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.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.

Did Russell Westbrook really block a teammates shot to get ball back during Game 5?

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Well, this video plays right into the hands of the anti-Westbrook crowd.

The knock on Russell Westbrook‘s season-long triple double and MVP candidacy is that he is chasing stats, padding his numbers at the expense of efficiency and making the Thunder a better team. Basically, he’s looking out for himself and to heck with his teammates.

Which leads to this fourth-quarter video from Game 5.

It sure looks like Westbrook blocks Jerami Grant‘s shot to get the rebound (we only have the one camera angle here).

I would argue that this was just Westbrook being uber aggressive — the only way he ever plays — and he was going hard for the rebound and not noticing it was his teammate about to get the ball. Westbrook just wants the ball and gets it. But he also wants to win and would not have taken the ball out of Grant’s hands had he seen who it was in time to react.

Game 5 — where the Rockets eliminated the Thunder — was a microcosm of the Westbrook debate. Westbrook finished with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City was +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but was -18 in the 6:07 he sat. You can read whatever you want into those numbers.

Much like the video above.

Former Pacers’ star Danny Granger on Paul George: “you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana”

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There was a time when Paul George was an up-and-coming but raw young player on an Indiana team led by Danny Granger. It was when Granger went down injured that George was thrust into a larger role, where he thrived in the trial by fire.

Granger knows what it’s like to be the star player of the Pacers, and he knows George, so on Bill Reiter asked Granger his thoughts during an episode of CBS’ “Reiter Than You” and Granger’s answer was not what Pacers fans wanted to hear.

“You look at him in that press conference (after losing to Cleveland) and his face and the dejection on it – the guy wants to win. Money don’t make everybody happy, but winning and success and your craft, that does fill a void that a lot of these players have. So you can’t fault him if he leaves Indiana, I’ll tell you that.”

Oh, Pacers fans will fault him. Even if he’s traded.

Pacers’ decision maker Larry Bird isn’t going to do anything until he sees if George makes an All-NBA Team, because if he does Indiana can offer him the new “designated player” contract this summer worth around $80 million more guaranteed than any other team can offer. George will not walk away from that.

However, if, as expected, George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Bird is going to have to revisit the idea of trading George, who can be a free agent in 2018 — and the sense around the league is he will walk away at that point if the Pacers are not contenders. (There are a lot of Lakers’ rumors there, but whether George would leave a team where he is dragging lesser players to a low playoff seed and a first-round exit in Indiana for the same situation in his old hometown is up for debate.)

Bird isn’t going to deal George for pennies on the dollar at this point — think the Kings’ trading DeMarcus Cousins — but if some team comes through with a legitimate quality offer of young players that can help jump start the rebuild in Indiana, he may have to jump at it.

Either way, Granger is right that you can’t blame George for wanting to move on, but plenty of fans will anyway.

Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley keep trading insults in postgame press conferences

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Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley were having their war of words during Tuesday night’s close-out game that ended the Thunder season, and they both picked up technical fouls for it.

The two continued that postgame speaking to the media.

Westbrook was up first, and he was asked what happened between him and Beverley (see the video above).

“He was talking about he was first team all-defense, but I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about because I had 42 at the time, I don’t know, maybe he was dreaming or some s—.”

You know the media was going to ask Beverley about that.

“He said no can guard me I’ve got 40 points, I’m like, that’s nice but you took 34 shots to get it.”

So, no Christmas card exchange for those two.

For the record, Westbrook finished the game with 47 points on 15-of-34 shooting, but he was 2-of-11 in the fourth quarter as he started to wear down. The Thunder were +12 in the 41:52 that Westbrook played, but were -18 in the 6:07 he sat to get rest. The game was almost a Rorschach test for what you think of Westbrook on the season — he wasn’t terribly efficient, but he carried OKC as far as he could, that just wasn’t as far as James Harden could take a superior Rockets’ team. If you were in the Harden (or Kawhi Leonard) for MVP camp, you can point to the inefficiency and the end result. If you’re team Westbrook you can point to the raw numbers and what happened in the limited time he sat.

Also, Beverley is going to make an NBA All-Defensive team. If he doesn’t make the first team, that’s more about the time he missed due to injury (and a good field of guards who can defend) than his play.

Beverley has the advantage now of being able to turn his attention to how to defend Tony Parker (or maybe Mike Conley), as the Rockets are advancing to the next round.