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. 


Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.