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.”

Report: First-round draft prospect says Phil Jackson fell asleep during his workout

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Like I said, there are better reasons to criticize Phil Jackson than him saying his priority was the Knicks and that he had discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis.

Jay Williams of ESPN:

A top-15 draft pick told me the other day, because we were involved in this out of this conversation about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and he said, “Phil Jackson was falling in and out of sleep in my workout.”

Yes. “Falling in and out of sleep at my workout.” This is what this guy told me.

Especially given Jackson’s salary and reputation for not being a diligent worker, this story is too good to check out.

O.G. Anunoby invited to NBA draft, Harry Giles declines

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The NBA’s invitations to the draft are a good indicator of when players will get drafted. The league samples executives, who are more likely to be honest here than in leaks to the media, about how they rank players. So, the list is worth monitoring.

The players who will attend tonight’s draft nearly match the leaks – with one exception. O.G. Anunoby is going, and Harry Giles isn’t.

Here are the players who will be at the draft – a reasonable placeholder for the players most likely to get picked in the top 20 – via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England:

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Harry Giles declined his invite sources told DraftExpress.

Did Giles decline his invite because, with his extensive injury history, he feared falling too far? Or did he just prefer to watch elsewhere?

Was Anunoby simply 21st on the NBA’s list of players to invite? Or was the league too unsure of his medical status to include him until getting a stronger grasp now?

I don’t know, but the possibility that Giles could slip or Anunoby is more secure alters my perception of their draft stock (Anunoby up, Giles down).

Report: Knicks’ asking price for Kristaps Porzingis ‘massive’

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What has Phil Jackson actually done? He discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis with other teams and called the Knicks, not Porzingis, his priority. That’s it.

At face value, this is fine. It’s what devoted executives, not always Jackson, should do.

Jackson hasn’t traded Porzingis for meager return. He hasn’t traded Porzingis at all.

Everyone up in arms should take a deep breath.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

I wouldn’t rule out the Knicks trading Porzingis. The No. 1 pick got traded, after all. I wouldn’t rule out them trading Porzingis for too little return. Look at Jackson’s track record running the front office.

But wait until they do before bashing Jackson for not understanding Porzingis’ value.

There are plenty of better reasons to criticize Jackson, including overseeing the toxic culture that led to Porzingis skipping his exit interview and setting this latest “crisis” into motion. Publicly discussing trading Porzingis won’t endear Jackson to the budding star, but the problem is how it reached this point. Players in sound organizations can handle this. Jackson has engendered little confidence from his players, the distrust existed well before this round of trade talks.

Lonzo Ball recruits LeBron James to Lakers (video)

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Lonzo Ball doesn’t play for the Lakers. LeBron James isn’t a free agent.

But they’re headed that way – and Ball is already embracing it.

The Lakers are expected to draft Ball No. 2 tonight, and rumors are heating up about LeBron leaving the Cavaliers in 2018.

Why should LeBron join Ball in Los Angeles?

Ball on ESPN:

LeBron, I like to win. I know you like to win. I think our games can help each other out a lot. Any time you want the ball, just let me know. It’s going to be there.

Ball was asked to to pitch LeBron, so it’s not as if Ball is out here talking so brashly on his own. But answering the question was a rookie mistake.

Besides, I’m not sure Lonzo Ball can undo the bad blood between LeBron and LaVar Ball.