Lakers down Nuggets thanks to… we’re not sure. It was weird.

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You know those games where you just don’t really know what happened? You walk away and you acknowledge that the game was fun, but you just don’t really know what happened? Yeah that was Denver vs. L.A. at Staples today, Lakers 92-89 win.

In the final five minutes the following things happened:

Danilo Gallinari missed a game-tying layup wide open with 3 seconds left and no one has around him.

Kobe Bryant missed a free throw to put the game away with a four point lead and one second left.

Kobe Bryant lost the ball and turned it over on a key drive.

Nene missed a wide open dunk.

Andre Miller failed to secure a great pass after an offensive rebound put the offense in motion, and then Gallinari missed everything but backboard on a wide open three.

Derek Fisher bodied Ty Lawson out of the way in a pretty blatant way then rolled on top of the ball and not only did not get called for a foul or traveling, but managed to get a timeout.

In short, it was bananas.

But if you want to strip all that away and get back to actual reasons why the Lakers got a win? It’s simple.

Andrew Bynum. Bynum was dominant inside.

Bynum looked very much like the kind of young center you build around. He blocked shots, and more importantly, tipped in miss after miss. His ability to, well, be taller than everyone else was simply too much for the Nuggets. The Lakers are winning ugly under Mike Brown with aging stars and a weak bench. But they’re winning. Because they execute and the effort is there on each possession. They have what you need to win in this league, even when things go a little… weird.

Notes:

  • Nene is either still recovering from surgery or just not playing well. He looks tentative, he looks off. He’s not finishing when he should and of more concern, his box-outs and rotations are inconsistent. The Nuggets need more from him, especially for the money they gave him in free agency.
  • Ty Lawson needs to be running the offense exclusively down the stretch for the Nuggets.
  • Steve Blake continues with the patented “Laker who is en fuego early for no apparent reason” act.
  • Pau Gasol’s range is simply deadly and it has a remarkable ability to confound the defense.
  • Where was Arron Afflalo the last five minutes of the game? Benching the best pure shooter on the team late doesn’t make much sense.
  • Danilo Gallinari used to be able to shoot threes, right? I’m not imagining this.
  • Kobe was efficient and productive… until late in the game, again. Lakers fans have to be a little concerned. Gallo makes that layup and everything in this game might be different.
  • At some point, we’re going to have to talk about Al Harrington’s play, at both ends, and recognize that he’s playing exceptionally well. The offense? Sure, he’s got that. But his defense has been superb early, which no one saw coming.
  • Bynum’s patience has really improved, as has his comfort level in simply out-maneuvering defenders.

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.