NBA Playoffs: Lakers Jazz Game 1: The Lakers are a big, long team and that's a problem for Utah

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Boozer_Lakers.jpgIt was feeling like a lazy Sunday at Staples Center — Mr. Pibb and Red Vines equals crazy delicious. The Lakers were exploiting their numerous matchup advantages against the Jazz, Kobe was getting into the lane, the crowd was checking their Blackberries and LA was comfortable and up between 8 and 12 points for seeming ever. The end seemed a foregone conclusion.

But this is LA, they need some drama. The Jazz kept executing. Relentlessly running their flex offense. Defending. They were balanced  (five guys in double figures) and CJ Miles and Wesley Mathews gained confidence. Meanwhile the Lakers bench did, well, whatever it is that the Lakers bench does. It’s usually not pretty.

Suddenly we had an interesting game, with the Jazz taking the lead in the fourth quarter.

However, the end was still a foregone conclusion. The Jazz’s execution does not make up for the matchups battles they just can’t win — it was the microcosm of the game, the Lakers won 104-99.

It might be the microcosm of the series.

“Unless I grow three inches by tomorrow, there’s not much we can do…”
Deron Williams said. “Nothing we can do about it, we just have to attack
them.”

The Lakers will take the win. Not that they were all that happy.

“I thought one through seven we did pretty good, but our bench let us down,” Phil Jackson said.

Didn’t matter. Late in the game Pau Gasol was getting the shots he wanted inside and he had five blocks. Kobe Bryant drove the lane and had a wide highway to the basket for a key layup.

The Jazz played the Lakers close, but close is useless in a playoff game.

It didn’t look like it would be close at the end early on. Coming off a series against the long and athletic Thunder where every shot was contested, it had to seem like Christmas for a while for the Lakers against a smalerl, slower Jazz squad.

Kobe started 6-6 from the floor, several of those coming on layups as he blew past his man and no help could be found.

“We were playing a young guy who has never played Kobe Bryant before,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of Wes Mathews.

Meanwhile, coming off a series against the undisciplined Nuggets, Denver had problems with the long Lakers front line. It took away the easy shots and the Jazz settled for poor choices. Like a Carlos Boozer fade-away 17-footer over the outstretched arm of Gasol.

“We shot a lot of jump shots early on, rather than working inside out…” Williams said. “They are a way better defensive team than Denver.”

In the second half the Jazz adjusted to get the inside-out play they need by trying to go with more guard penetration. They started to attack the paint more, and the Lakers started to look fat and happy. Kobe and Gasol sat (as did Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer) when the Jazz made a run. The Lakers offense started to settle, took the easy shots.

The Jazz, as they do, kept executing. This team got the ball inside, started passing big to big. The layups came. The shots started falling. The Lakers lead started dropping and the game looked like the style that the Jazz wanted.

Then Gasol and Bynum got next to each other again and the Lakers length intimidated the Jazz. Two straight trips down they settled for and missed threes. And that started the Lakers comeback.

The Jazz did what they could, but in the end, the Lakers are bigger and longer than the Jazz, and that is something you can’t just adjust for.

Report: D-League All-Star, Magic call-up Keith Appling arrested with loaded AK-47 in strip club

Orlando Magic's Keith Appling (15) makes a shot in front of Philadelphia 76ers' Jerami Grant (39) and Nerlens Noel (4) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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If you’re on the fringe of the NBA, trying to get teams to take a chance on you, this is the opposite of what you should do.

Former Michigan State star Keith Appling, who last season was a D-League All-Star for the Erie Bay Hawks and got a couple of 10-day contracts with the Orlando Magic, has reportedly been arrested and is still in jail in Dearborn, Michigan, for allegedly taking a loaded assault rifle into an area strip club. (Dearborn police have not yet responded to NBC’s request for confirmation. Some Michigan outlets with sources in the area do have confirmation but few details.) This is how the story broke:

If true, Appling has much bigger problems then getting an invite to an NBA training camp next fall.

Byron Scott says he felt “a little” blindsided by Lakers’ firing

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott watches play against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 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 condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Lakers fans were demanding it. Logic dictated it — even the questionable talent did not fully explain why Byron Scott could not get the Lakers to defend, they had one of the two worst defenses in the NBA each of his two seasons as coach.

Still, Byron Scott said he was blindsided by his firing by the Los Angeles Lakers, something he said on the Dan Patrick Show this morning (video above).

