The Extra Pass: Pau Gasol talks slow start to season, plus Sunday recaps

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LOS ANGELES — In the first quarter Sunday night against Minnesota (as his Lakers were getting blown out of the water), Pau Gasol was 3-of-5 shooting for six points.

The rest of the game he was 2-of-7 shooting, and the second of those buckets came :26 seconds left in the game when Rick Adelman had emptied the Timberwolves bench. Gasol finished with 11 points on 12 shots (but did have 11 rebounds).

That’s been pretty typical to start the season. Gasol was expected to carry the Lakers’ offense, at least until Kobe Bryant returned, but he is averaging 15.3 points a game on 36 percent shooting — it’s taking him 16.1 shots a game to get those points.

That is not Gasol like. It’s not close to what the Lakers were banking on.

What’s more is on the season he’s shooting a respectable 45 percent in the first quarter but just 25.7 percent in the second half.

Gasol said after the game the issue has been a respiratory infection he has battled all season — and that he is getting better.

“I’m getting there, I’m not 100 percent,” Gasol said. “Unfortunately I had to go through two weeks of the respiratory infection that has been killing me. But now I feel better, I’m finally feel like I’m over it. I was able to push myself better and felt better tonight, so I look forward to continue to build on that and get closer to that 100 percent…

“I was getting fatigued really quickly and I can get my wind and conditioning better, and tonight I felt better so that’s a positive sign for the future…

“The minutes that I play I want to feel well, I want to feel strong, I want to feel explosive and not getting tired after five minutes and that’s the way it’s been going to the last two weeks or so with this infection.”

The Lakers need that — especially is Steve Nash is going to be out for any length of time.

“I think he will come back into shape, we just have to be a little patient,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “I think he’s getting a little frustrated, too.”

The Lakers lack guys who can create shots for others — it’s not what Steve Blake does best. Or Nick Young. Or Wesley Johnson. Or Chris Kaman. I could go on, but you get the idea. Gasol, with his ability to both beat guys in the post and pass out of it to cutters was supposed to help get more shots for others in the D’Antoni system. But he has not physically been up to the task.

Gasol had surgery this summer to clean up both his knees, has logged 13-seasons worth of miles on his body and is age 33 now. How much of his slow start is due to the respiratory infection and how much is just do to Father Time starting to win the race remains to be seen.

But if the Lakers seriously harbor playoff dreams, they need the old Gasol back. And fast.

—Kurt Helin

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From the guy sitting next to me watching the Lakers get destroyed by the Timberwolves Sunday night:

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Spurs 120, Knicks 89: This was a loss Carmelo Anthony admitted to being embarrassed about afterward, and with good reason. San Antonio pounced from the very start, and led by as many as 37 points before the final buzzer sounded. J.R. Smith made his season debut after serving a five-game league mandated suspension, but looked as though he hadn’t played in months, going 1-of-nine from the field with the misses including more than one airball and largely appearing to be not even close. With the victory, San Antonio improved to 6-1 on the season.

Thunder 106, Wizards 105 (OT): The Wizards were in this one to the very end of both regulation and the overtime session, but in the end it was too much Kevin Durant. KD finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the winning effort, while Bradley Beal was huge for the Wizards pouring in 34 points of his own — however he missed the chance to win the game in regulation. Russell Westbrook and Nene were both ejected after getting into a shoving match late in the fourth quarter.

Suns 101, Pelicans 94: Phoenix put together some key shots to turn a one-point lead into 10 in the game’s final four minutes to beat the Pelicans for the second time and improve to 5-2 on the season. Goran Dragic returned from an ankle injury, but contributed off the bench instead of from his normal position in the starting lineup. Gerald Green remained productive in that role, and hit some big shots down the stretch. Eric Bledsoe hit the dagger three-pointer to seal it for the second straight game, and Markieff Morris continued his dominance as part of the reserve unit with 23 points. Morris is shooting 78.9percent from the field over his last three games.

Timberwolves 113, Lakers 90: The score may actually make this game seem closer than it was. Minnesota put up 47 points in the first quarter (just a made three away from tying the NBA record) on  76.2 percent shooting plus they hit 7-of-9 from three. Kevin Love had 18 points and hit 4-of-5 shots in the first quarter. Kevin Martin had 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the first quarter. Minnesota went on a 27-2 run that quarter, were up 24 at the end of it. They were never seriously threatened (the Lakers got it to 14 at one point, then fell apart again). This was a perfect storm of great Minnesota shooting and terrible Lakers defense. Ricky Rubio finished with a triple double of 12 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.  —Kurt Helin

Bill Russell to Shaq, Kareem during awards show: “I would kick your ass”

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Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players to have ever lived. His dominance for the Boston Celtics is unquestioned.

And, he apparently knows it.

Russell received a lifetime achievement award on Monday night during the 2017 NBA Awards. Joined on stage by NBA big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, Russell opened his acceptance speech of the award with a little joke.

Via Twitter:

Tell ’em, Bill

Russell Westbrook has to choke back tears during emotional MVP acceptance speech

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Russell Westbrook was a tornado on the court this past season, tearing fearlessly through the NBA, leading the Thunder to the playoffs, and eventually himself to winning the MVP Award on Monday night.

It was a different side of Westbrook we saw when he accepted the award, barely able to hold back the tears in thanking his parents, teammates, and everyone who helped him get to that point.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Westbrook had 68 first-place votes, runner-up James Harden had 22, however, Harden had so many second place votes that this was the closest race in a decade (although it wasn’t that close). Kawhi Leonard finished third, LeBron James fourth, and Isaiah Thomas fifth.

The MVP debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.

Draymond Green wins 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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There were a lot of incredible candidates for the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, but make no bones about it: Golden state Warriors forward Draymond Green was the most deserving.

Monday night Green was announced as the Defensive Player of the Year during the NBA’s Awards Ceremony.

In a year in which the Warriors were coming off a 73-9 season, and after an offseason where they added Kevin Durant, Green’s importance to the team was never overstated. His tenacity on defense and switchability allowed the Warriors to continue to be one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Golden State finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, and part of that was due to Green acting as they lynchpin.

A unique defensive player, Green was able to take some of the pressure off of Durant as well as boost his impact on defense. A player who at times had to guard all five positions, Green led his team in defensive win shares.

To take home his DPOY award, Green got 73 out of a possible 100 first place votes (from select media members), comfortably beating out Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, who was second, and San Antonio Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who was third. Robert Covington of the Philadelphia 76ers was fourth, followed by LeBron James fifth.

Much like the MVP award this season, a real argument could be made for either Leonard or Gobert’s candidacy for DPOY. However, With yet another 60+ when season under his belt, it made sense that Green was seen as the key by voters for the Golden State defensive attack.

Green finished with 73 first place votes, while Gobert trailed with 16 and Leonard with 11. Green finished with 434 total points. Gobert was second with 169.

Durant was the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, and voting for DOPY closed before the playoffs began. But if anyone watched the great playoff run by the Warriors — one where they only lost one game — Green’s importance is easily understood.