How the Lakers can win the championship

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So it’s come to this. After losing two straight games in Boston and having their backs shoved up against the wall, the Los Angeles Lakers are fresh off a series-tying blowout and one home win away from defending their NBA championship. One win away from getting Kobe one for the thumb and Phil getting #11. One win away from Derek Fisher going into the history books as one of the greatest clutch players ever. One win away from Andrew Bynum being legendarily gutsy instead of infamously brittle. One win away from all of it. 
What do the Lakers need to do tonight to make it all happen? Here are a few thoughts:
Put points on the board early

Boston’s defense leads to its offense. Hence, Los Angeles’ offense leads to its defense. When Boston can induce turnovers and long misses that lead to fast-breaks, they’re deadly. When they have to go to a pick-and-roll set for Rondo or an ISO for Pierce, they can be stopped. In game six, the Lakers scored 28 points in the first quarter, and the Celtics never recovered.
The Lakers don’t need to establish anything in particular early: they just need to score points. Kobe Bryant started off game six red-hot, and that was the catalyst for the ensuing Laker blowout. He should start out looking for his shot the exact same way in game seven. Late-game dramatics would in a Finals Game 7 are what everyone expects from Kobe, but what he does in the first quarter may actually end up being just as important.
-Attack the boards

Boston doesn’t have Perkins. This much we know. What that does not mean is that the Lakers should try and force-feed Andrew Bynum; Boston’s backup centers are scrappy defenders, and Bynum has almost no lift left on that knee. What Bynum does give the Lakers is a degree of size and toughness that can hurt the Celtics, particularly on the glass. The Lakers need to get inside, scramble the Boston defense, and use their size to snag caroms when Boston is out of position.
The rebounding numbers from game six were almost as ugly as the final score: 52-39 in favors of the Lakers, and it was a lot worse early. The team that has won the rebounding battle has won every game in this series. If the Lakers can keep track of Rondo and fight for every rebound, they should be able to control the glass in game seven. 
Make Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo work for their points

They say this about every superstar, but it’s particularly true for three of Boston’s big four. (Ray Allen always works for his points, which is why he can go 0-13.) They need to stop Rondo in transition and keep KG from running the floor with him. Don’t let KG sneak backdoor and catch the lob for an alley-oop or a layup. Don’t let Pierce trail the break for threes, bite on his pump fakes, or let him saunter into the lane with that slow-motion crossover. 
If they force Rondo to go to free-throw line jumpers or tough floaters, KG to turnarounds from the post, and Pierce to mid-range jumpers off the dribble, the Lakers will be fine. They just need to keep Boston’s big four from playing off of one another and becoming more than the sum of their talents. 
Get Pau Gasol playing like the best big man in basketball

Gasol wasn’t a machine on the blocks in game six, but he did a great job running the floor and crashing the boards to get his points. Gasol needs to take that energy and add some confidence to it; he’s more than capable of running the offense from the high post and scoring on KG on the blocks. If he can do it in game one and the regular season, he can do it in game seven. Pau needs to realize he’s 48 minutes away from never being called “Gasoft” again by some ill-informed NBA fan. 
Role players: Confident with the lead, smart if it’s close

The Lakers need to pour it on if they have the chance. If the ball is moving, Boston is on their heels, and Ron Artest or any other role player has an open three, he should let fly and take the roof off the building. If the Lakers are down or it’s close, he has to get the ball to the money players, contribute with his energy and defense, and only shoot when necessary. The Lakers won’t win playing one-on-five, but taking the ball out of Kobe’s hands when he needs it is a recipe for catastrophe. 
There you have it — if the Lakers do all those things and a few more, the old NBA champs will be your new NBA champs. Only a few hours left until we get to see if they can pull it off or not. 


O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.