Spurs take care of business against injured Lakers, lead series 3-0

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LOS ANGELES — This is what good teams do. They take care of business.

With injuries forcing the Lakers into lineups without any guards you can name — unless you’re a big D-League fan — the Spurs looked every bit the contender, racing out to an early double-digit lead, never letting up and cruising to a 120-89 win Friday night over the Lakers in Los Angeles. They were professional, cold and efficient all night long. They were the Spurs.

San Antonio is now up 3-0 in the series and will likely close it out Sunday in Los Angeles with a similar performance. Will the Lakers put up much of a fight?

“It’s hard to determine,” Pau Gasol said in a postgame moment of honesty. “We’ll see Sunday how much fight we have in us in order to give ourselves a chance and not have a 30 point loss at home.”

It was 31 points, which is the worst home loss in Lakers playoff history. The Lakers fans who stuck around for the end of the game chanted “we want Phil” but when you look at who is left on the Lakers’ roster Phil Jackson likely would pass.

There were no real surprises here. The Lakers stood no chance Friday night with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks all wearing suits on the bench due to injury (well, Kobe stayed in the locker room). The Lakers started Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock as their guards. Plus, Metta World Peace just had his knee drained, wasn’t moving well, went 0-for-6 shooting in the first half and didn’t play in the second.

“It’s difficult because we have lineups out there that we’re not accustomed to and it’s hard to get on the same page right away,” Gasol said. “So as much as everybody is trying, tonight there was too many breakdowns.”

Those breakdowns largely came on the defensive end, which has been the Lakers weak link all season anyway. The Spurs shot 61.2 percent for the game, and they got 56 points in the paint on 28-of-39 shooting. The Spurs averaged 123 points per 100 possessions (their season average was 105.9).

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker ate the Lakers defense up. Duncan had 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting, knocking down midrange face-ups, driving around guys and even finishing an alley-oop one handed.

Parker started to look like his old self, the one that played at an MVP level for a stretch of the season. He had 20 points on 9-of-14 shots and carved up the Lakers.

This was a slow and steady march by San Antonio that started early — the Lakers led 6-3 and then the Spurs went on a 14-2 run. It was 30-18 San Antonio after one quarter, 12 minutes in which the Spurs shot 61.1 percent. Meanwhile the Lakers shot 34.8 percent, with Morris and Goudelock shooting 1-of-6. As it has been all season, Pau Gasol and Howard shot a combined 5-9, rest of Lakers 3-14.

Howard finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, but after the game he was clearly frustrated by the Spurs strategy of fouling him hard nearly every time he went up for a shot. He took 15 free throws on the night, making 7. Morris added 24 points, Goudelock 20 and Gasol 11.

The only bad news for the Spurs was Tiago Splitter going down in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. He left the building on crutches but Popovich said that the X-rays were negative. Popovich said don’t expect him to play on Sunday. Expect to see a lot DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner Sunday in Game 4.

If the Spurs close out the series Sunday — and it’s hard to imagine any other outcome — Splitter could have a week to get right. That’s how long the first round of the NBA playoffs go. Duncan was okay with that.

“We’re an older team and we could use all the rest we can get,” Duncan said.

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?