NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 3: The Suns get in the zone and suddenly it looks like a series

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stoudemire_Odom.jpgSaturday in practice, Suns coach Alvin Gentry was not happy. He wanted to run some more zone but the Suns were playing it worse than they had in the first two games. Which was hard to do because they had been terrible at it in those games and the Lakers had carved it up.

“To be honest with you guys, in practice yesterday it was the worst it has ever been,” Gentry said in a post-game interview shown on NBATV. “I got really upset because I didn’t think it was very good at all. When (the Lakers) started the game making a ton of shots we said, ‘well, we’ve got to give it a try’ and we got some stops.”

The Lakers shot just 4 of 21 against the zone in the second quarter. The Lakers who had shot 58 percent in the first two games shot 48 percent in this game, largely because of the zone. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking Amare Stoudemire and the Suns won Game 3 118-109.

If the zone works again in Game 4 on Tuesday, the series will head back to Los Angeles tied (Lakers lead 2-1 now).

The Lakers came out settling more for their jump shots even before the zone came in, but they hit them. That is why they led after one quarter 32-29. Then Phoenix went to the zone and the Lakers put up just 15 points in the second quarter as their outside shots stopped falling. That should be expected — the Lakers are not a great outside or three point shooting team, just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc on the season (23rd in the league). The only guy hitting shots was Kobe Bryant, who had 36 points on 13 of 24 shooting.

Usually against the zone the Lakers still try to go inside, with bigs flashing into the high post, they did a little of that in the second half, but they still settled enough to take 32 threes, making just nine. In two of the three Lakers losses this postseason, they have taken more than 30 threes.

“I think we figured (the zone) out in the third quarter, but we didn’t figure out defensively what we had to do,” Jackson said in his televised interview.

While the Lakers settled, the Suns attacked. Phoenix had 42 free throw attempts — sorry Lakers fans, that had nothing to do with the officiating and everything to do with the Suns taking the ball the rim. Stoudemire had Andrew Bynum — a clearly slowed and hurting Bynum — in quick foul trouble. His replacement, Lamar Odom, ended up fouling out.

For the first time in this series, the pressure shifts to the Lakers to adjust — to use actions in the triangle offense to better exploit the zone they will certainly see next game. Jackson has two handfuls of rings because he knows how to make playoff adjustments. But if the Suns zone can force the Lakers into jumpshooters again, this series could end up tied.

Report: LeBron James being hands off, letting Cavaliers front office handle Irving trade

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Okay, Koby Altman — the Cavs interim general manager about to have the first part of that title removed — and Dan Gilbert, the ball is in your court.

Kyrie Irving has told the Cleveland Cavaliers he wants to be traded, and he’s given them a list of preferred landing spots. Normally in this kind of situation, the team’s biggest star would not only be informed but consulted and asked his opinion, however this time around LeBron James is going to be hands off, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

LeBron James intends to let the Cleveland Cavaliers front office and owner Dan Gilbert take the lead in dealing with Kyrie Irving’s trade demands, sources told ESPN.

As the Cavs consider their options, sources said James has expressed to the team that he is focused on his offseason workout regimen and is planning to report to training camp with the intention of leading his teammates to a fourth consecutive Finals — no matter who those teammates are.

Despite the perception — and some reality, the team did try to make him happy — LeBron has not wanted to play GM of the Cavaliers in recent years. He has wanted to be more hands off, but has let his feelings be known at times. Part of that was he grew to trust David Griffin to make decisions. With Griffin out of the way, a lot of things feel different in Cleveland.

Consider this part of the crumbling of the foundation in Cleveland. LeBron is acting like an employee, one who shows up to do his job and that’s it — which is what he is, but stars can take on a larger role in the franchise. LeBron has, and does still to a degree, but he has scaled it back after his experiences over the years. Things feel like they are closing in on the Cavaliers, the only question is how fast?

Report: Cavaliers unhappy Kyrie Irving news leaked because it hurts trade value

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The news Kyrie Irving wants out of Cleveland came as a bolt of lightning to a finally slowed NBA offseason. Speculation about the future of LeBron James had been rampant, but discussions of Kyrie Irving’s future were usually tied to LeBron (if he left the Cavs, Irving would go, too).

Cleveland wanted to keep it under wraps, because it’s easier to do business that way. Now the word is out — including that he prefers to be traded to San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or New York — and the Cavaliers are not happy, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

It means that there will be a lot more leaks — teams that want to look like they are trying to do something but have no real interest/assets will make a call then leak it so it looks like they are trying. It will mean a lot of distracting headlines.

However, unlike Carmelo Anthony with the Knicks, the Cavaliers have leverage here. Irving doesn’t have a no-trade clause so the Cavaliers can take the best offer. Irving is an All-Star level point guard, one of the five to eight best in the NBA (depending on how much you knock him for his defensive lapses, and who you classify as a point guard). He also has two seasons left on his contract, so teams that trade for him have a chance to win him over to stay.

That said, leaked info or not, they are not getting equal value back. It doesn’t work that way with stars generally. That said, everyone knowing he wants out doesn’t help the Cavaliers cause here.

Kyrie Irving’s reported preferred trade destinations: Knicks, Heat, Spurs, Timberwolves

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Kyrie Irving requested a trade from the Cavaliers.

He even apparently provided a list of teams he prefers to join.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

That’s quite an eclectic mix.

The Knicks play in a major market near Irving’s native New Jersey, but they’re lousy. The Heat have a merely good team, excellent basketball culture, beautiful weather and a state with no income tax. The Spurs also offer a great basketball culture and no state income tax – plus Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard. The Timberwolves are an up-and-comer with multiple players – Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler (a friend) – on Irving’s timeline (though one would likely have to be traded for him) and a coach in Tom Thibodeau who worked with Irving through USA Basketball.

But Irving doesn’t possess a no-trade clause. Cleveland can trade him anywhere – or not at all.

Teams that Irving greenlights might offer more than teams he doesn’t, believing he’d be more likely to re-sign when his contract expires. But his free agency is still two years away. It doesn’t seem that will play a huge factor.

For Irving to work his way to a team he prefers, it will take a little luck in which team offers the Cavs the best package – or impressive finagling by his agent.

Report: Spurs re-signing Pau Gasol to three-year contract

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Even after Pau Gasol opted out, there it nearly certain he’d stay with the Spurs.

Now, a deal is done.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m a little surprised San Antonio guaranteed Gasol’s salary next season. By rule, it must be within 5% of what he’ll earn this year.

The Spurs could have major flexibility to chase free agents next summer, making keeping the books clean a priority. Their only constraints with Gasol this year are paying him up to 120% of his prior salary (which comes out to $18.6 million), the hard cap ($125,266,000) and whatever expense ownership would endure. So, if Gasol were willing to play ball, San Antonio could have paid him a sizable salary this year and far less – the room exception or even the minimum – next year.

Instead, Gasol’s compensation will be more balanced between the seasons. We’ll see how much he’ll earn.

Gasol remains an effective scorer, in part because he increased his range beyond the 3-point arc. He rebounds well in his area, and his length and basketball intelligence make him a passable defender given his other skills. His immobility can be a major defensive liability in certain matchups, though.

He’s also 37, an age where players can drop off quickly – another reason a one-year deal would’ve been preferable. At least the partial guarantee in the third year will help San Antonio.