Lakers look to find their old selves, avoid Game 5 elimination by Thunder

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Two years ago, when they won the title in 2010, the Lakers were the team that came back and won games like the one they lost Saturday. Back then it was the Lakers closing on a 25-7 run and getting the defensive stops. It was Kobe Bryant hitting the big shots. It was their opponents buckling under pressure and making bad passes or taking bad shots. Meanwhile Lakers role players stepped up and made plays.

Now, the script is flipped. The Thunder are the better team and in this series they have been the more poised at the end of games. The Thunder athletes are “gambling” according to the Lakers, but when it works we call that “making plays.” The Lakers were not. In Game 4 Kobe was 2-10 in the fourth quarter and took the offense out of rhythm too much, Pau Gasol made a horrific pass and the Lakers never adjusted to Andrew Bynum being fronted in the post.

The Lakers seem to be eroding, much as we saw against Dallas last year when the Lakers were swept out of the second round of the playoffs. Chemistry issues between Kobe and Pau Gasol are flaring up. Based on history, you expect that if the Thunder can get up by about 10 at some point in Game 5 they can run away with it.

Still, the Lakers could win Game 5. This series has been close. They know the formula — slow down the game and don’t let the Thunder get easy transition points. Los Angeles needs to not let Westbrook penetrate off the pick-and-roll and force the Thunder to their second options. Help on Kevin Durant but be smart about it.

And the Lakers need to use Gasol wisely on offense. Mike Brown has not really handled him well all season. As Andrew Bynum emerged and thanks to the Lakers lack of outside shooting Gasol became a floor-spacing facilitator not a guy who got his numbered called. Bynum got the rock on the block, Kobe just took touches wherever he wanted, and Gasol was left to fend for himself. Which never really works as he is passive in that situation by nature.

The Lakers need to run sets for him, get him going early, force the Thunder to adjust then take advantage of the mismatches. Gasol and Bynum need to own the glass. They need to be big forces on defense.

But after the last two series, do you really see the Lakers doing that for 48 minutes on the road? Exactly.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.