Pacers show fight, Lakers don’t and roll over again in loss

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The Indiana Pacers know who they are — balanced and unselfish. They also fight. Down by 13 in the first quarter Sunday they come out in the second quarter throwing haymakers (and shoot 67 percent). Break Roy Hibbert’s nose and he’ll come back in the fourth quarter and give you eight points with the game on the line.

The Lakers could really use some of that fight. They are lacking it right now. It’s why Indiana won 98-96.

Los Angeles has one guy who fights back, but with the other Lakers standing around you end up with an avalanche of Kobe Bryant shots. He scores 33 against the Pacers, but it takes him 30 shots to get there.

There are guys on this roster that won back-to-back titles a couple years ago — and you don’t do that without a lot of fight in you. But with all the changes to the franchise and roster that fire seems to have washed away that fight. You see the fire in flashes, like against Dallas last week (when Derek Fisher won it on a late three) but more nights they seem to take the punches and not jab back. Personnel and age is part of that, but the Lakers are still trying to find their identity on offense and with that they seem to stop and think, or freeze, and not push back.

The Lakers came out hot Sunday night and that was pushed by Kobe, who had 11 points in the first. But it was contagious — Matt Barnes was getting breakaways, Pau Gasol was playing facilitator (he finished with 9 assists) and the Lakers had real energy. They were up 13 and it looked like they might cruise.

Then in the second quarter the Pacers started to come back — they shot 67 percent and behind nine points from David West (including a late three) that made this a game. That carried over in the second half, but what makes them tough to defend is the balance — six guys in double figures, Hibbert had the most with 18.

This may have been the best the Pacers have played this season (to my eyes). This is a win that should shut up anyone who has been questioning these Pacers credentials — they are good. Legitimately good. Not challenging Chicago and Miami on top of the East, but in the next tier. And they are going to be a tough out come the playoffs.

The Lakers, they show flashes of being very good and of what they can be, but it’s not consistent. Put together a strong quarter to come back like the Pacers did and the Lakers seem to become sluggish. Andrew Bynum maybe most of all, he seemed slow in this game. Almost disinterested. Metta World Peace had a good game Sunday, but he has been inconsistent.

The result is a team that expects Kobe to create everything. Part of it is personnel — they don’t have a lot of guys who can create, so it falls to Kobe — but Bynum and Gasol are not demanding the ball and attacking. Derek Fisher will not back down, but he is not a guy who should be playing huge minutes.

All that manifested in the final minutes of this game, when Indiana went on a 7-0 run as they knew Kobe would be all the Lakers offense, while the Lakers had no idea who to defend on the Pacers because everybody was making plays.

The Pacers are playing about as well as they can, and they are winning because of it. The Lakers may have a higher ceiling, but they are going to have to figure out how to reach it.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.