Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni and Dwight Howard react on the sidelines as the Lakers trail the Los Angeles Clippers, and after Howard fouled out of the game, during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Los Angeles

The Extra Pass: Why D’Antoni is the right man for the job; plus Sunday’s recaps

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You may consider this curious timing to take up for Mike D’Antoni, considering his Lakers just gave up 137 points at home to a Denver Nuggets team that can best be described as “meh.”

Believe it or not, though, pulling the wool over your eyes isn’t my intention here. Let’s be truthful: D’Antoni’s teams really are awful defensively. In 11 seasons, he’s coached an above-average defense in terms of efficiency just once. His defensive schemes aren’t ever any good, and they likely never will be.

That, understandably, doesn’t sit right with a lot of people. Rarely do below-average defensive teams make the playoffs, let alone go deep in them.

The Los Angeles Lakers, as many of their fans will be quick to remind you of, are all about hanging banners and winning rings. D’Antoni’s track record sure seems to be counter-intuitive to that.

But while we’re being honest here, let’s knock down those expectations a peg. The Lakers weren’t going to win a championship this season. Not with Steve Nash in this condition at 39 years old, not with Kobe Bryant coming off a devastating injury, not with Pau Gasol’s natural decline, and not with Dwight Howard leaving behind no reasonable way to replace his production.

No one was winning anything substantial with this roster – not even the great Phil Jackson, who surely would have a whale of a time coaching Nick Young.

That’s part of the issue with evaluating D’Antoni’s performance this season. What standards should he be held up to? Those set by past coaches and teams far more talented, or ones more in line with reality?

The Lakers have been entertaining, and not solely in just a trainwreck sort of way, as was originally anticipated. This is typically a fun brand of basketball to watch, but more importantly, it’s a style that’s hospitable to star players, Bryant included.

The Lakers move the ball. They feel empowered to take open threes. For the most part, they play pretty unselfish basketball, which is pretty much unheard of considering that nearly everyone on the roster is on an expiring contract and playing for their next job. There are defensive failures, naturally, but what did anyone reasonably expect?

From Lakers’ general manager Mitch Kupchak’s perspective, D’Antoni has probably met his expectations so far this year.

The reclamation project of Kendall Marshall has been a huge success thus far. D’Antoni has a reputation as a point guard whisperer, and maybe it was Kupchak’s confidence in D’Antoni that made giving Marshall a two-year non-guaranteed deal a high-upside play that looks like it’s going to pan out.

That may not seem significant, but it’s a big deal for the Lakers. Most of the players currently on the roster, including Gasol, will be long gone next year. Finding cheap options that can contribute to next year’s team has to be the top priority, so long as we’re going to ignore the white elephants of tanking and taxes.

At least in that sense, D’Antoni is the perfect coach for the Lakers right now. For as unimpressive as his defensive resume is, D’Antoni has a history of unearthing diamonds in the rough. His offensive system can inflate numbers, and in turn, it can inflate the trade value of the players putting up those numbers. That’s important – arguably moreso than wins are at this point.

That won’t stop the pitchforks from being raised, of course. There is a tipping point with D’Antoni that’s been reached multiple times in the past, and bad defense usually reflects worse on a coach than a hapless offense does. There’s a reason D’Antoni has been fired before, and there’s a reason it will likely happen again.

But it shouldn’t happen yet – not so long as D’Antoni is helping to improve the Lakers’ future, one way or another.

-D.J. Foster

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This was the best video of the night — watch J.R. Smith on the left of the screen untie Shawn Marion’s shoe during Dirk Nowitzki’s free throw attempt. Marion plays the entire next possession that way before getting to tie his shoe.

The question on twitter after this… (keep reading)

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Grizzlies 112, Pistons 84: This game was close for the first half (Detroit led by 5 at the break and got good play from their bigs) then the Grizzlies won the second half 61-28 as the Pistons shot just 30.8 percent in the second half and were 1-of-9 from three. The last 24 minutes were everything you feared about the Pistons — Josh Smith taking bad jumpers, Brandon Jennings was 0-of-7, and they didn’t defend. Jon Lauer came off the bench to lead the Grizzlies with 23 points, and a rare shout out this season to Ed Davis (not a good fit in the Grizzlies system most nights) who had 13 points in the fourth quarter to keep this a blow out.

Pacers 82, Cavaliers 78: It wasn’t pretty. To use the Rasheed Wallace classic, both teams played hard. But it wasn’t pretty. This was the kind of game you expect the Pacers to win in the postseason (well, except for the for the lack of crowd noise) — it was a grind-it-out win. They defended and held the Cavaliers to 34.2 percent shooting, or an offensive rating or 89.6 points per 100 possessions. Indiana just couldn’t shoot. Paul George led the Pacers with 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting, while Roy Hibbert had 15 points (on 12 shots).

Heat 102, Raptors 97: Moral victories suck, but Toronto should take this as one — they looked like the third best team in the East right now (which they are) and led entering the fourth quarter. Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting and outplayed Chris Bosh for most of the night. DeMar DeRozan looked like an All-Star with 26 points and 7 assists, but he wore down in the fourth. That’s when LeBron James played like the LeBron James you expect — 10 of his 30 points came in the fourth quarter. Once again Beasley was key with 17 points off the bench, he’s becoming a real weapon.

