The Inbounds: Nash, Howard, and an impossible sword

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Last year, on a team where Marcin Gortat was the second-best player on the team and the rest of the roster was at best inconsistent and at worst a hot mess, Steve Nash’s passes out of the pick and roll lead to scoring 59.5% of the time, which was best among players with 100 possessions, according to Synergy Sports. So he was literally the best pick and roll passer in the leauge.

Last year, on a team where Jameer Nelson had injury issues, the entire team has chemistry problems related to the ongoing drama, and the offense was primarily geared around perimeter shooters (oh, and he was injured), Dwight Howard scored as the pick and roll man 73.7% of the time, which was best in the league.

So they have literally paired the best pick and roll passing guard with the best pick and roll finisher in the league.

Ready for some more crack analysis?

As a result, the Lakers are going to be pretty good.

The Nash-Howard dynamic on the floor is the most dangerous element the Lakers will have in play. Kobe Bryant is still an elite scorer. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will have a fantastic mastery of the pick and pop set. But Nash-Howard, long before the Lakers entered the picture, was the perfect combination. A point guard who can deliver the ball to any point on the floor combined with the most athletic big man with excellent feel for the pick and roll spacing. If you cover the roll, Nash shoots, and he shoots 55 percent from that situation. Bring help and either Gasol has a mid-range jumper or Bryant is open on the cut or catch. It’s the BFG of offense.

And it’s indicative of the real reason this team will be so dangerous. It fits together better than any superteam in recent memory.

The stellar combinations of talent that have accumulated over the past five seasons have all been dynamic, impressive combinations of ability. But the Celtics, with a high-usage self-creating small forward, a spot-up shooter wing, and a hyper-versatile combo forward? The Celtics’ were dominant precisely because they were willing to commit themselves to something greater than their original talents. They sacrificed for a greater concept. It was a good offense, but not an elite one. The Heat? They’ve learned to play together, but the reason they’ve struggled over the past two years is because versatile combo-point-forward mixed with ISO slashing shooting guard, and traditional stretch four? It’s not a perfect mix. The Knicks…. yeah, the Knicks. The Lakers bring something entirely different.

Nash fits well with Gasol’s ability to spread the floor, and can create open looks for Bryant, something that he doesn’t do on his own. But Nash with Howard maximizes both of their abilities. They only way to properly defend it is to bring help defenders, and at that point you’ve got Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol (or Metta World Peace or Jodie Meeks or Steve Blake) with enough space to allow them to make a sandwich before they shoot.

But all that’s on paper.

There’s a million ways the Lakers can fall apart. Chemistry, injuries (Howard’s back, in particular), good ol’ fashioned age, the simple fact that despite all the evidence to the contrary, things on paper don’t just go together. Mike Brown’s coaching is widely held as suspect, and Bryant’s willingness to let go of the reins is not exactly something you can count on. The lesson from the Heat should be that it isn’t that simple. That it does take time to click, and that talent isn’t everything.

But the formula the Lakers have put together isn’t one built on just raw talent. It’s a special combination of skills. Bringing in a player that can pass like Nash is one thing, but pick and roll is his bread and butter. And Dwight Howard’s one big piece of toast.

The trick here is to not overestimate what the Laker are capable of, to not overstate their ceiling by talking about nonsense like 72 wins or a title right off the bat, but to also recognize and respect the brilliance of what the Lakers have put together. They could have gotten sub-stars at redundant positions, or shuffled the same pieces. Acquiring just Nash and you have a dominant team that still is trying to find the right ways to go together. Just get Howard, and you have size but nothing to figure out how the pieces fit together.

But instead, this combination is going to bring something more dangerous than anything else the Lakers have. Let’s be clear. If Kobe Byant were to vanish from existence tomorrow like in “Back to the Future,” just vanish into nothing, the Lakers would still be dominant because of the strength of how much better Nash makes every player around him and how strong Howard is as a finisher and defensively.

There’s room to admit that the Lakers have a lot of challenges and risks, including Howard’s back, their age, and to acknowledge just how good this team will be, and why.

If the Lakers are healthy, and there’s no personality conflict, the league is in trouble. Because if they’re not unguardable, they’ll be as close as it gets.

Joe Johnson dominates late, Jazz beat Clippers 105-98 to even series 2-2

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Rudy Gobert was back at center, giving the Jazz an emotional boost and someone who can match up with DeAndre Jordan (although Gobert wasn’t moving like his normal self).

Gordon Hayward had to leave the game with food poisoning.

It didn’t matter, the Jazz had Joe Johnson. The veteran forward who knows how to get buckets scored or assisted on 20 straight points for Utah in the fourth, sparking a run that got the Jazz a 105-98 come-from-behind win.

The series is now tied 2-2, heading back to Los Angeles for Game 5 Tuesday.

When people talk about Johnson, the first thing that seems to come up is the oversized contract Atlanta gave him, but they forget this is a seven-time All-Star. He was nicknamed “iso-joe” because of how Mike Woodson’s offense used him heavily in isolation for the Hawks, but that was playing to the strength of his skill set. He can get buckets. Just ask the Clippers, as Johnson finished with 28.

The return of Gobert, a quietly strong game from Derrick Favors, plus maybe something else (like the heavy load last game) seemed to wear on DeAndre Jordan, who was not as sharp as normal in this one. The Clippers again leaned on Chris Paul — 27 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds — and Jamal Crawford who had 25 points off the bench. However, take those two out of the equation and the rest of the Clippers shot just 34.2 percent against that elite Jazz defense. In the fourth quarter, the entire Clippers’ team shot 31.4 percent total.

Utah got good performances from their role players, who stepped up with Hayward out. Rodney Hood had 18 points and some key buckets in the fourth. Then there was Joe Ingles, who defended CP3 for stretches, was a force getting where he wanted on the pick-and-roll leading to 11 assists, plus he had two key threes down the stretch.

The Clippers clearly missed Blake Griffin in some of these matchups, but Los Angeles is going to have to adjust to that in this series because he’s not returning.

This series is even and feels like it may well go seven. The Clippers have two out of the remaining three at home, and they have the best player in the series in Chris Paul. All that may not be enough if the Jazz role players keep stepping up.

Watch Paul George lose JR Smith, put Cavaliers guard on skates with crossover

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Game 4 between the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers was hotly-contested in the first half. The Cavaliers led, 58-52, after two quarters.

But one special play came when Indiana’s Paul George put JR Smith on his heels, with the Cavaliers guard reeling back some 10 feet after a pull-back crossover left George alone at the 3-point line.

Via Twitter:

You might say George pushed off with his left hand, but you could also point out that Smith then turned a flop-like head kick into an actual blown defensive assignment.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Kobe Bryant’s new Canvas video is brought to you by the letter O (for Obsession)

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Kobe Bryant’s Canvas series returned to our television screen on Saturday. The Sesame Street-like videos center around finding a place to draw motivation from in order to, as the most recent video says, dominate the will of your opponent.

They’re … weird.

They are also extremely Kobe-ish in that they stay true to the former Los Angeles Lakers great’s internal vision of how to play basketball.

The last one we saw was all about finding a musecage, and using your dark thoughts to propel you to win. This one is all about obsession, and how that emotion separates those who like to win from true competitors.

I’m personally all for these videos. They are maybe a little cheesy, or single-minded, but that’s sort of the point. It accurately reflects Kobe, which is something you don’t often see from retired players trying to transition their brand from player to former player.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.