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.

PBT Extra: What did Phil Jackson think he would accomplish with shot at ‘Melo?

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Phil Jackson wants us to know Carmelo Anthony can hold on to the ball too long and stall out the offense.

Shocking. Such a revelation. It’s not like he knew that when he gave Anthony a five-year contract extension… oh, wait, everybody did know that already.

Which leads to my criticism of Jackson in this PBT Extra. Taking a shot at a player as a coach who sees said player every day comes off differently than the same thing from the ivory tower criticism of a GM. Plus, Jackson’s timing made no sense.

Carmelo Anthony says Phil Jackson’s comments “temporary black cloud over our heads”

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 07:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks and the rest of the bench react to the loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden on December 7, 2016 in New York City. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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The New York Knicks were on a four-game winning streak, they have looked like a potential playoff team in the East, team chemistry has been pretty good, and there seemed to be more sun shining on Madison Square Garden then we have seen in a few years.

So Phil Jackson decided that was a good time to a CBS Sports Show and take a shot at Carmelo Anthony, saying he could play the MJ/Kobe role, but he holds the ball too long on offense. Anthony wouldn’t comment on the shot at the time, then took to Instagram to express his frustration and displeasure.

How do we know for sure it was aimed at Jackson? Because on Friday Anthony said so, adding that Jackson’s comments were unnecessary. Here is what ‘Melo said, via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“At the end of the day we’re playing good basketball,” Anthony said. “That’s the only thing that matters at this point. So any negativity that’s coming towards me or towards the team, I don’t think we need it at this point…

“I feel like we’re playing good basketball, and just to have a temporary black cloud over our heads,” he said. “I don’t know when the comments were made or the gist of them, I just know something was said.”

Anthony is spot on here. Jackson isn’t wrong that Anthony can hold the ball too long, but Jackson knew that when he gave Anthony a five-year contract extension. Also, the Sports VU camera data shows Anthony is holding the ball less and dribbling a little less than previous seasons.

But the real question: What did Jackson think he would accomplish with this? He’s too smart, too calculated — he doesn’t just say things to the press without a motive. But with everything going about as well as one could hope with the Knicks, and with Anthony not at a point in his career he’s going to change his game, what’s the point?

Anthony has a right to be ticked.

Report: NYPD nearing arrest of Matt Barnes over club assault

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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While in New York, Sacramento’s Matt Barnes and DeMarcus Cousins were involved in an altercation at a Chelsea club, which led to them being questioned by police. Barnes’ representative said it was self-defense , but the video of the incident reportedly shows Barnes as the aggressor and choking a woman at the heart of the brawl. Both Barnes and Cousins have already been sued over the altercation.

Now things could get worse for Barnes, NYPD may be looking to arrest him, reports Graham Rayman of the New York Daily News.

“They’ve got enough to charge Barnes with an assault on a woman,” a police source said. “It will probably be a misdemeanor assault on one of the females who was pushed or choked or sustained some sort of injury. She’s obviously cooperating.”

Cousins, a key member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team, will likely not be charged, the source said.

According to the lawsuit, Jasmine Besiso was knocked unconscious by a Barnes’ elbow, while her boyfriend, Myrone Powell, was punched by Cousins.

Barnes put this on Instagram.

A photo posted by matt_barnes9 (@matt_barnes9) on

The Kings released this statement, which came out before the lawsuit or current report: “We have clear standards of conduct and behavior expected of the entire Kings organization – on and off the court. We are working with all parties involved to gather information in order to take any appropriate next steps.”

Report: Magic looking to trade for scorer

AUBURN HILLS, MI - OCTOBER 28: Mario Hezonja #8 of the Orlando Magic while playing the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills on October 28, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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The Magic rank 11th in points allowed per possession and 28th in points scored per possession, but that doesn’t fully explain the disparity.

Over the previous 25 days, they rank even better defensively – first in the league, in fact – and even worse offensively.

So, Orlando is considering a move.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic will sift through the trade market in an effort to add a scorer, a league source with knowledge of the situation told the Orlando Sentinel.

Marc Stein of ESPN offers (informed?) speculation Orlando could dangle Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick last year who has yet to make a dent in the pros.

Other trade candidates? Nikola Vucevic always looked like the odd man out. There are still 25 franchises that have not yet been disappointed first-hand by Jeff Green.

But those are all offensive-first players anyway.

The Magic’s top defenders are:

It’s tough to see Magic general manager Rob Hennigan parting with any of those four. They’re too integral to his record.

Mostly, it’s interesting 10-13 Orlando is seeking to plug its biggest immediate hole rather than building for the future. Clearing a frontcourt logjam that has killed spacing and submarined the offense might be done most effectively by dealing a superfluous player for a draft pick. But in Hennigan’s fifth year, he could be feeling pressure to make his first playoff appearance.