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.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?