Warts and all, the Lakers still better than Grizzlies Sunday

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The Laker have flaws. Unless it improves, their point guard play is going to come back to haunt them. Same with their depth issues.

That night was not Sunday night against Memphis. The Lakers deficiencies were on display but could not be exploited by a Memphis team trying to find its way without Zach Randolph. The Lakers won 90-82 in another not very pretty basketball game. (We’re getting a lot of those early this season — thanks lockout!) The Lakers remain undefeated at Staples Center this season.

Things seem to be improving for the Lakers (now 6-4 on the season), they seem to be getting a grasp of what Mike Brown wants from them on offense. Kobe Bryant is getting the ball less in isolation and more in catch-and-shoot spots or in the post. They got the ball to Pau Gasol on the block because he had the mismatch (especially early against Dante Cunningham). All of that generated a lot of inside-out looks for the Lakers.

But then there were the turnovers — 27 of them. It allowed a lot of run-outs by the Grizzlies and 31 fast break points.

“A lot of our turnovers were unforced,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said postgame. “We talked to our guys and said ‘hey, you don’t have to keep making the home run play.’ And I thought we kept trying to make the home run play a few too many times.”

He’s right. The Lakers tried more lob plays that that other team from Los Angeles, but with some horrid results.

The Lakers are improving but could still use someone to better organize the offense. Derek Fisher had five turnovers and while he is the starter he is no longer the closer at the point for this team. That is Steve Blake, who also had five turnovers (but 13 points and was 3-of-6 from beyond the arc).

Maybe the Lakers should let Pau Gasol play point guard.

(After the game, when asked about his Ricky Rubio-like pass, Gasol said “he got all his moves from me.”)

The Lakers depth also was an issue. Metta World Peace played just 12 minutes. The Lakers had a unit on the floor of Blake, rookie Andrew Goudelock, World Peace, Troy Murphy and Andrew Bynum and they could not generate any offense. Memphis went on a run against that unit and cut the deficit to four early in the fourth. Brown responded with his starters and got the win.

Memphis will miss Randolph inside in every game, but particularly against the Lakers length. Memphis lived on the perimeter and when they did go inside Marc Gasol was 0-for-8 on the night.

“We definitely settled for jump shots a lot more than we usually do,” Rudy Gay said. “You know it’s hard to win like that… Every one knows (the Lakers) are not only tall, but they are the longest team in the league. It’s tough playing against them. They frustrate a lot of people.”

The one bright spot for Memphis was the play of Marreese Speights, who had 17 points and 7 rebounds, helping counter the Lakers size. He’s not exactly the most gifted athlete on the floor, but he’s a big guy who worked hard and even showed off a nice little midrange at points. He’s not Zach Randolph, but he can give them solid minutes until Z-Bo returns (then off the bench after that).

Finally, I could have sworn I saw Troy Murphy on a run out fast break. Then later put the ball on the floor and drive the lane for the dunk. Clearly the water in the media room at Staples Center was spiked.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.