NBA Playoffs: Jazz have no answer for Laker frontline


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. 

Cavaliers get Nance Jr., Thompson, Hood back from injuries

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers are closer to being at full strength.

Forwards Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood all returned from injuries on Friday night as Cleveland, which has been riddled with injuries all season, hosted the Phoenix Suns. Acting coach Larry Drew said none of the players will start and all will be on minutes’ restrictions.

Drew, who is filling in while coach Tyronn Lue is on leave to address his own health, plans to keep his starting lineup intact and ease the returning players into the rotation.

LeBron James, Jose Calderon, George Hill, Jeff Green and Kevin Love were scheduled to started against Phoenix, which has lost nine in a row. Drew said he and Lue will talk again Saturday about lineup changes for the upcoming trip to Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte.

“I really didn’t want to disrupt the starting five that we have out there right now and those guys will be playing limited minutes, so I wanted to get them slowly back and acclimated to what we’re doing,” Drew said. “There’s a chance that there could be some early substitutions to get the guys in there. I’m not ruling that out, but right now I just kind of want to stay with the flow, stay with what we’ve done the last couple of ballgames and then we’ll probably after tonight we’ll see as far as where we stand as far as starters are concerned.”

Thompson missed nine games with a sprained right ankle, Nance Jr. was out four with a hamstring issue and Hood was out the past three games with a bad back.

Drew said he did not know if Lue will accompany the team on its trip.

But while the Cavs are healthier than they’ve been in weeks, the team is still missing Kyle Korver, who is with his family in Iowa following the death of his brother, and rookie Cedi Osman, who is sidelined with a left hip flexor strain.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Bulls with ankle injury

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the Milwaukee Bucks’ home game Friday night against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The Bucks ruled out Antetokounmpo earlier Friday.

Antetokounmpo got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.


PBT Extra: What is going on in San Antonio?

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For the last two decades, there was less drama around the San Antonio Spurs than the recent Russian election. The Lakers were the soap opera, the Spurs and Tim Duncan just kept winning titles.

Not this season. Kawhi Leonard has missed all but nine games, his teammates are asking when he’s going to returnTony Parker — who is playing — says his quad tendon injury was far worse, and the Spurs organization is springing leaks like the Titanic.

What does all that mean? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra.

Short term, Leonard’s return or non-return will have a serious impact on the Western Conference playoffs.

Long term, after the Spurs offer Leonard the designated player max extension this summer (as is expected), everything will get back to normal.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.