NBA Playoffs: Chris Paul goes cold, Lakers go on better for effort

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For five games, Chris Paul was playing like the best point guard in the game. He had played two super-human games to earn New Orleans two wins against the defending champions, and even in the losses he had been special.

The Hornets needed him to do that. He was their only hope.

And when he crashed back to earth in Game 6 — in part due to good Lakers defense, in part he had an off night and in part because he was passive — the Hornets were totally outmatched. Especially on a night where the Lakers big center Andrew Bynum asserted himself.

The result was the Lakers cruising to a 98-80 win. With the victory the Lakers advance to the second round, where they will face the winner of the Portland/Dallas series.

This series was not easy for the Lakers, but they may be the better for it in the end. They came into this series playing lazy from the end of the season and carried it over to Game 1. By Game 6 the Lakers had found the defensive groove that had them winning 17-of-18 for a stretch in March and looking like contenders.

Paul finished with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, plus he dished out 11 assists. But when faced with another night of good interior defense from the Lakers he became passive. That has been the knock on him in recent years, in part that was caused by injuries. But there seemed to be a frustration to, a realization that for all he could do — as much as he looked and played like the vintage Chris Paul in this series — his team was overmatched.

Meanwhile, Andrew Bynum had 18 points and 12 rebounds — 8 of them on offense. More importantly he and Pau Gasol (each with two blocks) took control of the paint, cutting of drives and turning the Hornets into jump shooters.

The Hornets two easily settled for those jumpers rather than driving into the lane, they aren’t that good at hitting those midrange shots and as a result in the second and third quarter the Lakers started to pull away.

This was by no means a pretty game. The first quarter was filled with ugly offense. Good defense was part of it, but there was just some bad offense too. No motion, missed shots. The Lakers adjusted some but even at the half the score was 40-34 Lakers.

The Lakers move on, but like we said they exit this series better than they came into it. CP3’s play and the heart of the Hornets, their hard effort, forced the Lakers to play closer to their potential. The problem for New Orleans really was that once the Lakers woke up they were going to be out matched.

For the Hornets, seemingly countless questions lie ahead.

Starting with, who will own the team? Can the NBA — which has boosted local sponsorship and increased season tickets while working to get a better lease deal — find local ownership? New Orleans has not been an easy NBA market in the best of times.

Then there is the Chris Paul question. He can leave in the summer of 2012, next season he could put the Hornets in the position the Nuggets were in with Carmelo Anthony this season. Is he frustrated enough with the situation, does he see so little hope that he could try to force his way out? How will the lockout and the new collective bargaining agreement impact all of that?

There are hard questions ahead for the Hornets. But one thing was clear as the fans in New Orleans rained down a “thank you Hornets” chant on their team at the end of that game — New Orleans has some passionate fans that love that team.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.

Tyronn Lue imitates LeBron James’ criticism of reporter (video)

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After the Cavaliers Game 3 loss to the Celtics, LeBron James accused reporter Kenny Roda of showing up/asking questions only when Cleveland loses.

Questioned by Roda after the Cavs’ Game 4 win, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue lightheartedly lobbed the same criticism at Roda.

Coaching LeBron can be tricky. Lue must both challenge the greatest player of his generation and handle LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness. Lue can neither let LeBron walk all over him nor bark orders at him.

In this case, it seems Lue is trying to diffuse LeBron’s pettiness before it turns into something bigger. Considering how silly LeBron’s initial comments were, I bet the star is on board.

Tony Bradley becoming North Carolina’s first one-and-done in nearly a decade

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North Carolina hasn’t had a one-and-done player in eight years.

Since Brandan Wright declared for the 2008 NBA draft after his freshman year, the Tar Heels have emphasized player development over multiple years. That practice has yielded two national titles, including this year’s, in that span.

It also limited freshman center Tony Bradley’s playing time this season, as he was stuck behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

But Bradley shined enough in 15 minutes per game to follow Wright as one-and-done from Chapel Hill.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Bradley is a borderline first-round pick, though this late decision when many expected him to return to school indicates he believes he’ll go in the first round. There’s certainly logic in turning pro before scouts pick apart his game over a larger sample.

Bradley is huge – 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan – but he’s not explosive. The hope is someone in the Rudy Gobert mold.

Whomever drafts Bradley will hope his elite offensive rebounding is a harbinger. But why is his defensive rebounding and rim protection so forgettable?

He moves and passes fairly well for his size, but considering he’s so big, those aren’t necessarily skills for him to hang his hat on. If a teammate sets him up, he uses his size to finish well at the rim.

Beyond his size and offensive rebounding, Bradley doesn’t set himself apart one way or the other. Whether that’s good or bad depends how deep in the draft it is.