Anatomy of a meltdown — it wasn’t Steve Blake, Lakers blew game before that

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The Lakers were up 7 points with 2 minutes to go. And lost.

And by lost, I mean lost any real chance at the series. Do you really think the Lakers can win four of the next five games? The Thunder are the better team, the Lakers could not afford to give away a game, they could not afford any mental lapses.

But “mental lapse” pretty much defines the Lakers final two minutes. However, one of those mistakes was not Metta World Peace’s pass to Steve Blake for an open three with the game on the line. That was smart basketball. The mistakes were a whole host of decisions in the minutes before that — including a number of poor choices by Kobe Bryant. That final play itself was a desperation play design with 5.9 seconds left which would not have led to a better shot than the one Blake took.

It was a lot of bad choices. Andrew Bynum summed it up best, via Lakers reporter Mike Trudell.

“Man that was crazy. We’re better than Santa Claus, we like giving out gifts. We give out games, contracts and rings.”

This used to be how the Lakers would win games — staging improbable comebacks with a combination of luck, brains and good shot making. Now that’s the Thunder.

Lakers fans and media seem to be focusing on the final play, when down 1 with 5.7 seconds left Blake took an open corner three rather than the team forcing the ball to Kobe with a pass over the top of an athletic defense.

But that’s not where they lost it. That’s just where they didn’t hang on.

The Lakers lost it when they shot 25 percent in the fourth quarter overall and scored just 12 points. They lost it by straying from going to Bynum in the last couple minutes. The Lakers lost it with turnovers. They lost it with bad shots. The Lakers lost it in the minutes leading up to Blake’s shot, not on the shot itself.

Fans saying Kobe didn’t get the chance to make the heroic final shot miss the point that the Lakers would not have needed to if Kobe had played better in the couple minutes prior to that. Kobe made one terrible pass for a turnover to Durant that led to a dunk. He had another pass — a poorly timed one by Blake — go off his hands. Kobe rushed and airballed a three pointer with six seconds left on the shot clock after a play became scrambled, when he had time to get a better look.

Then there was the Lakers and Kobe’s biggest strategic mistake. Kevin Durant hit what would be the game winner with 18.6 seconds left on the clock. The Lakers called a timeout and what should have been discussed in that huddle was that the Thunder had a foul to give.

Instead, the Lakers came out and (after another timeout) threw the ball to Kobe who dribbled it out and made his isolation move with 7 seconds left and then got fouled by Thabo Sefolosha, stopping the clock with 5.7.

Kobe had to go earlier. Draw that foul earlier. Or, get a better shot earlier with the ball in his hands. It is a simple truth — you would rather have the lead and defend a last second shot than have to make one against pressure defense. The Lakers had Kobe dribbling the ball out for nearly 11 seconds rather than using that time for a play that could have gotten them a better look. So what if they had to defend a Durant hero ball shot after that? It’s always better to have the lead. It’s always better to have to defend a last shot.

So let’s talk about that final play — the Lakers have run it before and it’s not pretty. (Follow that link to see it fail against New Orleans.) The play has Kobe coming off a flare screen and going to the corner of the court opposite where Metta World Peace was inbounding to catch a risky pass over the top of the defense. Mike Brown said after the game Kobe was open, but he was not yet. That pass would have been dangerous at best.

Even when it goes well this play calls for a 30-foot pass over the top of an athletic defense so that Kobe can take a 20+ foot shot fading away from the basket. That’s the play that’s going to win you a game?

The look that Blake got was a good one — an open shot with his feet set that is better than some 25-foot off-balance Kobe leaner. Yes, Blake was cold, but Kobe wasn’t exactly hot in the final minutes. Blake has to take that, and we can’t blame World Peace for making that pass, he made the right basketball play. The shot just didn’t fall.

We can discuss how there seemed to be no thought to getting either of the Lakers good passing 7-footers the ball in that spot. But the final shot was a good look.

The Lakers came in to Thursday night with a better defensive plan, they ground down the pace, they hedged on Durant’s curls and forced the issue with both him and Russell Westbrook. The Thunders stars and scoring machines were passing a lot. Mike Brown made some good moves.

But he can’t escape some blame for those final minutes. Neither can Kobe. Neither can any of the Lakers players. This was a team loss in the final two minutes.

Those minutes cost them any real shot at the series.

Rockets’ Eric Gordon wins NBA Sixth Man of the Year

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Eric Gordon could never quite get fully healthy or find his place in New Orleans.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey saw the potential for how he would fit in as a shooter in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, and he signed him to a multi-year deal.

It worked. Gordon averaged 16.2 points per game coming off the bench, and shot 37.2 percent from three — full healthy he is part of what made the James-Harden-as-point-guard experiment work.

Monday night, Gordon was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year.

“We just had an unbelievable year here with the Rockets,” Gordon said in his acceptance speech at the NBA Awards Ceremony. “I want to thank (owner) Leslie Alexander of the Rockets for just believing in me. I’d also like to thank my teammates and coaches for making my job easy this year.”

Gordon beat out Rockets teammate Lou Williams (who spent much of the season racking up buckets with the Lakers in a bench role) and Andre Iguodala, who didn’t have the offensive numbers but certainly was at the heart of key Warriors lineups, plus he has a ring for his effort.

Just a reminder, Eric Gordon is locked in through 2019-20 with the Rockets on a very reasonable contract. He could pick up another one or two of these in the coming years.

Malcolm Brogdon wins 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year Award (VIDEO)

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Move over, Joel Embiid. Malcolm Brogdon is your 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year.

The Milwaukee Bucks rookie took home the award beating out other big-name contenders like Embiid and Dario Saric, both of the Philadelphia 76ers. Brogdon took home 64 first place votes, with Embiid grabbing 23 and Saric with 13. Brogdon totaled 414 points, beating Saric’s 266.

The win for Brogdon makes it a historic night for Bucks fans. Milwaukee didn’t take him until the 36th in the second round, making Brogdon the first player to win ROY after being drafted outside of the first round in 60 years.

Brogdon averaged 10.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.8 rebounds rebounds per game while shooting 40.4 percent from 3-point range.

Speaking to the crowd on stage after accepting his award, Brogdon said,”This is a testament to guys that are underestimated, guys that are second round picks, guys that are undrafted every year.”

Brogdon beat out both Sixers rookies, likely because of his impact over the course of the season for Milwaukee and because Embiid did not play the full season.

It is an impressive feat for any player, so a big congratulations to Brogdon to Bucks fans.

Draymond Green’s suit at the 2017 NBA Awards was really something (PHOTO)

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Is Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green fashion-forward? I’m not so sure.

He was certainly be a lot cooler than his contemporaries, given that he went with an interesting choice for his suit at the 2017 NBA Awards on Monday.

Specifically, Green showed up wearing shorts.

Yup, the dream that you have all summer long at your office job — shorts instead of slacks when it’s 90 degrees out — is what Green decided to go with.

Via Twitter:

Although his suit jacket makes him look like the maître d’ at a Seattle Mariners-themed restaurant, I have no doubt that he was much more comfortable than his buddies.

Those shoes gotta go though.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.