Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom

Hidden key to the Lakers recent success? They’ve cut down their turnovers

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The last two Lakers games (wins over the Rockets and Suns) have foreshadowed a shift in how they hope to play for the rest of the season.

The team that once ground out possessions in the half court has turned up the tempo and blown away the opposition by allowing their talent to shine. Highlight plays have paired with high point totals and everyone is feeling good in Laker-land about the way the team is scoring.

But lost in the euphoria of the Lakers attempt to return to Showtime via Dwight Howard dunks and Kobe Bryant knifing to the basket has been a key element to their offensive success: the Lakers have drastically cut down on their turnovers.

On the season, the Lakers have been one of the more turnover heavy teams in the league. Through 10 games they rank second to last in turnovers per game (16.9) and are worst in the league in turnover percentage (17.9) per NBA.com. Basically, the Lakers have been finding ways to shoot themselves in the foot with giveaways, a reality that has hurt their offense (for obvious reasons) and their defense (giving their opponents easy baskets in transition).

In the last two games this has started to shift, however. Against the Suns and the Rockets the Lakers averaged only 12.5 turnovers per game and their turnover percentage dipped to 12.6. This has made a substantial difference in the Lakers’ ability to be more consistent on offense and has given their opponents fewer opportunities to rip them in transition.

The sample size caveat needs to be stated right up front because we’re only talking about two games and any team can have a nice stretch of mistake free ball over the course of 96 minutes. Not to mention that there’s a certain amount of luck involved with not giving the ball away and avoiding turnovers — 50/50 balls may go your way, a bad pass is only knocked out of bounds, etc.

That said, this shift can’t be totally disregarded either. At the start of the season the Lakers’ transition to the Princeton offense led to a general confusion amongst the players. Often times guys looked lost on where they should be, when they should be there, and how they were supposed to play off of each other to generate good looks. This led to players missing easy passes, making bad reads with the ball, and a general forcing of the action that plagued them each night.

Now, however, the Lakers are running a much simpler offense. The floor is more wide open, passing angles are cleaner, and players seem to have a better understanding of where they should be and where the next pass should go to. The result has been a better looking offense overall and fewer mistakes by players looking to move the ball on to a teammate.

It should also be noted that even though the sample size is small, the Lakers are playing at a much faster pace with more possessions in each game than they had earlier in the year. So, while it has only been two games, the reduction in turnovers is noteworthy simply because the Lakers have had more opportunities within these games to give the ball away and have actually been doing the opposite. They have been playing faster and smarter.

While the signs are encouraging for the lack of turnovers to be a lasting trend, we can still expect there to be hiccups and some regression to the mean. The Rockets and Suns aren’t exactly top flight defenses and the Lakers will have to show they can play this way against teams that pressure the ball and jump passing lanes (a la the Grizzlies who, coincidentally play the Lakers on Friday).

Steve Nash’s return is also likely to cause an increase in giveaways simply because he can be a risk taker with his passes, especially when throwing lobs to Howard or when operating in a crowded lane trying to dish to a diving big or out to spot up shooters around the arc.

However, even with an uptick from Nash or when playing more ball-hawking opponents the hope — at least from the Lakers’ perspective — is that their days of being one of the worst turnover teams are behind them. And based off recent trends and the shift to an offense that they’re grasping well, those hopes look to be substantiated.

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:

Report: Clippers’ Austin Rivers has broken hand, out 4-6 weeks

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29:  Austin Rivers #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers scores on a layup past D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 105-93 win at Staples Center on January 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.

The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.

Warriors hold off late Thunder run to remain undefeated at home

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For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.

But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.

Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.

The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.

Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.

Kevin Durant brushes off free-agency speculation: “Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision”

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 05:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder drives on Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 5, 2015 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.

Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.

Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:

“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:

“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?

“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”

On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.