Lakers defensive issues start at the top, lead to 117-110 Jazz win

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The Utah Jazz are not the most talented team in the Western Conference, but they work hard. Every possession, every game.

That is far more than the Lakers, who showed no passion or consistent effort on the defensive end. Starting with their stars and filtering down to everyone.

The result of that sad effort was a 117-110 rare Jazz road win that sinks the Lakers to 9-12 on the season, having lost four of their last five.

Utah scored at a 133.1 points per 100 possession pace in this game — for perspective, the Thunder have the best offense in the NBA this season at 111.3 The Jazz shot 54.2 percent for the game and seemed to consistently get the shot they wanted, either in transition or the half court. Combined the Jazz big men — Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter — combined for 52 points on 21-of-37 shooting (56.8 percent).

The defensive issues with the Lakers start at the top, and it’s not just Steve Nash and Pau Gasol still being out. Howard couldn’t stop the Jazz big men and he is becoming more and more frustrated — rightfully — when nobody helps the helper. When the Lakers guards get beat and their man starts to drive Howard steps out to cut off the lane, but nobody rotates to get his man and suddenly it’s easy buckets for opposing bigs.

Kobe Bryant doesn’t get off cleanly here — more than once he didn’t get back on defense really at all after staying to glare and gesture to referees when he didn’t get a call on a drive on the offensive end.

Utah shot 55 percent in the first half but the score was close until midway through the second quarter when the Jazz went on 11-0 run. That separated the teams and gave Utah a 60-51 halftime lead. There were defensive lapses by the Lakers but credit the Jazz who got hustle plays from DeMarre Carroll. The Lakers got hustle from Jordan Hill (17 points and 6 offensive rebounds for the game) but not much else.

Adding insult to injury, the deliberate Jazz had 14 fast break points in the first half, which is tied to the Lakers nine turnovers in the first half.

Lakers came out on a run on the second half and this was back to being a close game immediately. They were doing it with threes — Los Angeles was 15-of-28 from three. The Lakers got 40.9 percent of their points from three. Which is a good sign for a team that has been worried about outside shooting.

All night long Lakers offense was fine, led by Kobe Bryant’s 34 on 9-of-24 shooting.

But that’s moot if you don’t get stops.

The Lakers made it interesting with a late push, actually defending with energy and with a Jordan Hill fastbreak dunk and some Kobe free throws we had a six-point game. But in the end, Utah just keep putting up points and the Lakers clock management at the end was a mess. Mo Williams finished with 22 for Utah, Gordon Hayward had 14 off the bench.

Utah is 12-10 and continues to be a solid team in the West. There are a lot of questions about this team’s moves with a lot of late year contracts as they head into the trading deadline, but they are not playing for tomorrow. They are grinding and working for today.

It’s not too early for the Lakers to get healthy and find a groove, there are more than four months of regular season left. We are just a quarter of the way into the season. But the hole the Lakers have dug themselves will hurt with their playoff seeding and very possible first round series on the road (unless you think they can catch the Thunder, Spurs, Grizzlies or Clippers).

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.

Cornrowed Joel Embiid calls minute limit f—ing BS

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76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.

Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.

Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”

“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”

“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”

“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”

We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.

Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.

Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.

At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.