NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 4: Suns in a different kind of zone but it still means a win

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Frye_Bench.jpgPhoenix was in the zone again.

Not the defense… well, they were in that too and it had an impact, but this time it was an offensive zone. There were stretches of Game 4 where it seemed no Sun could miss. The Lakers couldn’t figure them out.

But that offensive zone was really a string of little things that started with the defense, led to open threes for the Suns bench that got hot, and ended with a 115-106 Suns win that has even this series 2-2.

The series everybody had written off as over just a few days ago is now headed to a clash-of-styles Game 5 Thursday in Los Angeles that likely will decide the series.

Phoenix has figured out the little things. The question that remains is can they do this on the road, where their role players struggled and the calls are often not as friendly? You can see in the Suns eyes they think they can.

That confidence starts with the zone defense. The Lakers played better against it, to the tune of 105 points and 49 percent shooting. The Lakers scored, and at times they did what they wanted to do by getting the ball into the teeth of the Suns zone with passes to Pau Gasol in the high post, or off penetration.

But then they’d stop doing it for stretches. They’d take the path of least resistance and just go back to taking threes — they took 28 in this game after taking 32 last game. The Lakers are not a good three point shooting team, and they hit just 32 percent of those threes in Game 4.

That means a lot of long rebounds to fuel the Suns offense. And for the Suns bench, it was like rocket fuel. The Suns bench had 54 points (to the Lakers 20) on 62.5 percent shooting. The Suns took those rebounds and were off to the races — the Suns had 40 second quarter points largely fueled by those missed shots becoming Suns shots before the Lakers could get back and set their defense. They could not miss — even Channing Frye, who was 0-16 before this game, finished 4 of 8 from
three. The same thing happened in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers had tied the game but the Suns pulled away on three consecutive threes, two of them off missed Lakers shots.

“What was disappointing for me is the fact we took five threes in that sequence of action where they made up the ground when we took the lead in the fourth quarter,” Phil Jackson said in a televised interview on NBA TV after the game.

The chance to get out and run made the Suns the aggressors. Again. Phoenix made 22 free throws on 32 attempts, the Lakers were 7 of 13. The reason was not the referees, it was that the Lakers were settling for jumpers while the Suns were attacking. Further evidence of that, the Suns had 18 offensive rebounds.

Phoenix also exploited Andrew Bynum, who is clearly hurting. The Suns had Bynum’s man — Robin Lopez or Amare Stoudemire — come out and set the high screen for Steve Nash because Bynum was not mobile enough to slow Nash and recover to his man rolling toward the basket. Stoudemire finished with 21 points.

Kobe tried to take control himself, and he put on an impressive display of shooting on his way to 38 points (he hit 15 of 22 shots and was 6 of 9 from three). But late in the game the Suns started sending kamikaze double teams at him to get the ball out of his hands (same with Gasol) — let anyone else try to beat them, but not Kobe. It worked. The Lakers took threes and missed them.

Jackson said after the game he was fine with the Lakers offense, it was the defense that bothered him. But the two were interrelated — the Suns aggressiveness in their zone forced the Lakers into bad shot selections that fueled the Suns offense the Lakers couldn’t stop. It was more mental than physical, Kobe said.

“I think our concentration was focused on how to attack the zone, I think it kind of flipped our attention to detail defensively,” Bryant said in his televised interview. “Our focus was on the other end of the floor, which doesn’t win championships.”

If the Lakers are going to win a championship — or even compete for one in the Finals — they need to get that defensive attention back.

The Suns, on the other hand, need to keep riding the zone and the three point shooting. Their offense is a beautiful and powerful thing when unleashed. And right now, that storm is blowing the Lakers out of the way, much like the Lakers did to them in the first two games.

Game five Thursday night is going to be a fascinating clash of styles.

Kings’ new arena to be on street named after David Stern

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  NBA Commissioner David Stern received the key to the city from former NBA player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson during an NBA gam between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2013 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Former NBA commissioner David Stern pitted Sacramento and Seattle against each other. Sacramento made a more lucrative offer, so it kept the Kings.

