The Lakers are 2-0 since the return of Steve Nash, both wins over quality teams in Golden State and New York.
Let’s not go overboard with what this means — it means they won two games in December. It doesn’t speak to the playoffs.
But we are starting to see just how things open up with opportunity when Steve Nash is the guy directing the Lakers offense compared to, oh, let’s say Chris Duhon. Or Darius Morris. Suddenly there is a lot more creativity in the Lakers offense and that shows promise. But that promise is far from realized — the Lakers offensive numbers in those wins were not impressive (it was pretty average on Sunday if you look at points per possession).
Still, you can see signs of hope and what could be.
Of course, there are the Nash/Dwight Howard and Nash/ Pau Gasol pick and rolls we all expected. Most of those with Howard were drag screens (early in the shot clock screens while players are running down court) and Howard slips out early on almost all of them. What you see with these is what Nash has that few others in the game do — patience. He sees what the defender does than attacks where it is weak. Against the Knicks that meant a number of Nash runners in the lane.
But the play I really like that we barely saw was some Nash and Kobe Bryant 1-2 pick-and-rolls. In the same way having Dwyane Wade set a screen for LeBron James is nearly indefensible in small doses, the Lakers ran this just a couple times the last couple games but we could end up seeing it more.
Bottom line is that on pick-and-roll plays the Lakers ball handlers and roll men combined to shoot 9-of-16 (and that’s not counting the opportunities created for other players on the court).
D’Antoni also is using some of Mike Brown’s offense from last year and making it work — the Lakers ran “horns” a few times, where the two bigs start at either elbow. When they do that and Gasol gets the ball and starts to initiate the offense, good things happen as wing players get open looks. There was even some quality high-low action with Gasol and Howard.
It worked, and you can see why Mike D’Antoni leaned heavily on it — Nash played more than 40 minutes against Golden State and 37 on Tuesday in the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers. Nash is still 38 and coming off an injury (not to mention the chronic back issues). The minutes have to be controlled for Nash (and Bryant and Gasol and Howard) as the season wears on. But with the Lakers at just .500 and looking up at the playoffs it’s not that simple for the coach to just sit back and think about games in May.
Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes reach out to pay for funeral of Stephon Clark
Whatever Kings fans thought of DeMarcus Cousins on the court — it was a divisive topic with changing opinions over time — he was fully committed to the city of Sacramento. He was all in.
Still is, despite playing for New Orleans. Cousins and another former King, Matt Barnes (a Sacramento native), have reached out to the family of Stephon Clark — the unarmed young black man shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard a week ago — and offered to pay for the funeral, reports Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Clark’s shooting has sparked protests throughout Sacramento, including blocking entrance to a Kings game on Thursday night. According to reports and the Sacramento PD’s own account, the shooting occurred when police were looking for a car burglary suspect and officers had tracked the suspect through yards, then confronted Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, where he lived. Police allegedly thought he was armed and shot him 20 times, but he was holding only a cellphone.
The shooting has sparked reactions around the nation and from NBA players, including Barnes.
One of the factors to consider in the Rookie of the Year race: clutch plays.
Down three with less than 10 seconds to go Friday night, the Utah Jazz put the ball in the hands of their rookie playmaker Donovan Mitchell — and he made the play, draining a three to force overtime. It’s an impressive play.
In the clutch this season (last five minutes of a game, within five points), Mitchell has averaged 3.2 shots per contest (by far the most of any rookie) and has a true shooting percentage of 51 percent. Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, the other front-runner in the ROY race, averages less than a shot per game in those clutch situations (0.8) and has a true shooting percentage of 66.7 percent.
Mitchell made the big shot, but the Spurs made plenty too, had 45 points on the night from LaMarcus Aldridge, and got the win.
PBT Extra: Who is coming out of the Eastern Conference?
The Toronto Raptors will finish with the No. 1 seed and all the best metrics in the East, but they have a history of playoff flameouts. The Boston Celtics’ have been hit hard by injuries. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James but also a dreadful defense, this is the most vulnerable a LeBron led team has been since he bolted Cleveland seven years ago.
So what team is coming out of the East?
We get into that in this latest PBT Extra. A poll on Twitter found most of you think the Cavaliers, but personally, I think the Raptors — who have been better defensively all season than the Cavs — may finally have their year.
LaMarcus Aldridge drops career-high 45 points, Spurs beat Jazz in OT
SAN ANTONIO (AP) —LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell‘s 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs’ 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.
The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.
Utah’s 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.
San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.
After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.
Aldridge averaged 32.2 points and 9.0 rebounds during the winning streak, including two double-doubles.
Aldridge scored 28 points in the first half on 12-for-16 shooting, including a 3-pointer.
Utah missed its first six shots and was 4 for 14 as San Antonio grabbed a 19-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Mitchell settled the Jazz, scoring six points to cut the Spurs lead to 29-21 heading into the second quarter.
Mitchell was 14-for-35 shooting while falling six points shy of his season-high.