Spurs avoid total meltdown, hand Lakers their 5th straight loss

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In what’s been a familiar site lately, the Lakers lost a game on Wednesday night, this time to the Spurs 108-105. The loss drops them to 15-20 on the season and represents another shovel of dirt on their playoff chances in what’s been their most disappointing season…maybe ever.

The win gave the Spurs their 15th win (in only 17 games) in San Antonio this season and allows them to keep pace with the red hot Clippers and Thunder in the standings by pushing their record to 28-10 on the year. The win also allows the Spurs to bounce back from a loss in their most recent game, un unsettling defeat to the Hornets.

The result to this game, for nearly everyone, was a foregone conclusion. The Lakers have stunk, were missing Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and were on the second night of a back to back. Meanwhile, the Spurs are the Spurs and were playing at home. It really should have been that simple.

Except, of course, it wasn’t. I guess that’s why they play the games.

Early on the game went mostly as expected. The Spurs were able to build a relatively comfortable lead, using a combination of good off ball movement and their size advantage to get easy shots inside. The Lakers, as they have all year, struggled to defend for multiple passes and were thus beat by back door cuts when the ball was reversed while also falling victim to offensive rebounds when they didn’t help the helper on San Antonio dribble penetration.

As the game went on, the Lakers did well to stay within striking distance with Metta World Peace (23 points) able to take advantage of his match up with Tiago Splitter by scoring inside off dribble penetration and out by making deep jumpers when Splitter got sucked into the paint.

The Lakers were also bolstered by a career night from Earl Clark who, thrust into the rotation due to L.A.’s injuries, found creases in the Spurs’ defense. Clark used his athleticism and active legs to slash into the lane and get shots close to the basket and then hit his mid-range jumper when the defense sagged off him. Clark’s 22 points (on only 12 FGA’s) were surely found money for the Lakers but desperately needed someone to offset the cold shooting night Kobe Bryant was having.

However, even with the Lakers keeping it close the Spurs were right there to snuff out any attempt for an upset. Whenever the Spurs needed a bucket, Tony Parker (24 points, 6 assists, 10-16 shooting) would drive to the rim or hit a mid-range jumper. If not Parker, then Ginobili (19 points, 8 rebounds) would go on the attack and either hit a key shot or draw a foul that sent him to the foul line.

If the game had actually continued in this fashion — and it certainly looked like it would — no one would have batted an eyelash at the result. After all, it’s what we all expected.

But in the lead in to the fourth quarter, the Lakers started to make one more push that felt different. Down by 17, World Peace hit a three pointer. After a Ginobili turnover, Kobe then hit a short jumper to cut the Spurs’ lead to 12. A Parker miss was followed by an Earl Clark long 2 and suddenly it was 10. The quarter would end with Kobe hitting another jumper to cut make it a single digit game, but with Manu getting it back to 10 with free throws.

With the stage set, the 4th quarter became a drama filled period with both sides showing some clutch shot making to give their side a boost. A running Nash jumper from 19 feet was countered by a Gary Neal three pointer. A Clark lay in off a Nash pass would only give a short momentum boost as Stephen Jackson hit a three, and then another. Before you knew it the Spurs were back up by 16 and with only 7 minutes to go the game was over.

Not so fast. Here is where the game got really good.

Furiously, the Lakers began their final try at a win. And, in one of the more un-Spurs like performance you’ll see, it looked like San Antonio wanted the Lakers to have it. Spurs turnovers became Laker baskets. Made shots by Antawn Jamison, World Peace, and Kobe seemed to only further unravel the Spurs.

With Stephen Jackson arguing a non-foul call, he earned himself an ejection after two technicals and, with the ensuing FT’s the Lakers would only trail by 5. The possession that followed was the Lakers best of the game where nearly every player touched the ball and it ended with a Jamison lay up off a nifty pass from Nash. Three point game.

Sadly, for the Lakers, that would be as close as they’d get, though the last minute of the game was just as exciting. A Ginobili three pointer to push the Spurs back up to 6 was quickly countered by a triple by Clark. On the Spurs final possession they’d turn the ball over and give the Lakers one last shot.

However, in the most anticlimactic of endings the final Laker shot would be what we’ve all seen countless times. Even though the team was down three, Mike D’Antoni eschewed a set play call and instead gave the ball to Kobe to work in isolation deep on the wing. He rose up a foot behind the three point line and missed a contested jumper that bounced harmlessly off the rim. Ball game.

As it stands, the Lakers, though shorthanded, are showing more fight than they have all year. But, it’s just not making a difference in the win column. This game offered excitement, but like so many other games this season it ended in disappointment.

Meanwhile the Spurs just keep trucking. They came into the game with the league’s 5th ranked offense and defense in terms of points per possession. This game did nothing to show they can’t continue to keep that up, though I’m sure Coach Popovich would have liked a cleaner finish.

I’m also sure he’s not going to give this win back. No matter how much the Lakers could have used it.

 

Suns, Hawks say they won’t change strategy to tank

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Phoenix shut down healthy players in a transparent bid to tank last season. But Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said not to expect a repeat.

Scott Bordow of azcentral:

Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.

“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”

The Mike Budenholzer-coached Hawks also won’t sit their top players.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.

“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”

To some degree, McDonough and Budenholzer are just trying to avoid a Mark Cuban-esque fine. The NBA discourages most talk of tanking.

But Phoenix and Atlanta don’t need to change their rotations to tank. They’re already good at losing! Both teams are a league-worst 18-41.

Some teams will get more serious about tanking down the stretch. The Suns and Hawks are already there. That doesn’t make them more virtuous than the Mavericks.

