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.
Chris Bosh wants to play basketball this season. Of that, there is no doubt.
The question is will the Heat let him after he missed the end of the last two seasons due to potentially life-threatening blood clots? If so, will he have minutes or travel restrictions?
Bosh is working out to get ready for the season — he posted a video of it Monday on Snapchat, showing off his handles, and put it this way: Ues, he’s hooping.
The Heat and Bosh need to come to common ground on this before training camp opens. Bosh is on blood thinners for his condition, the team and he need to decide if he can come off them on game days or if there is another protocol that works for everyone.
The Heat would be a vastly better team with Bosh on the court this season, but that didn’t motivate them to bring him back during the playoffs last season (even though he wanted to). Whatever happens, Bosh wants to play.
Twenty years before Colin Kaepernick made his stand by sitting for the national anthem during preseason games — something he has every right to do: if we are going to force compliance in our rituals of allegiance how are we different as a nation than the countries we rail against for forced indoctrination? — the NBA had Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.
For those that don’t remember, Abdul-Rauf was a good NBA guard and a member of a Denver Nuggets in the mid-1990s. He had converted to being a Muslim during his playing career. As his faith and beliefs grew, he came to view the flag as a symbol of oppression. In the middle of the 1995-96 season, he told the NBA he would no longer stand for the anthem. Everything was kept quiet for a while, but when the PR storm hit it led to a few strange days — the league suspended him at one point — before was a compromise where he would stand for the anthem but pray into his hands during it.
Bernie Bickerstaff was the coach of the Nuggets at the time and went on SiriusXM NBA Radio Monday to talk about those days. His first reaction was that of virtually every coach who has heard or talked about Kaepernick.
“Distractions,” Bickerstaff said. “It caused a lot of distractions, and you know at that point the number of media members was not quite as resounding as it is today. But still, it was a distraction.”
Bickerstaff said he was blindsided byAbdul-Rauf’s decision, and he said they scrambled to deal with the fallout. He said he and the brain trust of the team eventually had a meeting with the guard and told him if he wanted to be on the team he had to stand for the anthem.
“We had him come in, to sit down and have a conversation, and the conversation was about, the one thing that we have in this life is freedom of choice, and with that choice comes consequences. And my conversation with him was simply that one of the guys I probably admired most at that time was Muhammad Ali, because not only did he make a decision not to step forward but it was the part of it, the things that he gave up, and our message basically to (Abdul-Rauf) was ‘Hey, that’s the guy I admire. If you really feel that way then you go home, and you give us a call and let us know you’re willing to walk away from that contract, and then I can really, really, respect that…
“When he got home, we got a call and he said ‘I think I want to be on the trip.’ And that’s our understanding, if you’re on the trip, then you’re standing.”
The NBA came in with a more fair compromise.
If this were to happen again with the NBA, it would be interesting to see how Adam Silver would handle this compared to the heavy-handed David Stern.
Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder waived Steve Novak and as soon as he was a free agent the Milwaukee Bucks jumped in — they wanted his veteran presence and his ability to space the floor as a big with his shooting. That lasted all of three games before he injured his MCL and was done for the season.
Milwaukee is going to give it another shot — they have re-signed Novak for this season, the team announced. Novak was born in Wisconsin and played his college ball at Marquette.
Details of the contract were not announced, but you can be sure it’s for the veteran minimum. This would give the Bucks 15 fully guaranteed contracts heading into training camp, the max they can carry once the season starts.
Novak may get limited run as a backup three or four (behind Mirza Teletovic). At this point, the 33-year-old is a dangerous catch-and-shoot three point threat (7-of-15 from deep last season), but brings little else to the table. He’s a defensive liability, which will limit how much he gets on the court for Kidd. But he fills a need.
Kids, if you’re tall and can shoot the rock, you can get paid for a long time in the NBA.
Part of the reason Oklahoma City was able to push Golden State so far in the Western Conference Finals was Kevin Durant on defense. He could switch out on the perimeter and use his length to bother Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, and take away their driving lanes. Multiple times in that series he was the guy rotating into the paint to protect the rim and he gave Draymond Green trouble in the paint. Durant is listed as 6’9″ but look at him from this summer standing next to DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan, and you can see he’s more like 7-foot — the most mobile seven-footer in the league.
Which is why the Warriors — who already had a top-five defense the past two seasons — think they have another guy that fits right in with their switching-heavy style and can make them better on that end.
Here is what Warriors’ assistant coach and defensive guru Ron Adams told Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.
“His versatility is outstanding,” Ron Adams says of Durant. “He’s a terrific defender, who played with great defensive consistency in our playoff series. We will expect a lot out of him in that regard….
“He can, if necessary, guard all five positions – and do it effectively,” Adams says of Durant, who spent most of the conference finals smothering Warriors forward Draymond Green.
“He’s a really good rim protector, in a non-traditional way,” Kerr says. “When he played the ‘four’ against us in the playoffs, he was brilliant. He blocked some shots and he scored a bunch of times. So he’ll play a lot of ‘four’ for us, for sure.”
You don’t need me to tell you the Warriors are going to be good this season. Hate them and KD if you want, but know they will be a force.
Just remember they are not a team looking just to get in a shootout — the Warriors get stops, too. And that’s not changing.