going into that series. Cleveland has plenty of confidence. Golden State just got a little more.

Jeff Teague, Paul George help Pacers hold off Pelicans 98-95

Indiana Pacers' Paul George is defended by New Orleans Pelicans' Jrue Holiday during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Associated Press
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Pacers guard Jeff Teague figures he’ll eventually get that elusive triple-double.

Until then, he’s content to pile up wins.

For the fourth time in 30 days, the former All-Star guard flirted with his first career triple-double and Paul George scored 20 points to help the Indiana Pacers hold off the New Orleans Pelicans 98-95. Teague finished with 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds – the closest he’s come yet this season.

“I’m happy I’m getting some rebounds,” Teague said. “I was one of the worst rebounders last year, so to actually get some rebounds this year is good.”

The Pacers rebounded from Thursday’s embarrassing performance in London by leading almost wire to wire. They trailed only once, at 2-0, and were only tied just three times – twice in the first 66 seconds and at 91 with 4:10 left in the game.

And Teague was a big reason why the Pacers managed to keep the Pelicans at arm’s distance.

The other reason: Anthony Davis‘ injury.

New Orleans’ All-Star center took a hard tumble with 7:08 left in the third quarter when he appeared to be leaping for an uncontested dunk. Myles Turner raced over, hit Davis on the right wrist, sent him sprawling. After Davis got up, he limped toward midcourt before making two free throws and being replaced by Terrence Jones.

Davis finished with a team high 16 points but did not return. Team officials said he injured his right thumb and left hip and that X-rays were negative. Davis left with a slight limp but did not speak with reporters.

“I don’t know anything yet, we’ll check with the doctors,” coach Alvin Gentry said.

Without Davis, the Pelicans couldn’t quite come all the way back from a 14-point deficit in the first quarter or two 10-point deficits in the third quarter.

Teague broke the 91-91 with a 3-pointer with 3:55 to play and New Orleans had three chances to tie the score in the final 20 seconds.

But Jrue Holiday missed a 22-foot pull-up jumper, E'Twaun Moore missed a short runner with 4.8 seconds left and Tyreke Evans fired up an air ball from the corner as the buzzer sounded.

“We let them hang around without their star on the floor,” George said. “We’re floating around .500. We’ve got to get some consistency, we’ve got to find a way.”

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Moore and Jones each had 15 points. Jones also had eight rebounds. … Solomon Hill had four points and four rebounds in his first trip back to Indiana since leaving the Pacers in free agency. … The Pelicans were 6 of 9 on 3-pointers in the second quarter after scoring only 18 points in the first.

Pacers: Myles Turner had his eighth double-double of the season – 18 points and 12 rebounds. He also had four blocks. … Thaddeus Young left in the first half after getting poked in the left eye but returned at the start of the third quarter. He finished with 17 points and tied a season-high with six steals. … Indiana won despite missing four of its last six free throws. … Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey (sore left hamstring) hasn’t played since Dec. 28 and coach Nate McMillan said before the game he isn’t expected to play on Indiana’s upcoming three-game road trip.

FATHER-SON MATCHUP

Pacers coach Nate McMillan didn’t want Monday’s game to turn into an emotional father-son matchup. So after having dinner Sunday with his son, Jamelle, an assistant with the Pelicans, the Pacers coach told his son the same thing he always has.

“We’re both trying to win,” the father said. “That way it’s not a father-son deal. He’s been taught to go out there and win.”

But the elder McMillan was surprised this day even came. When he was asked if he ever discussed the intricacies of coaching with his son, McMillan quipped: “No, I didn’t. I thought he’d be smarter than that.”

HOME, SWEET, HOME

The Pacers have won five straight on their home court and have the second best home record in the Eastern Conference at 16-5. And New Orleans knows how tough it is to play at Indiana. The Pelicans have lost seven straight at Indy since their last win in January 2010.