Kobe Bryant, Steve Blake, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol

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.

Phil Jackson says his goal for Knicks last season was 35 wins

New York Knicks president Phil Jackson speaks to reporters during a news conference in Greenburgh, N.Y., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Derek Fisher was fired as New York Knicks coach Monday, with his team having lost five straight and nine of 10 to fall well back in the Eastern Conference playoff race. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Phil Jackson predicted the playoffs for the Knicks in 2014-15, and he’s again drumming up postseason buzz for 2016-17.

Between, he was much more cautious.

The Knicks president didn’t make any bold proclamations entering last season. But, somewhat after the fact, he revealed his goal for the team.

Jackson in a March interview with Charley Rosen of Today’s Fastbreak that was published this month:

I’m also still hopeful that we can win the 35 games I had said was our goal before the season. That would be a vast improvement. More than twice the number that we won last year. We need to go 7-5 to get there.

“I know the guys don’t care about winning 35. They’re not marking it as their own goal. They just feel better about winning.

That’s a pretty pathetic aspiration – and the Knicks still didn’t meet it. They finished 32-50.

Jackson can say the players didn’t care about 35 wins, and they probably didn’t. It’s hard to see Carmelo Anthony appreciating aiming so low (though he might not resent it enough, which is anther issue).

But part of Jackson’s job is setting a tone for the organization. If he’s shooting for merely nearing mediocrity, that trickles down.

Jackson said entering the season he changed the Knicks’ culture. I’m not nearly as convinced.

51Q: Will returning home to Atlanta rejuvenate Dwight Howard?

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets waits on the court before the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Toyota Center on November 27, 2013 in Houston, Texas. 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.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Will returning home to Atlanta rejuvenate Dwight Howard?

It’s hard to remember an NBA star whose perception has changed as much in five years as Dwight Howard’s has. He hasn’t really helped matters — his messy exits from the Magic and Lakers, as well as his rumored feud with James Harden in Houston and declining production due to injuries have clearly lowered his standing. It’s easy to forget that five years ago, he was a three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, legitimate MVP candidate and had recently been the best player on a team that went to the Finals.

As insane as it is to think about, the three-year deal Howard signed with his hometown Atlanta Hawks this summer is something of a reclamation project for a once-perennial All-NBA player. And the Hawks may be the perfect situation for him to rehabilitate his career.

From a pure talent standpoint, Howard in 2016 is a downgrade from Al Horford, who left Atlanta for Boston in free agency. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer’s system is predicated on spacing, and Howard offensively is useless from outside five feet. But he does undeniably fill holes. Last season, the Hawks were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, with the third-lowest rebound rate, per NBA.com. Rebounding is one of the things that Howard can still do consistently at an elite level.

Howard also brings enormous value as a pick-and-roll finisher, when he wants to accept that role. In Los Angeles and Houston, he was still under the impression that his best use was as a post-up big, likely in large part due to Shaquille O’Neal’s nonstop criticisms of his game on Inside the NBA.

If Howard is willing to play the pick-and-roll and doesn’t demand touches, he can still be an impact player in Atlanta. The hope would be that after leaving three teams on bad terms, Howard accepts that at this point in his career, he isn’t a first option on offense anymore, and he’s willing to play a role similar to what Tyson Chandler was on the Mavericks’ 2011 title team: a rebounder and rim protector who feasts offensively on putback dunks and scores in the pick and roll.

If Howard can do that, the Hawks have enough talent to stay in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference despite losing Horford. They have other question marks on their roster — they still haven’t found a full-time replacement for DeMarre Carroll, and the transition from the just-traded Jeff Teague to Dennis Schroder is going to be rocky.

But they have the pieces, the coach and the culture for Howard to be successful in Atlanta if he wants to be.

Little kid in silly green hat eliminates Avery Bradley in knockout (video)

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, left, gestures as Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) steps on the court in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacrament Kings, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Boston. The Celtics won 128-119. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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Tired of NBA players dominating kids during the summer?

Here’s the video for you.

Celtics guard Avery Bradley loses in knockout – thanks to the smallest kid in the clip, who’s wearing a shirt way to big for him and a silly green hat.

Brian Robb of Celtics Hub:

Children in NBA player camps everywhere, you have been avenged.

Marc Gasol says he nearly played in Olympics, his foot seems fine

MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 24:  Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies celebrates against the Oklahoma City Thunder during  Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 24, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee. 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.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Marc Gasol missed the final two months of last season and Olympics with a foot injury.

When will the Grizzlies center return?

Gasol in L’Esportiu, as translated by Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype:

On his foot injury:

“I’m really well and looking forward to starting (the season). I miss the competition, playing and enjoying basketball. All indications are that the foot is fine. I’ve practiced with the (Girona basketball club) juniors all I could, especially half-court sets.”

On almost making it to the Olympic Games:

“I was a couple of weeks away.”

After hurting his foot, it always seemed highly improbably Gasol would play in the Rio Games. But maybe he wasn’t that far off.

It’d be a huge boost to Memphis if Gasol is healthy as he sounds. The Grizzlies kept their window for winning open by re-signing Mike Conley and signing Chandler Parsons this summer, but Gasol is central to that. If healthy, Gasol is in the running for the NBA’s best center.  Memphis went 30-22 with him and 12-18 without him last season (though other injuries contributed to the downfall).