Game of the Night: Suns bury Lakers with 22 threes

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What a crazy game in Los Angeles. The Phoenix Suns managed to hand the Lakers their first home loss of the season despite losing their starting center (and the only Phoenix player who would have had a chance of keeping the Lakers off the boards) early in the game, but it was far from easy. Even though the Suns hit 22 of their 40 three-point attempts, one make shy of an NBA record, the Suns needed a crazy three from Hedo Turkoglu and a controversial technical on Lamar Odom to escape Los Angeles with a five-point win.

For the majority of the game, it seemed like the Suns were simply delaying an inevitable Laker blowout. Phoenix’s big men had little hope of keeping the Lakers away from the basket before Robin Lopez went down with a knee injury — after that happened, things just became comical. The Lakers got to the rim seemingly at will for much of the game, using crisp passing, strong drives, and lots of movement off the ball to get easy looks at the rim over and over and over again. Lamar Odom was particularly effective when he put the ball on the floor and went to the basket, and the Suns had no prayer against Pau Gasol when he got the ball near the rim. On top of that, Kobe was being Kobe, whether he was setting his teammates up with crisp passes, making shots from the mid-post, or up-faking his man, stepping through him, and passing off the backboard to himself for a layup.

When the Lakers missed a shot, they would often just get the ball right back again — Channing Frye had no prayer of effectively boxing out Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom kept coming out of nowhere to grab the ball after Laker misses, and the Suns were simply unable to gain possession of loose caroms for most of the game.

After the game, Suns coach Alvin Gentry talked about his team’s inability to keep Gasol off the boards, saying “You know we’ve still got to try and stop the rebounding situation, but Pau is just so long, we have him boxed out, he goes over the back but doesn’t foul…he’s just so long, our guys try to get a body on him and we just couldn’t. It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to win, that we weren’t playing hard and trying to be physical with him, we just couldn’t move him out. And that’s a credit to Pau more than it is a negative to our guys.”

The Lakers’ size advantage was overpowering — the Lakers outscored the Suns by 40 points in the paint, and had 20 offensive rebounds to the Suns’ 22 defensive rebounds. 99 times out of 100, the team that controls the paint like the Lakers did on Sunday will win the game, but that wasn’t the case against the Suns.

How did the Suns overcome the Lakers’ size and strength mismatch? They hit threes. A lot of them. The Suns found themselves open from beyond the arc early and often against the Lakers, and their shooters weren’t afraid to let fly. The Suns did a great job of moving the ball from side to side, staying away from isolation play, spacing the floor, and keeping the Lakers off-balance in both the half-court and transition game. The Laker forwards were able to overpower the Suns when Los Angeles had the ball, but they often seemed a step slow on the opposite side of the floor, either leaving Channing Frye or Hedo Turkoglu open beyond the arc or being forced to switch onto a guard. Lamar Odom had a particularly uneven defensive game — there were times he would go to give help and appear to simply forget that Channing Frye and Hedo Turkoglu love to shoot threes.

Jason Richardson, Channing Frye, and Hedo Turkoglu absolutely killed the Lakers from deep by camping out on the weak side in the half-court and trailing the break — that kind of shooting would be impressive in an empty gym, but it also seemed like the Lakers were giving up open three-point looks because they thought the Suns would eventually start missing and they could simply outscore Phoenix when the Suns started to miss.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Suns never stopped missing. During one four-and-a-half minute stretch in the third quarter, the Suns made six straight three-pointers, and it got to the point where the Staples center crowd would begin groaning as the shots were in the air. When asked after the game if he thought the Suns’ three-point shooting would cool down, Kobe Bryant said “that’s what normally happens, but tonight it didn’t. They just continued to make them.”

A stretch like that would have buried most teams, but the Lakers were resilient, and were in the game for most of the fourth quarter thanks to some big threes from Shannon Brown and some missed threes by the Suns. The turning point of the game was a controversial one. With 53 seconds remaining, Lamar Odom made a layup that put the Lakers down by two points. There was some contact on the play, and Odom wanted to get an and-1 call and a chance to bring the Lakers within a point. He didn’t get the call, and was fairly demonstrative to the ref, who slapped him with a technical. After the Suns hit the resulting free throw and Hedo Turkoglu nailed a deep, flat-footed, contested three over Kobe Bryant on the next Suns possession, the game was all but over.

After the game, Kobe called the technical on Odom “disgusting, in that situation.” Odom himself said “It’s tough, you know, it’s tough. There were 55 seconds left. I think that’s why people are questioning it. But a rule’s a rule.”

After the game, both coaches were in awe of Phoenix’s hot shooting. Phil Jackson said in his post-game press conference that “Our philosophy is that [the three-pointers] even out over time, but they didn’t tonight. A team’s going to make a certain percentage of threes. If they make ten in a ball game that’s a high number; this team averages 9, so that’s a really high number. The real issue is about those other 80 points they got in the paint.”

Suns coach Alvin Gentry was of the opinion that Sunday’s outcome was more the  result of Phoenix’s insanely hot shooting rather than anything the Lakers did wrong. When asked about the Lakers, who have dropped their last two games, Gentry went into a comic outrage, saying “It’s one game! We made 22 threes, and still had to hold them off at the end! People are talking like their season is over!” before breaking into a wide smile. The Lakers were a little nonchalant defensively against the Suns and gave Phoenix more good looks than they should have had, but the fact the Lakers were in this game up until Phoenix’s 22nd three is a far more significant long-term takeaway than their two straight losses. The Lakers are good. Scary good. But for one night, Phoenix’s near-historic shooting allowed them to be just a little bit better.

Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

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In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

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Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

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You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.