Improved Lakers get measuring stick game against Thunder

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There was a time not so long ago when the up-and-coming Thunder were measuring their improvement against the Lakers.

Now, it’s the Western Conference champion Thunder that are the measuring stick and the Lakers who want to see where they stand after a run of better play. The two face off Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

It’s been well documented that after Lakers started the season an unimpressive 17-25 they have started to turn it around and gone 13-5 since. The thing is, it’s not that the Lakers are dramatically better in their last 18 overall — their point differential per 100 possessions +2.5, less than one point per 100 better than it was when they were eight games below .500.

What has changed is they got healthy, and with their key guys got to play together for a stretch modified Mike D’Antoni system, and with all that they started to find there identity. It’s taken a lot of Kobe Bryant — sometimes as scorer, sometimes as facilitator. It’s taken Steve Nash to work a lot off the ball. It’s taken Dwight Howard defending and playing more pick-and-roll. It’s been the role players finding their way.

It’s been the Lakers finally forming an identity like was expected of them in training camp (but injuries and a coaching change to a radically different system delayed that cohesion). Now that they have a sense of self the Lakers are winning the close ones they lost earlier in the season. Such as the 99-98 win over the Hawks on Sunday. John Schuhmann has all the numbers to back this up over at NBA.com — the Lakers with an identity are playing much better in the clutch than they did. They are now a .500 team.

But the Thunder are a whole new level of challenge. They are the measuring stick. They are still the favorites to make the finals out of the West, they have the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant.

What are the keys for Tuesday night? They all revolve around the Lakers defense, because the Lakers will score some (that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good) but the question is can they slow the Thunder at all:

1) The Lakers transition defense. Among all their many weaknesses this season, this has been the biggest — if you can run on the Lakers you can beat them. Los Angeles allows teams to shoot 58.1 percent in transition and score 1.16 points per possession, 23rd in the NBA. In the first meeting between these teams this year the Thunder shot 9-of-11 in transition and 3-of-3 from three. If this is an up-tempo game it will not be a close one.

2) Lakers pick-and-roll defense against Westbrook. It’s been improved in recent weeks but in the first meeting the Lakers struggled to stop Russell Westbrook (33 points) on this play. Westbrook has 60 points combined in the first two meetings this season. If Westbrook in particular, but also Kevin Durant and others, are allowed to probe and create off the pick-and-roll the Lakers defense will get picked apart and they will struggle.

On the other hand, when Westbrook went cold — 6-of-22 in the last meeting of these teams — the Lakers got the win. I say went cold because Westbrook completed just 3-of-8 shots inside the restricted area and I’m not sure the Lakers should count on that again. But the Lakers also turned him into a jump shooter and he struggled in that role — Dwight Howard is key here taking away the paint from Westbrook on drives.

3) Can Los Angeles slow Kevin Durant. I know, everyone writes they want to do this and he’s the league’s three-time leading scoring champ for a reason. He dropped 42 on them in a game this season. However, in the last meeting the Lakers had some success with Earl Clark — Durant was 3-of-11 with Clark on him. I’m not sure I’d want to bet on that trend continuing, but you can bet the Lakers go back to that well and if Clark can even just slow Durant and make him work for his baskets it will help.

JJ Redick appears to use racial slur toward Chinese fans

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Chinese New Year was February 16, and now we’ve rolled over to the Year of the Dog. The NBA has a huge presence internationally in China, and so its video partner across the Pacific put together a compilation video of NBA players wishing people a happy new year.

The only problem? In one cut of the video that has been making the rounds on social media, Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick appears to use a racial slur aimed at those of Chinese descent.

The instance is absent from the official video, but a reaction-style YouTube video captured a different edit of the Year of the Dog video with Redick still in it. Redick appears to say, “I just wanted to wish all the NBA c—k fans in China a very happy Chinese New Year.”

Redick responded on Twitter, saying he was simply tongue-tied.

It’s difficult to judge intention from a distance, but the result is certainly disappointing. Even with Redick’s apology, it seems possible he’s contacted by the league office as part of a disciplinary inquiry.

