Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Joel Anthony

Improving Lakers get moral victory. Heat get impressive actual victory.


A week ago, with Los Angeles’ big men sitting in suits on the sideline, the Thunder routed the Lakers.

Since that game the Lakers have played better, particularly on defense. Dwight Howard had become more active, the offense has been more crisp. The defensive improvement happened again for the most part on Thursday — Los Angeles held the Miami Heat to 40.9 percent shooting in the first half, plus Kobe Bryant and teammates hit key shots down the stretch and tied the game 90-90 with 2:30 left.

But that’s when the Heat put it in another gear — one of defensive pressure and good execution of their sets — that the Lakers simply could not match. Not even close.

Miami looked like a champion, closed the game on a 9-0 run behind five points and two assists from LeBron James and won 99-90.

The Lakers looked like a team that could once again not overcome their self-inflicted wounds.

The game was a reminder that when the Heat are focused on defense they are more than just contenders, they are the reigning title holders and you are going to have to rip that trophy from their hands if you want it. They still have the best player in the game in LeBron James.

It also was a reminder that the Lakers limitations as they get to know each other. It was a moral victory for a 17-22 team that is past the point of having time for moral victories. They need actual ones and they are going to have to get a bunch on the road (10 of next 13 are away from Staples).

LeBron had a “might want to think about making me MVP again” type game with 39 points on 17-of-25 shooting, 7 rebounds, 8 assists and three steals thrown in for good measure. He had 10 of those points in the fourth quarter and hit the dagger shots down the stretch. Kobe Bryant was good (22 points but on 8-of-25 shooting with six turnovers) but LeBron switched on to him defensively near the end and made Kobe’s life very difficult.

Early on, it felt like this could be a Heat runaway — Miami’s first eight points came off four Lakers turnovers and four Heat highlight transition dunks. The Lakers wanted to move the ball quickly, away from the Heat’s pressure, but the result was rushed and errant passes.

The trend continued. Los Angeles had 9 first-quarter turnovers, 16 for the half and 20 for the game. It plays right into the Heat’s hands — easy transition buckets fuel the Heat. LeBron started 7-of-9 from the floor and 14 points before he sat the first time. Miami had 13 steals at half (Chris Bosh had five by himself). Steve Nash had four first-half turnovers under intense Heat ball pressure (they went hard at him).

But Miami never pulled away. The Lakers made a few shots, got a couple of stops and hung around, and eventually they caught and passed the Heat, leading 45-44 at the half.

The reason is the book on the Heat is right — size can give them trouble. The presence of Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol (returned from a concussion) forced Miami away from its preferred small-lineups and three point shooting for a while. When Miami did go small they struggled a little with their shooting. Miami had no good answer for Howard, but the Lakers only got him four first-half shots.

The problem is Howard only got 7 shots, finishing with 13 points. The Lakers didn’t go to their strength.

The game remained close in the second half, with the Heat taking little leads and the Lakers making runs to get back in it. The last of those included a Steve Nash three, then a vintage Kobe three coming off a baseline screen. That shot tied the game at 90-90 with 2:32 left.

It was the last points the Lakers would score — Miami has switched to put LeBron on Kobe, Dwyane Wade on Steve Nash, and fouling Dwight Howard before he shot. It worked.

First Miami took the lead back with an elbow action that had Wade curling in for a clean look. Then Shane Battier fouled Howard in the paint rather than giving up the easy bucket and Howard obliged missing both free throws. Then the Heat took a four point lead off a Ray Allen rainbow shot, a catch-and-shoot he got off a curl.

Next trip down Wade smothered Steve Nash and then blocked his shot. Miami got its chance, LeBron drove hard then pulled up at the elbow and nailed it, at this point there were just :49 seconds left and the Heat were up 96-60. The Lakers needed a big shot but Metta World Peace and Kobe missed threes on the same possession (but you need to credit LeBron for part of that as he smothered Kobe and took away a lot of good options).

After that, there was a LeBron slam that put a cap on it.

It was an impressive last few minutes by the Heat that reminds you how good they can be.

And was a reminder to Lakers fans how far they are from that level right now

Knicks waive Lou Amundson, four others to keep Ron Baker

New York Knicks guard Ron Baker (31) goes to the basket against Boston Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) and guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Ron Baker was one of the top undrafted players, and the Knicks scooped him up quickly.

They probably didn’t realize just how much they’d need him.

New York’s rotation point guards are Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings, who both carry unsettling injury histories. Additionally, Rose missed most of the preseason while successfully defending himself in a rape lawsuit.

The Knicks can’t afford to go without a third point guard, and Chasson Randle‘s injury left Baker.

But because the they have 15 players with guaranteed salaries – Baker isn’t one – the Knicks had to waive Lou Amundson, who just signed a guaranteed deal. New York also waived Randle, J.P. Tokoto, Damien Inglis and Cleanthony Early, none of whom had fully guaranteed salaries.

Other candidates with guaranteed salaries who could’ve been waived: Sasha Vujacic, Marshall Plumlee and Maurice Ndour.

