NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 1: Kobe is hurt, Grant Hill is old. One will key a win tonight

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Thumbnail image for Kobe_layup.jpgThrough the years, the one constant in the Lakers/Suns battles is that the Suns never really stopped Kobe Bryant. Raja Bell did a respectable job, but those were the days Kobe had to keep gunning because his other options were pass to Smush Parker or pass to Kwame Brown. Better to shoot over the triple team.

Slowing Kobe will again be crucial for Phoenix — the Lakers are going to get points inside from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. The Suns are going to struggle with that. But if the Lakers are getting points from the perimeter, efficient points from Kobe as well, the Suns are in a lot of trouble.

Good luck Grant Hill, the job is all yours.

Grant Hill has been the defensive specialist for the Suns. He made the Trail Blazers offense sputter when he was on Andre Miller (well, that and Brandon Roy being injured made their offense sputter). He slowed Manu Ginobili of the Spurs last series.

Grant Hill is 37 years old. We are required by law to mention that. Doesn’t mean anything except one thing — he’s not as quick as he was at 25. Hill now relies more on veteran savvy and his fantastic basketball IQ than just pure foot speed anymore.

He is not as quick as Kobe Bryant anymore. In a pure isolation clear out, Kobe should be able to blow past Hill.

That “should” could be a “would” if not for one thing — Kobe’s not healthy. He has not practiced with his team once in the week off between series. He had his knee drained of fluid. His ankle is still sore, his finger still hurts. Kobe is not the explosive Kobe of old.

Kobe now relies much more on his veteran savvy, his basketball IQ to get the shots he wants in the offense. To set up his teammates.

And that’s where Game 1 gets really interesting — if Kobe is explosive enough to get the 28 points a game he is averaging in the playoffs in an efficient manner on Hill, the Suns are in trouble. They have to commit resources inside, they can’t bring reinforcements away from the basket, too. All that would mean the Lakers are getting easy baskets.

There are a lot of other things to watch — can the Suns keep the pace up? Can the Lakers slow the game by pounding the Suns inside? Can Pau Gasol guard Amare Stoudemire? Can Stoudemire guard Gasol? Who would win a footrace between Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum at this point? Smart money on the last one is on the tortoise.

But as always, things circle back to Kobe. During the season, the Suns used Jason Richardson on Kobe, and he backed Richardson down in the post and beat him up pretty good. The Lakers won three of four. If Hill doesn’t change that equation, the Lakers will win four in this series pretty quickly.

Interviewer: LeBron James wasn’t dissing Kyrie Irving

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LeBron James on Isaiah Thomas, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

“It’s been a while since I’ve had that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time,” James told B/R Mag.

That looked like a shot at Kyrie Irving. But with more context, it clearly wasn’t.

Beck:

It seems LeBron was saying it’s been a while that he’s had “that clear-cut guy who can get guys involved but also score at the same time.” If he was slighting Kyrie Irving, LeBron was also slighting Dwyane Wade – and I doubt LeBron would do that.

LeBron and Kyrie probably aren’t above taking subtle shots at each other. But this seems like a case of Beck, after hearing LeBron’s words aloud and in context, not realizing how a trimmed version would read as text. It’s unfortunate that people initially got the wrong impression, but good on Beck for clearing it up.

Missouri: Potential No. 1 pick Michael Porter Jr. likely out for rest of season

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Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. – maybe the top contender to supplant European guard Luka Doncic as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA draft – had his campaign undercut after it barely began.

Missouri Basketball:

Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo surgery on Tuesday, Nov. 21, in Dallas, Texas. The procedure, a microdiscectomy of the L3 and L4 spinal discs, has a projected recovery time of three-four months and will likely cause him to miss the remainder of the season. Michael is expected to make a complete recovery

With that timeline, it’s possible Porter returns late in Missouri’s NBA season. But as an elite draft prospect stuck in a cartel system that caps his compensation well below market value, he should probably be cautious.

Porter will likely still go high in the draft – if his medicals check out. This is is a serious injury, and teams will be wary off long-term effects.

But he’s a top talent, and the forward shouldn’t slip far. In fact, in a strange way, this injury could even help him. There were questions about Porter’s ability to handle physicality and tight spaces when the game slows down, challenges he would have met frequently in college basketball. Now, scouts can’t pick apart those aspects of his game. Logically or not, NBA teams tend to favor the unknown in the draft, and Porter is on his way to being one of the biggest mysteries near the top of the 2018 draft.

Kevin Durant reverses course: Playing Thunder ‘just a regular game for me now’

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Kevin Durant said last season playing the Thunder is “never going to be a regular game for me.”

Now, the Warriors star, who’s questionable for tomorrow’s game in Oklahoma City, is singing a different tune.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Durant:

Just a regular game for me now. I learned how to tune out the crowd. I learned how to tune out the bulls— and just play. Just keep at basketball, and I’ll be alright.

Durant is entitled to change his mind, and maybe that’s all that happened.

But this strikes me as yet another chasm between how Durant actually feels and how he wishes he felt – all while facing immense public scrutiny.

Durant spent eight years in Oklahoma City. Many of his former teammates, including Russell Westbrook, are still there. Durant might want to move on, but how could there not be a different feeling when playing the Thunder, especially in Oklahoma City?

Tony Allen: Russell Westbrook flopped to draw DeMarcus Cousins

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DeMarcus Cousins got ejected from the Pelicans’ win over the Thunder last night for elbowing Russell Westbrook in the head.

Afterward, Tony Allen came to his New Orleans teammate’s defense.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Did Cousins elbow Westbrook in the head? Yes. Did Westbrook create and/or embellish the contact? I don’t know.

Westbrook stuck his head in close, and he might have been baiting Cousins into a foul. But that doesn’t give Cousins carte blanche to commit a foul.

And even if Westbrook were baiting Cousins, the elbow still might have hurt. Westbrook’s reaction could have been genuine.

Did Cousins’ reputation as a flagrant fouler influence Westbrook’s strategy and how officials perceived the play? It’s much easier to convince me of that.