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.

Chris Paul’s son joins him on Clippers bench in rout of Lakers (video)

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Is this disrespectful to the Lakers? Absolutely.

And I love it.

Chris Paul and the Clippers crushed their Los Angeles counterparts, 133-109, last night. The Clippers, who’ve won 13 of 14 in the series, have practically run out of ways to show up their crosstown rival on the court. If it now takes bench visitors, so be it.

This is the best late-blowout bench behavior since LeBron James led the Cavaliers in the water-bottle challenge in a December win over the Knicks. This would rank higher if Chris Jr. didn’t also joined the bench in the Clippers’ November win over the Mavericks, which is the pictured on this post.

Jawun Evans leaving Oklahoma State for NBA draft

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You’ve probably heard of the top college point guards for the 2017 NBA draft: Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. You might have even heard of French point guard prospect Frank Ntilikina.

Which point guard will be drafted next after those six?

One possibility: Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans.

Evan Daniels of Scout:

Evans looks like a second-round pick, but a dearth of point guards projected into the latter half of the first round could boost his stock.

He’s ultra quick and ultra aggressive and led the nation’s top KenPom offense. Evans relentlessly attacks the rim, often while forcing transition opportunities. That gets defenses scrambled, creating kickout-passing lanes and offensive-rebound opportunities.

However, the 6-foot Evans doesn’t finish that well at the rim – creating a major question about how he’ll translate to the NBA. The bigger defenders in the paint might limit his kickout passes, too.

His size also presents major problems defensively, though a 6-foot-4 wingspan at least helps.

Evans is good enough on jumpers to keep defenses honest, and at Oklahoma State, he had to create so much for himself. It’d be interesting to see whether limiting his burden improves his efficiency or whether his helpfulness is limited to having the ball in his hands.

My guess is the latter, and I’m unconvinced he’s good enough to demand such a role in the NBA. But the possibility is strong enough that I’d be excited about rolling the dice on him in the second round.

Shabazz Muhammad awkwardly mentions Collective Bargaining Agreement during halftime interview (video)

AP Photo/Jim Mone
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The Timberwolves surprisingly led the Spurs by nine at halftime last night, which takes us to Shabazz Muhammad‘s mid-game interview.

Muhammad:

We’re doing a great job on defense, Wiggs, myself, everybody. It’s a tough team, especially Kawhi and the guys. So, we’re doing a really good job and everybody’s collective – Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Um. What?

To be fair, I can’t even imagine what type of nonsense I’d spew in the midst of a taxing workout or a high-pressure situation – let alone something that qualifies as both.

Unfortunately for Muhammad, Minnesota eventually fell to San Antonio, 100-93. But hopefully, he can laugh at this moment. He should, at least.

hat tip: reddit user cjsplash

Duke’s Jayson Tatum, California’s Ivan Rabb declare for NBA draft

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Wednesday a couple of forwards expected to go in the first round of June’s NBA draft said they plan on making the jump to the NBA.

As expected, Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Cal’s Ivan Rabb made their decisions official.

Duke announced Tatum’s decision.

Tatum is expected to be a top-five pick, DraftExpress.com currently has him as the No. 4 pick. The 6’8″ wing can flat-out score the rock, which is why teams are intrigued, as Rob Dauster of NBC’s College Basketball Talk told us in a recent podcast. However, teams wonder if he can create shots for others and not just himself, and if he’s going to be a good defender at the NBA level. He has the physical tools to do be a good defender, but will he put in the work game in, game out?

Rabb is a 6’10” sophomore who has a great NBA build and athleticism to spare, but at the NBA level everyone is a great athlete. Rabb doesn’t have a great perimeter game and needs to develop one and be a consistent defensive force to be a difference maker (or have a lengthy career) at the NBA level. DraftExpress.com has him going 22nd in this draft, and his stock seems to have fallen over the course of the season.