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Paging LaMarcus: Ailing Spurs need Aldridge to take charge

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In the summer of 2015, the San Antonio Spurs went shopping like they never have before.

Long content to spend big money on their core while using free agency to sprinkle role players around them, the Spurs lavished a max contract on LaMarcus Aldridge, a four-time All-Star from Portland who would join Kawhi Leonard as one of the focal points of the franchise after Tim Duncan retired.

Now with Leonard ailing and San Antonio facing mighty Golden State in the Western Conference finals, the Spurs need Aldridge to take control.

“LaMarcus has to score for us,” coach Gregg Popovich said after the 136-100 wipeout in Game 2 that put the Warriors up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. “He can’t be timid. He turned down shots in the first quarter. He can’t do it. You’ve got to score.”

Aldridge had just eight points on 4-for-11 shooting in Game 2 as he was swarmed all night by a Warriors defense that was free to double- and sometimes triple-team him since it didn’t have to worry about Leonard, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Aldridge was 0 for 2 with two turnovers in the first quarter and knows he has to be more aggressive when the two teams meet for Game 3 in San Antonio on Saturday.

“The ball has to move, but I have to take a shot if it’s there,” Aldridge said Thursday. “I was trying to make the extra pass, but I have to score, too. If I’m open, I have to shoot.”

The Spurs signed him to a four-year, $80 million deal to take some of the scoring burden off of aging stars Duncan, who retired last summer, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

“Timmy’s last couple years, he couldn’t score nearly like he used to and Manu’s getting older and Tony’s getting older,” Popovich told the AP in March. “Luckily we had Kawhi who was going through the roof. But there’s got to be an inside threat, somebody else that can score for you. So LaMarcus was a huge opportunity for us to try to convince him to come.”

Aldridge was everything they needed in the clincher over Houston in the conference semifinals. While Leonard sat out with the ankle injury, Aldridge scored 34 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help the Spurs to a stunning 39-point victory.

Aldridge brought it in Game 1 against the Warriors as well, scoring 28 points in a two-point defeat. Leonard went down just over halfway through that game and his status for Game 3 remains undecided. But Golden State blitzed Aldridge from all angles in Game 2 and the Spurs are scrambling to find their identity with both Leonard and Parker out with injuries.

Since Leonard’s ankle rolled on Zaza Pachulia‘s foot while taking a jump shot in Game 1, Aldridge has turned the ball over eight times and made only seven shots against Golden State’s swarming defense.

“They’ve been throwing different things at us, throwing different things at LaMarcus,” guard Danny Green said. “Obviously, thinking a little bit. It’s a lot easier to do that when we don’t have everybody that we need to make plays so they can trap a little more on those guys.

“But offensively, I think it’s a combination of them playing good defense and also us not finding our chemistry, not finding our rhythm, and not knowing where to be with two of our main playmakers not there.”

The key, Aldridge said, was finding a balance between being assertive and looking to score while also making sure that he keeps his teammates involved and hits them with passes when they’re open on the perimeter.

“It was definitely something different than I’ve seen here, but you’ve got to play through it,” Aldridge said of the increased attention from the Warriors. “I either take my shot or try to find the open guy. I think the last game it definitely worked in their advantage with me getting passive, but next game I won’t do that.”

For San Antonio, there is no time to lose. Popovich made that abundantly clear in his pointed remarks after Game 2 when he lamented the team’s lack of intensity and belief.

It all starts with a team’s star players, and Aldridge is the biggest one still standing for the ailing Spurs.

“I think he’s got a major responsibility in Game 3 to come out and get something done, whether it’s for himself or teammates,” Popovich said. “They come after him, to find somebody, turn it over, take good shots. He’s got to do it. No doubt about it.”

AP freelance writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.

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Warriors’ rookie Jordan Bell goes off the backboard to himself for dunk

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The best part of this is the stunned reaction of the Warriors bench.

The Warriors had taken total control of the game against Dallas in the second half, and with a few minutes left Steve Kerr emptied his bench in garbage time. That’s when rookie Jordan Bell made the play of the night: He blocked Dwight Powell‘s shot then leaked out, JaVale McGee batted the ball ahead to him, and Bell threw the ball off the backboard for a self alley-oop. He got an and-one on the play.