Warriors 112, Wizards 96: Make that nine wins in a row for Golden State, the last five on the road. This one was tied at the half, but the Wizards have had some rough third quarters recently and the Warriors took advantage this time. Golden State started the second half on a 19-3 run and they led comfortably the rest of the way, shooting 50.3 percent on the night. The Warriors were led by 26 points from Klay Thompson, while David Lee had 21 points and 11 boards (10 of his points came in the key third quarter). John Wall had a strong first half but wasn’t a factor in the second and finished with 14 points (tied for most on the Wizards) on 11 shots.

Thunder 119, Celtics 96: It was the second night of a back-to-back after a tough game against Minnesota, yet this was the best the Thunder have looked in a week. You can thank Reggie Jackson for that, as he had a career high 27 points and played with a lot of confidence from the start (he opened the game 4-of-4 shooting). He seems to be growing into the role of starter with Russell Westbrook out. Boston got 19 a piece from Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, but this one was never close. Kevin Durant had 21 and never got off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Knicks 92, Mavericks 80: Dirk Nowitzki was right, Dallas didn’t look like a playoff team in this game. They looked flat. Even without an ill Tyson Chandler New York took the lead with a 21-5 run in the first quarter and held that the rest of the way, fighting back each Mavericks’ run. While Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 19 points it was the seven points late in the fourth quarter from Iman Shumpert that sealed the win the win. Dallas got 18 out of Nowitzki but the team scored just 35 points in the first half and seemed uninspired.

Nuggets 137, Lakers 115: Fast paced, high scoring, this was a little bit of a throwback to a 1985 Lakers/Nuggets game. Except much more sloppy. Denver took control of this game in the third quarter with a 17-2 run sparked by Ty Lawson (20 points on the night) and they got strong play off the bench with from Timofey Mozgov (who also had 20). Brian Shaw needs to play Mozgov and Kenneth Faried together more. On the other side, the Lakers continue to get good play out of Kendall Marshall — he had 17 assists and when he sat the Lakers offense loses all structure.

—Kurt Helin

Watch Pistons C Andre Drummond blow a fancy breakaway dunk (VIDEO)

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Andre Drummond had a breakaway on Sunday against the Boston Celtics. Fans in Detroit should have been in for a treat from their franchise center — a former NBA Dunk Contest participant — but instead they got something worth of Shaqtin’ A Fool.

Unfortunately for Drummond, the result of the one man fastbreak was a blown dunk, a ball that went sky high, and a sheepish look from the Pistons center.

Bummer.

Rumor: Andrew Bogut expected to join Cavaliers after 76ers buyout

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The Dallas Mavericks traded Andrew Bogut to the Philadelphia 76ers at the deadline for big man Nerlens Noel. Bogut, 32, was never expected to stay in Philly and he should be bought out soon.

There has been some speculation about what contender Bogut might be looking to join, or which might come calling. Due to CBA rules, Bogut could feasibly re-join the Golden State Warriors. Instead, it appears Bogut is expected to head the other direction and sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Via Twitter:

Bogut would be Cleveland’s second center on the roster alongside Tristan Thompson, who slid over to the 5 full-time this season. The Australian big man would also be the second former Maverick to join the Cavaliers, as PG Deron Williams reportedly intends to sign with Cleveland as well.

Bogut has been less effective in limited minutes this season than he has in years past. While Bogut is still a good passer and rebounder, he has not been as productive on offense than prior seasons. That could largely be due to Dallas’ poor start, or because of nagging injuries. He suffered calf, knee, and hamstring injuries this season with Dallas, and it will still be a gamble for Cleveland to rely upon Bogut for a playoff run.

However, the Cavaliers could simply rest Bogut extensively, integrate him into their system, and have him ready for a second championship push through the Eastern Conference.

We’re still waiting for the move to be made official, but it appears as though LeBron James & Co. are bolstering themselves for the postseason.

Jusuf Nurkic lost two teeth after PJ Tucker smacked him in the face (VIDEO)

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Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic was whistled for a foul on Sunday night while trying to grab a rebound over PJ Tucker. That came as a surprise to Nurkic, who had actually lost two teeth on the play and went to point out that fact to officials.

The play came midway through the fourth quarter, with Tucker underneath the basket and Nurkic standing behind him in the paint. Toronto’s Patrick Patterson missed a long 3-pointer, leading to a battle for the ball down low.

Nurkic was called for a push in the back as the two went up, but Tucker threw his arm and hit Nurkic on the left side of his face. That knocked out two of Nurkic’s teeth:

The Blazers big man recovered his teeth — which were false and part of a dental implant called a bridge — and handed them to Portland head trainer Geoff Clark.

Gross!

But have no fear: just a few hours after the Blazers lost to the Raptors, 112-106, Nurkic had his teeth put back in by a dentist.

Kevin Garnett used Beyonce, singing as part of his NBA conditioning regimen

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Future NBA Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett was known during his playing days for his exceptional conditioning. The athletic power forward was in a full sweat by tip-off, and constantly talking on both offense and defense.

So how did he do it?

According to JJ Redick, Garnett used to sing while running as a method of normalizing talking during a game. The practice was apparently modeled after Beyonce’s ability to dance and sing at the same time.

Via Time.com:

“One time I saw her working out, and she was doing her dances and she was singing while she was doing her dancing,” Garnett said to Redick. “So then I’m thinking to myself, maybe I should run and sing at the same time. So in the offseason, I would go to Malibu and I would go down to the beach, and when I run on the beach I would be like ‘Lalala lalala lalala,’ while I’m running. So then, when I get on the court and I’m getting back on defense and I’m talking on defense, I don’t get tired.”

That’s ingenious, and the kind of clever tactics you’d expect to come from a HOFer like Garnett.