Game of the night: Kobe can’t will the Lakers past the Spurs

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From the opening tip, it was obvious this was one of those games Kobe Bryant wanted to take over. Call it ego, call it leadership, just know that it has worked before. Many times. He has elevated the Lakers by his sheer will.

It worked Tuesday on one level — this was the most energy and activity the Lakers have played with in weeks. The effort was there from the team.

What was lacking was execution, or the ability to knock down shots against a stout Spurs defense. What was not there was the ability to stop Tony Parker in transition and as he penetrated off the dribble, shredding the Lakers hesitant defense.

The result was a 97-82 win for the Spurs that was further evidence that right now in December they are better than the Lakers.

This was not a statement game, no message for the playoffs. The Lakers and Spurs make their statements in the second season, not late December. But it was an accurate snapshot of where the two teams are right now.

The Spurs are executing. They have revamped their offense but the efficiency is still there. Parker and Manu Ginobili are masterful and the two did a good job of attacking early in the clock before the Lakers got set defensively. Plus the Spurs still play good defense — and on that end of the floor and on the boards Tim Duncan is still key to this team.

The Lakers are not executing. They came out with the energy to right the ship tonight but they have not spent the first two months of the season building a base of good habits, and that has to be rebuilt now. That is not a switch to flip — the Lakers can get there faster because they’ve been there before, but they still have to travel the road.

Kobe came out and scored 8 of the Lakers first 10 — and on the couple plays where Ron Artest got the shot (and good looks) Kobe was still calling for the rock. He wanted to own the game and he hit 4 of 5 to start the game. Then he went cold, hitting 4 of 22 the rest of the night.

Part of that was the Spurs, part of that was Kobe — and the rest of the Lakers. As a team the Lakers shot 35.4 percent for the game and in a key stretch in the fourth quarter where they got some stops they just could not hit shots consistently. That includes Lamar Odom missing a layup driving to his left that is his go-to shot. Or Kobe open in the midrange. Shannon Brown was 1-11.

The one exception was Andrew Bynum, who was 4 for 4 and seems to be finding his touch — his shot was softer than it has been.

The Spurs just continued to impress as they have all season. The Lakers had no answer for Parker, who finished with 23 points on 10 of 18 shooting with two rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Parker blew by whomever the Lakers put on him on the perimeter and with both slow transition defense and hesitant rotations in the halfcourt Parker could pretty much do what he wanted inside.

Same with DeJuan Blair, who was the best big on the court and finished with 17 points and 15 boards.

The Spurs took control of this game at the start of the second half as they picked up the defensive intensity and the Lakers countered that with less player movement and more dribbling. Bad idea.

Kobe tried to carry his team and by the end looked exhausted on the court. This is not the end for the Lakers, but in the last two games they have seen where the bar is set and how far short of it they are right now. The Spurs and Heat are two of the four best teams in the league right now (with Dallas and Boston). The Lakers are on the next tier. They are the one team on that tier fully capable of making the jump up to the elite, but they have to get their execution back.

Something the Spurs already have down.

Report: Gerald Green to sign with Milwaukee for training camp (at least)

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How good is the hot chocolate at the BMO Harris Bradley Center?

I ask because it appears Gerald Green is going to be playing in Milwaukee, at least for training camp, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Free-agent swingman Gerald Green has agreed on a contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, league sources told The Vertical.

Green will sign a non-guaranteed deal for training camp and is expected to compete for a regular-season roster spot. Milwaukee has looked to add depth at the wing positions, bringing Green and veteran guard Brandon Rush to camp.

The Bucks have 14 guaranteed contracts, so it is Rush vs. Green for that final roster spot. Green played solidly last season in Boston despite inconsistent minutes, but was not brought back as the Celtics revamped their roster. Green shot 35.1 percent from three last season, can play decent defense, and is a good veteran presence on a team with young players.

As for why I asked about the hot chocolate…

Draymond Green: I laughed in Kevin Durant’s face over Twitter fiasco

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Kevin Durant said he hasn’t slept in two days and isn’t eating due to his Twitter fiasco.

Draymond Green – who was mocked by his Team USA teammates, including Durant, over his own Snapchat snafu – said he got revenge.

Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

Green:

It’s a little payback. I stood right there, over there, laughing in his face. And it felt pretty damn good, too.

The Warriors’ chemistry is either in a touchy spot or light years ahead.

Report: Former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett signing with Suns

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Getting cut by the NBA-worst Nets was a low point for former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, but at least he had a guaranteed salary and got paid out through the end of the year.

That won’t be the case with the Suns.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is a no-risk flier for Phoenix. If Bennett plays well enough in the preseason, the 24-year-old will make the regular season roster. If not, the Suns won’t owe him anything.

Bennett has a chance to stick. Phoenix has just 13 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving two standard-contract spots open on the regular-season roster. Bennett will compete with Derrick Jones Jr., Elijah Millsap, Peter Jok and anyone else the Suns sign.

I don’t love Bennett’s odds. He hasn’t looked like an NBA player, and he’s reaching the age where current production matters more than potential. But by virtue of being the top pick a few years ago, he carries more intrigue than the typical player of his caliber.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: Lottery-reform proposal ‘not doing a whole lot’

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supports the NBA’s lottery-reform proposal:

But that doesn’t mean Morey believes the proposal is a silver bullet.

Morey, via Bleacher Report:

Let’s be clear. This reform is not doing a whole lot, right?

And I keep saying: If it was already in place, no one would talk about it. If it wasn’t in place – all these people are talking about it because it’s coming up for probably a vote here in a minutes. Otherwise, no one would be talking about it. Everyone would be like, “Oh, yeah. Of course the bottom three lottery odds are flat. That’s how it’s always been.” It’s a very minor change, and it fixes some pretty important problems in terms of how the incentives work at the bottom of the draft, and I don’t think it changes much in any other way.

And then the best argument is the people who are frustrated the league is unbalanced between destination and non-destination cities, they say, “Because that whole system might be broken, I’m going to be against this minor, logical, simple reform.” I don’t really buy that. Let’s fix the other issues in another way, but you can still be for this reform and say we need larger reform that attacks those issues in a more fundamental way. But it doesn’t change that this is a good, logical step we’re taking.

Morey is aggressively logical, and you can see that at work here. If the new rule is better than the old rule, owners should vote for it. It shouldn’t matter which was already in place. For similar reasons, I argued against shelving lottery reform just because new national TV contracts would increase the salary cap.

Morey is also right that this is a minor reform. There’s still value in tanking, even if not quite as much. Finishing with the league’s worst record still guarantees a top-five pick with team control for five years and the inside track on keeping the player for far longer.

There’s even still value in jockeying among the league’s three worst teams, which will have identical lottery odds if this proposal passes. If a team isn’t drawn for the top four, it will be slotted in reverse order of record. The No. 1 seed in the lottery has a 20% greater chance than the No. 2 seed of picking higher between the two, and the No. 2 seed has a 20% greater chance than the No. 3  seed of picking higher between the two, according to fantastic Ryan Bernardoni of Celtics Hub.

So, this lottery reform might only minimally change behavior.

Another thing to consider: NBA owners are far more risk-averse than Morey. If this reform passes, owners will take years to evaluate it before making more meaningful changes to address the problem (if you believe there’s a problem at all). So, a step in the right direction (again, if you believe this is the right direction) is effectively a small step and a pause that could delay bigger steps.