Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

Should the Lakers be worried about the Spurs, Mavericks?


The NBA championship is not decided in December. The NBA season is a long slog where contending teams want to develop good habits, win games and stay healthy for the second season.

We get that. But we can’t help but wonder…

When you look at the West right now what do you see? Dallas just had a 12-game win streak and behind its 2-3 match-up zone is playing its best defense in years. The Spurs are 20-3 and have been the best team in the league over the course of the young season — good defense and an elite offense (even if they have slowed the pace lately). They are getting to rest Tim Duncan so much he is putting himself in games to play.

Then there is the consensus preseason pick to come out of the West, the Lakers — who have looked good but not dominant against a pretty soft schedule. Their defense has been pedestrian. Pau Gasol has looked tired and Ron Artest is not fitting in as smoothly. They have losses to good teams like the Jazz and Bulls, they had to squeak out wins against the Nets and Clippers. It has not been a tour-de-force.

It’s time to ask — should the Lakers be worried? Could the Spurs or Mavericks (or Thunder or Jazz) knock them off come the playoffs?

I put that question to a variety of scouts and player personnel (and development) people around the league in the last week and they said:

Yes. Sort of. But it’s still about the Lakers and not their opponents.

Everyone stuck to the conventional wisdom before the season — if the Lakers are healthy and focused nobody in the West can touch them. Maybe an elite team from the East can get them in the finals, but in the West the Lakers are still the class if properly motivated.

But that’s a big if.

There’s a sense right now that the Lakers are coasting, with several people saying they needed an “edge” or “fire.” That may be a reflection of the Zen ways of Phil Jackson, or it could be the mentality of a team that has been to three straight NBA finals, a team that has played a lot of basketball in recent years, and is just not that pumped up for December. It’s hard to picture a Kobe Bryant led team coasting into the playoffs, but there were questions about them flipping the switch again.

Several scouts noted that the return of Andrew Bynum — which happened Tuesday night — makes the Lakers a whole lot better. It gives them a better defensive presence in the paint and moves (eventually) Lamar Odom back to the bench. Everyone said the Lakers will win plenty of games and likely still be the top seed out west (right now they trail the Spurs by three games).

These same smart basketball minds were raving about the Spurs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been on top of their game and Gregg Popovich got props from one scout for his willingness to adjust the system and make it less Duncan-centric.

Scouts were impressed with Dallas as well, but one noted what Andrew Bogut was able to do to them inside (along with Bucks penetration) on Monday night (21 points on 10-12 shooting and 1o rebounds). He said you have to now imagine what a healthy Gasol/Odom/Bynum could do. Still, Dallas got raves.

If the Lakers take even a little step back during the playoffs both Dallas and San Antonio have a shot. Maybe the Thunder, too. A real shot.

One person compared the Lakers to the post-title Pistons teams of the last decade, — “Reminds me of the Detroit teams that coasted on talent but could not muster enough raw energy and grit to win that second title.” Those teams couldn’t flip the switch when they needed it. The Lakers have shown grit in the past but the margin for error may be smaller than ever if the Spurs can stay healthy until the playoffs, if Dallas can keep playing this kind of defense and integrate Rodrigue Beaubois.

But in the end, it’s all about the Lakers — they have to beat themselves before anyone else can do it.

Report: Jahlil Okafor had gun pulled on him in another altercation in October

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
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Apparently Sixers’ star rookie Jahlil Okafor‘s altercation outside a nightclub in Boston earlier this week — one for which he apologized, and there will be no law enforcement action — was not his only altercation since training camp opened.

Okafor had a gun pulled on him back in October, according to a report by John Finger at CSNPhilly.com.

The 19-year-old Sixers’ rookie was outside an Old City nightclub after 2 a.m. on October 4 when he and another person began arguing with two men sitting in a parked car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, according to a witness. The verbal disagreement escalated and a witness said he saw Okafor try to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window. During the altercation, the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor and his associate, per the witness.

U.S. Park Rangers — who patrol nearby Independence Hall — arrived on the scene during the altercation, according to separate reports filed by the U.S. Park Rangers and the Philadelphia Police Department and obtained by CSNPhilly.com. The man who exited the passenger side of the car fled on foot and appeared to toss his gun, per multiple witnesses. According to the police report, the driver got into a black Camaro with red stripes and sped off. The car was not stopped….

A law enforcement source told CSNPhilly.com that a gun magazine was recovered near the scene and submitted for fingerprint analysis. The law enforcement source said the investigation is ongoing. It is unclear what happened to Okafor or his associate after the incident or if they were interviewed by U.S. Park Rangers or PPD.

The Sixers told Finger that they were aware of the investigation but would not comment further.