The move didn’t sit well with everyone, there is an unwritten rule about showboating in a blowout game. Draymond Green had thoughts on that — he has thoughts on everything and isn’t afraid to share them — and he came to Bell’s defense speaking to NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Listen man, when you get on the basketball floor, I don’t care if you get out there with two minutes to go up 25 or with two minutes to go down 25, somebody is evaluating you. So you gotta play the game just like it’s tied up or if you’re up four or if you’re down four. You gotta play the game the same way. Somebody is evaluating you. So if you want to throw it off the backboard, feel free and dunk the ball. He got an And One. It was a great play. So, I got no message for him. Do what you do. Play basketball. That’s what he did. I don’t get all up into the whole ‘Ah man, they’re winning by this much, that’s bad.’ Says who? Dunk the ball. What’s the difference between if he threw it off the backboard and dunked it as opposed to grabbing it and dunking it?”

Or, put another way, if you don’t want a player to throw down the massive alley-oop dunk on you, play better defense in the first place.

Mario Chalmers trips James Harden, Harden shoves him back (VIDEO)

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Memphis came back on an 18-2 run late to in the fourth quarter to knock off the Houston Rockets, a very impressive road win that reminds us Memphis is not a team to be written off.

This is the play everyone will be talking about — James Harden squared up looking for a fight.

Mario Chalmers got knocked down by a Harden screen, and while on the ground tries to trip up Harden, and Harden turns around and shoves him. Harden squared up, but as happens in the NBA everyone stepped in, and nothing actually happened.

Neither man was ejected. The referees called it an offensive foul on Harden for the pick, then there were double technicals. Fines may follow from the league.

Metta World Peace joins Lakers’ G League team as ass’t coach

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Metta World Peace has joined the Los Angeles Lakers’ NBA G League affiliate as a player development coach.

The veteran NBA forward was added to the South Bay Lakers’ staff Monday.

World Peace played 16 NBA seasons for six franchises, including six years with the Lakers from 2009-10 and 2015-17. He was a standout defensive player who won a championship alongside Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in 2010.

While he hasn’t publicly retired, the forward formerly known as Ron Artest will assist South Bay Lakers head coach Coby Karl and his staff.

World Peace earned the longest suspension in NBA history for his role in the Indiana Pacers’ infamous brawl in the stands at Detroit in November 2004, but he matured into a valued veteran leader for the Lakers.

LaVar Ball calls out Wizards, Marcin Gortat doesn’t think that was smart

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“I told him after the game, due to all the riffraff his dad brings he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. He’s got to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game… (I had to) welcome his little young a** to the NBA.”

That was the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley after he tormented Lonzo Ball on opening night, and he speaks for a number of other players I have heard from who said father LaVar wrote checks that Lonzo is going to have to cash, and guys were going to go at him. Not every night, but enough.

Since that rough opener the rookie has had a decent couple of games — averaging 18.5 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds a night, not efficient but playing better — going against Eric Bledsoe (a capable defender who had checked out mentally in Phoenix) and Jrue Holiday and the Pelicans. Wednesday night John Wall and the Wizards come to town, and that’s another level of competition.

My least favorite thing about this Lakers season is the way the L.A. media sticks a microphone in front of LaVar Ball after every game. I don’t care about LaVar, in the same way I don’t care about the Kardashians.

But what he said has become a thing. After the Lakers loss to the Pelicans LaVar said, “[The Wizards] better beware cause Lonzo ain’t losing again. Not in the same week!”

Wizards’ center Marcin Gortat thought that was funny.

First off, Lonzo is going to lose twice in a week a lot this season — the Lakers are not a good team.

Second, Wall is a top-five NBA point guard by any standard, an All-NBA player who is far more than just quick (although he is that, too). He can shoot, he’s an aggressive defender, and he knows how to set up teammates. He’s going to be more than a handful for Ball. To put it kindly.

Whatever happens Wednesday night (most likely Wall smokes Lonzo) we know one thing for sure: LaVar will say something outlandish. And it will become a thing. The game is secondary for that marketing effort.