Lakers handling of Phil Jackson, coaching search a jumbled mess

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You can make a good case why not to hire Phil Jackson as the Lakers coach right now — maybe he wanted too much money, or he wanted too much control over the roster, or the triangle offense was not a good mid-season replacement for the Lakers (it is too hard to pick up on the fly), or the idea he didn’t want to travel to all road games (something both sides deny now, even though Jackson suggested it last time he was with the Lakers).

You can make a case that Mike D’Antoni can win in Los Angeles.

But the Lakers handled it all with what felt like knee-jerk reactions (as they did the Mike Brown firing) — the Lakers reportedly told Jackson he could have the job if he wanted it and Monday he was going to decide. Then Sunday night they pulled the rug out from under him and chose D’Antoni to be the coach, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com.

There are a whole lot of reasons being thrown around as to why but the abrupt shift but they still all show an erratic and unsteady ownership hand at the helm.

You don’t tell someone the job is theirs if they want it to just change your mind. (It wasn’t just Jackson who got that impression, both D’Antoni and Mike Dunleavy, the other phone interview, got that impression.) You don’t go that far down the road with Jackson — and watch the Lakers fan base get excited about him to the point of “we want Phil” chants at Lakers games — only to pull the rug out from under him. Because you should have known he would ask for a lot, especially if he thought he had leverage. And clearly he thought that. And you had to know he was the fans’ choice.

There were some around the Lakers who were spinning Sunday night into Monday morning that Jackson demanded too much money plus had discussed not traveling with the team to all the road games. From the Los Angeles Times:

Jackson was the overwhelming favorite to return to the Lakers until they heard his informal demands, which included a stake in team ownership, according to a person familiar with the situation.

“He was asking for the moon,” said the person, who also declined to be identified because they are not authorized to discuss the situation.

The next day both sides — Jackson’s and the Lakers — denied this was the case. Both said there had not been much real negotiation. Maybe yes, maybe no. Certainly Jackson has long wanted the control of the team and has said in the past he wanted to lessen his travel (he was weary of the grind of being an NBA coach).

This much we know — Jackson’s agent was set to sit down with the Lakers Monday and negotiate and if a deal could be struck Jackson was expected to accept.

If you are the Lakers, why go through all the first dancing with Jackson, telling him he can have the job then saying before the real negotiating session he was asking for too much?

Because you really wanted D’Antoni. Whether you knew it all along or came to that decision through the process, the Lakers figured out they wanted D’Antoni.

And there are logical reasons to do that — the triangle offense is not something you can throw together mid-season, especially without Dwight Howard and Steve Nash knowing how to run it, for one. Money is another.

But this was not handled well.

With Mike Brown, there is nothing the Lakers management could have learned in five injury-filled, modified-rotations games that they didn’t feel in their guy in July. If Brown wasn’t the guy, they should have realized it and moved on much sooner than they did.

Same with Jackson — you knew he would cost an arm and a leg before you picked up the phone, you knew the triangle offense would be hard to pickup in-season before you called him. So why go way down that road and make him a fan favorite before you kill it?

The Lakers don’t feel like the steady ship they once did.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor).

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more focus than they brought against the Timberwolves, because unlike Minnesota those teams will make Houston pay a steep price.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top. Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.