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.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).