How they can win it all: The Los Angeles Lakers

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As the two-time defending champions, the Lakers rightfully began the regular season as the favorites to win a third straight title. Despite the team’s predictable ups and downs that come with having a veteran-heavy club that’s been to the Finals three straight years, they remain the favorites in most people’s eyes as the playoffs are set to begin on Saturday.

Just how heavily the Lakers are favored, however, is open to serious debate. The Bulls and the Spurs both finished with win totals north of 60, and even though L.A. put it together brilliantly for a stretch after the All-Star break in which the team went 17-1, they limped to the finish line, dropping five in a row before barely beating San Antonio’s reserves, and giving back all of a 20-point lead in Sacramento before winning in overtime to secure the two-seed in the last game of the regular season.

So, while L.A. might still be the favorites, the team has definitely given the league’s other top contenders reason to believe that they’ll have more than a fighting chance when they get their shot at the champs. Here’s how the Lakers can remove all doubt and engineer yet another NBA title:

1. Use your tremendous size advantage to make things easy offensively

There’s a reason that the league and its fans collectively held their breath while awaiting the result of Andrew Bynum’s MRI exam, after he left Tuesday night’s game with a knee injury. Without him, the Lakers would immediately turn from favorites into long shots to repeat (yet again) as champions.

It’s no secret that the combination of Bynum and Pau Gasol in the Lakers starting lineup is a huge advantage over most, if not all of the teams in the playoffs, and L.A. needs to use them more than occasionally in order to be consistently successful. That means getting both bigs more touches offensively, which also means that the likes of Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, and Derek Fisher need to be more judicious with their shot selection, and let the offense flow through the post more often.

As the playoff pace slows and the games become more half-court oriented, avoiding quick launches from long range early in the shot clock will help the Lakers be a more efficient unit offensively, as well as limit the transition opportunities for their opponents. It’s not as easy as it sounds, however, and will take some discipline — even from guys who have the veteran experience to know better.

2. Get Kobe Bryant to play within himself

If you’ve watched any nationally televised Celtics games over the past few seasons, when they put the microphone in the timeout huddle at crucial points in the game, you always hear Doc Rivers remind his team not to play “hero ball.”

Kobe Bryant would be wise to at least consider this advice, at least for his team’s run through the playoffs.

It’s a little bit different for the Lakers, of course, because it’s not exactly an offensive democracy in L.A. the way it is for other teams. Bryant is a superstar of the highest order, and demands a high volume of touches, and an unhealthy-at-times amount of shots — especially considering the amount of talent on that roster. And yet, there are times when the Lakers simply need his spectacular ability to score in a variety of situations.

But they don’t need “hero ball,” and they don’t need Bryant to play offensively like he’s the only person on the team who can score. Everyone needs to be involved and engaged for this Lakers team to play at its highest level; Bryant needs to recognize that, and measure his play accordingly.

3. Give consistent and sustained maximum effort for the entire postseason

This might be the tallest of orders for the Lakers. It is an extremely long grind just to get to the playoffs, especially for a team that is looking to play well into June for the fourth straight season. The occasional lapse on that road is to be expected for a championship group of veterans, but now that the postseason has arrived, the focus needs to be there for every single game.

It’s important for L.A. to bring it every night now that the regular season is through, and not only because closing out the weaker, early-round opponents as quickly as possible gets the team some added rest for the tougher series that lie ahead. The Lakers have shown this year that once they drift and lose that focus, it’s not so easy for them to get it back.

When the Lakers have lapsed mentally and lost games that on paper they should have won, they haven’t shown any consistent ability to bounce back the next game and blow somebody out. The focus has taken far too long to return, as evidenced by losing streaks of four and five games that the team has uncharacteristically suffered over the course of the year.

Any losing streak in the playoffs obviously puts an end to a team’s season, so the Lakers must avoid their lengthy lapses at all costs if they are to once again take home the title.

Dunker Max Pearce throws down another impressive one (VIDEO)

Via _maxw3ll_ on Instagram
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These are the kinds of dunks that make me ask, should the NBA allow pro dunkers in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest. Some years you get the great Zach LaVine shows, but other years it’s down. NBA players need to focus on their game, not highlight dunks.

Guys like Max Pearce on the other hand…

Here is his latest.

But head to his Instagram page and you get to see a lot of dunks like this.

Stay creative 👍🏽 #Flynance 🏆

A post shared by Max Pearce (@_maxw3ll_) on

Warriors sign power forward Georges Niang to training camp contract

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The Golden State roster is locked in with 15 guaranteed contracts set for next season. We know what their opening day roster is going to look like (and it looks like a champion).

But the Warriors need extra bodies for training camp, so enter Georges Niang, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Niang was drafted in the second round, 50th overall, out of Iowa State in 2016, by Indiana. He played just 93 minutes total with the Pacers last season, he didn’t get much of a chance to impress in Summer League, and they moved on waiving him in July. Niang put up numbers in college, but there were questions about if he was athletic enough for the next level.

Staying in the G-League (formerly D-League) keeps him close to his NBA dream. If it doesn’t work out, in future years he can make a good paycheck overseas, but for now he chases the dream.

Report: Knicks not interested in trading Kristaps Porzingis for Kyrie Irving

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With uncertainty around LeBron James‘ future in Cleveland — and good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks he is staying; LeBron’s options are open, but the sense is he has one foot out the door — the Cavaliers are prioritizing getting a young star to rebuild around back in any Kyrie Irving trade.

At the top of the Cavaliers’ wish list: Kristaps Porzingis.

Except the Knicks have no interest in this trade, reports Steven Marcus and Mike Rose of Newsday.

The Knicks don’t appear interested in trading Kristaps Porzingis, including a possible deal for Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, according to a league source…

“[Knicks president] Steve Mills and [Knicks general manager] Scott Perry on the record were very clear that Kristaps was part of the future,’’ the source said in reference to comments made last month by both executives. “In all the discussions since then — there were other rumors before that Cleveland would want Kristaps — and it didn’t seem that [the Knicks] were interested at all in a conversation.’’

Nor should the Knicks give him up — even if they could dump the anchor Joakim Noah contract in the process.

Irving is a sure thing, an elite scorer and All-Star who averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists a game last season and shot better than 40 percent from three. Irving, entering his seventh season, can do more to help a team win next season than Porzingis. He can get more buckets.

But Porzingis could be better — and will be better suited to build a contender around — in the future. Entering just his third season and with the triangle gone, and maybe the shadow of Carmelo Anthony, too, Porzingis should become the focal point of the Knicks next season, and we can see what he will do. KP scored 18.1 points and grabbed 7.2 rebounds a game last season, shot 35.7 percent from three, and while still learning he brings more defense than Irving. Porzingis is a 7’3″ “unicorn” — there isn’t another player like him — and for many years he could be the future of the Knicks. He has the work ethic, he’s shown flashes, they just need to give him a real chance.

Also, the Knicks need to work starting this fall to mend the relationship that Phil Jackson tried to poison.

Bottom line, Irving is good, but the Knicks could build a contender around Porzingis if they handle it right. Not sure they can do that around Irving, and he is older. No way you make that trade if you’re the Knicks. That’s obvious… which is one reason Jackson needed to go.

 

Watch the best ball fakes from the past NBA season

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While we grind through the slow part of the NBA offseason — when even Kyrie Irving trade rumors come with “when we get close to the start of training camp” qualifiers — we continue to get our hoops fix from the best highlights of last season.

Like the top 10 ball fakes, as compiled by NBA.com.

You knew Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving would be on the list, but nice appearance and moves by Ricky Rubio and D'Angelo Russell, too.