Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers identity crisis runs into confident Clippers, result is 0-3 Lakers

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers know who they are. They are Chris Paul’s team, Lob City, a lot of pick-and-roll, Jamal Crawford breaking guys ankles, Blake Griffin attacking the rim

The Lakers are… still trying to figure it out.

Through three games the Lakers have tried on more personalities than an 13-year-old girl. And none of them have fit.

The result of all that is when the Lakers met the Clippers Friday night that the Clippers won convincingly 105-95.

Another game, another night where after a loss everybody in the Lakers locker room was preaching patience — something the fans in Los Angeles are displaying little of.

“(Being patient) is particularly hard for me because I’m not the most patient individual in the world, but you have to be,” Kobe said after the game. “You have to stay persistent, you have to stay committed to what you’re doing and just keep on trucking.”

Lakers fans are ready to back that truck right over coach Mike Brown and his Princeton offense, but the issues are more complex than that. And they are all interconnected.

With Steve Nash out for the night and Steve Blake at the point, the Lakers actually seemed to run a better spaced offense early on because they knew it was going to be Princeton every time down (no wondering if Nash wants to do pick and roll). Still, they seem to think and not react, and often the result is odd floor balance and it seems to bring big men away from rebounding positions a lot.

That spacing didn’t slow the turnovers or bad decisions that have plagued the Lakers since training camp. And as they did against Portland the Lakers started to abandon their offense as they tried to climb back in. With Dwight Howard in foul trouble most of the first half the Lakers tried some other things on offense — Metta World Peace decided to be a three-point shooter and went 1-of-7 from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, Chris Paul knew exactly what he wanted to do — he continually came off the high pick then when Gasol showed out to stop him he pulled Gasol away and isolated himself against the Laker big man 23 feet from the rim. Then he carved up Gasol (who started to look worn out) and the Lakers as a whole. CP3 finished with 18 points and 15 assists — he had more assists than the entire Lakers team.

Paul and the Clippers were playing with confidence, like a team that believes it can be a contender.

A few minutes into the first quarter the Clippers went on a 16-6 run, the Clippers led and their depth allowed them to keep a comfortable lead most of the game. Jamal Crawford had 21 off the bench to lead the Clippers.

With the Lakers needing points Princeton was kicked to the curb and it became the Kobe Bryant show — he had 40 points on just 24 shots and continues to be very efficient this season. But he had to overcome 20 team turnovers and a defense that continued to not get a lot of consecutive stops.

The Clippers were smart with their double-teaming, doing a good job of taking Howard and Kobe and making them give up the ball, only to find guys were not in the right space to get the pass.

“It’s hard when only a couple of guys really know the offense,” Lakers backup forward Antawn Jamison said after the game, although he seemed to be one of the culprits as he seemed to float through the game not looking for his shot.

Meanwhile, the Clippers have a bench that has been huge for them — Crawford, Erick Bledsoe, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom all had quality nights. Odom may have had the shot of the night, a 30-foot three up against the shot clock.

“I think our bench, we had some timely shots,” Paul said. “We had some timely shots. L.O. hit a big one, Matt hit a big one off the glass. But once again, our bench stepped up for us.”

That bench is giving the Clippers confidence. Chris Paul is giving them confidence. The 2-0 start to the season is giving them confidence. The Clippers know they are good and are out to prove it.

The Lakers, they are still preaching patience while they try to figure out who they are.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

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Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.