Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs

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SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio: 58-24, two seed in the West

L.A. Lakers: 45-37, seven seed in the West

SEASON SERIES

The Spurs took two of the three regular season meetings between the tams, however the Lakers won the most important (and most recent) matchup to date, beating San Antonio this past Sunday to help secure their place in the postseason.

KEY INJURIES

San Antonio: Plenty of players dinged up, including Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who have both missed extensive time recently due to injury. But the Spurs are expected to have their full complement of players available when the series tips off on Sunday.

L.A. Lakers: Kobe Bryant is out for the season with a torn Achilles injury. Steve Nash is out with what the official report calls “hamstring pain and weakness,” but there are issues in his hip and back which are causing the pain. Nash has had epidural injections the past few days, and hopes to be back for this series. It sounds, however, as though the Lakers should be prepared to go it without him, at least in the early games of this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Spurs: offense 105.9 (7th in NBA), defense 99.2 (3rd in NBA)
Lakers: offense 105.6 (8th in NBA), defense 103.5 (18th in NBA)

Differential: Spurs +6.8 (3rd in NBA), Lakers +2.0 (10th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR LOS ANGELES:

Team defense against Parker and Ginobili: The Lakers have been a defensive disaster for the better part of this season. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are among the best at creating havoc with their dribble penetration and ability to score and distribute, so the rotations defensively need to be at an all-time high this season for the Lakers to have a chance in slowing what the Spurs do offensively.

Use Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol to your advantage offensively: Few teams have two talented and skilled bigs as the Lakers do with Howard and Gasol, and they need to force the ball into the post offensively to punish the Spurs inside. Tim Duncan is only one defender, and isn’t to be feared as he has in seasons past. If San Antonio doubles, the Lakers need to swing the ball to the open shooters on the perimeter and knock down the open looks, especially from three-point distance.

Steve Nash: The health of Nash is uncertain at this point, and based on available information regarding his injury, it doesn’t look good as far as him contributing at a high level in this series. The Lakers will need him, however, if they are to have any chance of beating the Spurs any more than once or twice.

THREE KEYS FOR SAN ANTONIO:

Health above all else: The Spurs have proven that they have the pieces to compete at the highest level this season. They’ve played a surprisingly low number of games with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard all healthy at the same time, so having their best players at full strength should make the Spurs as tough an out as there is in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Crank up the defense: The Lakers are struggling to find an offensive identity with Kobe Bryant sidelined due to injury, and the Spurs need to keep it that way. L.A. shot just 36.7 percent from the field in an overtime win over the Rockets, and the Spurs should be able to cause many more problems for L.A. defensively than Houston ever could in its wildest dreams.

Tony Parker: Parker had an MVP-type season for the Spurs, and made the offense go at a level very few teams can replicate from the point guard position. If Parker can perform as he has when healthy earlier this season, his dribble penetration should cause a world of pain for a Lakers team that has struggled with its defensive rotations for the entire season.

OUTLOOK

It seems as though the Lakers might be able to hang around for a few games in this series, but honestly, if the Spurs’ key players are healthy and are able to perform anywhere near 100 percent, that’s going to be a tall order. San Antonio has a history of losing playoff series in recent years where it has been favored to win, but this Lakers team doesn’t seem to have the right combination of players playing at a high enough level at the right time to continue that trend.

PREDICTION

Lakers get a win or two, but won’t come close to challenging for the series. Spurs in 6, though if they win in five it wouldn’t be a surprise.

Jazz guarantee more than $1 million to No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy, a rare commitment to someone drafted so low

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18:  Joel Bolomboy #21 of the Weber State Wildcats handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In the first five years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, two players drafted in the 50s received a $1 million guarantee the same offseason they were selected.

This year, the list has doubled.

The Cavaliers guaranteed $1 million to No. 54 pick Kay Felder, and No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboyjust signed by the Jazz – will get even more.

Bolomboy’s $600,000 salary this season is fully guaranteed, and $452,625 of his salary next season is guaranteed, according to Basketball Insiders. That’s a grand total of $1,052,625 guaranteed on a three-year contract.

