Lakers hit the easy button, cruise to a 101-77 victory over Golden State

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In the middle of the third quarter, with the Lakers enjoying a double-digit lead, Kobe Bryant went to the free throw line. Typically, this is when Bryant is serenaded with the familiar “MVP! MVP!” chants from the Staples Center crowd. But that didn’t happen.

It wasn’t because Kobe was having a bad night – quite the opposite. He was toeing the line between distributor and scorer wonderfully (27 points, 7 assists), and the Lakers offense, despite some serious bricklaying from Metta World Peace, actually looked pretty smooth en route to a 101-77 blowout win over Golden State.

So why wasn’t Kobe getting his MVP chants? The Lakers faithful surely couldn’t have come to a collective decision that those chants, in Game 6 of an 82-game season, sound ridiculous. So what was this? Who is…Bill? Oh, right.

“We want Phil! We want Phil! We want Phil!”

The chants grew louder and louder – even free tacos wouldn’t evoke so much emotion.

The fact that the Lakers were finally defending better, chasing the Warriors’ shooters off the 3-point line and sending them into the teeth of the defense, was secondary. It didn’t seem to matter that the Lakers, finally, weren’t toasted in transition or on the offensive glass.

Mike Brown’s firing serves to a greater point. Slow progression is not something the Lakers or their fanbase know. If they aren’t playing like a championship team, regardless of the circumstances, there has to be changes. With Kobe Bryant’s clock ticking, there is no time for patience. With Dwight Howard’s contract expiring, there is no time for patience.

Right or wrong, Mike Brown is gone. The Lakers got the nice “dead coach bounce” – the blowout win after canning your coach. Happens all the time, but this was an impressive victory nonetheless. The Lakers played inside-out, and felt less “forced” offensively. It was more simple. The offense could best be described as “our players are better than yours, watch this” instead of the forced handoffs and general awkwardness of the five previous games. There were lots of positive takeaways defensively as well, particularly holding one of the league’s best shooting backcourts (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) to a 12-for-32 effort.

But the defensive numbers, as great as they are, didn’t resonate quite like the chants did. The people want Phil Jackson – the players want Phil Jackson – and until he’s back giving reading assignments and administering zen lessons, this will be a distraction. This won’t go away. Not even when the Lakers are in the middle of cruising to a much-needed victory.

Interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff didn’t inherit Mike Brown’s team – he inherited Phil Jackson’s shadow, just like Mike Brown did. Good luck with that.

NBA reacts to Suns’ Devin Booker dropping 70 on Celtics

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Devin Booker was the story of the NBA Friday night.

The 20-year-old Suns’ guard — who never scored more than 19 points in a game at Kentucky in college — dropped 70 on the Boston Celtics in a losing effort. He becomes only the sixth player in NBA history to score at least 70 in a game. At the end the Suns were fouling and calling time outs to stop the clock and get the ball back to Booker, but as Phoenix coach Earl Watson said to those who complained, “You got a problem with that? Do something. Simple as that.”

NBA Twitter exploded at what Booker did.

Booker himself responded this way.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).