NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Can Bynum make a difference?

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Bynum_Celtics.jpgFor all the differences between the 2007-08 Lakers, the 08-09 Lakers, and this year’s Laker squad, one thing remains the same: The Lakers are hoping that they can get a significant contribution from Andrew Bynum, but aren’t sure he’ll be healthy enough to make one. 

Bynum missed the 2008 NBA Finals due to knee surgery, and was severely limited by injuries in last year’s finals, averaging only six points a game against the Magic. Bynum was finally supposed to be healthy for this playoff run, and has had games where’s he’s looked like the great young center the Lakers know he can be. Unfortunately, those games have been exceptions, and for most of the playoffs Bynum has looked hobbled by his latest knee injury, a slight meniscus tear suffered in game six of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 
Bynum recently had a kiddie pool taken out of his knee, and the Lakers hope that the knee-draining procedure will be half as effective for Bynum as it was for Kobe Bryant, who has been an absolute house of fire since getting his own knee drained. 
If Bynum can actually come back from this injury and play at anywhere near a 100% level during the Finals, the dividends would be immediate and significant for the Lakers. Kobe and Rondo may be the best two players in this series, but the games will likely be decided by which team wins the frontcourt battle. If Bynum is healthy enough to force Perkins to pay attention to him on defense, Gasol gets the kind of room to operate he didn’t have in the 2008 finals, when Gasol didn’t have a single 20-point game in the series. 
If he isn’t, Kendrick Perkins gets to guard Gasol in the post, and KG switches onto Lamar Odom. If the way KG destroyed Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis over the course of these playoffs has taught us anything, it’s that KG absolutely destroys fast, undersized fours. The Lakers need to make Perkins and Garnett pay attention to their man, because if one of them is free to rotate and give help on defense, the paint gets shut down. 
If Bynum is healthy, that means more offensive rebounds for the Lakers and fewer missed three-pointers, since the Lakers will be getting more shots in the paint. The Lakers already do a great job of limiting their turnovers; if they can get some offensive boards and cut down on threes that lead to long rebounds, they could keep Rajon Rondo from getting out in transition. 
When Bynum doesn’t play well, the Laker offense is fantastic when the ball is moving and the shots are falling, and mediocre on off-nights. When Bynum does play well, the Lakers absolutely own the paint on offense, and can destroy teams even when they aren’t doing the right things on offense: look at what they did to the Jazz in game two of that series, when the Lakers cruised to a win despite turning the ball over twice as much as the Jazz did, taking less shots in the paint, and going 4-17 from beyond the arc. I was there. It was intimidating. 
It’s no secret that Boston wants to get physical with the Lakers and try to do to them what they did in 2008. It may be a pipe dream, but if Bynum can actually play through his injuries and make an impact in this series, the Lakers are more than capable of beating the Celtics at their own game. 

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.