NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Boston big men will play the bully, will L.A. stand its ground?

14 Comments

Perkins_Bynum.jpgLet the Phil Jackson mind games begin.

At least he’s gotten smart about how to avoid the fines from David Stern when trying to plant subconscious messages in the mind of the referees. Jackson was talking Monday about Kevin Garnett’s play in the last series and the L.A. Times Mark Medina recorded it.

“He was smacking Howard’s arm and finally he was called for an offensive foul,” Jackson said of Garnett. “That’s not our team. We don’t go out there and smack people around.”

Jackson is trying already to get the refs to call this series tight. Because if the refs allow an MMA fight in the paint, advantage Boston. As Jackson later put it the Lakers big men do not have “a smackdown mentality.” Boston does. Big time.

Two years ago the Celtics front line of Kedrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Glen “Big Baby” Davis did smackdown the Lakers. They’ve since added another big man who has tormented the Lakers in the playoffs, Rasheed Wallace.

Can the finesse group of Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum stand up to that this time around?

The Lakers do have some advantages over last time in the toughness department. To start with, Ron Artest is a brick to Vladimir Radmanovic’s tissue paper. No doubt Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher are nails.

The Lakers also have Andrew Bynum this time. Two years ago Perkins — a very good defensive center — could body up and push around Pau Gasol. This time, Perkins will have to cover the bigger body of Bynum — and he’s going to be able to largely shut down the Lakers center.

But that makes the Garnett/Gasol matchup a key one in this series. Garnett is physical and thrives on intimidation. Gasol has a reputation for backing down. But this is a different Gasol than two years ago — after that Celtics loss was the first time he hit the gym and weights hard to get stronger.

With that came a new mentality. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register recalls one of the regular matchups between the two teams earlier this season, when the Celtics went right at Gasol hard — and Gasol leaned back in and pushed back hard. It led to a little skirmish where the Gasol and Perkins earned double technicals.

The Lakers also are hoping to see more of the hardened grew-up-in-Queens Odom than the one that disappears for games at a time. Which one shows up, who knows?

The Celtics are sort of in the same boat with Wallace — in the playoffs (with the extra rest between games) he has returned to being a good three-point shooter and a huge boost off the bench. But that’s not who was there in the regular season, when Celtics fans were ready to trade him for a rack of shootaround balls. If the regular season Sheed returns it is trouble. Sheed — because he can hit the three — could play a key role. The Celtics would love to pull the Lakers big men away from protecting the rim on defense, and Sheed’s shooting can do that (as can KG’s midrange game).

We know what the Celtics are going to do. They are going to try to be the bully on the block. The Lakers say they are different this time around. Maybe. But they are going to have to prove it. They are going to be tested on the biggest stage with the hardest hits. If they fold, so do the Lakers chances.

Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy “encouraged” by players speaking out, protesting social issues

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 17: Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons yells to his players during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption ***Stan Van Gundy
Leave a comment

Athletes are injecting themselves into the needed national conversation about race, violence, and policing in this nation. That has taken some very public forms, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony speaking at the ESPYs, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and leading others to do so. Some NBA players likely will follow Kaepernick’s lead.

Pistons coach/GM Stan Van Gundy likes seeing players speak out.

A couple of his Detroit players — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — said they backed the 49ers quarterback. Here is what the never shy Van Gundy said about all of it, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

“I’m encouraged by the fact of what some of those guys stood up and did at the ESPYs and had a conversation,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have guys that not only see the problem, but want to try to do something about it…

“To me, in some ways, (police brutality is) just the most visible to focus on and it goes to deeper inequities in our criminal justice system, our education system so there’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”

Van Gundy has been telling his players part of that solution is to vote.

The players union and NBA sent out a release saying they wanted to work together to create positive change, but details are still vague on what that might be. The only thing we know for sure as we head into the NBA season — with as divided a nation and election as anyone can remember as a backdrop — is that some NBA players are going to try and keep the conversation going.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

Leave a comment

It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
Leave a comment

The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

2 Comments

Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.