NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz Game 3: To beat LA, the Jazz are going to have to improvise

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Williams_Fisher.jpgImprovisation is one of the cornerstones of jazz.

Except in Utah.

The Jazz are one of the most structured teams in the NBA, they execute their flex offense with a precision no team in the Association can match. Crisp passes, plenty of off-the ball movement, flashes into the high post, back door cuts. It tore apart the Denver Nuggets in the first round, because the Jazz are disciplined offense and the Nuggets (especially without George Karl screaming at them) are an undisciplined team.

But the system has not worked on the Lakers. For two straight games the Lakers have held the Jazz under their offensive efficiency numbers for the regular season. Why? Because the Lakers are a team of long arms and bodies — there is a lot less space to slip that pass through to a backdoor cutter. The Lakers are taking away the Jazz’s preferred offensive plays, cutting off passing lanes and contesting shots.

The Jazz need to improvise.

To beat the Lakers they are going to have to break out of the flex offense and let one of the –if not THE — best point guards in the game loose.

Free Deron Williams.

He himself told the Desert News he is going to improvise some this game, back home at Energy Solutions Arena.

D-Will did more of that in the first series against the Nuggets, pushing the ball and getting some transition baskets on the Nuggets (who weren’t good at getting back). The Jazz are going to have to run more on the Lakers and get some baskets before their defense gets set, for one.

Williams also has the single biggest matchup advantage on the Jazz — Derek Fisher can’t stop him one-on-one. What Fisher has done well so far is guide Williams toward the long-armed help of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. (This is where the Jazz miss Mehmet Okur, a big who can hit the long ball and pulls one of those defenders away from the basket.) The Jazz need to run some high pick-and-rolls, some pure isolations, even post Williams up on Fisher. They need to exploit that matchup.

It’s not all offense, defense matters too. The Jazz need, to use coach Jerry Sloan’s words — toughen up on defense. They have let the Lakers basically set up their offense in the spots they want. Can’t do that with Kobe Bryant and Gasol and Bynum — they will score a lot from those spots. The Lakers have matchup advantages inside and they have exploited them. The Jazz need to challenge the Lakers for every spot on the floor, make them start where they are uncomfortable.

Having Andrei Kirilenko back will help with that. The Jazz need more size in this series, and AK-47 provides that. Just his shot blocking threat will change how the Lakers can attack the rim.

The Jazz will also have its big home-court advantage — a loud crowd and some high altitude. The crowd will help; the Jazz could use the energy.

Is all that enough to take two games from the Lakers? That is essentially what the Jazz have to do, they cannot go back to Los Angeles down 3-1, the Lakers are too big and too good for the Jazz to climb out of that hole. All they have to do today is win one.

The Jazz can get that win — but they are going to have to improvise to do it.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.