Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Joel Anthony

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

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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

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suggests Seattle starts a petition to bring back Sonics

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, left, signs autographs for fans during the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a dumb idea about the Sonics.

So, he posted it to Twitter:

Yes, because this is how the NBA decides where to place teams.

Seattle’s City Council voted not to sell part of a street to Chris Hansen, essentially blocking a new arena – which is probably for the best. Why build a stadium when you might not even get a team? NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league isn’t expanding anytime soon, and no franchise appears imminent to move.

But a petition could change all that do nothing – except rile up Wilson’s fans, no matter how detached the idea is from reality.

Kyle Lowry, in historic postseason slump, shoots at arena until nearly 1 a.m. (video)

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) and Jonas Valanciunas walks towards the bench during the second half against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Toronto. Miami won, 102-96.  (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Raptors’ Game 1 loss to the Heat ended at 11 p.m last night.

Kyle Lowry didn’t finish shooting until nearly 1 a.m.

Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

Beyond his half-court buzzer beater to force overtime, Lowry scored four points on 2-of-12 shooting, including 0-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Lowry, via Arthur:

“I passed up a lot of shots,” Lowry said after a 102-96 loss, cradling a basketball an hour after the game, after going to the team’s practice court to shoot postgame. “I passed up a ton of shots. The poor shooting, I think that’s what it did to me tonight.

“I’m going to hang out here for a little bit and just be in the gym, try to get back to just enjoying it, being in the gym, and having fun . . . I shoot the ball well when I’m by myself, but I’m by myself . . . it’s weird . . . I have (been through slumps like this), but not at this time, and that’s what sucks. Playoffs, all eyes are on you. So it sucks that I’m playing this bad when all eyes are on me, because I know I’m way better than this. So I’ve got to pick this s— up.”

Lowry is being more selective, waiting for only the shots he believes he has the best chance of making. And he’s still missing them at an alarming clip! That’s a major problem.

Unfortunately for him, this game wasn’t an aberration.

Lowry’s field-goal percentage – 30.6 – is the lowest in the playoffs since the NBA-ABA merger (minimum: 100 attempts). His teammate, DeMar DeRozan, isn’t far behind at 33.1%.

Here’s the full “leaderboard:”

image

The Raptors came to expect so much from Lowry, who should make an All-NBA team for his regular-season performance.

But this postseason has been a disaster, Lowry’s scoring average fell from 21.2 in the regular season to 13.0 in the playoffs. It’s one of the biggest drops in the league this year:

image

Stephen Curry, Lowry, Blake Griffin and DeRozan are the only premier scorers on that list.

Curry has an excuse. He has played just 38 total minutes in two injury-shortened games. Lowry is averaging 39 minutes per game. Likewise, nobody expected Blake Griffin to near his early-season output after injuries and suspension.

And at least DeRozan showed some signs of shaking loose in Game 1 against Miami. No longer hounded by Paul George, DeRozan scored 22 points (albeit on 9-of-22 shooting).

But Lowry has been a colossal disappointment, which speaks to both the high standard he has set for himself and the low marks he’s hitting now.

Maybe he’s banged up. Maybe playoff basketball, where teams can better scout individual players, doesn’t suit him. Maybe he just hit a cold stretch at the worst possible moment.

No matter the cause, it’s difficult to see Toronto advancing with its biggest star struggling so mightily.

Can Lowry fix this?

He’s at least putting in the time.

Report: Larry Bird still hasn’t told Frank Vogel about his future with Pacers

Larry Bird, Frank Vogel
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Addressing coach Frank Vogel on Monday, Pacers president Larry Bird said: “What I don’t want to do is leave Frank hanging — there’s other jobs out there he could get.”

Two days later, Vogel is still left hanging.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

If Bird’s statement isn’t the kiss of death, I don’t know what is.

Vogel is a good coach, and based on what we can see from the outside, the Pacers should keep him. But if Bird is waiting this long to give Vogel a new contract, that’s probably a telltale sign.

I doubt this lasts past tomorrow. Bird won’t want to get grilled about Vogel’s job status then do it all over again once he makes a decision. And at face value, Bird has the decency to end this saga before Vogel misses on the Rockets job (which I think would be an excellent fit) or any other.

Warriors GM Bob Myers: Stephen Curry doesn’t know when he’ll return, nobody does

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, center left, sits on the bench during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series between the Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Stephen Curry said there’s a “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 Saturday.

The bad news: Warriors general manager Bob Myers says Curry isn’t qualified to make a definitive statement.

Myers on 95.7 The Game, as transcribed by Diamond Leung of The Mercury News:

“I know everybody wants to know is it going to be Saturday, is it going to be Monday? It’s in that range, but it’s hard to say. But those games (3 and 4) are so close together.

“I don’t know if he’s coming back (ahead of the two-week timetable),” Myers said. “Nobody knows. He doesn’t know. He thinks he is, but that’s good.”

The good news: Myers puts Curry on a similar timetable. With Golden State leading the Trail Blazers 2-0, it probably doesn’t matter whether Curry returns Saturday, Monday or next Wednesday for Game 5.

As long as he’s healthy enough to stave off a potential Portland comeback and produce in the conference finals, the Warriors can’t ask for more.