NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 2: The Celtics will play like themselves, but is that enough?

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Garnett_jumper.jpgAll that time spent in Boston practices working on the triangle sets, and the Lakers destroyed the Celtics vaunted defense with the old-fashioned pick-and-roll in Game 1.

What people forget is that this happened some in 2008 — the Lakers had maybe their best offensive success with the pick-and-roll. But as Darius of Forum Blue& Gold reminded me in an email the Celtics had a counter move: James Posey. The differences in personnel will force much different adjustments this time around, and it may not be enough.

The Celtics will make adjustments — starting with their energy level and physicality in Game 2. They have to. Everything for the Celtics flows out of their defense, and against the Lakers in particular they need to get stops, rebounds and get Rajon Rondo out and running for some easy transition baskets.

To do that, they have to stop the pick and roll.

The Lakers had Andrew Bynum come out and set the high pick and Kobe Bryant as the ball handler. All too often Kobe was allowed to turn the corner with little or no resistance and he went driving into the paint, which broke down the Celtics defense. Kevin Garnett would step out to help on Bryant and that left Pau Gasol free to get rebounds.

So the Celtics started try and trap Kobe coming off the pick with Kendrick Perkins and Ray Allen, to get the ball out of Kobe’s hands. Then Gasol would flash to the high post area and Kobe would get him the ball. Then Garnett was screwed. He had two responsibilities: Stop Gasol’s 17-foot jumper (which he can and did hit) and cover Bynum rolling to the hoop. Garnett is a great defender, but he cannot be in two places at once. That is where you saw that nifty Lakers interior passing tearing up the Celtics.

Again, this happened some in 2008, but things were different. Gasol was setting the picks for the Lakers, not the injured Bynum, and Odom was the guy flashing to the high post. Back then the Celtics could counter with James Posey, who could body Odom and give him trouble. The Celtics also put Paul Pierce on Kobe because they were not afraid of the Lakers small forward. Pierce did a good job in the Kobe-stopper role. The Celtics could go with a small lineup — KG at the center spot — and had a lot of success with that.

This time around, it’s not that easy. No James Posey, for one. Second, the Celtics run a real risk going small because Phil Jackson will not adjust — he will try to pound the Celtics with his front line. Ask Phoenix and Utah about that. Also, putting Pierce on Kobe now means Ray Allen trying to guard Ron Artest, and Ron-Ron is too big and strong for Allen, the Lakers could post that up all day.

Look for Boston to use some of the Phoenix defensive strategy. Not the zone, but the idea of packing the paint a little more and making the Lakers jump shooters. Even if that means giving up a little of the aggression out on the wings the Celtics like to use to throw teams off. The Celtics cannot let the Lakers once again get into the heart of their defense off the dribble or pass. Nobody is stopping the Lakers front line if they get to shoot 8 footers all night.

Expect to see the physical Celtics, expect to see the Celtics front line that pushes and believes the paint is its home to protect. The Lakers will counter and they still have weapons — Lamar Odom was almost non-existent in Game 1, but he could explode at any time. And these Lakers will push back — as a reminder Jackson has been splicing scenes from “Inglorious Bastards” into the Lakers game film. A movie about guys who took no prisoners.

The style and pace of this game will be more to the Celtics liking. The question is, will that be enough? With this Lakers roster, it may not be.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, 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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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.