Game of the night II: Lakers take trip down memory lane, including sloppy win

3 Comments

Laker fans filled Staples Center to relive the glory of last year, to see the rings handed out and banner number 16 unveiled.

They got that and more. They got the full Lakers treatment from last season (the regular season). They got the good and the bad. There was a half of sloppy defense, a half where the Lakers passed up good shots and took bad ones, the half of Kobe being inefficient, a half where they get outworked by the opponent.

And of course, they got a win. Not tacos, but a win. Lakers 112-110.

The Rockets did their part of not making anything easy — they work harder than maybe any team in the league. That’s why the Rockets were up 15 in the third quarter. That and fantastic play from Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin in what will be one of the best backcourts in the league — they combined for 50 points in this one.

Midway through the third quarter those Lakers fans got to see the team that earned those gaudy rings. The Lakers that hit big shots — Shannon Brown has developed a jumper and isn’t afraid to use it. The Lakers that feed off those big shots to up their defense intensity, in this case creating 11 second-half turnovers and slowing the Rockets transition game (Houston had five fewer possessions in the second half compared to the first).

The Rockets hustled and scrapped, like they did last season. This season Yao Ming is supposed to be the leader that can convert that hustle into more wins. Maybe he can in a month. But Tuesday he looked rusty, missing chip shots and generally looking out of synch, fouling out in his 24 minutes. He made some plays, he missed a lot more. He looked like a guy who just missed 15 months of competitive basketball.

“I’m not worried about that,” Yao said of his 4 of 11 shooting. “Those will take a little bit of time. I feel pretty good out there. I’m running up court, up and back, and I’m helping the team on defense.”

But these are the Lakers. They will get points from Kobe Bryant (27) and Pau Gasol (29 and 11 rebounds) but it is the other guys that kill you. And every night it’s a different guy. Or guys.

Tuesday it was Shannon Brown and Steve Blake’s turn.

Brown spent another summer working on his outside shot, and in the preseason he showed off not only it but also the confidence to use it. A guy who only wanted to get to the rim before no longer fears pulling up from 15. Or 23 feet, as he was 4-5 from three on the night.

The there was Blake, who was tentative in the first half, hesitating on good looks to pass to a man more covered in the post. Then late in the first half he got a wide-open look when his man got picked off on down screen, and Blake nailed the three.

Blake saved his best for last. With 20 seconds remaining Bryant drove the lane as Gasol cut with him, so four Rocket defenders crashed the paint. Bryant whipped a pass back right over the head of a confused-looking Gasol to a wide open Blake who buried the dagger three.

It’s like that with the Lakers. Almost never a blowout, but always somebody you can’t account for with the dagger. Just like last season.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

Leave a comment

Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

Leave a comment

James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.