Clippers get the highlights, Lakers take win and likely division

29 Comments

It’s simplistic, but not inaccurate, to see Wednesday night’s Lakers win over the Clippers like Andrew Bynum saw it. He was asked about Blake Griffin’s dunk on Pau Gasol (you can decide which one).

“He can have the highlight, we’ll take the W,” Bynum said.

But that W — a 113-108 win for the Lakers that may cement them on top of the Pacific Division and as the three seed in the West — is made up of many little things. Little steps of experience and execution that the Lakers have learned as the core of their team has battled for championships, little things the Clippers are still learning. Sometimes the hard way.

“We got to learn how to win these games and close these out,” said Chris Paul, who finished with 22 points and 16 assists. “I think this was a good learning process for us, because this is how the playoffs are. Down the stretch everybody in the gym knows who the ball is going to on both ends of the court and we gotta find ways to manage it, and unfortunately we didn’t tonight.

They didn’t on the dagger shot — a Kobe two that put the Lakers up four with 24.5 seconds left. The Lakers ran a side pick and role with Kobe and Ramon Sessions to try and get a switch. Coach Vinny Del Negro said after the game the Clippers wanted to trap, but they didn’t execute it well. Kobe spun toward the baseline and got to his spot — 20-feet out along the baseline — where he buried the jumper with Randy Foye’s hand in his face. Rule No. 1 for defending Kobe is to keep him out of his favorite spots on the floor. Kobe knew how to get there, the Clippers didn’t know how to stop him. They paid.

The Clippers had won six in a row coming into this based on defense, but they let the Lakers shoot 51.8 percent for the game. Andrew Bynum was a beast inside and scored 36 on just 20 shots, Kobe had 31 on 19 shots.

With the Clippers taking the ball out of the basket so often, they didn’t get a chance to get out and run, the other thing that had fueled their winning streak. While this game was faster at 93 possessions than both teams have averaged this season, it felt like the Lakers controlled the pace.

Now the Lakers control their own destiny. The Lakers are 2.5 games up on the Clippers with 12 to play, and for the Clips 8 of those 12 are on the road. The Lakers now also have won the season series and the tiebreaker with the Clips. The Lakers have a tough schedule left — three against San Antonio plus games against the Mavericks and Thunder — but it’s hard to see the Clippers closing the gap.

The Clippers are getting there. But there is a lesson to learn about defensive execution mattering more than offensive fireworks. An at times painful lesson.

But once they learn it the tables may flip in this cross-town rivalry the Lakers have owned for as long as anyone can remember. For now, the Clippers have the highlights but the Lakers have what they really want.

Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan: “I’m not looking to trade Kemba” but he’ll listen

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Charlotte Hornets are having a disappointing season. Projected by many (myself included) to be a playoff team (with an under/over of 42.5 in Las Vegas), Charlotte is 19-26 and four games out of the playoffs in the East.

That has left Charlotte management with a question: Is it time to trade Kemba Walker, work to tear the team down and rebuild, or do they chase the eight seed? Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Team owner Michael Jordan doesn’t want to trade him, but he’s listening to offers, he told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

“We bred him, we chose him, we groomed him to be a good player for us,” Jordan said of Walker, who the Hornets drafted ninth overall in 2011, to a great extent because Jordan saw traits in Walker that reminded him of his own playing career.

“I’m not looking to trade Kemba, but I would listen to opportunities….

“It’s not like we are shopping him. We would not just give him up. I love Kemba Walker. I would not trade him for anything but an All-Star player.”

Charlotte with Walker is in the same place as the Clippers with DeAndre Jordan — moving him would mean a dramatic shift for the organization going forward, so they are only going to do it with a quality offer in return. It’s going to take some combination of good young players and picks that can jumpstart a rebuild, and in the Hornets case they want to attach one of their bad contracts (such as Marvin Williams).

So far, those offers have not come for either team. The trade market has been tight, in part because a lot of teams are in the playoff hunt (such as the Hornets) and don’t want to move quality players, and in part because teams spent a lot of money in 2016 and are pushing the luxury tax (such as the Hornets) and they can’t take on salary (and with that are finding it hard to move bad contracts).

Come Feb. 9, expect Walker to still be wearing the team uniforms of Charlotte as no deal is found. But also expect Michael Jordan to feel cans for another day.

Watch DeMarcus Cousins’ historic 44/24/10 night

Leave a comment

The last time somebody did this — scored more than 40 points, had more than 20 rebounds, and dished out more than 10 assists in a game — “Poseidon Adventure” was in the theaters and Elton John had just released “Rocket Man.” It was Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

Monday night, DeMarcus Cousins did it.

Cousins scored 44 points, had 24 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

Cousins has had a monster first half of the season and earned his first All-Star Game start this year.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

Getty Images
12 Comments

Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

Getty Images
1 Comment

Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.