PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

Clippers get the highlights, Lakers take win and likely division

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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.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

Master P says Pelicans should hire him as assistant coach: ‘I’m serious’

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Did you know Master P had two NBA contracts?

Percy Miller was with the Hornets before the 1999 season and the Raptors before the 1999-00 season. But he was cut in the preseason both times.

These were mostly publicity stunts. Still, the rapper could actually play a bit. NBA quality? He long insisted yes, though his music career provided a convenient and lucrative excuse for sidetracking his basketball ambitions.

Yet, now, the New Orleans native says he wants back in the NBA with the Pelicans — in a different role.

Master P, via TMZ:

I think they need me to be an assistant coach.

I’m serious about coaching.

I don’t think he’s actually serious.

But if he is, would it be a good idea? Probably not. The Pelicans have real issues integrating Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and they need devoted coaches, not passing entertainers, to solve this.

Would it be fun? Heck yeah.

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