Lakers cruise to another win as nobody talked about the game

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What were people talking about at Staples Center Sunday night?

Phil Jackson.

Is he coming to the Lakers in the next 24 hours? Does he really want the job? How does he implement the triangle with Steve Nash and no training camp? You know the fans want him because midway through the second quarter they started a “we want Phil” chant. If not Jackson, is it Mike D’Antoni (who had a phone interview on Saturday) or Nate McMillan or who?

It was waiting for Phil Jackson night in Los Angeles.

Oh… and there was a basketball game at Staples Center, too. The Lakers beat the Kings 103-90 in this sideshow. The Lakers are now 2-0 in the Bernie Bickerstaff era. Top that, Jackson.

If you wonder how much people cared about the game itself, know that Kobe Bryant spent a bunch of timeouts talking to Baron Davis, who was sitting courtside near the Lakers bench.

The game itself was pretty much what you’d expect. The Lakers are the far more talented team and now that they are not overthinking everything — Bickerstaff’s one big change over Mike Brown — that talent wins. The offenses they are running are a lot more basic — there is standard NBA sets like “floppy” and some freelancing early in the clock. He’s letting them go out and just play.

“We’re just going out there and really playing pickup style basketball,” Kobe said after the game. “We’re running a couple things and just getting out there and doing it.”

The Lakers big men were doing it. The Kings were without their starting front line of DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson — both suspended by the league for separate incidents — and that led to a combined 41 points (on 53.6 percent shooting) and 23 rebounds from Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. The Lakers grabbed the offensive rebound on 40 percent of their missed shots against the Kings.

Kobe Bryant added 20 points and Metta World Peace was 4-of-8 from three, doing a great job spacing the floor on the weak side, and had 18.

Bickerstaff also has the Lakers a little more focused defensively — his pregame white board had breakdowns of how they were going to defend the pick-and-roll, not much offense at all. It worked, the Kings shot 40 percent as a team.

“We’re just playing simple basketball,” Pau Gasol said. “Offensively going to our guys in positions that they could score and defensively we’re just communicating and being active and trying to limit them to one shot.”

It’s two wins in a row for L.A. — it’s their Weekend at Bernies.

That simple freelanced offense has gotten them two wins in a row. Good luck getting the same result against the disciplined Spurs on Tuesday.

The only bad news for the Lakers was Steve Blake left with an abdominal injury and is not expected to practice with the team on Monday. (Not sure what they are practicing, but they plan to.) Blake will have an ultrasound on Tuesday and be re-evaluated then.

As for the Kings, they got 18 points off the bench from Jimmer Fredette and to the Kings credit they played hard. But minus a couple of their best players — and with Marcus Thorton taking a hard fall and not being the same after, he was 1-10 shooting on the night — they were overmatched. Keith Smart had guys out of position all night, but the effort was good and they kept it close for most of the first half.

Which is great, good to see Jimmer playing well. But how about that Phil Jackson.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.