Roy Hibbert, Chris Paul

Top 5 guys I want to take final shot in these playoffs

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I’m not a fan of trying to describe who is clutch in the NBA and who isn’t. Because defining clutch is impossible — any measure we put on it will miss the mark. We all kind of subscribe to the Justice Potter Steward “I know it when I see it” definition and even then we can’t agree — some of the guys with the best clutch shooting reputation miss a lot of shots at the end of games.

But this is the playoffs — when the NBA’s best face off against one another. Invariably, the games will come down to a final shot, a final possession. And there are guys you trust taking that shot. There just are. We say we want teams to “just run a play” in that situation, but as Rockets general manager Daryl Morey described recently it’s not that simple — with 8 seconds left if the play doesn’t work you can’t reset, you need a guy who can improvise and create for himself.

So, in the final seconds of a tight playoff game — who do I want taking control of and taking the final shot on my last possession? Here are my top five.

5. Kevin Durant (Thunder). He is one of the game’s great scorers, but he settles too much in the clutch — he’s taken 10 3-pointers (making two) in the final 30 seconds of a game when the Thunder were ahead or behind by two points this season, but he’s gotten to the free-throw line just eight times. He can create his own shot and is one of the great scorers in the game, but the Thunder can get too isolation heavy and the result is he is 7-for-21 in those final 30 seconds of a close game. He needs to attack more.

4. Kobe Bryant (Lakers). He’s on top of most lists, he’s the peoples’ champion. And no doubt he has and can hit big shots. But he misses more than he makes these days — in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Lakers are up or down two points or less, Kobe is 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) this season. But that is a little misleading — he also has gotten to the free-throw line 13 times (knocking down 11), a valuable and underrated skill. Also, he has two advantages. One, he can create his own look and if you send the double-team he can find the open guy (sometimes). Second, he is so, so confident — you want that, although it can lead to bad shots he is sure will fall.

3. Paul Millsap/Al Jefferson (Jazz). OK, it’s cheating to choose two guys, but the Jazz’s front line is a combined 11-of-23 in the final 30 seconds of a game when the Jazz are ahead or behind by two points this season, plus they have gotten to the free-throw line six times and hit all of them. Here is the big kicker — they have six offensive boards this season in that same small time set. With the game on the line, they are the best front line in the NBA and that is something I want in my corner.

2. Derrick Rose (Bulls). You have to send the double-team at him and he may still just make you look bad because he is that quick. He is shooting 5-of-9 in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Bulls are up or down two points this season, and he can get to the line. He doesn’t have any assists, but in the playoffs I don’t think he’d fear a kick-out to Kyle Korver or a dump-off to Carlos Boozer, even if both of those options make Bulls fans groan.

1. Chris Paul (Clippers). There is just nobody I trust to make the right play more — it may be attack and shoot, it may be find the open man, it may be draw the contact. Paul is 7-of-15 shooting and has gotten to the free-throw line 14 times in the final 30 seconds of a game where the Clippers are up or down two points or less. You can’t leave Blake Griffin or D’Andre Jordan alone on the baseline or on the roll after the pick because you know the lob will come if you do, but Paul is crafty and can get his shot or draw you into the foul. And make it all look effortless.

One shot, I want the ball in CP3’s hands.

Byron Scott: D’Angelo Russell acted ‘entitled’

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 1:  Head coach Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers and D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers talk during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 1, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. 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: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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D'Angelo Russell‘s leaked video of Nick Young redeemed Byron Scott.

Of all the silly things Scott said – and continues to say – labeling Russell immature turned out somewhat valid.

But in taking a victory lap on that assessment, the former Lakers coach exposed a huge problem with his player-development and communication skills.

Scott, via The Dan Patrick Show:

Some of these guys, when they come into the league, they think they’re entitled. And I thought that’s how he felt when he first got with us. He almost tried to act like he was a veteran, and I tried to make sure that he knew that he wasn’t a veteran. You have to earn your stripes. So, yeah, there were times where I was a little tough on him just to bring him back down to earth, to let him know that this is not an easy task when you’re in the NBA. That’s the easy part is getting there. The hardest part is staying there, getting better and better and better. So, yeah, I had some tough love for the young man. But just like I told him, “When I stop talking to you, that’s going to be a problem.”

Like the time Scott didn’t talk to Russell about losing his starting job? Or the time Scott didn’t talk to Russell about putting him back into the starting lineup? Or the time Scott didn’t talk to Russell about the Young video?

Report: Lakers want to trade first-round pick, more for Paul George

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The Lakers just don’t want to trade the No. 1 pick if they get it.

They reportedly have a specific target in mind: Paul George.

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

First, the Lakers would have to get a top-three pick. They keep their first-rounder only if it lands in the top three, and there’s just a 56% chance of that. It’d also help to get the No. 1 pick, where the Pacers could choose between Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. There’s a big drop to the prospects available at No. 3, so which pick the Lakers get matters a great deal.

The Lakers might also have to add a valuable young player like D'Angelo Russell or Julius Randle.

And then they’d have to convince Indiana to accept the deal.

While announcing Frank Vogel’s ouster, Pacers president Larry Bird said:

Somebody asked me the question, ‘Do you expect to be in the playoffs?’ And I thought he was kidding. I expect to be in the playoffs and make it through a few rounds and then see how good our players really are. Because the first round is always nice, but you don’t start really getting into the playoffs and know what the playoffs are about until you get to the Eastern Conference finals and the Finals. That’s when the basketball really starts.

