NBA Playoffs: The Lakers get back on track

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There was no one matchup that swung in the Lakers’ favor on Tuesday night. There wasn’t one key play that ended up making all the difference late in the game, although Kobe Bryant’s turn-back-the-clock dunk in the second quarter did help swing the momentum their way. There wasn’t a noticeable change in their offensive strategy, and they still had trouble containing Chris Paul. None of that ended up mattering.

As it turned out, the Lakers didn’t need to make any big adjustments to power through the New Orleans Hornets and take a 3-2 series lead — they simply needed to play the way everyone knows they are capable of playing. Even though the Hornets have managed to take two tough games from the Lakers in this series, and still have a chance to win two more if the Lakers stop executing and Chris Paul goes off again, Game Five showed that the Hornets don’t have any answers for the Lakers when they play their game. There’s a reason why it can be so frustrating to watch the Lakers when they lose — when they win, they make it look so easy.

Even though the Hornets were able to shoot the ball well against the Lakers, the defending champions outclassed them in every area. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Ron Artest were able to manhandle the Hornets in the paint and on the boards. The Lakers scored 67 of their 106 points from the paint or the free-throw line, and outscored the Hornets 22-2 in second chance points.

After the game, Phil Jackson said that the “hustle points” went the Lakers’ way on Tuesday, and that the second-chance points were “the key to the win.” Hornets coach Monty Williams also noted that his team needs to figure out a way to match the Lakers’ physicality, saying “there was more focus to be physical” in Game 5 and that a lot of what occurred was “just not basketball, so it’s just one of those things we have to recognize that kind of play and overcome it.” Chris Paul also acknowledged the Hornets’ physicality, saying that the Hornets “need to figure out a way to play physical without fouling.” It will be hard for the Hornets to overcome the Lakers’ massive size advantage up front, but they will clearly need to figure something out in order to stay alive in this series.

Out on the perimeter, Kobe Bryant found the perfect balance between patience and aggression. He was content to run the offense and set up his teammates for most of the game, but he also had a few key scoring bursts, most notably at the end of the second quarter. After Bryant was called for a questionable continuation foul on Trevor Ariza, he came right back down the court and unleashed an electrifying dunk on Emeka Okafor that completely galvanized the Staples Center. After the game, Shannon Brown said that it was Kobe’s biggest dunk “since he had an afro,” and Kobe said that the dunk was a message to his teammates that “the series is important — they know I don’t have many of those left in me anymore.” Needless to say, Bryant’s ankle was much less of a concern after the game than it was before it.

Kobe and the Laker bigs had it going, and the Lakers’ role players did their part as well. The Lakers’ second unit didn’t shoot particularly well from the floor, but they were able to hit some timely threes, and their energy provided what Phil Jackson called “a major boost” to the Lakers when they checked in. When the Lakers are locked in like that on offense, there’s not much that a defense can do to slow them down.

Offensively, the Hornets didn’t do poorly by any stretch of the imagination. Chris Paul didn’t dominate the game like he did in the Hornets’ wins, but he still finished with 20 points on 12 shots and 12 assists. Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza shot as well as anyone can possibly expect Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza to shoot, and Willie Green continued to make impossible floaters. Even though the Hornets barely got any offensive production out of their bigs and turned the ball over 17 times, their loss was more a product of the Lakers’ offensive execution and dominance on the glass than anything they did wrong offensively.

As Trevor Ariza put it after the game, “[The Lakers] played well. There’s nothing that we can say. I don’t think we didn’t fight or we didn’t play well, I just feel like they played better than us. That’s it.” Unfortunately for the Hornets, there’s a lot of truth in what Ariza said. The Hornets are a scrappy team that plays good defense, has some outside shooting, and has Chris Paul, but there are reasons why the Lakers won 11 more games than the Hornets did in the regular season. The Lakers’ big men are both bigger and more skilled than the Hornet bigs, the Lakers are deeper than the Hornets are, and while Chris Paul has arguably outplayed Kobe in this series, Kobe is still Kobe.

The Hornets have put up a great fight in this series, and it’s hard to count them out with the way Chris Paul has been playing. However, it’s even harder to shake the feeling that if the Lakers play like this one more time in the next two games, there’s not going to be a lot that the Hornets can do to avoid elimination.

Report: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns recruiting Kyrie Irving to Minnesota

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When Draymond Green and other members of the Warriors spent time recruiting Kevin Durant to come to Golden State it made sense — he was about to be a free agent who could make his own choices. Watching players such as C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard recruit Carmelo Anthony to Portland makes sense — ‘Melo has a no-trade clause so he needs to waive it to go anywhere, so recruiting makes sense.