Only Tornike Shengelia (No. 54 pick in 2012 from Nets) and Kris Joseph (No. 51 pick in 2012 from Celtics) got more as players picked in the 50s who signed the same offseason under the current CBA. Both received two fully guaranteed seasons.

Bolomboy successfully leveraged a salary-cap environment relatively more favorable to second-rounders than first-rounders. If Utah didn’t make him such a favorable offer, he could’ve accepted the required tender and become a free agent within a year – with numerous potentially offering him a contract. The Jazz, with more cap space than they know what do with, probably didn’t mind paying Bolomboy a little more to secure him at what’s still a low rate for the next three years.

This likely wraps up any preseason competition in Utah for a regular-season roster spot. Bolomboy becomes the 15th Jazz player with a guaranteed 2016-17 salary, so he’ll almost certainly stick beyond the preseason – another plus of this contract.

This gives him security as he tries to develop into a player worthy of a second – presumably higher-paying – NBA contract.

Report: Hawks told Paul Millsap they won’t trade him

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks is introduced prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks tried to trade Paul Millsap this summer, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

After agreeing to terms with center Dwight Howard, Atlanta wanted to put Al Horford – not Millsap – at power forward. But Horford was also a free agent, and he left for the Celtics. So, the Hawks settled for keeping Millsap.

Apparently, they’ll stick with him.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

according to sources near the situation, Millsap has been assured he’s not going anywhere.

Teams often tell a player he won’t be traded. They don’t always mean it.

Most players perform better when they’re not worried about being dealt, ironically, increasing their trade value. Of course, trading a player you told wouldn’t be traded could infuriate him – but that’s no longer your direct problem. He’s gone at that point.

Millsap can opt out next summer, when he’ll be 32. Does Atlanta want to pay him $149 million over the following four seasons? It might take his max to retain him. Millsap is a two-way star, and plenty of teams will covet him. But there’s major risk in paying someone that old.

It could be better to trade him preemptively, especially if the Hawks take a step back and want to continue their youth movement. They already traded starting point guard Jeff Teague for a first-round pick to elevate 22-year-old Dennis Schroder. Howard would be a curious fit, but exchanging Horford for him was already puzzling.

If Howard is providing the best-case scenario of help and Schroder is ready for his bigger role, sure, ride it out with Millsap. But if Atlanta’s season goes south before the trade deadline, I’m not so sure the Hawks will honor their reported commitment to Millsap.

Report: Thunder almost definitely won’t trade Russell Westbrook this season

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook negotiated himself a raise of more than $8 million and chalked it up to loyalty.

Is the feeling mutual?

The Thunder can trade Westbrook six months after he signed his contract extension, which make him eligible to be dealt Feb. 4. The trade deadline will be a few weeks later.

Would Oklahoma City trade its franchise player during that narrow window?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year.

Building around Westbrook is certainly the Thunders City’s first choice. According to this report, they’ll give that route at least a full season to work.

But is there truly no worst-case scenario for the season’s first few months that would convince Oklahoma City to abort the plan early?

The Thunder became accustomed to winning big with Kevin Durant. It’s one thing to know they’ll take a step back after his departure to the Warriors. It’s another to live it every day.

Oklahoma City doesn’t want to lose Westbrook in 2018, when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. One reported plan is trying to sign Blake Griffin next summer, and that would certainly require Westbrook’s continued presence.

It’d also likely require the Thunder winning at a reasonable clip next season. Griffin probably isn’t leaving the Clippers for a crummy team, even if it’s to his native Oklahoma.

Winning will also be a key ingredient in persuading Westbrook to stay. Absent that, the other way to get value from him is trading him, and he’ll be more valuable if traded in February. Teams will covet the extra half season and playoffs with him on the roster.

Of course, that also applies to the Thunder. If Westbrook can help them reach the postseason and maybe even make some noise in it, they’ll gladly ride him.

But if the playoffs become a far-fetched dream by the trade deadline… I’m curious just how devoted Oklahoma City remains to Westbrook in that scenario.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.