Celtics, Lakers play one that feels like old times

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On paper this was a battle of seven seeds, a couple teams just a few games over .500 with a lot of potential but not really contenders.

But once the ball went up, it felt like it was the 2010 NBA finals again. Or maybe the 2008 finals. Or 1985. Or 1969.

Rivalries are what make sports fun and there was some real fire and some good old-fashioned dislike between the Lakers and Celtics on a Thursday night in February. That made for an entertaining game that was close the whole way, went into overtime — and down to a blocked shot in the final second of overtime — as the Lakers get out of Boston with an 88-87 win.

Let’s be honest here, it may have felt like 2008, but the level of play was nowhere near NBA finals level. Or even good playoff ball. Both teams were sloppy in their execution, particularly late in the contest. The best example was the Celtics had a chance for one play, one shot to get the win on the last play of regulation. They ran a Boston staple where Paul Pierce has the ball, Ray Allen comes up like he’s setting a high screen then slips the screen and slides out for a jumper — and it worked, both defenders went with Pierce. And he never made the pass. Allen stood there open. Instead the result was Mickael Pietrus having to come out and help Pierce, then take a 30-footer at the buzzer.

The difference in this game was the Lakers size — they made a point of pounding the ball inside all night, crashing the boards hard and taking advantage of their skill and size advantages. In the first half, 22 of the Lakers 33 shot attempts came from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Gasol responded to being snubbed for the All-Star Game by putting up 25 points on 12-20 shooting, plus grabbing 14 boards and having the game-winning block on an attempted Allen putback of a Pierce miss. Andrew Bynum (who will start in the All-Star Game) had 16 points — including the overtime tip-in putback that won the game — plus 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Kobe Bryant was Kobe, distributing early, putting on a display of impressive footwork in the midpost, knocking down jumpers and finishing with 27 points.

You know those three will be there most nights, but the Lakers got a solid contribution out of Matt Barnes as well. As for the point guard spot… let’s just say Derrick Fisher was so bad (0-7 shooting and getting abused on defense) that Steve Blake, in his first game back from injury, closed out the game. And Blake wasn’t good. The Lakers were 1-15 from three — if they can’t make teams pay for collapsing down on their big men they are in a lot of trouble come the playoffs.

Boston played good defense in this one — that has been their hallmark in winning five straight — but when faced with another good defensive team could not generate enough offense to get the win. They settled and shot just 39.2 percent on the night and only got to the free throw line five times. Ray Allen had 22 points, Pierce 18 but needed 18 shots to get there.

In the end, it may not have been pretty but it was fun. We fans got some free basketball in overtime, some dramatic plays from big stars, and some real passion. Rivalries are fun. Even on a random Thursday in February.

Basketball Hall of Famer John Kundla dies at 101

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — John Kundla, the Hall of Fame coach who led the Minneapolis Lakers to five NBA championships, died Sunday. He was 101.

Son Jim Kundla said his father died at an assisted living facility in Northeast Minneapolis that he has called home for years.

Kundla coached George Mikan and the Lakers in the 1940s and 1950s, helping them become the NBA’s first dynasty. He went 423-302 before retiring at the age of 42 and went on to coach his alma mater, the University of Minnesota.

Kundla was the oldest living Hall of Famer in any of the four major pro sports.

Kundla was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. A year later, he was named one of the league’s 10 greatest coaches as part of the league’s “NBA at 50” celebration.

 

Report: Magic signing Marreese Speights to one-year, minimum contract

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It’s a tough market for free-agent centers, as Marreese Speights learned the hard way.

Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

I wonder whether Speights regrets opting out with the Clippers, who were also slated to pay him a minimum salary. Not only is he stuck with a low-paying deal, he’s on a worse team and one with center depth.

Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo should play only center, where Speights is best. Speights can also play power forward, but Aaron Gordon should get all his minutes there. Maybe Jonathan Isaac should, too, though it’s more tolerable to play him at small forward while the rookie adjusts to the NBA.

Simply, there won’t be much playing time for Speights unless Orlando makes a trade (maybe this is a harbinger) or plays too big of lineups (a lesson it should have learned last season).

Likewise, the Clippers will be fine, though less versatile, without Speights. The acquired Willie Reed (free agency) and Montrezl Harrell (Chris Paul trade) to play behind DeAndre Jordan.

Speights clearly isn’t essential, but he has expanded his range beyond the 3-point arc. He defends with effort, though not necessarily well. There’s a place in the league for stretch fives like him. But he turns 30 in a couple weeks, and his stock is clearly low. At least he’ll have a chance for a bigger payday next summer.

Kristaps Porzingis on Knicks: “This is where I want to stay… this is where I want to win”

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There were multiple, connected reasons it was time for the Knicks to move on from the Phil Jackson era — a triangle of reasons, really — but this one should have been at the top of the list:

He was alienating Krisptaps Porzingis.

We don’t know yet if Porzingis can be a franchise NBA player, however, he shows the potential to do it. He could become a top five NBA player you can build a contender around. You endear yourselves to those kinds of players, not get into power struggles that lead to said player blowing off end-of-year meetings and being guided out the door.

With Jackson gone, Porzingis has more motivation to stay a Knick and be the guy that turns the franchise’s fortunes around. KP was running a youth hoops camp in his native Latvia and was taking questions from the children when one kid got in a question the New York media would have loved to ask: Are you going to abandon New York? Here is Porzingis’ answer, translated and obtained by the New York Post.

“I feel that it is the best place to win. And if you win in New York, you are king. For the last two years, I have had so many positive emotions here that this is where I want to stay and that this is where I want to win.”

The Knicks have their cornerstone big. Now they need a guy on the outside (Kyrie Irving will get mentioned, but he is not the only answer), they need to get and develop young players to go with their stars. It’s the next phase for the Knicks.

But if they can keep Porzingis happy, they can lock him up to a max rookie extension after next year and have that piece in place. Then it’s up to Steve Mills and Scott Perry to put the pieces around him.

Report: LeBron James won’t waive his no-trade clause

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They Cavaliers have had a frustratingly lousy offseason.

They ousted trusted general manager David Griffin. Since, they’ve watched Golden State load up while their roster stagnates, as stars like Paul George and Jimmy Butler have landed elsewhere. Now, Kyrie Irving is requesting a trade and reportedly blaming LeBron James for that leaking.

LeBron has practically thrown up his hands and left ownership and management to figure out everything.

But LeBron – with rumors swirling about him leaving in 2018 free agency – won’t take an earlier exit.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

LeBron James will not waive his no-trade clause for any teams at any point during the 2017-18 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Cleveland essentially has two options with Irving:

1. Trade him for better, older players

2. Trade him for worse, younger players

No. 2 becomes much more palatable if the Cavs can also flip LeBron (and Kevin Love) and launch into a full rebuild. But as long as LeBron is around, it’s hard not to contend for a title.

But if they trade Irving for immediate help and LeBron leaves next summer, the Cavaliers could be left with a ghastly roster. That might be the risk they’re forced to take now.

It’s hard to believe the Cavs would trade beloved LeBron, even if he didn’t hold veto power. It would turn owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman into Cleveland villains, co-conspirators in LeBron leaving again. If Gilbert and Altman dare LeBron to leave in free agency, LeBron would have to own the decision himself.

Still, if LeBron and Irving would return incredible hauls of younger players and draft picks – I can’t even imagine what LeBron would draw in a trade – Gilbert and Altman should at least consider it. It just doesn’t seem the Cavs will have that option.