NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 2: Dazed and confused Suns try to figure out what's next


Richardson_loss.jpgThe Suns played straight up man-to-man. They mixed in some zone. They tried to front Pau Gasol in the post. They played behind him. They tried to double team Kobe, both aggressively and once he picked up his dribble.

They tried every defensive gimmick in the book — and the Lakers scored 124 points on 57.7 percent shooting. From three they shot 56 percent. You win doing that. Game 2 was pretty much a repeat of Game 1 despite the Suns adjustments.

So what now?

“I really don’t know what the answer is,” Grant Hill said. “They had a lot of points in the paint (52). Our rotations aren’t great and we’ve just got to play better.”

The Suns seemed stunned and a little confused. They said the right things — to a man kept noting that all the Laker have done is exactly what they were supposed to in winning their two games at home. If the Suns can do the same, this series comes back to Los Angeles next Thursday tied up.

But that totally ignores how those two games looked. The Lakers were able to do what they wanted when they wanted on offense. And they wanted to go inside where the Suns are not as long. When pressed for things the Suns could do to slow the Lakers offense, the answers were execution and variety. And say a few prayers.

“We’ve got to be earlier, we’ve got to be earlier on our help rotations…” said Amare Stoudemire, a guy who looked particularly in a fog defensively at points. “That was the game plan, to stay in front of Gasol and have them throw it over the top and our help was going to be there and kind of trap him. But he threw it over the top and the help was a little late and he just finished. It was a little frustrating at points.”

The Suns had a period of success in this game — they tied the game in the third quarter, going with a small-ball lineup that had Jared Dudley at the power forward spot. It worked beautifully on the offensive end, stretching out the Lakers defense and getting Dudley and Hill open looks that they knocked down. But it didn’t solve the core problem of slowing the Lakers offense.

“It makes us very small defensively,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of the small lineup, but adding he might go back to it. “And with Lamar (Odom) in the game at the four, we either have to have Jared or Grant Hill guarding him and, obviously, that is a big advantage for them.”

Dudley picked a lot of fouls in that stretch, and ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter.

Back at home, the Suns tend to play faster, something the Lakers got sucked into for a part of the second quarter and may well again. But defensively, Gentry emphasized just continually giving the Lakers different looks as the only real option.

“We’ve got to throw different looks, because we did front he post and then they went to what they call solo, which is posting up Pau, and there’s a lot of action on the weakside,” Gentry said. “And they were able to throw it over. We got a smaller guy trying to rotate in. So they had some success with that.

“We’ve just got to keep changing it up and hopefully they won’t shoot as well in our building as they do here.”

Gentry did have one new wrinkle to throw out.

“We just have to take a look at the tape tonight and maybe we’ll decide that we let Kobe get 80 and try to guard the other guys,” Gentry joked.

Well, we assume he was joking. On second thought, might as well do that. Not like anything else has been working.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.