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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.