Lakers top Mavs: It’s time to celebrate the arrival of Andrew Bynum

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The Lakers and Mavericks did not play a terrific game Saturday night. Neither team shot better than 45 percent from the field, both were turnover-prone, neither could really get into their offensive flow, and both missed plenty of easy, open shots in spot-up situations. Kobe Bryant tried to do too much, again, this time on a bad ankle, and the Lakers very nearly coughed up a lead which should have been considerably more comfortable for most of the second half considering the slap-happy way the Mavericks were rushing things offensively.

But win they did, thanks to Steve Blake coming in and nailing huge crucial threes, some key plays from Ron Artest (remember him?), Pau Gasol doing damage in the post, and some excellent defensive work, particularly on the Mavericks at the rim.

This game can be used as a seminal moment for the Lakers, snapping back from a disappointing loss in Miami, proving that they still have the Mavs’ number after some regular season struggles, and showing they are still on track to reach the Finals. It can be used to illustrate that although Dallas is talented and experienced, and blessed with tremendous depth down low, it may not be enough thanks to the talent gap in the paint.

But really, if you want to know what this game meant? It’s “the moment” for Andrew Bynum. There have been flashes along the way. Signs. Huge games, bigger than this one. Moments where Bynum was the difference maker, the extra piece, the X-factor, other cliches. This wasn’t the biggest game of Bynum’s career, far from it. But the other games for him were proof of what he could do, what he was capable of, what was possible with him.

His performance against the Mavericks was a statement of what he is doing, where he is at, how he is playing.

In short, Bynum has finally, fully, arrived.

Bynum has always had the ability and the hype that goes with it. In 2008, a colleague I respect at the utmost levels stated that Bynum was already the 24th best player in the league. I scoffed and mocked him, not out of denial of what Bynum was capable of, but out of a question of whether he would ever really reach that level of production, consistency and performance. What Tom Ziller saw three years ago is what Bynum is doing now, dominating the landscape on a championship squad and making it to where the Lakers not only win, but win with relative comfort even on nights where Bryant is struggling, a scenario that would have seemed impossible two years ago. Three years ago I wanted to see the proof in the pudding. This season Bynum has served it with crow-flavored custard on top.

The reason for Bynum’s ascension? Simple.  Health. Bynum has suffered through multiple knee injuries each season, even limping through the 2010 Finals with a small tear. The biggest criticism of Bynum has been his work ethic in regards to those knee injuries. Bynum has always missed benchmarks, return deadlines, and suffered recurrences of injuries. He never rushes back to work and instead constantly gives vague and delayed timelines for his return. But once on the floor, he’s a monster.

Bynum’s numbers aren’t out of this world. They’re the stuff that you’d expect from a top ten center, but what’s most notable is that he’s splitting minutes with Gasol and Lamar Odom as part of the longest and most talented team in the league. His offensive production rarely is featured as the center point for the Lakers with Gasol and Bryant circling the triangle. But he’s hyper efficient, posting the best PER of his career since the 2007-2008 season. And with Bryant struggling with age and injury, and the rest of the Lakers in regular season cruise control, Bynum has become something the Lakers can turn to for production and trust in. Quite simply, he’s just bigger than everyone else. More than once per game, Bynum will bail out a teammate’s bad shot by crashing the offensive glass for a vicious putback or tip-in with his freakishly long arms. There’s nothing you can do to guard Bynum. He’s not savvy like Al Horford or relentless like Joakim Noah or even freakishly athletic like Dwight Howard. He’s just bigger and longer than everyone else, and that is honestly the greatest strength of the Lakers at this point. They can simply bat shots back in by playing volleyball on the offensive glass well over the outstretched arms of those trying to box them out.

Bynum’s not the franchise center. Not yet, far from it. But he’s reached the point where he’s playing consistently, able to put in reliable minutes, giving the consistent effort necessary for Phil Jackson to instill more trust in him, and making life a nightmare for opponents. On a night where the Mavericks did a favorable job on both Bryant and Gasol (a combined 12-34 from the field), it still wasn’t enough. Because Bynum was there to be one step faster, a few inches bigger, a little bit better than the depth Dallas has brought in to contend with the champs. 22 points, 15 rebounds, and the thanks of a grateful championship contender.

It took longer than it should have, but finally the real new Western beast down low has arrived.

It’s Andrew Bynum, and he’s no longer a championship afterthought.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.

Knicks owner James Dolan: Jeff Hornacek ‘way behind’ in dealing with modern players

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The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek as soon as they returned to New York following their season-ending win in Cleveland.

Then, they really unloaded on the coach.

Knicks owner James Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.

“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”

“The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful.

