Bynum’s triple-double, NBA playoff record 10 blocked shots lead Lakers to Game 1 rout of Nuggets

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Before the Lakers opened the playoffs at home against the Nuggets on Sunday, George Karl was asked at the beginning of his press conference if he thought his team had a chance. He responded by saying, “The first question and the arrogance of L.A. comes forth,” which was followed by laughs all around.

It turned out to be a legitimate question.

Denver looked completely over-matched in Game 1, and thanks to a triple-double effort of 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots from Andrew Bynum, the Lakers cruised to a 103-88 victory that was truly never in doubt.

If Bynum brings anywhere close to the focus and intensity he did in this one on the defensive end of the floor, the result of the series won’t be in doubt, either.

Denver’s strength offensively had been using Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo to get into the paint and create open looks for themselves and for their teammates. The Nuggets have also thrived in fast-paced games, and excel when you allow them to get out in transition. Because of Bynum’s presence in the paint — along with strong efforts from Pau Gasol and reserve Jordan Hill on the glass — there was none of that on Sunday.

Denver’s starting guards each finished 3-of-11 from the field, and were complete non-factors.

“To me, the difference in this game was Andrew Bynum,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown said afterward. “He could control a game without shooting a single shot if he wanted to. He could literally control the game without shooting a shot — that’s how good he is.

“He brought some added juice to the table to where his impact on the game was monstrous. He was an absolute beast down there.”

Bynum was a problem for the Nuggets to deal with on seemingly every possession. His 10 blocked shots tied an NBA playoff record shared by Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton, and set a new Lakers playoff record that had been previously held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The triple-double was the first for the Lakers in a playoff game since Magic Johnson’s in the 1991 NBA Finals.

“On defense, it’s about heart,” Bynum said afterward. “You can stop anybody if you really move your feet, and really get down, but a lot of players don’t want to do it on a consistent basis; they only want to do it when they have to. But tonight I felt like we were up on the pick and roll, and the guards were having a hard time coming off of it. And offensively, we took a lot of shots that were in the paint, and when we do that it’s harder for teams to run, especially with (Pau Gasol) and (Jordan Hill) offensive rebounding.”

On the offensive end, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 31 points, but 12 of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was already well in hand. Devin Ebanks (starting in place of the suspended Metta World Peace) and Steve Blake were the ones that got L.A. going early, thanks mainly to Denver’s strategy of doubling the Lakers’ bigs hard in the post whenever they touched the ball.

The Lakers spaced the floor, moved the ball, and the seldom-used Ebanks and the up-and-down Blake made them pay seemingly every single time.

“We know Denver is doubling, and they’re going to double from all over the place, and they’re doubling quick, and they’re going to double hard,” Brown said. “We have to make sure that we space the floor very well and we move the ball at the right time without turning it over, making the easy pass to the open guy and let them make the assist versus the double team because we know it’s coming on a lot of our guys — from (Pau Gasol), to Andrew, to Kobe.”

Counting on role-players to consistently knock down shots might not be the best long-term strategy — especially on the road, and certainly against some higher-quality opponents later in the postseason. But defense is something you can build a foundation upon, and in Game 1, Bynum was the cornerstone of that effort.

“He was phenomenal tonight, and if he continues to play like he did, picking up the triple-double, being the kind of monster he was tonight patrolling that paint, we’ll be playing a long time,” Brown said.

“It’s not pressure, it’s just the truth,” Bynum said, when told his coach said that if he played like he did today that the Lakers would be in for a long playoff run. “If I come out and play defense, this team is a lot better. … I think today was a good showing that we’re a versatile team and we’re a deep team.”

Bryant summed up the Lakers’ long-term prospects more succinctly.

“We’re a championship-caliber team,” he said.

It’s one game, of course, and Denver will make adjustments as the series goes along. But there is no answer for what Andrew Bynum did defensively on Sunday, and if anywhere near that type of effort is delivered by the Lakers’ center on a consistent basis in these playoffs, the Nuggets won’t be the only team left wondering if they even have a chance.

Russell Westbrook triple-double keys OKC in 3OT thriller vs 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and Oklahoma City and the Philadelphia 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before the Thunder pulled out a 119-117 victory on Friday night.

Andre Roberson scored the winner with 10 seconds left for the Thunder. But one of the early contenders for NBA game of the year belonged to Joel Embiid and Westbrook as they drove, blocked and rebounded their way toward one big play after another.

Embiid scored 34 points in 48 minutes with an achy back and rallied the Sixers from a 17-point hole.

Embiid, Philly’s franchise center and social media star, grabbed his lower back when he took a hard foul on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. Embiid grimaced during timeouts on the bench and trudged into position a few times.

Embiid sucked it up and carried the Sixers in the fourth and the first overtime. His feed to a charging Ben Simmons on the baseline for a two-handed dunk tied the score at 94-all with 53 seconds left in the quarter. The Sixers closed the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Embiid scored the first bucket of OT and the Sixers led for the first time in the game. The Sixers’ five-point lead with 1:20 left in overtime was wiped out on Paul George‘s 3-pointer and a Westbrook bucket that made it 102-all. The Sixers blew their final possession on an ill-conceived 3 for Dario Saric.

Round 2 was just as fun.

Westbrook and Robert Covington exchanged 3s and George tied it at 109 on a driving layup. Westbrook and Embiid swapped buckets that kept it even and the Sixers had one more chance to win it with 1.2 seconds to go in the second OT.

Embiid and Westbrook combined to score eight straight points in the third overtime, and Embiid even waved goodbye as the crowd went wild when Steve Adams fouled out of the game.

But Embiid seemed gassed at the end and there’s no telling how the heavy workload may affect his availability the rest of the week.

The Sixers were featured on ESPN on Friday as part of Philadelphia All Access, and Sixers’ related content was aired throughout the day on all platforms.

“I’m not a fan,” coach Brett Brown said. “I like living behind closed doors.”

But Brown understood the exposure would help build the brand and serve as a recruiting pitch of sorts to any free agents intrigued about becoming part of The Process. The Sixers put on a show in the fourth until Embiid gave them a scare.

Embiid’s health woes have dogged him since his college career at Kansas and every slip, ache or bump throws Sixers fans into a panic. Embiid has been banged-up lately but he calmly went to the line and made both free throws. He fell again when he tripped over Adams, who earned a foul, and sank two more free throws to make it 78-72.

 

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.