For that, the Kings are honoring Stern.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings will announce Tuesday that they are naming the street leading to the front door of the new downtown arena in honor of former NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose persistent, decades-long efforts helped keep the franchise in Sacramento.

Officially, the address of the Golden 1 Center – to be submitted to the city Tuesday for approval – is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

“When I learned we would have the option of naming the road, it was a no-brainer for me,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “There were no other names on my list. David took the NBA to the global level and started the WNBA, but he is about so much more than basketball. He is one of the greatest leaders in the world, and on top of that, the team would not be in Sacramento without David Stern.”

OK.

Michael Jordan made a big philanthropic donation, but don’t confuse it with a political stand

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Dave Zirin is one of my favorite twitter follows and a great writer on the intersection of sports and politics for The Nation (and his podcasts are fantastic).

Speaking with Dan Patrick Tuesday (video above) he hit the nail on the head with Michael Jordan’s $2 million donation Monday — it was a great bit of philanthropy, but it wasn’t political. Jordan said he could no longer try to stay silent on racial issues, but he didn’t take a side, he didn’t make a donation to Black Lives Matter or any other movement pushing for one side or the other in this debate. He put money into trying to build a bridge between police and poorer, minority communities. That’s a good thing, but it’s not a political stance (there is no “anti better police relations” movement).

Jordan should be congratulated for what he did, but we have graded Jordan’s “political” action on a curve because he doesn’t make political moves.

Report: Victor Oladipo seeking max contract extension from Thunder

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 22:  Victor Oladipo waits for a free throw during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center on January 22, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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The Thunder dealt with the Magic to get Victor Oladipo.

Now, it’s time to negotiate with Oladipo, who’s eligible for a rookie-scale contract extension.

How much does he want?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

(for now) seeking the maximum salary, sources say.

Why shouldn’t he?

C.J. McCollum just got a max extension, and while I’d prefer McCollum over Oladipo, their value is comparable. McCollum is a superior shooter, but Oladipo is more advanced defensively. Two factors working in McCollum’s favor — youth and a shortage of good shooting guards in the NBA — also apply to Oladipo.

Perhaps, the max rules kept McCollum from earning more. Even if he’s not quite as valuable as McCollum, Oladipo still might deserve the max. That’s a pitfall (feature?) of the system.

But a difference between the Trail Blazers’ and Thunder’s cap outlooks could be key.

If he doesn’t sign an extension, Oladipo will count $13,105,921 against the cap to begin next offseason. Oklahoma City can hold him at that number, use its other cap space then exceed the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

If he signs an extension, he’ll count all offseason at his 2017-18 salary — which is projected to have a max of about $24 million.

Because Oklahoma City is more likely than Portland to have 2017 cap space, that difference matters considerably. The Thunder could use an extra $11 million of flexibility, especially as they handle Russell Westbrook‘s free agency.

Oladipo almost certainly won’t sign an extension that starts at less than his $13,105,921 cap hold. So, any extension will cut into the Thunder’s 2017 space. But he could take enough of a discount to make it worth their while over the life of the deal.

There’s plenty of time for compromise. Oladipo’s extension deadline is Oct. 31.

For now, Oladipo should keep asking for the biggest payday.

Report: Warriors center Anderson Varejao likely out for Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Dan Clark #13 of Great Britain shoots over Anderson Varejao #11 of Brazil in the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match between Great Britain and Brazil on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors center Anderson Varejao left his native Brazil to have his back examined in the United States before the Rio Olympics.

The prognosis doesn’t sound good.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s a bummer for Varejao, who was clearly looking forward to playing in his home Olympics. At least Brazil still has plenty of talent — including Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Raul Neto and Marcelo Huertas — to compete for a medal.

The Warriors certainly hope Varejao heals in time for the season. They might have to depend on him to back up Zaza Pachulia if rookie Damian Jones isn’t ready and they want to limit the pounding Draymond Green takes at center.