Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Lakers defense sucks, too

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Our nightly recap of every gamegaround the NBA. It’s what you missed while buying dive bar T-shirts….

Trail Blazers 116, Lakers 106: In the season opener, Dallas scored at a 108.7 points per 100 possessions pace on the Lakers (for comparison, only five teams in the NBA averaged giving up more points per 100 last season). Then Wednesday night the Lakers defense was worse — Portland shot 50 percent overall, 44 percent from three and threw up 116 points on Los Angeles.

For all the moaning about the Lakers Princeton offense — and there are things to moan about if you want —  it is their defense that has cost them two nights in a row. They can’t get stops. Their pick-and-roll defense is inconsistent and seems disinterested. And that end of the floor is supposed to be Mike Brown’s calling card. If he can’t get them to start defending his seat is going to get very, very hot.

The Blazers had a good night. Rookie Damian Lillard took advantage of what passes for Lakers defense and racked up 25 points and 11 assists in his first game — the only two other players ever to do 20 and 10 in their debut are Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas. How’s that for good company? Every Portland starter had at least 13 points. We could go on and on. This was a quality win for them.

The Lakers, they have a lot of talent but they have a lot of work to do. A lot.

Also, Steve Nash left the floor with a bruised leg, only to return but not look quite right. He says he wants to play Friday night against the Clippers, we shall see.

Sixers 84, Nuggets 75: Andre Iguodala’s homecoming game really turned out to be all about Spencer Hawes. And his mullet. And the Philly defense. We break it all down right here.

Rockets 105, Pistons 96: There was more to this game than just James Harden going off like an alpha dog for 37 points and 12 assists (although that was fun to watch). The Pistons were up by 11early in the fourth quarter and when the Rockets cranked up the pressure and outscored Detroit 33-13 down the stretch. That late run started when Jeremy Lin came on the court and all night the Rockets just looked better when he was playing. Quality win for them. Good start to the Harden area in Houston, tough loss for Detroit. Not the kind of loss playoff teams have.

Clippers 101, Grizzlies 92: If you’re going to play the Clippers, you better have packed your transition defense and brought it to the arena. Memphis left theirs back at the hotel, and it showed. See the video below. But that was just part of the problem. Chris Paul owned Mike Conley. Another issue was just depth, illustrated by the fact Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol shot 56 percent (scoring 45 combined) for Memphis, the rest of the team shot 27 percent. Meanwhile new Clipper Jamal Crawford dropped 29. Rudy Gay had 25 and while he left the floor with an injury he returned and is expected to play in the future.

Pacers 90, Raptors 88: Toronto seemed to have the upset win in the bag, up 10 in the fourth quarter after having led most of the second half. But David West had 14 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, sparking a comeback against a Raptors then George Hill dropped the sweet game-winning dagger. It was the kind of win the Pacers need without Danny Granger in the lineup, one where they found some offense without him. The Raptors got some good stretches from Jonas Valanciunas (12 points and 10 rebounds) and Kyle Lowry added 21, but the Raptors as a team shot just 36.3 percent, and that won’t get it done.

Spurs 99, Hornets 95: A lot of people compare Anthony Davis and Tim Duncan, but the old dog had a few tricks in scoring 24 points including 9 in the fourth quarter to make sure the Spurs won their opener. Davis and the Hornets looked good in the first half against a lazy Spurs defense and led by 7 at the break, but you knew that someone would spark the Spurs. That guy turned out to be Kawhi Leonard, who had 11 of his 19 in the third quarter to spark an 18-3 run that put the Spurs in the game, and you knew they would close it out. Davis led the Hornets with 21.

Warriors 87, Suns 85: (From our own Brett Pollakoff) The Warriors showed a grit not present in previous years during their win over the Suns. They blew all of a 17-point first-half lead, thanks largely to dismal shooting performances from David Lee (2-of16) and Stephen Curry (2-of-14). They were down by eight with under nine minutes to play in the game. But they dug in, and began to get stops. And they got the bench to pick them up when it mattered most.

Mark Jackson couldn’t have been happier with the end result, and pointed out the little things guys did afterward to stay in it and secure the win.

Andrew Bogut was in the starting lineup, and looked sharp in limited action. Jackson played him under 19 minutes, but Bogut performed with eight points and six rebounds on 4-of-6 shooting. Bogut said he felt great afterward, and would be lobbying trainers to get his minutes limit increased.

The Suns showed some grit of their own, coming back from that big early deficit where the bench unit couldn’t find any rhythm offensively. The defense really picked up in the second half, when Phoenix recorded eight of its 12 blocked shots. Michael Beasley wasn’t effective (just 2-of-9 shooting for 8 points), so P.J. Tucker finished the game with the rest of the starters thanks to the energy he brought to the lineup off the bench.

Jared Dudley had a wide open look at a three from the top of the arc that would have tied it with 34 seconds left, but he couldn’t get it to fall, and the Warriors get a nice road win to kick off the season.

