Lakers continue to struggle as they lose to league-best Grizzlies


Any spike in energy the Lakers benefited from after the team fired Mike Brown and replaced him with Mike D’Antoni seems to have been short-lived, and after a 106-98 loss in Memphis on Friday, it may now be gone altogether.

No, the mere presence of D’Antoni patrolling the sidelines won’t be enough to fix the many problems the Lakers continue to demonstrate. There are issues on both sides of the ball that need to be ironed out on the fly, and in a hurry for a team that finds itself below .500 once again.

L.A. found itself down 16 points by the time the first quarter was through, and was playing catch-up the rest of the night. With Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard both being miserably ineffective for the second straight game, that didn’t leave the Lakers offense with a whole lot of options.

The two starting bigs combined for 13 points and eight rebounds, on just 5-of-15 shooting. Gasol played all 12 minutes of the first quarter where he missed five of his six shot attempts, several of which were open jumpers that were well within his range. He looked lethargic defensively, and couldn’t find a rhythm the entire night — which is probably why D’Antoni decided to bench him for the entire fourth quarter while the game was (barely) within reach.

When asked what he was thinking afterward regarding Gasol, D’Antoni was fairly straightforward with his response.

“I was thinking I’d like to win this game, that’s what I was thinking,” he said, via Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

Howard wasn’t much better, finishing with just seven points, four rebounds, and five turnovers in almost 40 minutes of action. His hands weren’t the best on this night, seemingly getting stripped every time he touched the ball, and when he did go to the basket, he was unable to finish.

With Gasol and Howard unable to do much of anything offensively, and with the team playing from behind, the offense was scrapped most possessions for one-on-one attempts to score. Kobe Bryant hit some long threes late, and scored 14 of his 30 points in the final period. But the numbers came on an inefficient 7-of-23 shooting, and again, weren’t anywhere near within the flow of the offense.

The other area that continues to be a problem for the Lakers outside of their post play is the lack of production and defense they’re getting from the point guard position. Darius Morris and Chris Duhon knocked down a few open shots, but were unsuccessful in getting others involved by initiating the offense. And defensively, Mike Conley torched them both, and was able to create for himself and his teammates with ease.

If there is a bright side for the Lakers to look at, they can be happy that the second unit made big runs twice to get the game back to within reach, which is something that hasn’t happened really all season long. Antawn Jamison played a solid game, and finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes, while doing a decent job defensively, as well. And, it’s not like losing to the Grizzlies is anything to be ashamed of at this point, considering they hold the league’s best record at 9-2 and have quality wins over the Thunder, Knicks, and Heat already this season.

But that likely isn’t going to be enough for a Lakers team that was assembled to win a championship this year. L.A. will need to figure out how to get Gasol more touches in the post, and how to get out in transition to at least get some opportunities on the secondary break to avoid stagnating in its half court sets.

Most importantly, the ball needs to move and find the open man, while involving all five players on the offensive end of the floor; having whoever brings the ball up or whoever receives the first pass continually force up a shot is not the way you beat teams that actually understand how to apply defensive concepts.

All of that is easier said than done, of course, but that’s why D’Antoni is here. After going 1-2 in his first three games on the bench, there’s no question he has his work cut out for him.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.