Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

What’s wrong with the Lakers? The usual.


The Lakers have lost three games in a row and the San Andreas Fault is the only thing that shakes up Los Angeles worse.

Despite back-to-back titles and a head coach who treats the regular season as a means to an end, Lakers fans can get pretty worked up — the team has only lost three straight once since Pau Gasol came to town. And no Phil Jackson championship team has ever lost four in a row, so clearly Wednesday night’s game in Houston is like Game 7 of the finals.

There’s also hand wringing and pontificating about what is wrong with the Lakers? Why the losing streak?

Meet the new loss, same as the old loss. What’s hurting the Lakers now are the same two things that cause all their losing streaks.

First, they stop protecting the paint and the rim on defense. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom’s natural instinct is not to block shots in the paint, if you combine that with a big man on the other team who can hit the midrange jumper — Marc Gasol did that, Roy Hibbert did that — then you pull the Lakers bigs out and make it harder for them to do what they don’t do that well anyway. (By the way, the Rockets can do this, too.)

Andrew Bynum helps fix a lot of this. But even Gasol and Odom come playoff time become much better about this.

Secondly, the Lakers get in the cycle of getting the ball inside less to Gasol and standing around and watching Kobe in isolation more. It’s a pattern you can see coming — the Lakers stop feeding Gasol and running the offense through him a few times in a row, and things stagnate. The Laker don’t get points.

So Kobe decides to break the cycle, isolates and tries to take on more of the offense. He demands the ball, because he has that personality. The team defers, then stands around and watches him. Lather, rinse and repeat a few times down the court. And the offense gets more stagnant and the other team can overload their defense. Which Kobe is more than willing to take on singlehandedly, because he is Kobe.

Phil Jackson doesn’t yell at Gasol and Odom to get their behinds back in the paint on defense, he doesn’t call a time out and scream to start throwing the ball back inside to Gasol. He lets the losses remind his players what works. He lets their competitive natures teach the lesson, thinking a lesson you teach yourself is one you are better to remember. (He also knows he an afford the losses to teach the lessons in a way many teams cannot.)

The Lakers are in one of those cycles now. Soon — maybe against the Rockets, maybe not — the Lakers will break out of it, start doing those things right again. Bynum will eventually return and change the dynamic on defense and on the glass.

It is what it always is with the Lakers. Nothing to panic about, just some mid-season teaching.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea.com.

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.