Steve Nash returns, Lakers come from 14 down to get overtime win over Warriors

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The Lakers played far from their best game of the season on Saturday. But it may end up being one of their most important.

L.A. showed true grit in this one, and playing at full strength for the first time since Oct. 31 with Steve Nash back in the starting lineup, came from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat a more-than-solid Warriors team in overtime 118-115.

Nash appeared to be all the way back from a non-displaced leg fracture that kept him sidelined for the last 24 games. He played 41 minutes, and finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, to go along with 9 assists, three rebounds, and two steals.

While Nash looked more than competent in his return, the play of Kobe Bryant didn’t leave him with a lot of opportunity to run the offense and create the easy looks for his teammates that Lakers fans hoped would be a consistent benefit of the new-look offense.

That may come with time and trust, but on this night, Bryant trusted only himself, and with very mixed results.

Bryant took an incredible 41 shot attempts in under 44 minutes of action. He made just 16, good for a mark of 39 percent. We’ve become numb to these types of performances from Bryant, where he continues to shoot no matter the consequences. On a team with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, however, and even Nash, who is one of the game’s premier shooters and always does so while making a high percentage, it’s really unconscionable.

It appeared for the first three quarters as if this one would end up as so many have for the Lakers this season — a disappointing loss to a better team, while playing nowhere near the level of the collective talent the team has assembled. Bryant seemed hell-bent on shooting his team out of the game, Howard and Gasol were slow to rotate defensively, and there was no offensive rhythm to be found with Bryant forcing so many tough shots.

The Lakers’ fortunes changed in the fourth quarter, and the fact that Bryant was on the bench during the stretch that it happened was in no way a coincidence.

The Warriors led 90-76 with 10:35 remaining in the fourth, and that’s when a 10-0 run featuring key plays from Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks sparked the Lakers comeback. When Bryant returned, he immediately scored inside to further cut the lead to two, and it was back and forth the rest of the way in one of the most entertaining contests we’ve seen all season.

The Lakers had a chance to win in regulation, and with the game tied, Nash flipped the ball to Bryant and let him go at it alone in isolation. He forced a tough jumper on the wing that fell short, and we headed to the extra session.

Once in overtime, Bryant continued to gun away, but the shots he made came once he received the ball following the defense choosing to collapse on a Nash-Howard pick-and-roll. A variation of that play should be run virtually every single time down the floor when that trio is in the game, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be a staple in the future once the coaching staff gets more time to work things out with Nash back in action.

The Warriors are for real, but you knew that already. Jarrett Jack was a monster off the bench for them with 29 points and 11 assists, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their thing with 20 and 18 points respectively, but each shot a lower percentage than Bryant in the process.

The way this game began for the lakers wasn’t pretty, and was reminiscent of the poor play we’ve seen from this team too often this season. But the way it ended may prove to be something the team can build upon, and with Nash back in the lineup, you have to like their chances.

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.