Lakers fans at Staples Center were booing the two-time defending NBA champs Sunday night because they were getting out hustled completely by the Memphis Grizzlies. Just like the Bucks a couple of weeks ago and a host of other teams in the last couple months. Go ahead and credit the Grizzlies for their hustle, they earned it, but the Lakers showed nothing to combat it. Kobe Bryant admitted as much to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.
“We’re looking too far down the road,” Bryant said after the loss to Memphis on Sunday night, “instead of looking just at the game that’s right in front. You start skipping steps if you look too far down the line.”
The Lakers realize that in a sense the important games don’t start until late April, when the playoffs start.
However, the regular season is for developing good team habits and building the foundation on which playoff success can be built. Sure the Lakers have the framework of that foundation laid by the core of the team having been together and won titles before. But this is still a team, a new year, and a new foundation that has to be poured and let set.
You can tell Kobe Bryant is working to motivate his guys with actions — he came out firing last Tuesday against the Spurs trying to pull his team up with him. But then he went cold shooting and his teammates had fallen into bad habits quickly because this looked like a game Kobe would just take over. The energy was there but the team looked like a chicken with its head cut off, just running around aimlessly. It looked like the same thing Sunday with Kobe having a 17-point quarter but the rest of the team not able to help or capitalize on it. It looked like the 2006 Smush Paker/Kwame Brown Lakers in that way.
As Ding points out, this is Kobe’s team. Still. He motivates it, they don’t have the back-to-back titles without his will. He may be coming off summer knee surgery and have arthritic and injured fingers that slowed his start, but he has to start taking charge.
He needs to start kicking his team’s a– right now.
While the playoffs may not start for months, the motivation to start playing hard and doing things right cannot wait. The good habits have to start being developed now — not just energy but good execution to go with it. Otherwise the Lakers will get to the playoffs and step up their energy and it will look like the Spurs game. And games like the ugly loss to Memphis in early January will be part of the reason why.
Three things we learned Monday: Can Warriors, Cavaliers, Rockets all lose on one night? Yes.
Monday morning, a new edition of the PBT NBA Power Rankings come out. Monday night, four of the top five teams in the rankings lose. So, we’re feeling very smart. The only exception was the Spurs, who won despite Kawhi Leonard sitting out with a sore hand. Here’s what happened with the other upsets on a strange Monday in the NBA.
1) Anthony Davis sits, Pelicans still beat slumping Cavaliers, and LeBron James is ticked. At shootaround on Monday, LeBron James said he wasn’t too concerned about the Cavaliers having lost four-of-six because he was about the process and his team improving over the course of the marathon season. He thought they were on the right track overall.
“We’re not better than last year, from a personnel standpoint … we’re a top-heavy team,” James said, adding a few minutes later, “I just hope that we’re not satisfied as an organization. I just hope we not satisfied. How hard it was to do that s—. I just hope we’re not satisfied….
“I don’t got no time to waste,” he said. “I’ll be 33 in the winter and I ain’t got time to waste. That’s what I’m talking about. … When I feel like physically and mentally, me personally, can’t compete for a championship no more or I feel like I can’t do it, then I won’t have this problem. But until that happens, and it don’t seem like no time soon…”
The issue with the Cavaliers Monday was defense — New Orleans hung 124 on them, shot 41 percent from three, Terrence Jones had 36 points on 18 shots, Jrue Holiday finished with 33 points and 10 assists. Jones was getting it done on both ends.
The Cavaliers may need another playmaker thinking ahead to the playoffs and Finals, but Monday night they just needed to defend better, and they let a New Orleans team without its best player get too many shots at the rim. As for that playmaker, it’s not going to be that easy to get one — Cleveland’s trade cupboard is bare. After landing Kyle Korver, the Cavs don’t have a first-round pick to move until 2021, and most of the players they have they would willingly trade — Kay Felder or DeAndre Liggins, for example — aren’t going to get Cleveland a playmaker. The Cavs could dangle Iman Shumpert, but he’s starting right now (until J.R. Smith‘s return) and playing fairly well. And Shumpert may not be enough. I expect the Cavaliers are hoping to find someone on the waiver wire after the trade deadline (or maybe before) that can help them.
LeBron may not like it, but he may need to make it work with the guys in the locker room now.
2) Warriors take a vacation, end up on Waiters Island and pay the price in loss to Heat. The Warriors had won seven in a row — beating Cleveland, OKC, and Houston along the way — and they came into Miami looking for a little relaxation, some good Cuban food, and an easy win. Golden State took Miami (winners of three in a row themselves) a little lightly, let the Heat hang around and then…
If you haven’t been watching a lot of Miami this year, Dion Waiters is still the guy you remember — he can put up points, but don’t expect him to do it efficiently. Especially if he has to create his own shot. Waiters is shooting 40.3 percent for the season with a 47.8 true shooting percentage (the league average is around 52).
But there are a couple of games a year when his poor choice midrange jumpers fall, and Monday night was one. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall, many on difficult shots, which included 4-of-6 from the midrange and 6-of-8 from three. He finished with 33 points, but it was the pull-up three with the game on the line that was the big one and the game winner.
This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. Combine that with a suddenly confident Heat team playing better and you get a Warriors loss.
3) Rockets defense has no answers for Giannis Antetokounmpo, so Bucks get win. Houston’s defense has been decent this season — they are ranked 15th in the NBA overall, and in the month of December it was sixth best in the league (when the Rockets went 15-2). Yes, Mike D’Antoni’s team is playing some defense.