Scott makes a couple of valid points. First, the Lakers did take their time after the season (letting good coaches get snapped up elsewhere) while making this call, giving the impression Scott might be safe.

Second, the Lakers did not give Scott much talent to work with. I don’t care if you resurrected Red Auerbach and John Wooden and had them tag team as the coach, these Lakers were not making the playoffs. Scott was brought in to both shepherd the Kobe farewell years — he did that exactly as management wanted — and start to develop the young talent on the team, building a foundation for the future. That is where he fell short, both in terms of building a defensive foundation or forming a strong relationship with the young Lakers, most notably D'Angelo Russell.

Scott discussed his relationship with Russell, too.

It’s far too early to say how good a coach Luke Walton will be for the Lakers, but it’s safe to say he’s an upgrade over Scott. In that way, the Lakers made the right move.

Barack Obama calls Wizards about coaching job in White House correspondents’ dinner video

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From practically the moment they fired Randy Wittman (and probably before that), the Wizards appeared locked in on Scott Brooks as their next coach. They pursued him hard and convinced him to accept the job.

But did they miss out on a better known candidate in the process?

President Barack Obama sure sounded interested.

Dirk Nowitzki says he plans to re-sign with Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) celebrates as he leaves the court during the final minute of the second half in an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz Monday, April 11, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Mavericks won 101-92. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Dirk Nowitzki will opt out of the final year of a contract that would’ve paid him $8,692,184.

The big question: Why?

Does Nowitzki want a higher salary? More years? A lower salary that enables the Mavericks to upgrade their supporting cast?

He could command whichever of those he desires.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN, transcribing Nowitzki’s interview on 1310 The Ticket in Dallas:

Nowitzki reiterated Monday that he is committed to remaining with the Mavs for the rest of his career, saying that decision was essentially made when Dallas won the championship in 2011.

“That would have been the only scenario where I go somewhere at the end to kind of hang on and maybe try to win one,” Nowitzki said, referring to if he didn’t have a ring. “But ever since I won a championship here and we did that, I want to finish my career here. I always said that. The only scenario where I’ll try to go somewhere is if we’re rebuilding, if we really say, ‘This is the end of the line. We tried every which way and we can’t go any further and we’re starting basically with five rookies.’

“Obviously, that’s not what I want my last couple of years. But knowing Mark and Donnie, they always want this to be a winning franchise, so there’s no reason for me to go anywhere.”

“We had one more year on the contract, but I think this is the right thing to do,” he said. “We’re going to sit with Mark [Cuban] and Donnie [Nelson] obviously over the next few weeks and figure out how to improve this franchise again.

“Ever since after the championship, we’ve been basically a first-round exit. We’ve been a seven, eight seed. We’ve only won a few playoff games, and obviously the goal was to compete at the highest level in my last couple of years. So there is some moving to do, some thinking, some putting our heads together the next few weeks heading into free agency, heading into the draft. So this is just one move that hopefully starts a chain reaction for us to get better again, to compete really at a high level. We’ll see how it goes.”

Usually, I’d say this would at least open the door to the player leaving. But it’d be difficult for the Mavericks to pivot into rebuilding now. They don’t have their own first-round pick, and Justin Anderson is their only young player of consequence.

With Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea signed long term and Nowitzki intent on returning, it makes far more sense to try to win now. Dallas might fail, but it’ll almost certainly be the goal.

The Mavericks project to have about $20 million in cap space accounting for cap holds for Chandler Parsons ($19,969,950), Nowitzki ($12,500,0001), Deron Williams ($6,454,769) and Dwight Powell ($1,180,431). If those players sign elsewhere or get renounced, Dallas would clear more room.

Nowitzki could accept a lower salary than his cap hold, and his first-year salary would become his cap number once signed. Essentially, he could monitor free agency and slide his salary requirement depending on the quality of free agent the Mavericks could sign with the available money. Land a star, and maybe Nowitzki would take far less to accommodate him. Strike out, and Nowitzki might want a raise.

He has leverage, though it seems he’s set on using it harmoniously with management.

Still, what if Dallas flops majorly in free agency? Could Nowitzki leave? I expect the Mavericks to land productive veterans, and I doubt Nowitzki would leave anyway. But by opting out, he has the ability to walk.

The Mavericks have an opportunity to improve this offseason. Two years ago, they leveraged Nowitzki’s commitment to the franchise into a below-market deal that helped them sign Parsons. The goal should be once again involving Nowitzki in the process and having him help.

The better Dallas does in free agency, the more likely Nowitzki will be to sacrifice for the team.