Bulls 93, Kings 87: Joakim Noah — 23 points and 10 rebounds — outplayed DeMarcus Cousins and that keyed the Bulls win because it’s about getting points from somewhere for Chicago. The Bulls defense is still the Bulls defense and the Kings shot just 40.5 percent and added 19 turnovers (9 in the first quarter). That defense is going to win them a lot of hard fought, ugly games like this. On the bright side Kings fans, Tyreke Evans had 21 points and looked strong.

Jazz 113, Mavericks 94: Dallas played hard on the back-to-back but the Williams — Mo and Marvin — proved to be too much. Each Williams had 21 points and a 18-3 run in the third those two sparked won Utah the game. The Jazz owned the boards and combined that with 20 Dallas turnovers and the game didn’t feel in doubt.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

AP Photo/Gus Ruelas
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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.

Tyreke Evans: Giannis Antetokounmpo is like a taller me

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Giannis Antetokounmpo torched the Kings for 32 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bucks’ 18-point win Wednesday.

Afterward, Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans paid the Greek Freak the ultimate compliment.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Do you see many players like Antetokounmpo? Evans:

Nah. He like me, but 6-7 – I mean like almost 6-8, 6-7, whatever height he is. He just long, athletic. He get to where he want to go. He got good handle for his size, and he athletic. Once he get around the rim, he can finish.

If only you were an inch taller? Evans:

That’d be a problem. I mean, it’s still a problem, I think, for me to get where I want. But just the athleticism he have and the way he get up off the ground – he got quick bounce. He pretty good at it.

Antetokounmpo is listed at 6-foot-11, Evans 6-foot-6.

This isn’t totally unreasonable. Make Evans five inches taller and add none of the dexterity awkwardness that tends to accompany growth, and he might look a lot like Antetokounmpo. Both are usually slotted at forward while possessing point-guard skills.

But Evans isn’t 6-foot-11, and most 6-foot-11 players can’t move like Antetokounmpo. That fluidity for his size is a big part of what makes Antetokounmpo special. If Evans grew up to be 6-foot-11, he likely would have developed a different skill set than he has now.

Antetokounmpo is the rare player with both the height of a big man and skills of a guard. Evans didn’t miss out on that just because his genes kept him from growing another five inches.

This discussion is also silly for another reason. Somewhere, there’s someone who’s 6-foot-1 and certain he’d be as good as Evans if only he were five inches taller.

Rumor: Blake Griffin increasingly believed to be open to leaving Clippers in free agency

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The Clippers were rumored to have already verbally agreed to terms with pending unrestricted free agents Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

But with formal contract extensions unviable, L.A. was always going to have to play out the season and hope those players remained committed into July.

There might be a hitch in that plan.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

That Griffin would also stay and reap the biggest payday he can seems likely, too—in theory. But more and more people around the league believe he would be open to a fresh start—perhaps with the Lakers or the Boston Celtics, who have coveted Griffin for years and would offer a new chance to win.

Does Ding have credible information to suggest Griffin could join the Lakers or Celtics, or is that just speculation on the writer’s part about potential fits? It’s unclear. This is already fairly loosely sourced.

But we should gather more information quickly once free agency begins. Griffin reportedly planned to re-sign quickly. If he shows the faintest hint of exploring the market, that could open the floodgates.

Griffin had been frequently linked to his home-state Thunder, but Oklahoma City would interfere with his burgeoning Hollywood connections.* The same issue would exist with Boston, though obviously not the Lakers. That said, the Celtics are WAY better than the Lakers – and maybe soon the Clippers and Thunder, considering those Nets picks headed to Boston.

*Oklahoma City also since nuked its cap space with contract extensions for Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo, though trades could always clear room if Griffin wants to come home.

The Clippers are in a bad place right now. One one hand, that forebodes another disappointing end to the season. On the other hand, there’s still time to overcome and send Griffin into free agency on a more positive note.

These are dangerous times for the Clippers, who wouldn’t have cap space to adequately replace Griffin, Paul or Redick if one leaves. So, if one bolts, the others seems more likely to follow. Interpersonal relationships matter, but the Clippers’ primary selling points were always going to be money and winning (with Hollywood proximity a bonus). Winning gets harder if talent walks.

They can still offer the most money, and they’re not leaving L.A. But the Clippers better win more to help avoid what could be a tenser-than-expected summer.

Suns use youngest starting lineup in NBA history

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The Suns have shut down their veterans or been shut down by their veterans with two goals in mind – developing young talent and tanking.

Incidentally, Phoenix also made history.

Against the Nets last night, the Suns started:

ESPN:

Elias on ESPN:

The previous youngest was the Clippers’ starting five consisting of guards Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Blake Griffin, and center DeAndre Jordan, who averaged 21 years and 143 days old in a matchup with the Nets on November 15, 2010.

The young Suns gained quality experience – and helped their team to an important loss, 126-98 to Brooklyn.

Phoenix is still 1.5 games “behind” the Lakers for the No. 2 seed in the lottery, but the Suns are within striking distance in case the Lakers screw up and win too much down the stretch.