The Lakers have taken a page out of the Boston/Orlando series — they have gotten physical on defense.
The result is an 8-point lead at the half.
At first this game looked a lot like the first two, as the Suns got off to an early lead. The Lakers made a concerted effort to go inside to their bigs (15 of 22 first-quarter shots were in the paint). However, the Suns collapsed five guys down into paint and dared the Lakers to shoot from the outside, while blocking shots inside. The Lakers started out shooting 3 for 13 and the Suns kept doing their thing, they were up 7.
Then Kobe Bryant picked up an early second foul, and it looked like the Suns could have a healthy lead. But he only sat out a few minutes, coming back in with 5 minutes left in the first quarter as Phil Jackson felt the game slipping away.
Then the Lakers stopped passing inside and started attacking off the dribble, and things changed. They started getting better shots inside and that later led to kick-out wide open threes that the Lakers hit.
Los Angeles went on a 31-10 run and led by 13. The Suns bench, so crucial last game, seemed flummoxed by the more physical Lakers D — the Suns had 4 points in five minutes with Nash out. Suns coach Alvin Gentry was so frustrated with the physical play he got a technical for saying some magical words to the ref.
The Suns made a mini-run late to cut the lead back to 8 at the half. But they need to adjust to the Lakers style of play in the second half if they are going to win.
In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:
We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?
Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.
Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.
However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.
But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.
Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?
It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.
Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.
Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.
But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.
At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.
With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.
Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.
The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.
The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.
Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.
Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.
Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.
“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”
The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.
Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.