NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns: Game 3 was a nice win for Phoenix, but can they do it again?

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One of the things that made the second round of this year’s playoffs so bizarre was the prevalence of sweeps. It’s incredibly difficult for any NBA team to sweep another regardless of talent, because beating the same opponent four times in a row requires such an incredible level of focus and consistency. It just doesn’t happen all that often, and the losing team typically wins a game or two to delay the outcome even it it seems inevitable.

I wouldn’t say that a Laker win in the Western Conference Finals is inevitable, but one can’t help but wonder if last night’s Suns’ victory was a temporary diversion rather than real resistance. Phoenix won the game while playing solid — but not dominant — basketball, and is that really good enough to compete with this particular Lakers team?

It’s a complicated question, admittedly, and at its core, it begs us to analyze the sustainability of the Suns’ efforts on both ends of the court.

Offensively, one could actually argue that Phoenix survived (and thrived) in spite of two rather notable obstructions: the Suns shot poorly from three as a team and the usually solid bench was nowhere to be found. The reserves (including sharpshooters Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, and Goran Dragic) went 0-fer in 11 attempts from long range, but the starters didn’t really offer much long-range support, either. Jason Richardson made four of the team’s five attempts, which means that the rest of the starters (or really, Steve Nash and Grant Hill) weren’t doing all that much to balance the court.

On this night, it was probably for the best. The Suns fed Amar’e Stoudemire over and over, and he produced. Not only did Amar’e put up 22 field goal attempts, but he got to the line 18 times, and the Suns as a team shot 42 free throw attempts. Phoenix can survive a rainy day with that kind of scoring coming from the free throw line, but any free throw total that high will be met with some skepticism. That said, while Game 3 featured the same questionable calls that can be found in just about any NBA contest, this result was not entirely without precedent.

In Game 2, the Suns shot 32 free throws to the Lakers’ 22. The difference in attempts between the teams in that game may not have been as profound as the Game 3 differential, but the pace was notably higher in Game 3 (98 possessions to 92 in Game 2), and both Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash were far more assertive within the Phoenix offense on Sunday night. They combined for 13 attempts in Game 2 and 25 attempts in Game 3, which is more than enough to compensate for the generous bump of the team totals.

I wouldn’t say anyone should expect the Suns to shoot 42 free throws again in this series, but if Stoudemire, Nash, and the Suns remain aggressive on offense, they can still boast a considerable free throw advantage against the Lakers.

The bench will bounce back, the three-point shooting will no doubt return, and the total free throw attempts will drop slightly but could still be an advantage for Phoenix. All in all, there’s no reason to think the Suns can’t be even better offensively, which is good news for an already confident Phoenix team playing at home in Game 4.

On defense…well, that’s where the news isn’t quite so good. From the second quarter onward, the Suns relied on a zone defense that produced some impressive results. The Suns’ Game 3 fortunes turned on a time, with the zone sparking a 15-2 run going into halftime that gave Phoenix a seven-point lead. It was fun to watch the Suns’ defenders not only active and involved, but making the right rotations to prevent exploitations of the zone. Brilliant, brilliant move by Alvin Gentry.

Each defensive scheme has its own weaknesses though, and the zone is certainly no exception. The zone was so problematic for the Lakers not because it was perfectly executed (although the Suns certainly did a stellar job relative to their usual man-to-man defense, which has characteristically featured some poor rotations), but precisely because it was a zone. They settled for too many contested threes, didn’t properly utilize one of the best high post centers in the game in Pau Gasol, and didn’t employ the right kind of ball and player movement.

The Laker offense didn’t make any significant adjustments against the zone, and thus their usual movement was stifled. Kudos to L.A. for not stopping the ball, but they need to replace their usual cuts and slashes with moves more effective against the zone: baseline movement, overloading a player’s zone, etc. With NBA versatility, size, and speed at a coach’s disposal, it’s really only a matter of time before any NBA team cracks the zone, much less one with this much talent from coach down. Phil Jackson and his staff will work with the Lakers and hit the film room hard to show exactly how to attack the Suns’ zone D, and unfortunately for Phoenix, it’s that simple.

Andrew Bynum may not be the best counter to the zone, but any lineup featuring Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, and Lamar Odom is more than capable of getting easy shots against it. That’s not meant to be a slight against Phoenix’s defense in Game 3, which was much improved, but rather as a general statement concerning the limitations of the scheme. The zone can be incredibly effective over the course of a single game, but if the Suns are relying on it to win them the series (as they may be forced to, considering how ineffective their man defense has been), they’re in trouble.

