Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes

“New” Lakers still not as good as same ol’ Thunder

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This was supposed to be a statement game for the “new” Lakers — new coach, new system, new emphasis on defense and now a new point guard to organize it all. The Thunder, they didn’t change much of anything from last year.

Well, the game was a statement all right — the Thunder are much better right now. If you have any doubt that Oklahoma City is the team to beat in the West, you just need to watch them when they are clicking.

Oklahoma City was a step ahead of the Lakers starting with an 11-0 run to open the second half and they went on to a comfortable 102-93 win.

Oklahoma City was literally a step ahead — on top of its pregame white board in the locker room was the instruction to get out and run on the Lakers. Get points in transition. They did some in the first half but in the third quarter Russell Westbrook took the message to heart and changed the game.

“You’ve got to give a guy like Russell Westbrook credit,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “In the third quarter, he just came out, put his head down and went one on four and either scored or got fouled every time he came down the floor in that third quarter.”

Westbrook had six field goals in the third quarter — which was one more than the Lakers scored as a team. Lakers guard Ramon Sessions said the plan was to go under the pick-and-roll with Westbrook and make him shoot the jumper. Which he did — he’d use the space to make a little drive to the elbow then shoot and knock it down on his way to 36 points for the game.

After the game the Lakers tried to find solace in a first half where they were more physical and used their length to jump out to a 30-18 lead after one quarter. They tried to see a new Laker team that can compete with the Thunder when they play the right way. Andrew Bynum was very aggressive (particularly early) and had 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, plus 13 rebounds. Kobe Bryant had 23 points but needed 25 shots to get there, with Thabo Sefolosha doing a good job forcing him off his spots.

But the old Lakers had Lamar Odom coming off the bench and the new Lakers have nobody who can change the game that way. When the Thunder bench entered in the second quarter they quickly cut the Lakers early lead in half. Derek Fisher did part of that damage with 7 points on drives and jumpers — he was in revenge mode and it made him play maybe the best he has all season.

At the half the Lakers were up 5, but the big three for the Thunder — Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden — were a combined 10-for-37. You knew things were going to change.

You knew the Thunder’s statement was coming. They made it with hustle, getting 19 offensive rebounds and seemingly every offensive rebound.

One game in March does not a potential playoff series determine, but the statements from this game are the statements we have seen these teams for a while now. The Lakers are good but they don’t seem to have all the pieces of a contender — consistent defense, weak transition defense, good bench depth at the two and four, and they still struggle to shoot consistently from the outside.

The Thunder are deeper, more athletic, more complete. And they have an energy that helps them overcome their flaws. And when all else fails they can just put their head down and run past the Lakers.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: Carmelo Anthony probably won’t win NBA championship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim urged Carmelo Anthony to leave the Knicks in 2014. The Syracuse coach suggested the Bulls for his former player.

At the heart of Boeheim’s pitch: He wanted Anthony to win an NBA championship.

Well, Anthony discarded Boeheim’s advice and re-signed with the Knicks. So, Boeheim is predicting the outcome he always predicted if Anthony returned to New York.

Boeheim, via Mike Walters of Syracuse.com:

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title. As a player, all you can do is try to make your team better and every team he’s been on he’s made them a lot better. Denver hadn’t done anything prior to him getting there and he took them into the playoffs. They weren’t going to beat the Lakers or the Spurs. In those years, they won the championship most of the time.

“But he’s always made his team better,” added Boeheim. “It’s obvious. You look back on your total basketball experience and he had a great high school team, he won the NCAA championship and he’s won three gold medals in the Olympics. That’s a pretty good resume.”

This is a classic controversy. Boeheim caused it by being honest.

Anthony probably won’t win a title.

He’s 32, playing for a team with a middling-at-best supporting cast and seems content remaining in New York. His most valuable teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is so young, his prime might not overlap with Anthony’s. The Knicks limited themselves in the next few seasons by guaranteeing 31-year-old Joakim Noah more than $72 million over the next four years.

Most players are unlikely to win another championship. Most of exceptions play for the Warriors. I’m not even sure LeBron James is more likely than not to win another title.

Anthony sure isn’t.

That’s not the end of the world, and as Boeheim – and Anthony – said, Anthony can still have a good résumé. But it has to sting for such a prominent basketball figure in the state of New York and proud Anthony supporter tell the truth so bluntly.

Derrick Rose: Knicks ‘have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that’s rare’

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Derrick Rose called the Knicks a super team, which is absurd. When people called the absurd comment absurd, Rose doubled down.

How else can Rose show his absurd confidence in the Knicks?

Rose, via Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports:

I think we have a chance to win every game, and in the league, that’s rare.

Let’s give Rose the benefit of the doubt. I think he meant the Knicks are capable of winning each time they take the court, not that they’ll go 82-0.

That’s probably true.

I can’t, today, call any single game on the Knicks’ schedule a guaranteed loss. Sure, some games are harder than others. The Knicks probably won’t win at Golden State in their sixth city in 10 nights. But they could. The Lakers beat the Warriors last season. Anything is possible.

Which is to say the Knicks being capable of winning every game is not rare. Nearly every team – and maybe even every team – can, on August 23, point to each game on its schedule and call it winnable.

But Derrick Rose is gonna Derrick Rose.

Trail Blazers C Festus Ezeli out six weeks after knee injection

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 18: Festus Ezeli #31 of the Golden State Warriors yells to his team during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on January 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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At one point, Festus Ezeli was predicted to land $50 million over three years in free agency.

But even in this wild market, injury concerns forced him to settle for just $8.4 million guaranteed from the Trail Blazers.

Their calculated risk isn’t paying off so far.

CSN Northwest:

Portland Trail Blazers center Festus Ezeli had his left knee injected with a bone marrow aspirate concentrate and Orthovisc today in Chicago.

The injection, performed by Dr. Brian Cole, is intended to alleviate pain and improve function.

Ezeli will be sidelined for six weeks.

This timeline would have Ezeli out for the beginning of training camp but back well before the regular season begins. Even if this puts Ezeli behind schedule, Portland has center depth in Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis.

The Trail Blazers had to know they couldn’t completely depend on Ezeli to remain healthy.

Still, he’s a rim protector unlike Portland’s other options. The Blazers lose versatility and the ability to play better defense while he’s out.

Lakers contract to pay Yi Jianlian between $250,000 and $8 million next season

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 24:  Draymond Green #14 of the United States defends against Yi Jianlian #11 of China during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition gameat Staples Center on July 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Lakers officially signed former draft bust/Chinese Olympic star Yi Jianlian, but the contract terms were shrouded in mystery.

Some reports said he’d earn the minimum next season. Another said he’d get $8 million.

It’s rare to see such a huge discrepancy, but Yahoo Sports provided some clarity:

  • Cap number: $8 million
  • Guarantee: $250,000
  • Likely incentives:  up to $6,860,877

That means Yi’s base salary on the one-year contract is$1,139,123 – his minimum as someone with five years of NBA experience.

Yi will earn $6,701 per day he’s on the regular-season roster until Jan. 10. Then, his base salary will become fully guaranteed. He can also add to his income by achieving the incentive bonuses in his contract.

With this unconventional deal, the Lakers can waive Yi and potentially be off the hook for significant portions of his salary. But they don’t get cap flexibility unless they waive him before incentives raise his salary. He’ll count $8 million against the cap while he remains under contract.

The big question now: What specifically are Yi’s incentives?