Except not Monday night. The Bucks shot 58.8 percent as a team, and 11-of-23 from beyond the arc, dropping 127 on the Rockets and getting the win. Antetokounmpo had 31 points on 18 shots (nine of his points came in the final five minutes), while Jabari Parker added 24 points.
Turnovers also were an issue for the Rockets, with one-in-five trips down the court ending in one — including some bad live-ball turnovers that helped the Bucks at key points in the game.
Houston is not 3-5 in its last eight. Fortunately for them the Clippers are banged up and stumbling worse, so the Rockets will likely be able to hold on to the three seed. Just don’t dream of catching the Spurs (now three games up on Houston), especially if the Rockets don’t get this slump turned around soon.
• Bonus thing that made us laugh: Joakim Noah with worst free throw you may ever see. The best part of this video is how he knows it’s bad the second it leaves his hand.
Westbrook hits game-winner as Thunder beat Jazz 97-95 (VIDEO)
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) —Russell Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper with 1.4 seconds left, and the Oklahoma City Thunder stopped Utah’s six-game win streak with a 97-95 victory over the Jazz on Monday night.
Westbrook took over down the stretch and scored 11 of the Thunder’s final 13 points after going cold in the third quarter. He finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his 22nd triple-double of the season.
Alec Burks missed the final shot for the Jazz as time expired.
The Jazz rallied in the third quarter with a 13-0 run to take a 66-60 lead, but the Thunder pulled within three early in the fourth thanks to five straight points from Oladipo.
The Thunder took a 56-53 lead into halftime after Westbrook dominated the second, The dynamic point guard scored 14 in the quarter to give him 22 at the break.
Thunder: Steven Adams returned from a two-game absence due to a concussion. … Reserve Enes Kanter scored 14 against his former team.
Jazz: Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan sat with his Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton during the game.
The Jazz announced Monday that ownership of the team and Vivint SmartHome Arena has been transferred from Gail Miller to a legacy trust in a move that ensures the team will remain in the family for generations. Miller said the primary reason for the transfer is to make sure the team stays in the state.
Rodney Hood missed his fourth consecutive game with a right knee hyperextension and bone bruise.
“The original timeline was 2-4 weeks and, as far as I know, he’s on track with that,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “He’s been in getting treatment and starting to do some work on the court. They’re doing all the different measurements and balance tests and all those things.
“He’s making good progress. But I don’t know if that means we’re going to see him later this week or next week. There’s another phase there to clear him for some more competitive stuff … and see how he’s feeling. But right now he’s feeling good.”
Terrence Jones scores 36, leads Pelicans past Cavaliers 124-122
NEW ORLEANS (AP) —Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James‘ dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.
Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James’ drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.
Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
Two of Cleveland’s recent losses came against Western Conference leaders Golden State and San Antonio, but two others have come against teams currently outside the playoff picture in the West: New Orleans and Portland.
Kevin Love had 22 points for Cleveland, which could not quite keep pace with a Pelicans squad that tied a season high for 3-pointers with 16 and shot 49.4 percent (43 of 87).
Donatas Moteijunas scored 14 for New Orleans, while Dante Cunningham scored 11. Each hit a pair of 3s.
The Cavs drained 15 3s, eight by Irving, whose step-back jumper from long range had Cleveland within three with 21 seconds to go, but the Cavs got no closer until Love’s anticlimactic 3 in the final second.
Embarrassed in a 29-point loss to NBA-worst Brooklyn at home on Friday, the Pelicans were eager for a chance to redeem themselves with a competitive showing against the defending champs. That did not appear likely when New Orleans announced less than an hour before tip-off that Davis would be unable to play because of his right leg bruise lingering from a collision with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.
Coach Alvin Gentry inserted Jones for Davis as the starting center, and he responded with arguably the most dynamic half of play in the fifth-year veteran’s career. He hit all eight of his shots in the first half, scoring 22 points on an array of jumpers – including two 3s – weaving drives and feisty put-backs.
Holiday, meanwhile, got into an equally prolific rhythm, hitting three 3s and highlighting several impressive drives to the hoop with a two-handed dunk. Holiday’s pullup jumper from just inside the 3-point line with 6 seconds left in the second quarter gave him 22 points and New Orleans a 22-point lead, and Holiday pumped his fist while one of the biggest crowds of the season went wild.
In the last second of the half, James executed a long inbound pass to Love, who converted a quick-release layup to make it 70-50.
Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue was assessed a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after the coach chastised Richardson for a late whistle giving Moteijunas free throws following a missed layup. … The Cavs won the teams’ only other meeting this season, 90-82 in Cleveland on Jan. 2. … Irving slung in what would have been a sensational, off-balance, one-handed shot from about 30 feet, but it didn’t count because it came too late after Irving was fouled by Tyreke Evans as the pair pursued a loose ball near mid-court.
Pelicans: New Orleans improved to 2-2 without Davis in the lineup. … G E'Twaun Moore, who is 6-foot-4, delighted the crowd by rejecting the 6-8 James near the basket in the first half. … New Orleans shot 60.5 percent (26 of 43) in the first half.=
Heat’s Dion Waiters drains game-winning three to knock off Warriors (VIDEO)
The final three of Waiters’ 33 points came on a deep pull-up three with 0.6 seconds left to give Miami a 105-102 upset of the Warriors. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall and 6-of-8 from three.
This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. This ended Golden State’s seven-game win streak and extended the Miami win streak to four.