The bigger mystery than why the Knicks chose Amundson to waive is why they gave him a fully guaranteed contract in the first place.

Reports: Celtics waive No. 51 pick Ben Bentil, offering R.J. Hunter or James Young for second-rounder

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 19:  Ben Bentil #0 of the Providence Friars passes in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 19, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The North Carolina Tar Heels won 85-66.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Celtics new they drafted too many players, which is why they convinced No. 16 pick Guerschon Yabusele and No. 23 pick Ante Zizic to remain overseas and No. 58 pick Abdel Nader to sign with the D-League. That will allow Boston to maintain exclusive NBA negotiating rights on all three players.

But that still left three draft picks – No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown, No. 45 pick Demetrius Jackson and No. 51 pick Ben Bentil – joining the Celtics’ roster. There isn’t enough room for all three, and Bentil – the only one without a guaranteed salary – is getting the boot.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

If Bentil clears waivers, Boston can assign his D-League rights to its affiliate. He would remain an NBA free agent. However, another team could claim him first, waive him itself and then assign him to its D-League affiliate. Whichever team waives Bentil last will be on the hook for his $250,000 guarantee. It’s also possible a team claims him and keeps into the regular season.

I’m not high on Bentil, who hogged the ball for a lot of bad shots at Providence. But he has talent, and I’d love him on my D-League team. It’s also not my $250,000 to spend.

Sadly for the Celtics, waiving Bentil was already expected. They still need to shed someone with a guaranteed salary to meet the regular-season roster max, and James Young and R.J. Hunter are the most likely to go.

Of course, Boston doesn’t want to lose one for nothing.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

I believe Hunter is more valuable than a second-rounder in a vacuum, and Young also might be. But there’s limited incentive in preemptively trading for a player who will likely become a free agent otherwise. Sure, you get your pick of the two, and you avoid fighting other teams for him. But you also get him on a rookie-scale contract rather than what could be a cheaper deal.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics trade one before they have to waive one, but they don’t have much leverage.

More Collective Bargaining Agreement details emerging

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
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The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are on track for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon, and details are emerging about the new deal.

Here are some more.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

There is currently not enough support for an amnesty clause among NBA owners as they continue negotiations for a new deal with the National Basketball Players Association, sources told ESPN.com.

Under the new deal, players are expected to be able to sign contract extensions two years after the date of their original signing. Currently, they have to wait three years.

Restricted free agents also will be able to agree to offer sheets with teams starting on July 1 instead of waiting until July 7. The window for teams to match these offer sheets will be reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours.

Also, teams will no longer be able to pull qualifying offers to restricted free agents, as is currently allowed before July 31.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA Development League will offer teams the chance to add 16th and 17th roster spots, and pay players differently based upon their assignments in either the league’s minor league or as part of the parent team, league sources said.

I’m unsurprised the new CBA won’t include an amnesty clause. When the salary cap rapidly escalated under the new national TV contracts, it made it very difficult to find onerous contracts. The few teams with amnesty-worthy deals probably can’t convince other owners to approve an amnesty clause. The other owners don’t want to give a small minority of teams a competitive advantage. Though amnesty is good for players – amnestied players still get paid and then have the freedom to choose a new team, and it creates an immediate job opening – not enough of them would benefit to push this.

Allowing contract extensions sooner can be helpful, but it doesn’t get to the crux of why the current CBA made veteran extensions too prohibitive. Extensions can add only a maximum of three years to a contract. Too often, players prefer to wait for free agency, when the max contract length is four or five years.

I’m unsure what it would look life if only restricted free agents, not unrestricted free agents, can sign July 1. There has been talk of eliminating the moratorium, though the feasibility of doing so is questionable. Windhorst doesn’t address unrestricted free agents, but omitting them suggests their status won’t change – but I’m skeptical. If restricted free agents can sign before unrestricted free agents, will teams rush to sign players to offer sheets and fill cap space before unrestricted free agents become available? That’s essentially the opposite of the current system. Reducing the matching window is good. Teams used to have seven days to match an offer sheet, but contract details are no longer relayed through standard mail and fax. With the instantaneousness of the internet, there’s no need to hold people in limbo even three days.

Keeping qualifying offers binding is another good move. I’m honestly surprised the league has avoided a dispute over whether a player accepted a qualifying offer before it was pulled. This change removes the possibility of a squabble and puts a fair onus on a team to stand by its qualifying offer. If you’re going to make a player a restricted free agent, you shouldn’t have the right to cool the market on him and then pull his qualifying offer only once conditions change.

Additional NBA roster spots are not my preferred direction for greater D-League integration, but perhaps it’s the best bridge. NBA teams will pay D-League players more if those teams get exclusive rights on the players. Because players on D-League contracts are NBA free agents, no matter which affiliate they’re on, NBA teams have little incentive to pay major money to D-Leaguers. I’d prefer NBA teams hold the NBA rights of everyone on their D-League affiliate, but not  every team has an affiliate. Perhaps, once that changes, this system will be tweaked. This solution is fine for now.

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms


The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.