That makes Phoenix’s Game 3 win a bit tough to replicate. Phoenix’s offensive potency has never really been in question in this series, but the Suns’ ability (or inability) to defend the versatile and efficient Laker offense sits in the spotlight during every game. That’s where these games (and this series) need be won, and unfortunately, the Phoenix zone is vulnerable to the law of diminishing returns; the more the Suns use the zone, the less effective it will be.

The key for Phoenix will be maintaining the same emphasis on defensive rotations in their usual defensive sets that they seem to exhibit in the zone, as the decreasing effectiveness of the zone will ultimately force the Suns to revert to man-to-man defense. If Phoenix can be even moderately successful without the zone, their offense will give them a shot to win Game 4 and perhaps a few more. If not, Game 3 was merely artificial resistance in a series that could be over sooner rather than later.

Draymond Green says Warriors are “more relaxed” this season

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Last year, the Warriors entered the NBA Finals with the weight of expectations: Defending NBA champions, 73 regular season wins, if they got the title they would leap up the ladder of all-time great teams, lose and it would be a massive let down. We all know what happened from there.

The Warriors are back in the Finals, taking on the Cavaliers for the third year in a row — but this year things are going to be different. Mostly because of Kevin Durant changing the equation. But also the Warriors mindset is better if you ask Draymond Green. Which Mark Spears of ESPN did.

This makes sense. The Warriors to a man denied the pressure and how physically/mentally taxed they were by the chase for 73, but it clearly wore on them physically and mentally. Green was thrashing about and drawing techs, over-reacting to everything (although sometimes that feels like his default setting). Curry was injured but also tired. The Warriors opened the door, LeBron James and the Cavaliers stormed through it.

Will a rested Warriors make a difference this time around? Maybe. But again, Durant matters more than rest.

Report: Harlem Globetrotters to resume series with Washington Generals

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The Harlem Globetrotters dropped the Washington Generals as an opponent a couple years ago – a sad development for basketball traditionalists.

But the sport’s most-lopsided rivalry is returning.

Darren Rovell of ESPN:

Sources said the Generals will be put into rotation to play the Globetrotters again as early as this summer and will take on a greater life than before as the lovable losers.

This just feels right. There’s a spirit about the Generals that complements the Globetrotters so well.

Report: Turkish government issues arrest warrant for Enes Kanter

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The current, authoritarian government in Turkey is not big on dissent (they have beaten protestors of the Turkish regime at a march in this country). Or human rights.

So what’s real trouble for them is opposition and dissent from a famous, well-known person.

Which brings us to Oklahoma City big man Enes Kanter. He is a native of Turkey, and he has been outspoken in his opposition to that country’s current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Last week the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was traveling the globe promoting his charity. He barely got out of Indonesia and was able to get to Romania, where he was detained for a stretch before getting to return to the United States via London.

Now, the Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Kanter, reports the Agence France-Presse.

Turkey issued an arrest warrant on Friday for Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, accusing him of being a member of a “terror group”, a pro-government newspaper reported.

A judge issued the arrest warrant after an Istanbul prosecutor opened an investigation into Kanter’s alleged “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”, Sabah daily reported.

He is in no danger of being extradited by the United States because of this. If anything, it strengthens his case for U.S. citizenship based on asylum.

Kanter is a supporter of the Gülen movement in that country, which is led by the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania. That movement has opposed Erdogan (who recently won a disputed election in that country that gives him sweeping, almost dictatorial powers). Erdogan blamed Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, one with members of the military involved (after that attempt members of the Gulen movement have been swept up by the government all over Turkey). This has come at a cost for Kanter, who has been disavowed by his own family because of his political beliefs.

Kanter is not about to back down from his position. Which means it may be a long time before he gets to visit his homeland again.

Report: Duke guard Frank Jackson undergoes foot surgery before NBA draft

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Duke guard Frank Jackson declared for the 2017 NBA draft with an outside shot of going in the first round and a likelihood of getting picked in the second-round.

This won’t help his stock.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Duke’s Frank Jackson, a well-regarded point guard in the 2017 NBA draft class, underwent right foot surgery and is expected to be fully recovered sometime in July.

When Jackson recovers will determine whether he plays in summer league, and that can affect transition to the pros as a rookie.

The bigger questions: Will this hinder his athleticism long-term? Does this put him at greater injury risk?

Jackson, a 6-foot-4 scoring guard, relies on a strong first step to attack the basket and high elevation on his jumper.