With Kobe out, Suns hand Lakers worst loss of the season

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Kobe Bryant was a late scratch on Saturday in Phoenix, but his absence wasn’t the reason for the Lakers’ 125-105 loss to the Suns, the team’s worst of the season. It was the defense, or more specifically, the lack thereof that enabled Phoenix to set season highs in total points (125) and points in a single quarter (38 in the second), as well as a franchise record for fewest turnovers (3).

The 20-point defeat is the largest for the Lakers this season, surpassing the 15-point loss the team experienced at the hands of the Thunder back on Feb. 23 in Oklahoma City.

“Whether Kobe’s here or not, we shoot 49 percent and score 105 points … Throughout most of the year if you tell me we can get to 105 points in a game at that percentage, hey — we win,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown noted afterward. “I’m going to Vegas and betting on that one.”

What Brown wouldn’t have bet on was a 17-point second quarter from Michael Redd that propelled the Suns from down eight to up five at the half, and a 20-point third quarter explosion from former Lakers guard Shannon Brown that had Phoenix up by 16 after three, and effectively put the game out of reach.

“It felt good, just knowing that I could get the chance to help the team win,” Shannon said. “Nothing for my personal self, just helping the team win. Everything I threw up just felt like it was going to go in.”

And wasn’t the performance even more special, considering it came against the team he used to play for?

“Yeah, of course,” Brown said. “You always want to play well against the team that traded you or let you go, or however you want to put it. I can play this game.”

On the offensive end, things weren’t terrible for L.A. With Bryant’s 30 or so shots unaccounted for, the Lakers bigs had plenty of chances, and combined for 52 field goal attempts, with Pau Gasol being more efficient than Andrew Bynum in finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds to Bynum’s 23 and 18, while taking two fewer shots.

But when you let Redd and Brown go crazy in consecutive quarters on the road, you’re really not giving yourself much of a chance. Mike Brown recognizes this, and knows the Lakers are in trouble in the postseason if they don’t find a way to get things straightened out.

“Our problems are defensive,” he said. “Sometimes it has carryover because we will turn the ball over with unforced turnovers, which lead to easy buckets for the other team, and they get excited, they get energized, and next thing you know, they go on a run because of the unforced turnovers that we give up.

“We have some problems that we’ve got to hopefully correct that we’ve been doing a decent job of hiding, and now with eight, nine games to go, hopefully we can get it done. We’ve got to play better defense than this or than what we’re playing, in order to be able to make a run.”

While the Lakers are talking about a run in the postseason to the Finals, the Suns are just trying to get into the playoffs to give themselves that chance. A slow start to the season when they suffered losses at home to some of the league’s bottom feeders in New Jersey, Cleveland, Toronto, and Golden State leaves them frantically fighting for the eighth and final spot in the West, and the loss in Denver on Friday night certainly didn’t help that cause.

The Nuggets, however, gave that one right back to the Suns on Saturday, losing on the road to the Warriors. Phoenix seized the opportunity and did its part by beating up on the Kobe-less — and ultimately, defenseless — Los Angeles Lakers.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant ejected at end of loss to Grizzlies

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Stephen Curry is going to get fined for this.

The former MVP was frustrated, his team losing and thinking he was fouled by Mike Conley as he attacked the rim late in the Warriors loss in Memphis Saturday night. Curry threw his mouthpiece at the referee, which deservedly got him ejected instantly.

Durant followed him to the locker room, making a gesture that will earn him a fine as well.

The Warriors are 1-2 to start the season and there are a lot of factors at play. The China trip does this to teams, and throw in three straight trips to the Finals on top of it and it has an impact. The team is a little banged up. However, the biggest issue is their defense is a mess right now.

The Warriors will straighten it out eventually, but the start of the season could be a rough one for them.

Pacers owner says team not for sale, will not be moved from Indianapolis

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There are more than a few NBA owners who are seeing the prices teams are being sold for — the Rockets just sold for a record $2.2 billion — and considering their options. Some other billionaires are looking for teams, several with the goal of packing up the franchise and moving it to their respected hometowns.

Those billionaires need not call Herb Simon. The Pacers owner said the team is not going anywhere, speaking to Gregg Doyel of the IndyStar.

“I want to leave my legacy: This team permanently in Indianapolis,” Simon told IndyStar Friday in an interview at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “That’s my No. 1 goal.”

Simon bought the Pacers in 1983 with his older brother, Melvin — who died in 2009 at age 82. He told IndyStar the team someday will be owned by his 53-year-old son, Steve. Behind the scenes, Steve Simon has been working closely with Pacers Sports and President Rick Fuson for five years — “He knows more about the dollars and cents than I do,” Herb said of his son — and met this week with several department heads.

“If anything happens to me, he’d be taking over,” Herb said, adding that father and son are on the same page: The Pacers are staying in Indianapolis.

Good. That is as it should be.

Indiana is part of America’s basketball heartland, and it should have a team. Pacers fans are smart and loyal, and the team has a long history going back to the ABA, running from Mel Daniels and George McGinnis through Reggie Miller and up to Myles Turner (hopefully he can be on the level of the rest of them someday). They play in the coolest basketball building in the league, one with the history of the sport wolven in.

Indy is the nation’s 27th largest television market, bigger than San Antonio, Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and other successful NBA franchises. There is no reason the Pacers cannot thrive, so long as ownership is committed.

They are. Which is excellent news for Pacers’ fans.

Stan Van Gundy speaks out again in support of protesting athletes

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy used his team’s trip to Washington to again voice his support for athletes who kneel during the national anthem and his opposition to President Donald Trump.

Van Gundy was asked before Friday night’s game against the Wizards what he hoped would result from the president’s criticism of NFL players who refuse to stand for the anthem and the resulting national dialogue about political activism by professional athletes.

“I don’t know what good can come out of anything the president has said,” Van Gundy said. “As far as the athletes’ protest, I hope people would pay attention to the issues that caused the protest in the first place and realize that we have problem disproportionately with police brutality towards men of color.”

Van Gundy also criticized fans who have booed those athletes because they believe the gesture is disrespectful to the United States military.

“I thought that one of the things the military is fighting for is the American way of life and our values, which I think starts with freedom of speech,” Van Gundy said. “Our country was founded on protest. Otherwise, we would still be a colony of England. You would think people would appreciate non-violent protests that will be made.

“If you don’t stand for freedom of speech and you don’t think those players have the right to freedom of speech, what American values are you for?”

It was not the first time Van Gundy has spoken out on these issues. When Trump was elected last November, Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press it was the first time he had been “ashamed” of his country.

Last month on the team’s media day, he read a prepared statement in support of athletes who use their visibility for political purposes, including protests during the anthem. The NBA has a policy requiring that players stand for the anthem.

The Pistons’ visit to Washington was their first since Jan. 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Cavaliers’ Derrick Rose out Saturday with sprained left ankle

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers point guard Derrick Rose was held out of Saturday night’s game against the Orlando Magic because of a sprained left ankle.

Rose twisted his ankle after being fouled by Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter on Friday. Monroe grabbed Rose by his neck and pulled him to the floor.

Rose landed awkwardly, but stayed in the game to shoot two free throws before going to the bench. The play was originally called a common foul but was upgraded to a flagrant 1 Saturday by the NBA.

Jose Calderon started at point guard Saturday for the Cavaliers, who have won their first two games.

Rose signed a one-year contract with Cleveland in July. He became the team’s starter when Kyrie Irving was traded to Boston. Rose was named the league’s MVP in 2011 while with the Chicago Bulls, but has battled injuries since.