Pau Gasol benched in latest Lakers loss, wants more touches in the post

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The Lakers have lost two straight after winning their first with Mike D’Antoni in place on the sidelines, and in both of those games, the frontcourt combination of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol was completely shut down.

The home win over Brooklyn was solid, but the loss in Sacramento was embarrassing, and the loss in Memphis — against what is currently the league’s best team — was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was how easily teams would deal with Gasol and Howard in the paint, and be able to hold them to numbers that aren’t even acceptable for one All-Star starting big man, let alone two of them combined.

Howard has the excuse of not yet being at 100 percent, while still working his way back conditioning-wise after undergoing back surgery over the summer. With Gasol, there seems to be less room for excuses, and less patience all around.

D’Antoni benched Gasol for the entire fourth quarter in Memphis, instead sticking with Antawn Jamison, who was having his most productive game as a Laker on both ends of the floor. He said afterward he did so because he wanted to win the game, meaning obviously that what Gasol was giving him on this night would not be enough to get that accomplished.

Afterward, Gasol blamed his lack of touches in the post for his subpar performance. From Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“All my looks are jump shots,” he said. “I would like to see something closer to the basket and not just rolling, especially when Dwight is there. But we’ll see. We’ll figure it out. We’re just starting, pretty much.”

“I’m not a pure jump-shooter,” he said. “I can stretch the defense out and make a couple jumpers. But how I get going is by getting in the paint and creating off the post, things like that.

“That’s historically how I’ve been really successful and made a really good name for myself and earned my contracts. But hopefully I’ll find a way and we’ll find a way to get me a few opportunities there and get myself going in that way and be more effective.”

Gasol would certainly benefit from getting more post-up opportunities, but he’d need to do that alongside someone not named Dwight Howard for that to happen. Maybe those touches can come when playing with Jordan Hill or Antawn Jamison at the four during stretches when Gasol gets some run as the de facto center with the second unit. Like last year playing alongside Andrew Bynum, it’s going to be difficult to play him in the post with Howard demanding that space when the two are sharing the floor.

What’s odd about Gasol’s complaint, though, is that plenty of his looks were wide open, even 17-20 feet from the basket. He’s more than a capable shooter from there, and if you look at the shot chart below from Friday night’s game, even the one shot he made on the left side of the paint came after receiving the ball near the top of the circle, and then driving to the basket to score in the game’s early minutes.

source:

Presumably, the Lakers offense will find its way once Steve Nash (and even Steve Blake) make their way back into the lineup; there’s simply too much talent there not to show some serious improvement, at least in theory.

But Gasol needs to remain engaged along the way for that to happen. On nights when he’s not getting the touches in the spots he desires, he needs to make the most of his opportunities for the Lakers to have a shot.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.