NBA Playoffs: Jazz have no answer for Laker frontline

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Bryant_dunk.jpgThe Utah Jazz have the best point guard in basketball. They’ve surrounded him with good outside shooting and talented forwards. They have one of the best coaches in the league and run the flex with precision. They’re a tough, physical team who don’t back down from any challenge. 

What Utah doesn’t have is the kind of size and talent up front that the Lakers do. The Lakers have two skilled seven-footers capable of doing serious damage from the post and a versatile 6-10 forward who comes off the bench. The Jazz have two talented 6-8 forwards and one Kyrylo Fesenko. Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the Lakers’ advantage up front was the key to their game two victory over the Jazz.
It’s hard to say what the Jazz should have done differently in game two. They took the ball hard to the rim all game long, rarely taking quick jumpers or forgetting to feed their bigs. They shot the ball well from deep, going 8-19 on shots from beyond the arc. They finished with 10 fewer turnovers than the Lakers did. Because of that, the Jazz took 17 more field goals than the Lakers did, and only 8 fewer free throws. And it’s not like the Lakers were shooting well themselves — in fact, they only shot 8-31 on shots taken outside of the paint. 
In spite of all of that, the Jazz never really had a chance to win. The lead never got all that big and the Jazz spent a few minutes of the fourth quarter in striking distance, but the outcome was never in doubt. 
Points in the paint isn’t part of the story — it’s darn near the whole story. When the Lakers’ army of giants went inside, they got buckets. The Lakers went to the post early and often, and it worked. When left on an island, Bynum, Gasol, and Kobe were cash. When doubled, they found cutters effectively. Even when they missed, another big was there for a put-back. When the relatively diminutive Jazz went to the basket, they either got their shots blocked (The Lakers recorded 13 blocks over the course of the game) or altered. The Lakers also murdered the Jazz on the offensive glass, grabbing 18 offensive boards against only 21 defensive rebounds for the Jazz. 
The Jazz finished 25-59 on shots outside of the paint while the Lakers shot 32-48 from inside the painted area. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom were all operating with impunity inside, combining for 50 points and 44 rebounds on 18-24 shooting from the floor. The Jazz trio of Boozer, Millsap, and Fesenko wasn’t nearly as effective, combining to score 48 points and 26 rebounds on 20-45 shooting. 
Not only was the Jazz’s lack of size getting exposed, but Kobe Bryant was outplaying Deron Williams by a considerable margin. Kobe finished with 30 points and 8 assists, and put the game away with 9 points in the final five minutes of the contest. Meanwhile, Deron Williams struggled all game, finishing with 15 points on 4-16 shooting from the field. That’s the kind of game Utah can’t have from Deron if they want to win this series; if they want to have a chance against the Lakers’ Goliath bigs, they need their sling to be working properly. 
After the game, Williams pointed to the Los Angeles’ size advantage as a reason for his struggles, saying that “[The Lakers] were doing similar to what Denver did; they were just a little bit better at it, making other people beat them. Every time I turned to get in the lane there were two to three guys in there and that length bothers me a lot more than Denver’s did.”
After the game, Jackson was less than pleased with how his team executed. He didn’t mince words when he looked ahead to game three, saying “We cannot survive a game like tonight in front of their fans.” Jackson does have a point in that there are certainly a lot of things that the Lakers could have done better in game three. However, if the Jazz don’t get more out of Deron Williams, get Kirilenko healthy, or find a way to make Boozer and Millsap three inches taller, I don’t see a lot of ways for the Jazz to win this series. 

Manu Ginobili’s uncertain future has Spurs fans feeling anxious

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Manu Ginobili was swept away by the emotions of a sold-out home crowd serenading him with chants of “Manu, Manu” and rising as one for a standing ovation in the closing minutes of the Western Conference Finals.

Spurs fans were saying goodbye, but did not want to let go of the star who helped San Antonio win four of its five NBA Championships with his dynamic play.

“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “Yea, I don’t have a lot of words to describe it, but of course it makes you feel really well. Feeling that type of appreciation, love, respect. … When it happens in a situation like that and you receive all of that without expecting it, it shakes your world a little bit.”

The emotional outpouring led Ginobili to make a startling revelation to friend and teammate Patty Mills as they sat on the bench.

He had no idea what all the fuss was about.

“It felt like they wanted me to retire,” Ginobili said with a smile. “Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I’m getting closer and closer. There is no secret, for sure. It’s getting harder and harder, but I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels.”

San Antonio’s highly passionate fan base does not want Ginobili to retire. The fans simply wanted to show their appreciation because they are unsure if their beloved star will return next season. The Spurs also aren’t sure.

