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.

Bulls’ John Paxson: Dwyane Wade buyout must be “advantageous” for team

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When Bulls’ training camp opens next week, it looks like Dwyane Wade will be there — and it will be awkward.

Wade wants to be bought out and doesn’t want to be there. The Bulls want to move on from the Wade/Jimmy Butler year. But of course, it comes down to money — Wade is owed $23.5 million and wants as much of that as he can get and still get out the door, the Bulls want to save money paying a guy who will not play for them.

Bulls’ VP of basketball operations John Paxson was on  “The Mully and Hanley” show on WSCR-670 AM Thursday and said there has been some early dialogue between the sides, and the Bulls are open to buying Wade out, but made it clear he’s going to have to give up plenty of cash to make it “advantageous” for the team. Here’s part of what Paxson said, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“Some dialogue is going on,” Paxson said on The Score. “We understand where (Wade) is at this time of his career. We’re more than willing to work with him. But as I said when we had the press conference to introduce the new players after the draft, we have to always do what’s in our best interest. So there has to be something that is mutually agreed upon. It can’t be something the player wins because that’s what he wants.

“We want to work with Dwyane because we respect him very much. If he doesn’t want to be here, then we want to do (the buyout). But again, the bottom line is always — and it has to be — that we have to do what’s in our best interest.”

The two sides will come to a number and Wade will get bought out, the only questions are when and for how much? Will it happen during training camp or will the season have started? The All-Star break? It’s just a matter of settling on a number, but Wade is not going to be eager to give up that cash knowing he’s not got another payday like that coming.

When the buyout does happen,  a number of teams — the Cavaliers, Heat, and Lakers are known, there will be others — will be waiting and interested.

 

Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

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In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

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Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.