NBA Playoffs Suns Lakers Game 1: It's in the league's best interest to reel Phil Jackson in

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Thumbnail image for NBA_philjackson.jpgIt seems like a fun little sideshow, doesn’t it? The grizzled veteran coach, waxing basketball philosophic and occasionally using his razor-sharp wit to jab at other players and the officials. A basketball legend using the media to gain as much leverage over the calls as he can get. It’s a charming story.

And it’s got to stop.

Yesterday, we clued you in to Phil Jackson’s latest dig at officiating related to Steve Nash and his penchant for “carrying.” It’s yet another in a long history of Jackson swinging out in officiating-related matters.

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing the punishment for coaches that complain about officiating. David Stern spoke about possibly suspensions, a notion Jackson laughed off while calling the commissioner by his first name. And yesterday’s little dig shows that he doesn’t actually think Stern will go far enough to lean on him. It’s a small, careful, and quiet comment that Stern can’t really punish him beyond fines which amount to asking someone for whatever they’ve got in their pockets.

If Stern’s serious about this, if he wants to make the point that coaches cannot, under any circumstances, attempt to influence officiating in any way, the next time Jackson speaks out, he’s got to suspend him. Especially if it happens in the next two weeks.

Bear in mind that this is a crucial time for the league’s public officiating situation. Tim Donaghy is still flitting around like a hobo trying to ask anyone outside the league’s office for money in exchange for his windshield wipers of allegations. But there have been no officiating disasters in the playoffs this year, unlike the Mavericks no-call among others last year. The league has a real chance to get past the lingering outside perception that certain officiating wrinkles are influenced by league folds.

But a mess in a series against the Suns from the most winningest franchise in NBA history?

That would be unfortunate timing.

The league already flinches every time the Robert Horry hipcheck and subsequent suspensions are shown. They flinch whenever discussion of the 2002 Game 6 are brought up. They flinch whenever Tim Donaghy’s involvement in both of those series are brought up. They don’t waver, but they flinch.

Ensuring that we don’t end up in a situation where the Lakers look like the favored son, where there’s no chance of Jackson successfully bending the officials knees to his liking, that’s a sound strategy to end the controversy. Allowing Jackson to flaunt whatever influence he wants is a flawed approach. The carrying issue is nothing, it’s a blip on the radar. But the league needs to be ready to suspend Phil Jackson, in a playoff series, if he seeks to influence the officiating again, even if he’s right.

The Lakers are more than capable of dismantling the Suns based solely on their basketball ability and length. Making sure there’s no funny business is a win-win for the league.

The questions about the league’s officiating history are on the ropes, dazed, and stunned. Phil Jackson is unknowingly, or unconcernedly slipping them Gatorade. It’s time for the Commissioner’s office to knock them out.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.