NBA Finals Game 7:  Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers to measure themselves against Celtics: What to look for

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The Lakers are the two-time NBA defending champions. They have the newest shiny rings and the banner has barely had time to gather dust. Every time they step on the court they are the team the opposition wants to measure itself against.

Except Thursday night. Then the roles will be reversed — the Lakers will be measuring themselves against the Celtics.

It’s not about last June, it’s about this season now. And this season Boston has looked every bit the championship force, the veteran team on top of their conference with their own championship pedigree. They look better than the team that went seven games into the NBA finals last season.

On the other hand the Lakers have looked lackluster, at least as lackluster as a 36-16 team can. They have been inconsistent and uninspired, especially in big games (which they are supposed to win). That includes in a 109-96 win by the Celtics a week ago in Los Angeles, where Boston shot 60.3 percent for the game and pulled away in the second half. The Celtics looked much the better side.

That loss was the straw that broke Mitch Kupchak’s back and had the reserved Laker GM saying publicly maybe it was time to think about trades. It was the first domino to fall, leading us to the current Lakers/Carmelo Anthony silliness.

The Lakers have been more focused of late, especially on the road. Thursday we see if that change was real or cosmetic and the problems in Los Angeles more systemic.

Here are a few things to watch for:

Who controls the boards. These are two of the longest front lines in the NBA and both are used to controlling the glass. In the last 10 meetings, the team that won the battle on the glass won 9. Boston did it in last week’s meeting, but they had Shaquille O’Neal who will be out Thursday with roughly a sore everything. Watch the offensive rebound numbers, if one team has a significant advantage they will have, um, a significant advantage.

Kevin Garnett vs. Pau Gasol. Gasol is the most skilled big man in the NBA, but in the meeting last week Garnett never let him get comfortable. Gasol couldn’t get the ball where he wanted on the floor. Gasol is the hub of the Lakers offense, they need to get him the ball and cut off him. If he can the Lakers offense will click.

Paul Pierce vs. Ron Artest. This is fun to watch just because neither guy gives an inch. Pierce won the battle last go around.

Rajon Rondo vs. Kobe Bryant. In the second half of the last meeting, Rajon Rondo shredded the Lakers defensive plan for him that helped the Lakers get that ring last June. Kobe usually covers Rondo and plays off him, daring him to shoot. Rondo this year has been far better about how to use that space to create passing angles and set up teammates. Or, as he did against the Bobcats a couple nights ago, he can just knock down the shots now. The Lakers need to adjust, it will be interesting to see how.

Ball movement. Both teams use a similar defensive principle — bring a big man over early on the side where the ball is to stymie dribble penetration (get past your defender and Kendrick Perkins or Andrew Bynum is there to greet you). The way you defeat that is quick ball movement to the weak side. Boston recovers and resets quickly, the Lakers do when they are on. But whichever team is getting buckets from the weak side will be the team hitting the easier looks. And in this game the team with more easy looks will likely win.

Kings’ new arena to be on street named after David Stern

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 30:  NBA Commissioner David Stern received the key to the city from former NBA player and now Mayor of Sacramento Kevin Johnson during an NBA gam between the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena on October 30, 2013 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Former NBA commissioner David Stern pitted Sacramento and Seattle against each other. Sacramento made a more lucrative offer, so it kept the Kings.

For that, the Kings are honoring Stern.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings will announce Tuesday that they are naming the street leading to the front door of the new downtown arena in honor of former NBA Commissioner David Stern, whose persistent, decades-long efforts helped keep the franchise in Sacramento.

Officially, the address of the Golden 1 Center – to be submitted to the city Tuesday for approval – is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

“When I learned we would have the option of naming the road, it was a no-brainer for me,” Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive told The Sacramento Bee on Monday. “There were no other names on my list. David took the NBA to the global level and started the WNBA, but he is about so much more than basketball. He is one of the greatest leaders in the world, and on top of that, the team would not be in Sacramento without David Stern.”

OK.

Michael Jordan made a big philanthropic donation, but don’t confuse it with a political stand

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Dave Zirin is one of my favorite twitter follows and a great writer on the intersection of sports and politics for The Nation (and his podcasts are fantastic).

Speaking with Dan Patrick Tuesday (video above) he hit the nail on the head with Michael Jordan’s $2 million donation Monday — it was a great bit of philanthropy, but it wasn’t political. Jordan said he could no longer try to stay silent on racial issues, but he didn’t take a side, he didn’t make a donation to Black Lives Matter or any other movement pushing for one side or the other in this debate. He put money into trying to build a bridge between police and poorer, minority communities. That’s a good thing, but it’s not a political stance (there is no “anti better police relations” movement).

Jordan should be congratulated for what he did, but we have graded Jordan’s “political” action on a curve because he doesn’t make political moves.

Report: Victor Oladipo seeking max contract extension from Thunder

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 22:  Victor Oladipo waits for a free throw during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center on January 22, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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The Thunder dealt with the Magic to get Victor Oladipo.

Now, it’s time to negotiate with Oladipo, who’s eligible for a rookie-scale contract extension.

How much does he want?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

(for now) seeking the maximum salary, sources say.

Why shouldn’t he?

C.J. McCollum just got a max extension, and while I’d prefer McCollum over Oladipo, their value is comparable. McCollum is a superior shooter, but Oladipo is more advanced defensively. Two factors working in McCollum’s favor — youth and a shortage of good shooting guards in the NBA — also apply to Oladipo.

Perhaps, the max rules kept McCollum from earning more. Even if he’s not quite as valuable as McCollum, Oladipo still might deserve the max. That’s a pitfall (feature?) of the system.

But a difference between the Trail Blazers’ and Thunder’s cap outlooks could be key.

If he doesn’t sign an extension, Oladipo will count $13,105,921 against the cap to begin next offseason. Oklahoma City can hold him at that number, use its other cap space then exceed the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

If he signs an extension, he’ll count all offseason at his 2017-18 salary — which is projected to have a max of about $24 million.

Because Oklahoma City is more likely than Portland to have 2017 cap space, that difference matters considerably. The Thunder could use an extra $11 million of flexibility, especially as they handle Russell Westbrook‘s free agency.

Oladipo almost certainly won’t sign an extension that starts at less than his $13,105,921 cap hold. So, any extension will cut into the Thunder’s 2017 space. But he could take enough of a discount to make it worth their while over the life of the deal.

There’s plenty of time for compromise. Oladipo’s extension deadline is Oct. 31.

For now, Oladipo should keep asking for the biggest payday.

Report: Warriors center Anderson Varejao likely out for Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Dan Clark #13 of Great Britain shoots over Anderson Varejao #11 of Brazil in the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match between Great Britain and Brazil on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors center Anderson Varejao left his native Brazil to have his back examined in the United States before the Rio Olympics.

The prognosis doesn’t sound good.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s a bummer for Varejao, who was clearly looking forward to playing in his home Olympics. At least Brazil still has plenty of talent — including Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Raul Neto and Marcelo Huertas — to compete for a medal.

The Warriors certainly hope Varejao heals in time for the season. They might have to depend on him to back up Zaza Pachulia if rookie Damian Jones isn’t ready and they want to limit the pounding Draymond Green takes at center.