Does that sound like someone who’d trade his star veteran for a rookie?

With a top-two pick, the Lakers might have assets commensurate with George’s value, but they’re all assets that will bloom a few years from now. If the Pacers aren’t interested in that timeline, none of this matters.

The Lakers’ plan makes sense – even beyond Jim Buss needing a quick turnaround to keep his job. The Lakers cap space would become much more valuable with a veteran star like George, who’d sway free agents. A patient rebuild makes less sense in Los Angeles than other places.

Getting a star is hard, but the Lakers should try. Succeeding could quickly lead to a second and maybe even third star joining.

They just have to be careful not to dump a valuable draft pick for someone with star status but not star production. George is a true star, but if they can’t get him, who’s Plan B and C and…? At a certain point, it makes sense just to draft someone and build slowly around a young core.

Will Kevin Durant leave Thunder? Other teams reportedly believe decision hinges on Spurs series

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) walks up court during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series as San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) looks on, Saturday, April 30, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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There’s plenty at stake in this Spurs-Thunder series already.

The winner advances to the Western Conference finals – an accomplishment in itself – likely to face the Warriors, who still haven’t gotten Stephen Curry back.

But this second round matchup could also prove instrumental in whether Durant stays in Oklahoma City or bolts – maybe to San Antonio.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

As well as Durant and his close-knit tandem of representatives, Rich Kleiman and Charlie Bell, have done in terms of keeping their intentions mysterious, there is a working assumption among KD’s would-be suitors that a second-round Thunder exit essentially cinches the notion that he’ll indeed walk away and look for the best external situation that positions him to win that elusive first championship.

The theory (stress: theory) also holds that OKC success in this round against the 67-win Spurs would be enough, no matter what happens in a presumed Western Conference finals showdown with the Warriors, to convince Durant, at the very least, to sign a new two-year deal with Oklahoma City ‎that contains a player option for Year 2.

Durant has already denied a report he’ll leave the Thunder if they don’t reach the NBA Finals. It’s never that cut and dry for a free agent.

But the Thunder’s success is works in their favor, and seeing that come undone right in front of his eyes could push Durant out of Oklahoma City. Likewise, seeing the Thunder win could convince Durant of his current team’s potential.

I don’t know whether Durant will re-sign if the Thunder advance and leave if they don’t. But if I’m Oklahoma City or San Antonio, I’d sure want to win to tip the odds toward my favor.

Four Things to Watch in Playoffs Friday: Can LaMarcus Aldridge get some scoring help

San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) runs up court during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Associated Press
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Kentucky Derby pick? I’ll take Outwork, I think the lack of early speed in this race will favor the frontrunners, who will hold off the Nyquist led charge. Oh, and here is some basketball stuff for Friday night.

1) LaMarcus Aldridge will get his, what about the rest of the Spurs? Oklahoma City’s defensive strategy in Game 2 started with more aggressive, more disruptive pick-and-roll coverage (the Thunder effort was much better than Game 1).  The Spurs responded by getting the ball to LaMarcus Aldridge, both in the post and on the pop, and it worked to the tune of 41 points for the All-Star forward.

Oklahoma City can live with that. In leaning so heavily on Aldridge in an isolation set the Spurs ball movement went away, the spacing got off, and the Spurs weren’t getting the same open looks by making the extra pass. San Antonio played isolation basketball too often, not just with Aldridge. The Thunder would be happy with a repeat of that offensive outing, but Gregg Popovich was clearly, understandably less thrilled with the outcome. Expect a more balanced Spurs offense — if Aldridge is north of 35 points again Friday it’s not necessarily a good sign for them.

2) Oklahoma City needs to keep running — and take care of the ball this time. Game 2 was played at a faster pace than Game 1 — San Antonio’s early missed shots (2-of-15 to start the game) let the Thunder show off their superior athleticism in the open court. It happened a few times throughout the game, leading to Thunder scoring runs, and the Spurs would be back to digging out of a hole. The Thunder need to replicate that pace on Friday night — and turn the ball over less while doing so. OKC had 18 turnovers in Game 2 (18.5 percent of their possessions) and if they make those kinds of mistakes again the Spurs will make them pay for it.

3) Expect a better defensive effort from Atlanta. Clearly there was a snowball rolling down a mountain effect in Game 2, where the Cavaliers confidence grew as the three balls started to fall and pretty soon the momentum was nearly unstoppable. But there also was a lot of indifference from Hawk defenders about the arc in that game — rather than whine about all the threes the Cavs took after the game, go out there and stop them from shooting them. The Cavaliers are not likely to be that hot shooting from deep again, but also expect a much better defensive effort from the Hawks — they should be embarrassed and now will be in front of their home fans.

4) Can Al Horford and Paul Millsap get going at home? Millsap is 10-of-27 from two-point range through two games in this series (but hitting 40 percent of his threes). Horford is 7-of-20 from two and 5-of-16 from three. The Cavaliers have had those two struggling in the paint and daring them to beat them with jumpers, especially long twos. Millsap and Horford need to knock down these jumpers or the Hawks stand zero chance of a comeback this series.

Beyond those two, this applies to all the Hawks starters — they have been crushed by the Cavs starting five this series. The Hawks need for that to change back home.