Bet I’d take: Lakers still make playoffs without Kobe

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When teams lose a star player, there is often this short period where they play a little better without him — everyone else raises their game, the team plays with passion and commitment, and they get a few wins they shouldn’t. Grantland founder Bill Simmons called it the “Ewing effect” after the 1999 Knicks, who lost Patrick Ewing to an Achilles injury but beat a good Pacers squad without him and made it to the NBA finals (where they fell to the Spurs).

The Lakers only need two games of this effect to make the playoffs with Kobe Bryant now out with a torn Achilles. I bet they get it.

The Lakers (behind Kobe , before his injury) came back to beat the Warriors on Friday night, so they remain one game ahead of Utah for the final playoff spot in the West with two games to play. Utah has the tiebreaker, so the Lakers may need to win both games to hold their advantage.

The Lakers can get that if they feed their big men — Kobe provided an outside balance but the hardest part of the Lakers lineup for other teams to matchup with was always Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on the front line. Get Gasol the ball at the elbow, have Howard out high for some pick-and-rolls and moving off the ball, and the Lakers will get their points.

But let’s be honest – the Lakers playoff road remains a bumpy one.

The Lakers two remaining games are hosting San Antonio on Sunday night and Houston next Wednesday. Utah is on the road — at Minnesota then at Memphis.

The big variable in this schedule is “who will the playoff teams put on the court.” That starts with the Spurs Sunday. Tony Parker returned to action Sunday for San Antonio, a team still in the mix trying to get the top overall seed in the West. The Spurs may well play both Parker and Tim Duncan Sunday against the Lakers because they will need the win. Then again, this is Gregg Popovich, so he might just sit everyone but Matt Bonner. Who knows.

Then the Lakers get the Rockets. This is a bad matchup for the Lakers — the Rockets play at the fastest pace in the league and the Lakers have a horrible transition defense, plus the Lakers are a bad pick-and-roll defensive team and both Jeremy Lin and James Harden run that play well.

The question we will not know until then is “will Houston be playing for anything?” If Houston rolls out their stars because they have a chance to get up to the six seed (and avoid San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round) they will play their stars. But they may not have anything to play for and Kevin McHale will empty out his bench for the game.

Utah needs to win both games it has left to have a chance. They should beat Minnesota but the Timberwolves are feisty, particularly at home. Then in the final game they get Memphis and face a similar situation as the Lakers — Memphis is the better team if they play their regular rotations, but if they don’t have anything to play for the Jazz may facing reserves.

Logic suggests the Jazz are looking like the playoff favorites. I just have a feeling the Lakers are going to find their way in. At that point, any Ewing effect will not be enough to save them. But the Lakers get in.

Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).

 

 

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.