Lakers find groove for second game in a row… bring on the real test (Miami)

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It was a gimmick — after the Lakers ugly loss to the Thunder last Friday night, Mike D’Antoni said that the Lakers season really started Sunday night.

Well, the Lakers are 2-0 in their “new” season, and both wins looked a lot more like what everyone expected of the team this season — Dwight Howard playing dominant defense and still chipping in 31 points, Steve Nash setting guys up, Kobe Bryant getting open looks (on his way to 31 points also) and Antawn Jamison knocking down open looks off the bench (10 points).

Los Angeles pulled away in the third quarter and cruised past Milwaukee 104-88. It makes then 17-21 on the season.

Next up: The Miami Heat. And while Miami is in a bit of a rut themselves this is the real test of if the Lakers are starting to finally put it together or if this was just a couple of nice games.

What made the Lakers look good for a change was their defense. Milwaukee came in with the small but quick backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Lakers decided to challenge that with length — Kobe was on Jennings most of the night, Earl Clark was on Ellis. It worked, the Lakers blew up the Bucks pick-and-roll much of the night. The result was Jennings was 4-of-14 shooting and Ellis 6-of-16 and while they combined for 29 points they didn’t really change the game.

The weakness with the Lakers plan was that Steve Nash has to guard somebody and that ended up being Luc Mbah a Moute. But he tried to post Nash up to little success, thanks in large part to the help from Howard. Mbah a Moute finished the night 3-of-10.

Meanwhile, the Lakers showed some good ball movement against a quality Bucks defense — 20 of the Lakers first 22 field goals were assisted. There is starting to be an obvious comfort level between Nash and Kobe, with the latter getting more good looks than the ones he had to work so hard for earlier in the season. They are also getting Howard some easy baskets at the rim.

But the Bucks hung around — down just 7 at the half — because of offensive rebounds. The Bucks had 18, or to put it another way they got a second chance on 36 percent of their missed shots. Larry Sanders had four. It just didn’t help that much.

Mostly because the Bucks shot 35.8 percent on the night.

Some of that was Howard blocking (four) and altering shots in the paint. Some of it was improved Lakers perimeter defense. Some of it was just the young Bucks missing wide open shots. The Bucks offense has been up and down all season. This was down. And the Lakers get some of the credit for that.

Next up for the Lakers is the Miami Heat. That is a much better test, is the kind of win that can be a confidence boost for a team looking to go 3-0 on the start of its season.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.