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

Tempers flare in chippy Game 4 between Heat, Sixers

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Miami is a physical defensive team, and in Game 4 at home Saturday they cranked that up. The Heat also are a handsy team they clutch, grab, hold, and get away with what they can (that isn’t new to this playoff series).

The Sixers are getting weary of it, and in a game with plenty of double technicals thanks to the referees trying to keep control. The game bubbled over a little midway through the second quarter when Robert Covington made sure Goran Dragic didn’t get off a shot after a foul.

These two teams don’t like each other. 😅

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Ben Simmons also leaned into Wade on a screen and pancaked him. But drew a foul.

😅

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Miami had the lead after three, but the Sixers have owned the games late this series. It’s going to go down to the wire.

Advantage Utah? Jazz’s Derrick Favors “100 percent” back

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — When Derrick Favors can find ways to impose his will, good things happen for the Utah Jazz.

Favors has been quietly, albeit effectively, getting it done against the Oklahoma City Thunder, playing in the shadows of Utah rookie of the year candidate Donovan Mitchell and Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

But a healthy Favors is making an impact.

The Jazz have returned to Utah with the series tied 1-1, thanks in no small part to Favors. He tallied career playoff highs of 20 points and 16 rebounds in Utah’s 102-95 road win on Wednesday.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder will start Favors at power forward alongside Gobert beginning with Game 3 on Saturday. But he will also utilize him as a backup center to spell Gobert. Favors has done his part to make playing alongside Gobert work by extending his shooting range to improve offensive spacing. He has also made himself an effective roller.

“He’s always been a good pick-and-roll player, regardless of `position,”‘ Snyder said. “We’ve never really thought of him as one position or the other. We’ve thought of him as a basketball player and tried to have him understand his strengths and then play to his strengths.”

Indeed. In the first two playoff games against the Thunder, Favors is averaging 13.5 points on 52 percent shooting and 10.5 rebounds.

It is exactly the type of impact Favors envisioned making when fighting to reclaim his body from knee and back injuries that afflicted him for the better part of two seasons.

“I’m back to being 100 percent,” Favors said. “Back healthy. Back moving the way I know I can move and playing the way I know I can play. It’s a big advantage for us.”

There’s no question having Favors at full strength has improved Utah’s ability to counter a Thunder team featuring the potent trio of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The veteran forward/center offers versatility on both ends of the court honed through playing multiple positions as circumstances dictate.

Crashing the boards definitely tops the list when checking off Favors’ strengths. He ranks second on the Jazz roster in rebounding behind Gobert with 7.2 rebounds per game.

When Favors is active on the glass, it can change the direction of a game for Utah. In Game 2 against Oklahoma City, he grabbed eight offensive rebounds through the first 2 1/2 quarters. By contrast, the Thunder totaled six offensive boards as a team in the same stretch.

“His length and his strength allow him to get his hands on balls,” Snyder said. “He’s got such good hands that even when he keeps the ball alive, usually something good happens.”

Favors’ willingness to go full throttle around the basket has turned him into a reliable complimentary player on offense. He rolls to the basket with consistency and, more often than not, it pays off for him.

It has turned Favors into a legitimate offensive presence again. He averaged 9.5 points on 48.7 percent shooting while limited to 50 games a year ago. This season, Favors is scoring 12.3 points per game while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor.

“Other teams and other opponents, they look and see I’m 6-foot-10 and think I’m a 5 man or whatever, so they try to take advantage of it,” Favors said. “It just feels good to be able to go out there and move the way that I know that I can move and be able to play the way I know that I can play and teams can’t take advantage of it.”

Favors is focused on staying aggressive as the series with the Thunder shifts to Utah. He is having fun playing basketball again and wants to make sure Oklahoma City continues to feel his presence on both ends of the court.

His teammates certainly do and they understand what a difference it can potentially make as the Jazz battle to keep going in the postseason.

“He’s been like that all year,” Mitchell said, “but he’s definitely turned it up with what he can do.”