Knicks president Steve Mills, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability, and Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry, via Berman:

“The evaluation of Jeff for 82 games, we evaluated everything — practices to games to ability to connect with guys. I think we need to be better in that area and with adjustments. It’s something we could be better at with the expectations we have for our next coach.”

“We could have been a little bit better in situational basketball,” Perry said. “We understand the roster as much as anybody. In terms of consistency, we fell a little bit short in that area.”

This is atypical candor about a fired coach. Most teams just thank him and move on.

But I appreciate it. Don’t we all want to know more of what NBA teams are thinking internally? This is revelatory.

That said, I don’t blindly trust the Dolan/Mills/Perry triumvirate. The Knicks have misevaluated too many people for too long. This more about knowing how they viewed things than knowing this is how things are.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a source, Dolan last season sent an email to Hornacek saying he was disappointed in him for not buying fully into the triangle offense. This took place sometime around the All Star break. So we know that as recently as last season Dolan, who loves to tell you he’s not involved, was actually pushing Phil Jackson’s offense down Hornacek’s throat in a not-so-subtle way.

Dolan had Phil’s back. And then on Wednesday, Dolan trashed Jackson for being out of touch. Man, life comes at you fast.

To be fair, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough also cited Hornacek’s lack of connection with his players when firing him. This will be something Hornacek must answer for if he pursues future head-coaching jobs. Hornacek feuded with Marcus Morris in Phoenix and Joakim Noah, Kyle O'Quinn and reportedly Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Not that the Knicks set up Hornacek to succeed. They didn’t.

Now, they must find a coach who will perform better in all the areas they just criticized Hornacek for. That’ll be more difficult than criticizing him on the way out the door.

76ers in their feelings about garbage-time shots (video)

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In the Heat’s Game 2 win over the 76ers, Philadelphia rushed a 3-pointer to cut Miami’s lead to eight with 6.2 seconds left. Heat point guard Goran Dragic took the ensuing inbound, dribbled past a pressing Ben Simmons, avoided a swipe attempt by Robert Covington and drove in for an uncontested layup:

Covington, via Anthony Chiang of The Palm Beach Post:

“It definitely matters because you can just dribble it out, everything,” Philadelphia forward Robert Covington said. “But you know, we don’t understand why he did it. But overall, we just said, OK, that gives us anticipation because obviously he didn’t care about the simple fact of the score of the game. They were already winning.”

Dragic, via Chiang:

“I don’t care,” Dragic said when asked about the Sixers’ reaction to the play. “The first game we were down 30 and they were still running [inbounds plays after timeouts] with seven seconds left in the game. It’s the playoffs. I’m doing everything it takes.”

Dragic’s play was perfectly fine. If the 76ers didn’t like it, they should have stopped it. Beyond that, why risk allowing a miracle comeback? It was the right, safe play.

Philadelphia tried to return the favor in its alreadyfeisty Game 3 win last night.

His 76ers up 19 with the shot clock off, Ben Simmons pushed the ball ahead and passed to a streaking Dario Saric, who attempted a layup. Kelly Olynyk blocked Saric’s attempt. Then, Miami guard Wayne Ellington fouled Covington with 1.7 seconds left, prolonging the game with free throws:

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, via Ian Begley of ESPN:

“I wish I was there in that Game 2, because I was kind of pissed about it. … I was on the sideline, really mad,” Embiid, who missed the first two games of the series due to an orbital fracture and concussion.

Embiid said he told his teammates to look to score if they encountered the same scenario late in Game 3.

“It’s always good to blow a team out,” he said. “I think we were up 18 or 20 and if you could get that lead up to 22, I think it’s good. I love blowing teams out. I like the fact that we did that. We’re not here to make friends. We’re here to win a series.”

Heat forward Winslow, via Begley:

“I think they felt disrespected by Goran’s [layup], and we weren’t just going to let them do that,” Miami’s Justise Winslow said.

This is all so silly.

Last month, Saric scored late on the (pressing) Cavaliers in a game that looked decided. (Cleveland guard Jordan Clarkson then threw the ball at Saric and got ejected.) But the 76ers are going to be aggrieved now?

To their credit, the Heat fulfilled the don’t-it?, stop-it philosophy with Olynyk’s block.

Jrue Holiday stops to point at Jusuf Nurkic, who had just gotten dunked on by Anthony Davis (video)

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Jrue Holiday has spent most of the Pelicans-Trail Blazers series making life miserable for Portland star guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

In New Orleans’ Game 3 win last night, Holiday turned to tormenting Jusuf Nurkic.

After Anthony Davis putback-dunked on Nurkic, Holiday stopped to point at the Trail Blazers center. Yes, we saw. But I still appreciate Holiday calling our attention to Nurkic just in case.