“If he decides he’s going to play again, that’s up to him,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “I won’t try to convince him one way or the other. I don’t think he needs that.”

Ginobili’s uncertain future is one of many questions the Spurs are awaiting answers on this offseason.

San Antonio’s season came to an abrupt end when they were swept by Golden State in the conference finals. The Warriors became the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0 after defeating the Spurs 122-108 on Monday night in Game 4.

Still, San Antonio’s first season in 20 years without franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan was a success. The Spurs captured their second straight Southwest Division title and earned their 20th straight playoff appearance.

“If you have half a brain, you put things in perspective,” Popovich said. “For the first year without Timmy’s leadership and a lot of new players, these guys got it together to win 61 games and just got better and better as the playoffs proceeded and we were basically on a pretty good roll starting Game 1 at Golden State. Some bad fortune which happens to all of us at some point in our lives and we don’t get to be the last team standing. But when I think about what they accomplished, they deserve a lot of credit.”

The Warriors outscored the Spurs by 85 points in the series after Kawhi Leonard suffered a sprained ankle in Game 1 with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 78-55.

Leonard will be fine after some rest and rehabilitation. Forward David Lee is also expected to return after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Game 3 against the Warriors. Tony Parker is expected to be out at least eight months after suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon against Houston in Game 2 of the West semifinals.

Healing LaMarcus Aldridge‘s psyche could be trickier. The 6-foot-11 forward struggled in the postseason, especially against Golden State. Aldridge was twice held to eight points in the conference finals, including a 7-for-17 effort in Game 4.

Popovich isn’t worried.

“Not having Tony and Kawhi, it takes away our two best creators,” Popovich said. “They create a lot for our team. If one of the other scorers is left on his own like L.A. and he gets doubled and the playoffs get more physical, then you have to find scoring elsewhere and we had a problem doing that.”

The Spurs do not have any existing cap space to add players, but do have eight potential free agents that could impact that.

Lee, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon all have player options while Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons are unrestricted free agents. Keeping Simmons may be difficult after his star turn in the playoffs, especially once Leonard went down.

“We value all the guys that are going to be free agents,” Popovich said. “R.C. and I will sit down and put together a plan and priorities and that sort of thing, it’s no different than any other year.”

Ginobili is a free agent, but is expected to return to the Spurs if he does not retire.

The question is, does he want to.

The 39-year-old rebounded from four straight scoreless games against Memphis in the opening round to provide San Antonio with a needed boost. He finished with 15 points in a frenzied 32 minutes in Game 4 against Golden State.

“I do feel like I can still play, but that’s not way is going to make me retire or not,” Ginobili said. “It’s about how I feel.”

Unsure of what that decision is, Popovich made sure Ginobili understood what he has meant to the Spurs and their fans. Ginobili started and was taken out of the game with two minutes remaining to huge applause.

“I’m really happy we did what we did last night for him,” Popovich said. “I think he really was moved by it. He deserved it and it worked out wonderfully.”

 

Report: Knicks would like to revisit Ricky Rubio trade talks, eyeing free agents such as P.J. Tucker

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The Knicks need a whole lot of things this summer — starting with someone who would give them anything of value for Carmelo Anthony (they may well strike out there) — but at the top of the list should be getting players who can defend. That’s the end of the floor where they had the biggest issues last season (they were 25th in the league).

One way to do that, revisit the Ricky Rubio trade discussions they had near the trade deadline. Ian Begley of ESPN said some in the Knicks camp hope to do that.

Some in the organization were hopeful after the trade deadline that they could revisit their attempts to acquire Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason, per sources. It’s unclear if that interest remains, but Rubio would fit the mold of a two-way contributor.

Rubio found his shot after the All-Star break and played some of the best basketball of his career during that stretch. Combine that with the fact Kris Dunn struggled mightily as a rookie, and it’s hard to see why Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves would want to move the only quality point guard on their roster. If they do, the price will be too steep for the Knicks to afford.

On the free agent side, they reportedly have an interest in physical defender P.J. Tucker, among others.

The club has preliminary interest in veteran free agent P.J. Tucker, per league sources. Jeff Hornacek coached Tucker in Phoenix and praised him last season as a strong locker-room leader and intense defender. Tucker shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc last season, including a 40 percent clip after being traded to the Toronto Raptors.

New York has also shown preliminary interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward and free-agent-to-be Dante Cunningham, per sources.

Tucker is an interesting fit, but he’s going to have other suitors as well.

