Real test for Lakers starts Wednesday — keep it up on the road

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For two games, the Lakers have had success going away from Mike D’Antoni’s system.

They have slowed the pace down (93 possessions against the Thunder, 90 against the Jazz, both below their 97 a game average). Kobe Bryant is running the point, drawing the double team and making the pass (and you can bet when the doubles slow a little he will start shooting again). He’s having a lot of success doing that from the right mid-post, with a screen coming for him. With Kobe at the facilitator the ball doesn’t stick, it moves. When it moves you see Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard cut off the ball to open spaces and the rim. That has led to a high shooting percentage because of the good looks (54.5 percent shooting as a team for two games, with Kobe shooting better than 68 percent).

The bigger change is the Lakers have defended a lot better (they were at their season average against the Thunder, but as that is the best offense in the NBA keeping them in any kind of check is an accomplishment).

The changes, the win over the Thunder has given Lakers fans hope.

But this week the real tests start.

Tuesday night the Lakers get an improving Hornets team. Then they head out on the road for seven games — the Grammy road trip when Taylor Swift and Frank Ocean kick the Lakers (and Clippers) out of the building for a couple weeks.

On paper the road trip isn’t that brutal, only the Nets and Heat are over .500. But road trips are never that simple. The Pistons have been playing much better of late, the Celtics defend and no rivalry game is ever easy, plus other teams will be up for it.

Teams are going to start adjusting to what the Lakers are doing and the Lakers are going to have to go to their counters while on this trip — the Thunder came with hard doubles at Kobe, which had worked in the last meeting but did not this time around. Teams will watch that tape and learn. Teams are going to maybe not double at all, make Kobe the scorer and see if they can beat you with him shooting 30-plus times. The Lakers are going to have to stay true to what is working and not start having Kobe just looking to shoot or Steve Nash deciding to run.

Give Mike D’Antoni credit — a lot of people, myself included, have watched the Lakers up to now and question how much he was really willing to adjust to win with this roster. Finally that change is becoming the kind of radical change the Lakers need.

But two games is not real change. It’s a step, but it’s not real change.

And the Lakers are going to get tested between now and the All-Star Break. By then we’ll know if the change is for real, and if their playoff dreams still are.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves starts with Paul George question

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.

Fans to vote on “Best Dunk,” “Best Assist,” other categories handed out at NBA Awards show

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Fans are going to get their say at the NBA Awards Show, coming June 26 on TNT. Drake will be the host, and we to come up with an under/over on the number of players Drake gives a bro hug to during the ceremony.

That’s the night the NBA will hand out its Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and every other major postseason award — except for All-NBA Team, which has to come earlier. The media have already cast their votes for these awards.

Where the fans get to come in is the fun awards, categories created just for this event:

• Dunk of the Year
• Best Style
• Block of the Year
• Assist of the Year
• Game Winner of the Year
• Top Performance of the Year

The NBA already narrowed down the list of choices for each category to three, and voting opens tonight. Just go to  www.nba.com/nbaawards and cast your ballot, or on Twitter or Facebook just post the #AwardName and First/Last Name of their winner (for example, #DunkOfTheYear  Larry Nance).

These awards should add some energy — and good highlights — to what has the potential to be a stuffy event. It’s a bunch of NBA players in suits in a ballroom in New York, this is going to feel like a branding event at times. The NBA is hoping the fans can liven it up.

Here are the categories, with the hashtags for voting:

#DunkOfTheYear
• Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn

• Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix

• Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta

#BestStyle
• Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
• Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook

#BlockOfTheYear
• San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston
• New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
• Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto

#GameWinnerOfTheYear
• Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
• Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston

#TopPerformanceOfTheYear
• Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
• Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
• Golden State’s Klay Thompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple-double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando

#AssistOfTheYear
• Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
• Denver’s Nikola Jokic with no-look pass
• LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass

Report: USC’s Elijah Stewart intended to declare for NBA draft, forgot

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Declaring for the NBA draft is like declaring bankruptcy: You can’t just bellow it and expect it to take effect. You actually have to fill out the paperwork.

That’s why USC’s Elijah Stewart wasn’t among the 192 early entrants to the 2017 NBA draft.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Stewart:

Givony’s report will do little but embarrass Stewart. It’s unlikely Stewart would’ve been drafted, and he likely would have withdrawn to return to USC for his senior season. Perhaps, he would’ve gotten helpful feedback from the NBA before that point, but that’s minimal.

The real problem, though, isn’t Stewart’s inattentiveness, to whatever extent is exists. It’s that the NCAA won’t allow players to maintain eligibility while having an agent.

If Stewart had proper representation, there’d be no questioning whether he intended to declare for the draft. His agent would’ve handled it, one way or the other.

If the NCAA were truly about educating players, it’d allow them to have guidance from experienced professional agents. Agents don’t have to conflict with amateurism (not that amateurism is a worthy goal, anyway).

But teaching players is not the NCAA’s true goal. The NCAA prioritizes keeping its cartel in tact and money flowing to coaches and administrators.

Agents might steer players from that corrupt system entirely or at least help them leverage their immense power to gain better compensation than a wage-fixed scholarship.

This incident should spark discussion about the unseemly lengths the NCAA goes to to protect its money-makers from its revenue-generators. Instead, it’s much easier to make Stewart a punchline.