 

Heat have work cut out vs. surging Sixers

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MIAMI (AP) — Philadelphia 76ers reserve guard Justin Anderson scored six points on Thursday, but he played a major role nonetheless in a 128-108 playoff win over the Miami Heat.

It was Anderson who worked on the psyche of teammate Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ All-Star center who returned after missing 10 straight games because of a concussion and left-eye injury.

“Justin was hyping me up on the bench, telling me I’m one of the best players in the league and that I have to take over,” said Embiid, who wore a mask during the game. “I liked that.”

Embiid, with that added boost of confidence, produced 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 30 minutes. He missed his first five shots from the floor and then made five of his next six, including three 3-pointers.

In addition, Embiid made 10 of 15 free throws, wrapping up his highly successful NBA playoff debut.

On Saturday afternoon, the teams will meet again at AmericanAirlines Arena in a first-round series the Heat trails 2-1.

Certainly, the Heat will try to corral Embiid, but Miami gave its own star center, Hassan Whiteside, just 13 minutes on Thursday, in part because of foul trouble.

Whiteside produced just five points, two rebounds and one block. He made his only shots from the field, but his four fouls helped to keep him off the court.

“I want to get more minutes,” said Whiteside, who led the NBA with 3.7 blocks in 2015-2016 and with 14.1 rebounds last season. “Even with the fouls, I could’ve been out there. I would not have fouled out.”

This season, Whiteside is averaging 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. But, on average, his minutes per game are down seven minutes from last season and even more in the playoffs.

Whiteside said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra “wants me to just be in a corner and set picks.”

Spoelstra, meanwhile, said “it’s part of my job to figure out how he can get to his strengths and make an impact on defense and rebounding.”

Aside from the two centers, the other big story line in this series revolves around the 76ers, a young team that won 18 of its past 19 games. After years of horrendous records amid a major teardown and rebuild effort, the 76ers have looked like the best team in the league during the past month.

They didn’t just beat the Heat on Thursday — they ran them over, making 18 of 34 3-pointers (52.9 percent). They also shot 50.6 percent overall and were plus-eight on rebounds and plus-14 on paint points.

Ben Simmons, the 76ers’ star point guard, nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and seven assists.

JJ Redick, one of the top shooters in the league, scored just 10 points, but 76ers teammates Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli each scored 21 points and each hit four 3-pointers to help the offense flow.

Miami was led by 23 points and eight assists from point guard Goran Dragic. Heat reserve forward Justise Winslow scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. But Miami’s top three shooting guards — Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Wayne Ellington — combined for just 21 points.

The game’s biggest factor was Embiid, who had been listed as unlikely to play until Thursday afternoon, when he was cleared by doctors.

Embiid had a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, which continued a trend. In Philadelphia’s two wins in this series, they have outscored the Heat by 31 and 21 points, respectively.

Anderson said Embiid has been a team player throughout.

“One of the things (Embiid) told me during (Thursday’s) game was to tell Coach that he didn’t want any plays run for him,” Anderson said. “He just wanted to play within the scheme.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo laid waste to Aron Baynes with this dunk

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For the first time this series Friday night, the Bucks looked like the more talented team.

That got them a comfortable win at home against the Celtics and set up a huge Game 4 on Sunday, with the Celtics still up 2-1 in the series. This looked more like the Bucks team that some of us picked to win the series, the team with the long and superior athletes unleashed on defense to challenge everything Boston tried. Milwaukee also got a big game out of Thon Maker at the five, which helped spread the floor because he’s a threat from three (as a team, the Bucks were 16-of-33 from deep) that the Celtics had to cover. That opens up driving lanes.

Giannis Antetokounmpo took advantage of those lanes laid waste to Aron Baynes with this dunk.

🛫 THE GREEK FREAK TAKES FLIGHT! 🛬

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Damn. That’s not fair.

🇬🇷💥

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Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee… and let’s just say I’m not betting Baynes will be able to turn the tables and put the Greek Freak in a poster.