Lakers live by the Kobe, lose by the Kobe (and Lou Williams)

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Philadelphia keeps answering every question asked of them.

Can they win against the best teams? They beat the Bulls, Hawks and Magic last week… and now you can add the Lakers to the list after a 95-90 76ers win Monday night.

But Philly doesn’t have a superstar, who is going to score late in the game for them? Meet Lou Williams. He comes off the bench with a fearless gunner’s mentality and he is the one guy who can create his own shot (or pass to others) in the crunch. He had 12 points in the final four minutes of this one. He finished with 24 total on 12 shots.

The Lakers are supposed to have a guy like that in Kobe Bryant.

But as it has been much of this season the Lakers lived by Kobe and lost by him.

Kobe came out on mission in this game to pass Shaq on the NBA all-time scoring list, hitting 8-of-early and put up 24 in the first half reaching his goal.

But then the Sixers came with hard doubles on Kobe starting late in the second quarter and that took him out of his rhythm — Kobe went 1-11 on his next dozen. And the Lakers offense struggled. As it has too often this season.

The Lakers do have other guys who can score. Andrew Bynum had 20 points on 13 shots, not to mention 20 rebounds, and he looked every part the All-Star Game starter. When he is aggressive as he was in this game, there are few in the league who can hang with him, and Philly didn’t have any of those guys. Pau Gasol wasn’t as sharp but he is still a very skilled big who had 16 in this game.

But those aren’t the guys who get the ball for the Lakers late in games — they abandon the playbook in favor of Kobe isolations. Check out the juxtaposition of late game shots between these teams. To set the stage, Bynum finished an ally-oop from Kobe and the Lakers were up 7 with 4:30 remaining in the game. Then it changed, first with a pretty rainbow by Jrue Holiday over Bynum.

• The Lakers followed that with a miss, the Sixers pushed it back in transition and Williams runs to the arc, where Derek Fisher sags off him — Andre Iguodala hits him with a pass and Williams drains it.

• Lakers turnover then next Philly possession Williams comes off the pick, Bynum shows out hard and will not leave him, so Williams takes Bynum and Bryant with him all the way to the corner, two quick passes with the Lakers out of position and it’s a Sixers layup.

• Kobe takes a tough contested two with Iguodala in his face, Bynum gets the offensive board, but then in trying to clear out to get the pass back he commits and offensive foul.

• Lou Williams comes off the screen, catch and shoot off a pick at the top of the key. Nothing but net.

• Kobe tries to get to his space on the baseline but Iggy is right there with long arms in his face, Kobe misses.

• Williams is the ball handler, comes off pick and Bynum shows out but doesn’t slide with him, Williams turns the corner and gets a clean look at a three. Nails it.

• Kobe in isolation takes a ridiculously long wing three that misses, but Gasol gets the rebound, so the Lakers reset and iso Kobe on the block, but he misses a contested turnaround.

• The Sixers push it back up, Williams is covered by Fisher in transition and blows around him like he’s an orange traffic cone. Williams then hits the floater over Gasol.

You get the idea.

Williams showed there is someone who can step up for the Sixers late.

The Lakers need diversity in their late-game sets, but this is where the lack of a decent point guard hurts them — Kobe can create his own shot, who can create one or get the ball into Bynum on the block. He also needs to deal better with double teams, that haunted him this game.

But the Lakers execution at the end is predictable. The Sixers, well, now we know it’s going to be Lou Williams, but he’s not that easy to stop.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.