Add this to the incident in Boston and it makes you wonder about the situations Okafor keeps finding himself in. That said, we’re talking about a 19-year-old, and if you’ve ever been that age you know it is not always when you make your best decisions. Okafor is just going to have to grow up more quickly — and under a brighter spotlight — than the rest of us.


Raptors center Bismack Biyombo: Cavaliers believe we’re tougher than them

Lebron James, Bismack Biyombo
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LeBron James and James Jones called a players-only meeting after the Cavaliers’ loss to the Raptors on Wednesday.

This is why.

Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“The most important thing is that we played tough,” Bismack told cleveland.com. “Cleveland is a good team, but when they come in here, they feel like we are the tough ones and that’s what we want to accomplish as the definition of the Toronto Raptors.”

Those are harsh words from Biyombo. It’s one thing to say you believe your team is tougher than the opponent. It’s another to say you can tell the opponent believes your team is tougher.

Privately, though, I bet LeBron appreciates this comment.

The Cavaliers are not soft, but their goal is nothing short of a championship. They need to get tougher if they’re going to beat the Warriors, whom LeBron said look hungrier than Cleveland. So, LeBron has already begun challenging his teammates. He wants them to believe they have far to go, because that will pay off in the long run.

Biyombo’s answer furthers the Cavs toward that goal.

Plus, if the Cavaliers and Raptors meet in the playoffs, it’ll make it much easier for Cleveland to find motivation. But Toronto is a tough team. That series would be no walkover unless the Cavs use this criticism constructively.

Jerry West: Draymond Green is a Top 10 player in NBA

Draymond Green

Jerry West is smarter than you. And me. Put together. This guy is more than just the logo, he helped assemble the Showtime Lakers, he was a vocal advocate of not trading Klay Thompson for Kevin Love, he has been right far more than he has been wrong making basketball decisions.

And he says Draymond Green is a top-10 player in the NBA. West was on KNBR radio in the Bay Area when he made these comments (hat tip to Eye on Basketball):

“I think honestly we have two of the top 10 players in the league — Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players, I think, anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player. Watch him handle the ball, watch him make passes, defensively he’s everywhere. If he’s not a top 10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.”

West is right.

If you’re shaking your head no, then you don’t realize how 29 other teams are trying to find their own Green right now. Name the players who can step into the Warriors’ system and do what he does right now? It’s a short list. He is at the heart of what makes Golden State so dangerous; he’s more valuable to their style than Klay Thompson.

Well, we can add one caveat — Green is top 10 if your team is playing small. If you’re just going to play him as a four next to a traditional big all the time he’s still good but not a game changer. However, Green is a game changer at the center spot and the reason that the Warriors are so feared when they go small.

What is usually discussed about Green is he’s a fierce defender who can hold his own with a big inside, make a traditional center work, get rebounds, and still switch out on a pick-and-roll and harass a quick guard. Golden State doesn’t suffer defensively when they go small — they allow 9.1 points fewer per 100 possessions when they go small than their season-long average. Green makes it happen; that’s why he was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.

What often gets overlooked is how great he is as a pick-setting big when Golden State goes small. No defense has figured out the Stephen Curry/Green pick-and-roll. In part because Curry is Curry and almost indefensible. But Green can roll and finish in the lane, pop out and knock down a three, or do a half-roll to the free throw line and when the help defender closes on him he finds Andre Iguodala alone in the corner for a three (or Klay Thompson at the arc, or a slashing Harrison Barnes, you get the idea). Green is a skilled playmaker in his own right and plays with a high IQ, making the Warriors tough to defend.

In Golden State’s system, there is no doubt Green is a top 10 player.



Byron Scott believes Lakers management still supports him


Lakers coach Byron Scott has said plenty of ridiculous things lately:

Maybe Lakers fans ought to hope Scott is wrong about this, too.

Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Scott said he still senses support from Kupchak and Lakers executive vice president of basketball personnel Jim Buss. Scott is in the second-year of a four-year contract worth $17 million, with a team option for the final season.

“We still understand that this is a process,” Scott said. “We have a lot of young guys on this team that we feel will be very good players. But it’s not going to happen in a month. It’s going to take some time. It might take a year or two.”

The Lakers are 2-12, better than only the 76ers. Scott has allowed Kobe to hijack and cripple the offense, and the defense might be even worse. Player development is suspect, at best.

Scott does not deserve job security, let alone multiple years of it.

So, what are Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss thinking?

There are a few possibilities:

1. Management isn’t as sold on Scott as he says they are.

2. Management is using Scott – with or without his knowledge – to tank to keep the Lakers’ top-three protected first-round pick.

3. Management is as lost as Scott appears to be.

Good luck sorting out which is the case.