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.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.