Adam Silver says change to 1-16 playoff format has gotten “serious consideration”

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LOS ANGELES — Going into this season, continuing off the recent past went the Western Conference has been deeper in talent than the East., there was a lot of discussion among fans and media about switching to a 1-16 playoff format that ignores the current conference system.

The league has always balked at that — there is tradition, the conferences play an unbalanced schedule so it’s not a fair matchup now, and travel is an issue — but things have gotten more serious, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during All-Star weekend.

“That is something that’s gotten serious attention, not just recently, but over the last few years at the league office,” Silver said in an address to the media. “I think, as I’ve said in the past, the obstacle is travel, and it’s not tradition in my mind, at least. It’s that as we’ve added an extra week to the regular season, as we’ve tried to reduce the number of back-to-backs, that we are concerned about teams crisscrossing the country in the first round, for example. We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams.

“Having said that, you also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in The Finals, and obviously, if it’s the top team in the East and top team in the West, I’m not saying this is the case this year, but you could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the Conference Finals or somewhere else.

“So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

There is no vote scheduled, no change on the immediate horizon.

The idea of teams playing a more balanced regular season schedule, then having the best 16 teams in the playoffs, is appealing. This season, the Finals should be the Warriors and Rockets, a matchup of the two best teams. Instead, it will be the Western Conference Finals.

Fixing it is not simple. If travel is the concern — having something like the Golden State and Philadelphia in a 2-2-1-1-1 series that drags out in the first or second rounds (if the playoffs started today we would get Boston vs. Portland) — there is no easy answer, short of a Star Trek teleporter. Faster travel across the nation is not on the immediate horizon.

As Silver said, the only real answer would be to build the potential for more time into the schedule. However, the NBA is already starting in mid-October and running through June, how much longer are they really willing to go?

The obvious answer is reducing the number of games, but we know that’s not happening. Don’t expect much of a change here.

Adam Silver: Discussions about one-and-done rule ongoing, change not likely soon

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LOS ANGELES — Nobody likes the one-and-done rule. Not the NBA owners, not universities, not players, not anyone.

It’s also not likely to change soon.

The NBA and players’ union are discussing the issue — along with NCAA representatives — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. But the sides are not near a deal to make changes, whatever they are.

“In terms of the NBA, we’re conflicted, to be honest…” Silver said in his annual address to the media during All-Star weekend. “So we’ve had some meetings with the Players Association where we’ve shared data on success rates of young players coming into the league. We’ve talked a lot about youth development in terms of whether we should be getting involved in some of these young players even earlier than when they come into college.

“And from a league standpoint, on one hand, we think we have a better draft when we’ve had an opportunity to see these young players play an elite level before they come into the NBA.

“On the other hand, I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger? Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18 using our G League as it was designed to be as a Development League and getting them minutes on the court there?”

Right now an NCAA commission, headed by Stanford President and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that is looking into this issue and is expected to make recommendations this spring that the league will look at, Silver said.

He added that another consideration is jobs for veteran players — if the NBA went back to a rule that allowed the drafting of 18-year-olds, it could squeeze some veterans out of the league to create roster spots.

While the NBA appears headed eventually toward some version of the “baseball rule” — players can be drafted out of high school but if they go to college they need to stay two or three years at least — don’t expect changes soon.

“So we’re not by any means rushing through this,” Silver said. “I think this is a case where, actually, outside of the cycle of collective bargaining, we can spend more time on it with the Players Association, talking to the individual players, talking to the executive board and really trying to understand the pros and cons of potentially moving the age limit.”

 

Lakers’ Channing Frye has appendectomy in Cleveland

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lakers forward Channing Frye has undergone an appendectomy.

The team announced Saturday that its new acquisition had the laparoscopic procedure Friday night in Cleveland.

The Lakers say Frye will be re-evaluated after he returns to Los Angeles next weekend.

Frye was spending the All-Star break in Ohio with his family. He was with the Cavaliers before being traded to the Lakers on Feb. 8 along with Isaiah Thomas in exchange for Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.

Frye is averaging 4.8 points and 2.4 rebounds per game this season. He has appeared in one game for the Lakers.

“I’m pretty sure (now) that i got my appendix removed I’ll be able to dunk at least 3xs a month now!” Frye tweeted, with the hashtag ItWasWeighingMeDown: