Fatigue catches up with shorthanded Lakers in blowout loss to Suns

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PHOENIX — The Lakers haven’t won both games of a back-to-back set all season long, and thanks to Kobe Bryant missing his second straight game with an ankle injury, along with Mike D’Antoni refusing to expand his rotation beyond the seven remaining healthy players he trusts, L.A. continued that tradition as it suffered a 99-76 loss at the hands of the Suns.

“I just wasn’t ready to grasp at straws,” D’Antoni said afterward, when asked about only going seven deep into his rotation until the final few minutes. “After it’s over with, yeah [I would have used more players], if you would have told me it was going to be that way.”

There was energy from the Lakers early on, as both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were extremely active to start things off. Howard had 11 points and six rebounds in just nine first quarter minutes, while Nash took a more proactive approach to the offense by scoring 10 first quarter points of his own.

As the game wore on, the offense was tougher to come by. Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison, who had both contributed so much to the Lakers’ last two wins, were largely ineffective, while Nash and Howard managed just nine and five points respectively the rest of the way after their fast starts.

Howard seemed particularly affected by fatigue, on both ends of the floor.

“I tried to do my best to get in certain spots, but they did a good job of spreading the floor tonight,” he said of his defensive effort. “They forced me to make longer returns back to my man. It’s not easy. They’ve got [Goran Dragic] coming down the lane trying to make plays, then he kicks it out to my man on the perimeter, and I have to make a long run. So it’s tough, but we’ve just got to keep fighting.”

When asked if that’s something he can improve upon, Howard stressed the difficulty of that task.

“I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to do that,” he said. “Protect the basket as a big, close out to a guy shooting the ball at the three-point line. It’s not that easy, but we’ll continue to get better, continue to push through fatigue, and I’ll get myself in better shape for the playoffs.”

Offensively, while Howard’s activity level was high to start the game, he managed to shoot just 4-11 in the first quarter, and finished just 2-7 over the game’s final three quarters. D’Antoni seemed to think Howard was pressing to get through the physical way the Suns were defending him a bit too much.

“I just thought he kind of took it personal and tried to go at ’em,” D’Antoni said of Howard’s offensive struggles. “We need to do more pick and rolls, roll him into the post, get him a little bit on the move, get the ball into him. And we just kind of — because I think we were tired — we just kind of got stuck in mud and tried to wrestle our way through it.”

Howard paused and chuckled a bit when asked if the physical play affected his game, presumably due to the fact that he would need to choose his words carefully to avoid being fined for his comments. But the contact that was being allowed seemed excessive at times, yet Howard did his best to take the high road, both during the game and afterward.

“A lot of stuff happened in the paint, and for me, I’ve just got to do my best and not say anything to the refs,” Howard said. “It’s hard, but I continue to talk to myself, push myself to leave the referees alone, and hopefully they might look down there a couple times.”

The Lakers weren’t taking this loss too hard, as seemingly everyone was aware that the circumstances of playing without Bryant, on the second night of a back-to-back, with only a seven-man rotation had as much to do with it as did the Suns’ inspired play. Nash in particular seemed to have his explanation chambered for the assembled media that came looking for post-game answers.

“We just kind of hit the wall,” he said. “It was our ninth game in 14 days in seven cities, and you could just kind of see the wheels fall off. Especially lately, with guys injured we’ve been playing a seven-man rotation, and I think it caught up with us a little bit.”

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.

 

Celtics to get Marcus Smart back for Game 5 Tuesday

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It’s a series that has hinged on defense — Boston has played it well for the majority of five games, bottling up Milwaukee in the halfcourt. The Bucks only played it with real energy at home (and only for about six of the eight quarters the last two games) but when they do they have overwhelmed the Celtics, then converted turnovers and missed shots into transition and early clock opportunities the other way.

For Game 5 Tuesday night, Boston gets its best perimeter defender back — Marcus Smart. He has been out since before the playoffs following thumb surgery last March.

Stevens, via NBC Sports Boston:

“He hasn’t played in six weeks, so it’s hard to say how much (time he will get) but will certainly play,” Stevens said. Stevens said there would not be a minutes restriction on him, but added that the fourth-year guard wasn’t going to play 35 minutes.

Smart is a very good perimeter defender who is very physical and usually assigned to the other team’s best guard (or wing, depending upon the matchup). When Smart was on the court this season, the Celtics allowed less than a point per possession and were 3.6 points per 100 better defensively than when he sat.

Smart likely will get time against Eric Bledsoe and Kris Middleton of the Bucks. Just his presence brings needed depth to the Celtics in what is a critical Game 5 in a series tied 2-2.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over two to three years

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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?