This one makes less sense, but it is happening — Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are recruiting Kyrie Irving to come play in Minnesota. Brian Windhorst of ESPN has the reporting.

League sources told ESPN that both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have been doing their part to recruit Irving on the idea of playing alongside them in Minnesota, and they’ve made it known to Wolves management that they want to add the Cavs star to the mix. Butler and Irving became tight in their time playing for USA Basketball together. Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., and Irving’s father, Drederick Irving, are connected through the basketball scene in northern New Jersey, where they both reside.

This could happen, but just about anything could happen the door is wide open with Irving to a lot of teams. That said, here are my two thoughts.

First, recruiting Irving is nice, but he has zero say in where he gets traded. Irving does not have a no-trade clause, he is not a free agent, he has two years left on his deal and the Cavaliers will/should send him to the team that gives them the best return. What Irving wants is irrelevant (although teams trying to get and keep him may take it into consideration).

Second, Minnesota could put together an interesting package, but there would be hurdles. It would likely involve one or both of Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. Wiggins can be extended this summer, but that salary would not count toward the salary in this trade so someone such as Cole Aldrich would need to be thrown in (and it would take more than that, there would need to be picks). More likely, it would take Jeff Teague and his $19 million salary to get a deal done — except the Timberwolves signed him this summer so Teague cannot be traded until Dec. 15.

If the Cavaliers can’t find a deal they like this summer, they can step back and look at their options, then decide to wait out the market and bring Irving back to start the season. At that point, a deal with the Timberwolves makes more sense.

In the short term, Butler and KAT can recruit all they want.

Report: Kyrie Irving initially requested trade before draft – to Bulls

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Kyrie Irving reportedly asked Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert last week for a trade.

But that apparently wasn’t the first time Irving approached Cleveland about a trade this offseason.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s Draft, in hopes of being traded to Chicago and playing with All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler.

That’s around the time Irving reportedly told former Team USA teammates – who include Butler – that he might be interested in a trade and was keen on the Bulls. It seemed that was in preparation for LeBron James leaving in 2018, but Irving’s timeline might have been accelerated.

Irving and Butler are close, but the Cavs went the other way with that information – trying to line up a trade for Butler. Cleveland obviously didn’t pull of a deal, as Chicago dealt Butler to the Timberwolves.

Beyond Butler, the Bulls lacked the assets to trade for Irving. Yes, LeBron and Dwyane Wade are friends. No, Wade’s value is not anywhere remotely near Irving’s. And remember, without a no-trade clause and contracted for two more years before a player option, Irving has minimal leverage to pick his destination.

This report also negates the idea that Irving hurt the Cavaliers and his own likelihood of getting dealt by not requesting a trade before players like Chris Paul and Paul George were settled. Maybe Irving could have been more insistent earlier, but he at least gave a full offseason of notice that he was ready to move on.

AP source: Justin Zanik, David Morway join Jazz front office

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A person with knowledge of the situation says the Utah Jazz have reached agreements with Justin Zanik and David Morway to join the front office.

Zanik returns to the Jazz after serving as assistant general manager from 2012-16, the person told The Associated Press on Friday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decisions had not been formally announced.

Zanik, a former agent, had been hired as assistant general manager with the Milwaukee Bucks and was expected to succeed general manager John Hammond one day. Hammond was named GM of Orlando Magic in May and the Bucks eventually hired Jon Horst.

Morway was the Pacers’ GM from 2008-12 and Bucks assistant GM from 2013-15. He spent 13 years in the Indiana front office, starting as vice president of basketball administration.

ESPN first reported the agreements.

Former Gatorade executive auctioning off Michael Jordan memorabilia

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Remember the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade commercials back in the 1990s?

That was the brain child of Bill Schmidt, a now retired VP of Marketing of Gatorade. Over the years he formed a friendship with Michael Jordan, and in the process racked up a treasure trove of Jordan memorabilia — jerseys, game-worn shoes, even game-worn baseball cleats from Jordan’s time in the minors. Almost all of it signed.

Now it’s all being auctioned off, Schmidt told Sole Collector.

“I turn 70 at the end of the year and I’m in good health, knock on wood. If something happens to me, I don’t know what they are going to do with this stuff,” Schmidt told Sole Collector. “Somebody else can enjoy it. It would afford me the opportunity to take care of some other people and other causes as opposed to donating the shoes or whatever. They’ll probably benefit more from the financial side of things.”

Schmidt isn’t keeping the money he gets from the auction, he’s donating it to youth sports groups, a church, and other charities where he lives. And yes, he is keeping a couple of things for himself.

He is doing the auction through Steiner Sports, and you can view it here. It continues for another week. If you’ve got the money pick something up, at least it’s going to a good cause.