Whatever Phil Jackson and the front office do this summer, they need to do it better than the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah signings of last summer. There is some pressure on Jackson to get things right this time around.

As part of diversion agreement, Josh Jackson admits to damaging Kansas women’s basketball player’s car with her in it

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) – Former Kansas basketball player Josh Jackson must attend anger management classes, write a letter of apology and refrain from using alcohol or recreational drugs for a year as part of a diversion agreement arising from his confrontation with a Jayhawks women’s basketball player last year.

Jackson, who is leaving Kansas after one season and is expected to be a top pick in next month’s NBA draft, had pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of criminal property damage after he argued with McKenzie Calvert on Dec. 9 outside a bar in Lawrence.

Jackson signed the diversion agreement on April 26, according to Douglas County Court records obtained by The Kansas City Star. If he successfully completes the program, the case against him will be dismissed.

He is required to complete the anger management class and community service by Oct. 31 and write the apology letter and obtain a substance abuse evaluation by June 30. If the evaluation doesn’t make any treatment recommendations, Jackson must complete alcohol information classes by Oct. 31.

Jackson also signed a “stipulation of facts” that said he followed Calvert out of the bar after she threw a drink at fellow Kansas player Lagerald Vick. He said he yelled at Calvert and called her names before she got into her car and locked the doors.

“I kicked her vehicle, breaking the left rear taillight and denting the driver’s door,” Jackson said in the document.

A damage estimate of Calvert’s car for $2,991 was given to police in December, according to a Douglas County District Court affidavit. The total repair bill was $3,150, which included $1,127 for the driver’s door and left tail lamp. Jackson was not charged with felony criminal damage in excess of $1,000 because prosecutors couldn’t prove that he caused all the damage to the car “due other unidentifiable individuals damaging the vehicle,” according to county District Attorney Charles Branson.

He was ordered to pay $158 in court costs, $150 in a diversion fee and $250 in restitution to Timothy Calvert, McKenzie’s father. If Jackson violates his 12-month diversion, he would pay restitution of $3,150 to Calvert.

The 6-foot-8 swingman was the nation’s No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation’s top backcourts.

Jackson was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and a 13th straight regular-season Big 12 title before a loss to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He has signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

Reports: Miami Heat, Chris Bosh have (or near) agreement removing him from roster, allowing comeback

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Chris Bosh is never going to suit up for the Miami Heat again. A blood clotting issue that sidelined him a couple of seasons back never fully went away and Miami doctors would not clear him last season.

He may never play in the NBA again, but his max contract is an anchor on the Heat’s effort to rebuild. Miami can waive him and apply for an injury hardship to get his salary taken off its cap (Bosh would still get paid, the contract is guaranteed, but it just wouldn’t count against the cap). The concern for Miami was a comeback — under the current NBA rules, if Bosh played 25 games for any other team, his full salary would come back onto their books.

Miami officials and Bosh’s representatives have repaired their relationship, and the two sides — working with the NBA and the players’ union — have an agreement on a deal, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Chris Bosh has told family members that an agreement has been struck among the NBA, the Heat, the union and himself for Bosh to part ways with the Heat at some point in the coming weeks, with the Heat receiving maximum cap relief, an NBA-employed source said in early May and reiterated Tuesday.

There are still details to be worked out so nothing is final, reports Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel. He also does a good job explaining the deal.

Under the CBA in place until June 30, a return to the league by Bosh could have reinstated his salary-cap hit to the Heat’s ledger over the remaining term of his contract, which expires after the 2018-19 season. However, under the CBA that goes into place July 1, once a medical panel comes to an agreement that it no longer considered safe for Bosh to continue his career, there no longer is the risk of Bosh’s cap charge or luxury-tax hit returning to the Heat’s book.

The approach with Bosh, 33, from the league and union apparently is a one-time allocation, with Bosh in the midst of a preexisting condition amid the transition to the incoming work rules.

That seems fair. It lets Miami off the financial hook if he does return, and just as importantly for the team, it gives them financial flexibility going into the draft and free agency — if they want to chase Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap or someone else, they have the room and no fear of a financial bombshell landing on them.

On the other side, it makes it possible for Bosh to return to the NBA if he wishes.  And if he can get cleared medically (which may be difficult, but the people around him say is not impossible).

The question for Bosh is how much he wants to come back at this age — it’s not about the money, he’s got a lot of that now. But it takes a lot of work to get back into NBA shape and prepare his aging body for another marathon of an NBA campaign. After time off, hanging out with his young family and pursuing his diverse other interests, does he want another go at the NBA or is he ready to move on? Only Bosh can answer that, and there isn’t a wrong answer.