In ugly mess of game, George Hill’s pretty shot lifts Pacers over Lakers

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At least Lakers fans got to leave Staples Center Tuesday night with a Chick Hearn bobblehead (the Lakers honored their legendary former broadcaster).

I say that because I’m trying to help them find something positive.

And there isn’t much else – the Lakers lost in an ugly game 79-77 to the Indiana Pacers. This was the kind of embarrassing performance that would have the Lakers trying to fire Mike Brown if they hadn’t already done so. They shot 31.6 percent, 21.4 percent from three, missed 22 free throws (6-of-28) including four in crunch time, Kobe Bryant alone had 10 turnovers and their defense was spotty.

The Indiana Pacers weren’t much better (they shot 36.7 percent) but they played better team basketball and in the end were redeemed by George Hill, who hit a pretty layup high off the glass (over the sweeping hand of Dwight Howard) with .01 seconds left to give Indiana the win.

That shot was one of the few pretty things in a game that was ugly. Top to bottom. It was the kind of game that while watching it you thought neither team deserved to win. The two teams combined for 33 turnovers. It was ugly right down to Joey Crawford being in full “look at me” mode and handing out technical fouls like a Pez dispenser.

For the Pacers, who have struggled on offense this season it was another confirmation that their defense can keep them in games. But their offense was once again a mess — they shot 36.7 percent. They were 4-of-19 from three. They turned the ball over on 20.8 percent of their possessions.

What Indiana did well was defend. You knew they would going in (they had the second best defense in the NBA). That and George Hill (19 points on the night) and David West (16 points) were enough.

For the Lakers, it was a night where they fell back into the worst habits they had of the Phil Jackson era:

They expected Kobe Bryant to do everything and the Lakers stood around and watched him. There was too much Kobe for the Lakers — her finished with 40 points and the rest of the team had 37. When this happens you don’t get the efficient Kobe the Lakers have seen earlier in the season — he was 12-of-28 shooting and had 10 turnovers.

This wasn’t Kobe the ball hog, this is what Kobe always has been — he wants to win and if the rest of his team is going to stand around and miss their shots, he will take on the extra load himself to push them toward a win. Kobe has an unwavering belief in himself and his teammates gave him no reason to trust them in this game with their play.

The rest of the Lakers settled. They didn’t move well off the ball. They didn’t hit the good look shots they did have. And they missed their free throws — the Lakers were 6-of-28 from the stripe. Dwight Howard was 3-of-12 but the rest of the team was 3-of-16, and that includes some crucial misses by Metta World Peace late.

The Lakers clearly miss Steve Nash in this offense, Kobe cannot be the primary ball handler every time down (especially when battling the flu). Kobe makes some good decisions but is gets taken out of what he does best (scoring) when the team’s entire playmaking responsibility falls to him.

But Nash is not a cure all. The return of Nash and Steve Blake is not going to be transformative for this team if they put up an effort like they did Tuesday night. If they don’t defend better and knock down shots when they are open.

Right now the Lakers are just not a very good team. And they displayed that in all their glory Tuesday night.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.