Atlanta Hawks v Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers remind fans why maybe they shouldn’t worry so much


Those looked like the Lakers everyone expects to see.

The Lakers who showed up at Staples Center Tuesday night were up double-digits in the first quarter on a pretty good Hawks team. Those Lakers cruised to a 104-80 win. Those Lakers looked nothing like the ones that dropped three straight games at the end of the Grammys road trip. These Lakers looked infinitely better than the team that wore the same jerseys in Cleveland.

What was the difference between the Lakers of this Tuesday and the ones that lost to the woefully bad Cleveland Cavaliers six days before? Sing it Aretha:


The Lakers respected the Hawks, they didn’t the Cavaliers. The Lakers respected the game Tuesday; in Cleveland their heads were already on vacation for the All-Star break. The Lakers decided to respect the defensive end of the floor Tuesday as well.

Lakers fans were horrified at the loss to the Cavaliers. But people close to the team were not that surprised. The Lakers didn’t respect the Cavaliers, and when they don’t respect a team they show up flat, don’t execute and anyone can play with them. Combine that with Cleveland being the last game of a road trip and the last game before the All-Star break and some people thought it was a trap game for the Lakers. One they walked right into.

Tuesday night, the Lakers showed fans what happens when they do show up, when they do respect an opponent and the game.

Monday the Lakers coaching staff made the team sit through the horror film of defensive lapses from the past few games. It was Exorcist level scary. It had everything but Andrew Bynum’s head spinning all the way around and throwing up split pea soup.

The Lakers players got the message and they were aggressive on defense — especially Bynum who was clogging up the lane, altering shots and grabbing boards. The Lakers defensive rotations were crisp.

The Hawks had no answer for that. And they were ice cold. They shot 34 percent in the first half and 37 percent for the game. They were 1-15 from three. Heck, they only shot 68 percent unguarded from the free throw line. Every Hawk not named Al Horford (6-for-9 shooting) could not find the range. While the Lakers defense was part of that, the Hawks were missing open looks, too.

Conversely, the Lakers were hot. How hot? When Derek Fisher drained his first three shots you knew it was going to be that kind of night. They were attacking hard, as evidenced by drawing fouls and getting to the line 40 times. They did whatever they wanted. All 12 Lakers who dressed for the game scored.

It’s not going to be that easy the rest of the way. The Lakers have the second toughest remaining schedule in the league (the Lakers remaining opponents have won 55 percent of their games). Even if the Lakers are respecting their opponents an the game, their schedule will make it hard to catch the teams above them, or even win at a faster clip.

There are all sorts of questions about these Lakers. Fans are worried and talking about trades — big trades. The team’s mental makeup has been called into question. Kobe Bryant was called into question.

But it’s just a matter of respect. And tired legs (the Lakers are an older team that does not deal as well with long road trips). When the Lakers respect their opponent as they did Tuesday they are a force, one of the league’s elite. Their length is nearly impossible for teams to deal with.

Tuesday night they were singing respect in a way that would have made Aretha proud. And in a way that should remind everyone that come the playoffs — when they do respect their opponents and have plenty of time to rest — that they are still the champions. And knocking them off that thrown will not be easy. Not in the least.

Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor
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The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.

Stan Van Gundy calls out Andre Drummond’s effort after loss to Thunder

Andre Drummond
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After a promising start to the season, the Pistons have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last 10. And although he’s been outstanding for most of the season, Andre Drummond has not been above receiving criticism from Stan Van Gundy. The coach called out Drummond’s effort on Friday night after a loss to the Thunder.

Via Sportando:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight,” Van Gundy said of the two beatings the Pistons received this week. “Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

Calling out your best player in the media is bold, but Van Gundy has enough of a track record and a reputation, going back to his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, that he can get away with it. It also sends a message to the entire team that Van Gundy isn’t going to hold his star to a different standard than the rest of the team.

Despite a couple of poor performances, Drummond is having a career year, leading the league in rebounding at 17.1 per game while also averaging 17.9 points.