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Spurs have little trouble with Lakers on the way to 2-0 series lead

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The necessary adjustments the Lakers needed to make in order to have a shot in Game 2 against the Spurs were only going to work if they were able to turn in a similar defensive performance that held the Spurs to 37.6 percent shooting in Game 1 of the series.

Since San Antonio used a combination of efficient ball movement and balanced scoring, and got a superstar performance from Tony Parker in the second half, any small improvements the Lakers made on the offensive end were rendered meaningless. As a result, the Spurs cruised to a 102-91 victory that gives them a 2-0 series lead heading back to Los Angeles.

In the first half, it was Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili doing the damage for the Spurs offensively. Leonard had 14 points at the intermission, while Ginobili did what he does, scoring a quick and devastating 12 points while playing just over 10 first half minutes.

Parker then took control in the third, scoring 15 points in the period to extend the Spurs’ lead to as many as 13 points. He added nine more in the fourth, giving him 24 of his game high 28 points in the second half.

The Spurs as a team shot 51.2 percent from the field for the game, including 7-14 (50 percent) from three-point distance.

The Lakers did a decent job of cleaning up their mistakes from the game before in terms of not being so predictable in forcing the ball into the post. Pau Gasol finished the game without a turnover, while Dwight Howard committed five of the team’s 13 it totaled in the game. But even though the spacing was better and the actions before the post entry were more effective, the Lakers have no quickness from their guards on the perimeter, which allows San Antonio to recover and contest shots after doubling the post far too easily.

The Spurs continue to get away with playing Matt Bonner for extended stretches against Howard and Gasol, and have been unable to consistently punish him when he’s on the defensive end. Bonner spent plenty of time fronting the post, and it was effective enough to deter the guards from trying those passes on more than one possession.

Bonner finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes. By contrast, Howard finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, and four blocked shots in 32 minutes. Just one more area where the Lakers should have a much bigger advantage if they’re going to have any chance of winning even a single game in this series.

Meanwhile, there’s more news on the injury front that L.A. will have to deal with in advance of Game 3 on Friday. Steve Nash played 31 minutes and contributed nine points and six assists, but he was laboring just to get up and down the floor, and was clearly limping by the time he checked out midway through the fourth once the game was decided. Nash said postgame he’d have another epidural or two to try to get himself ready for Game 3.

Jodie Meeks sat this one out with an ankle injury, and he’s scheduled to have an MRI to assess the extent of the damage. Steve Blake left late in the fourth quarter with a right hamstring injury, and he’s scheduled for an ultrasound on Thursday.

Ultrasounds and epidurals are supposed to be discussions involving pregnant women, not professional basketball players.

It just shows once again how far off the rails things have gone for the Lakers due to all of their injuries, but should the Spurs continue their high level of play on both ends of the floor, the pain of this season in Los Angeles will only need to be endured for two more games.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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