New Orleans Hornets Chris Paul drives through the defense of Los Angeles Lakers Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom during Game 1 of their NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game in Los Angeles

Lakers, Spurs losses shouldn’t have fans nervous. Yet.


This is not a changing of the guard in the West.

Not yet.

The day is coming when Oklahoma City and maybe New Orleans or Memphis are going to be whooping the Lakers and Spurs in the playoffs and it will not be an upset. There will be a passing torch (or more likely, the ripping of the torch out of Kobe Bryant’s hands, he’s not giving it up willingly).

But don’t read that into the Lakers and Spurs dropping their games Sunday.

The Lakers and Spurs had bad days (for different reasons) and while they may both have a tougher series than expected one game is not a huge signal.

What we really saw is that in the West, the bottom half teams are still very good, and fully capable of beating the elites when the elites are not at their peak. But we’re a ways from saying the Spurs and Lakers are not the teams to beat.

For the Lakers, their pick-and-roll defense was terrible and Chris Paul was brilliant in making them pay for it. Derek Fisher cannot guard Paul. But what Paul did brilliantly was come off the pick and when Laker big man Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol showed out on him, he kept is dribble going and moved away from the pick, dragging the big man with him and forcing a switch. All the while Paul never gave up his dribble. It was a master tactical move and the result was Paul isolated on Bynum or Gasol a lot. And he abused them.

Hence, the three New Orleans turnovers total in the game.

It was defense that sparked the Lakers hot streak after the All-Star break, and they are a team that often does not play well if they don’t respect their opponents. And for all the lip service they gave to how good they thought the Hornets were, they did not go out and play like it. They went through the motions. It’s why the Hornets shot 59 percent on shots inside of 10 feet in the game.

This is what we have seen from these Lakers before. They eventually do show up and play hard. Expect a different defensive effort on Wednesday night.

As for the Spurs, you see just how much Manu Ginobili means to them. The Spurs shot 21 percent (7-of-33) on midrange sots in this game (compared to 42 percent for the Grizzlies). The Spurs missed some shots they make, while the Grizzlies could not miss — Marc Gasol was 9-of-10 and Zach Randolph could not miss from the midrange.

The Spurs have lost the first game in five of their last seven first-round playoff series, this is not going to rattle them. They’ve been here.

Look for the Spurs also to hit their shots next game while the Grizzles percentage drops.

One loss does not make a changing of the guard. The Spurs and the Lakers remain the teams to beat in the West.

Now two losses in a row to start a series….

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.