NBA Playoffs Lakers Suns Game 2: Time for the Suns to get defensive. That or it's over.

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bryant_dunk2.jpgThe Suns need to punch the Lakers in the mouth.

In game one the Suns were gracious hosts to Lakers who ventured into the paint to shoot — there was a red carpet, a nice spread of hors d’œuvre like bacon-wrapped scallops, plenty of space, basically everything but glasses of champagne. The Lakers took advantage of their hosts, scoring 56 points in the paint, both on drives and Pau Gasol’s nifty footwork inside. The Lakers were driving right around guys on the perimeter and getting into the lane at will.

The Lakers finished the game 27 of 38 on shots inside 10 feet. That’s a lot of shots, a lot of makes. The Lakers were also hot from the outside — Kobe in particular — and if LA is hitting inside and out any team is in trouble. The Lakers had crazy offensive efficiency of 136.2 (points per 100 possessions, that is 30 points better than their regular season average).

The Suns need to punch those Lakers in the mouth. Robin Lopez, Amare Stoudemire and the gang need to be physical and knock the Lakers down and around a little. The Suns have to take away the easy ones if they have any hope in Game 2. Oklahoma City did and they gave the Lakers a series. Utah did not.

The Suns need to prove they can do it.

There is more too it than that. The Suns should throw some different looks at Kobe tonight, try to get the ball out of his hands a little more. Look for them to give him some early double teams, but they have to switch it up. You can’t keep giving Kobe one look because he adapts too quickly. The Suns may also consider putting a body on Lamar Odom — he’s not just lucky.

Also, look for the Suns to break out some zone defense. The Lakers have struggled against that in the past and the Suns run it more than many NBA teams.

On offense, the Suns were not that bad — although the 23 percent from three hurt them. The Lakers contested shots, but the Suns just missed some open looks they cannot afford to in this series. That will not happen again tonight, bet on it.

What else the Lakers did well defensively in game one was slow the Suns pick-and-roll game — the Suns were just 9 of 16 directly off the play in Game 1 (56 percent). That is low for them, both in shots and makes. The Lakers defended it best with Gasol and Odom out — look for more of that combo, less of Bynum, especially late in games. With his knee, he is not nearly as mobile on those plays.

But this really comes down to the Suns defense. And toughness. If they can’t push the Lakers out of their comfort zone, if they can’t challenge them physically, this series will not be long for this world.

NBA apparently reviewing whether Russell Westbrook should be suspended for Thunder-Jazz Game 5

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The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.

Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.

The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.

Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?

Andy Larsen of KSL.com:

A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.

The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.

The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.

But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adamswhose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.

Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.

Russell Westbrook on matchup with Ricky Rubio: ‘Let’s get past that. We’re done with that’

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After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”

Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.

Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.

How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?

Westbrook:

It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.

How convenient.

Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?

Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.

But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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As expected, Wesley Matthews says he will pick up $18.6 million option with Mavericks

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Wesley Matthews still has value as an NBA player.

However, he doesn’t have $18.6 million in value on the open market right now — especially in what will be a tight market this summer — so he’s going to take the cash on the table. Matthews is going to opt into the $18.6 million in the final year of his contract (the final season of a four-year, $70 million deal), he told Dwain Price of the Mavericks’ official website.

He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews missed the final 16 games of last season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, and played in just 63 games total. He has been cleared to resume basketball activities now and is back on his workout routine.

Matthews biggest value has been on the defensive end, where he has been good on the wing for Dallas. Offensively, he averaged 12.7 points per game last season, shooting an improved 38.1 percent from three and with a true shooting percentage right around the league average at 54.1. He’s been solid in Dallas, a glue guy and a veteran example for young players such as Dennis Smith Jr., although they paid him that contract to be more than just solid.

Matthews name came up in trade rumors last deadline, and now that he has an expiring deal you can expect his name to come up again this summer and into next season (if he’s not moved). He’s an interesting trade piece who could help a lot of playoff-bound teams, something the Mavericks are not likely to be.