Still, this is a tight race for the top of the lottery. Four other teams have just 18 wins. Another has only 19, and one more has only 20. If the Suns and Hawks need to get worse to improve draft position, I wouldn’t put it past either team.

By the way, that headline can be read a couple different ways. That’s intentional.

Report: Kyrie Irving requested trade after ‘sloppy’ discussion by Cavaliers’ front office

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The Cavaliers reportedly explored trading Kyrie Irving in June. He requested a trade in July.

Since dealt to the Celtics, Irving has said he’ll never pinpoint his precise reason for leaving Cleveland. But he also said the Cavs “didn’t want me there.”

Did the Cavaliers push him out?

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN.

The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber.

The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.

“It was sloppy,” one league source familiar with the draft-day discussion told ESPN, adding that any talk about trading a player of Irving’s ilk — however informal it might be — should be handled strictly between the GM and owner, because of the sensitive nature of its content.

While Altman was involved in the meeting, he and Mike Gansey — at that point officially the head of the Cavs’ G League team — were only keeping the ship afloat on an interim basis and had yet to be formally elevated to their current roles as GM and assistant GM, respectively.

This is one spin on the story. Yet another: Irving initially requested a trade before the draft and considered requesting one in 2016.

Both sides are trying to blame the other for the disintegration of their relationship.

It can be difficult to read how serious the draft-day discussion was. Maybe Irving interpreted ut correctly. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just used it to justify a trade request he wanted to make anyway.

What’s more clear: Communication hasn’t been as strong between the front office and players under general manager Koby Altman as it was under Griffin. McMenamin:

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN.

Altman helped repair that relationship leading up to the trade deadline, looping LeBron in on discussions that culminated with three trades. LeBron appears more invested in the Cavaliers, just in time to keep him next summer.

But some mistakes can’t be fixed before it’s too late. Maybe those Irving trade talks in June were one of them.

Report: NBA considering play-in tournament for playoffs

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Adam Silver and LeBron James are publicly arguing about 1-16 playoff seeding.

But that’s not the only change to the NBA’s postseason potentially afoot.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

sources say there is also some behind-the-scenes momentum for the idea of a play-in tournament determining the last two seeds in each conference — to the point that two specific proposals are circulating at the highest levels within teams and the league office.

The play-in proposal that has generated the most discussion, according to several sources: two four-team tournaments featuring the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th seeds in each conference. The seventh seed would host the eighth seed, with the winner of that single game nabbing the seventh spot, sources say. Meanwhile, the ninth seed would host the 10th seed, with the winner of that game facing the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the final playoff spot.

It is not coming next season, and it would be a shock if the NBA adopted it in time for 2020 or even 2021. It may never happen. Any such change would need approval from the competition committee, and then from a supermajority of 23 NBA teams. That process has not even started.

The NBA playoffs, with best-of-seven series, makes it more likely the better team advances. The NCAA tournament, with one game per team per round, generates excitement with increased variance and upsets.

Each format presents its own pros and cons, and I think too many NBA people seek the unpredictability of college basketball without considering the tradeoffs.

But I actually like this, because it makes the long regular season matter more. Each play-in seed faces a progressively easier route to the real playoffs:

  • No. 7 seed: Win one of up to two home games
  • No. 8 seed: Win one road or one home game
  • No. 9 seed: Win one home and one road game
  • No. 10: Win two road games

With more doors open to post-regular-season basketball, that’d theoretically curb tanking. Most tanking occurs lower in the standings, and the NBA hopes its lottery reform will address that. But this could incentivize teams otherwise be out of the playoff race to keep competing.

There are still plenty of questions to answer: How is revenue from the play-in tournament distributed? Could it work in conjunction with 1-16 seeding? How are are play-in-tournament teams treated in the lottery?

But this at least seems plausible.

Anthony Davis on Kevin Garnett saying he regrets not leaving Timberwolves sooner: ‘It makes you think’

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Kevin Garnett spent his first 12 seasons with the Timberwolves, only once advancing past the first round. Yet, he remained loyal to Minnesota. Finally, he helped facilitate a trade to the Celtics by signing a contract extension contingent on the deal. His first year in Boston, he won a championship while playing with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.

Jay King of MassLive:

Keep in mind, this is only Pierce’s description of Garnett’s words. Even if completely accurately relayed, it’s easier for Garnett to say this in hindsight – and while he’s mad at the Timberwolves.

But no matter the context, this resonated with Anthony Davis, who missed the playoffs in four of his first five years with the Pelicans and has never won a postseason game.

Davis, in an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

When you hear that, it makes you think. Not gonna lie. It makes you think, because you’re wondering if you’re following in that same path. But then again, you’re like, oh, this year could be the year. You don’t know. So, you’ve just got to take it year-by-year and just see, see where the team is going, what direction they want to go to and just see where their head is.

For years, Davis insisted his loyalty to the Pelicans was unwavering. Now, he keeps dropping hints he could move on.

That doesn’t mean he will. I still believe winning in New Orleans is his priority.

But what if the Pelicans don’t win? If they re-sign DeMarcus Cousins, they’ll be deeply committed to a roster that isn’t even a playoff lock. If they don’t re-sign Cousins, they’ll have no mechanism to add a comparable replacement. It’s the same damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choice that led to Jrue Holiday‘s massive contract last summer.

At some point, Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – might have to choose between major winning and New Orleans. And he might leave.

He’s so good already, but even he must imagine how he’d perform on a team with even more weapons around him. He in particular can use the support.

Maybe the Pelicans can upgrade his supporting cast. He seems to be applying pressure on them to do so.

But if not, we’ll at least have seen his departure coming.