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Lakers Lonzo Ball era begins… and he looks every bit the rookie

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The Lonzo Ball hype machine in Los Angeles is close to overheating (in no small part thanks to his father). After hearing for years — remember, Ball grew up in L.A. and went to UCLA — unfair comparisons to Jason Kidd and how he is the best passing Laker guard since Magic Johnson, many Lakers fans expect… you know.

Those fans sold out the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Friday night to see Ball and the Lakers open Summer League against the Clippers. Every time he touched the ball early in the game, there was a roar.

His strengths were on display — he has great court vision and passing instincts, and he showed that on the first play of the game connecting with Brandon Ingram.

As the game wore on… Ball looked like a rookie.

His potential weaknesses were on display as well — his unconventional shot was 1-of-11 from three, and as he tried to set up others the Clipper defense started trying to make Ball a scorer, and he didn’t fill that role. He also got torched defensively at times, unable to stay in front of his man at the top of the key.

It’s one Summer League game, it means about as much as “proof” the Earth is flat.

What this game can do is give us an idea of the journey Ball will need to take as a professional to live up to the hype (or at least come close to it, his hype man/father makes it hard to live up to all of it).

Ball did a number of things well, things he can build upon. My personal favorite is that he didn’t need to bring the ball up himself and control the action, when he could he threw the ball ahead to forwards who ran the court, which allowed guys like Ingram to operate in space, kept the tempo up, and it led to easy baskets. The Lakers ran and moved because he would get them the rock.

Ball finished with five assists, but that undersells the number of shots he created for Lakers teammates with hockey assists and those hit-ahead passes. His passing set the tone, and as a team the Lakers pushed the pace and moved the ball. Those are good signs going forward.

The biggest concern was the shooting — he knocked it down in college, but not every scout was convinced his shot would translate. He struggled with his shot in his first game, took some poor ones, and finished 2-of-15 overall and 1-of-11 from three. He missed all his shots in overtime.

“I liked the looks, I just missed them,” Ball said after the game, sounding like a shooter.

(The Lakers eventually lost to the Clippers in OT. If you care about the final score of a Summer League game it was 96-93, but if you really care you need to re-evaluate parts of your life.)

Ball is going to have to prove to teams he can knock down shots when they go under picks, or things will be far harder for him. The Clippers laid back on him and took away driving/passing lanes playing off him more as the game went on, Ball couldn’t make them pay this night. Part of his development needs to be doing just that.

Other notes from this game:

• One of my favorite barometers in Summer League is: How much did a guy who got regular NBA run last season improve from a year ago? Summer League is about development, this league is a measuring stick.

In that front, Brandon Ingram was fantastic. His ball handling skills were much improved (even from the second half of the season), which opened up his face up game and attacking the rim. He’s gotten stronger, but he’s gotten smarter about how to use his body to create space. The result was he was the best player on the court, finishing with 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Ingram did not take part in overtime after mildly tweaking his knee late in the game — Magic Johnson was courtside and after the play signaled to the Laker bench Ingram was done for the night. After the game the Lakers said it was nothing serious, he wanted to go back in, but the team is understandably being overly cautious.

• Lakers’ second-round pick Bryant showed potential as an energy big off the bench, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds. He had a very good night.

• The Clippers did not run out anyone likely to see a lot of time on the court with the big club next season. Maybe the one exception is Sindarius Thornwell, the rookie who turned heads at South Carolina last season, as he finished with 26 points on 13 shots and had a good night. NBA vet Brice Johnson added 23.

NBA: Referees missed multiple intentional-foul attempts by Mavericks in loss to Nuggets

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The Mavericks trailed the Nuggets by 23 points in the second half and 16 points with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter last night. But Dallas rallied and cut its deficit to only one with 10.4 seconds left. Denver had the ball, so the Mavericks had to foul.

They tried… and tried… and tried before finally succeeding.

Per the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report, Dennis Smith Jr. should have been called for intentionally fouling Will Barton with 8.2 seconds left. Failing that, Wesley Matthews should have been called for intentionally fouling Barton with 6.7 seconds left. Mercifully, officials (correctly) whistled Matthews for fouling Gary Harris with 1.7 seconds left.

Harris made both free throws, and the Nuggets escaped with a 105-102 win once Dallas couldn’t get off a shot with so little time left.

The Mavericks probably would have lost even with a correct call on this sequence. They were trailing in the final 10 seconds and without the ball.

But allowing Denver to run off an extra 6.5 seconds and get the ball to a better free-throw shooter certainly hurt Dallas’ odds.

I’m not so concerned with the result of this game, though. The Mavericks are better off improving their lottery position by losing. It is a bad break for the teams jockeying with the Nuggets for playoff position, but, again, Denver probably would have won anyway.

The bigger takeaway: Even if players are more concerned about communication than calls, if referees can’t even get consecutive intentional fouls right, that doesn’t instill much confidence in the officials.

Rockets’ Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green suspended two games for charging into Clippers’ locker room

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The Clippers-Rockets game on Monday was wild from start to finish past finish. Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to the Clippers locker room to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin after the game.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza and guard Gerald Green have each been suspended two games without pay for entering the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room to confront a player from the opposing team, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred following the Clippers’ 113-102 win over the Rockets on Jan. 15 at Staples Center.  During the league’s investigation, which included more than 20 interviews with executives, staff, coaches and players from both teams, as well as arena personnel, it was determined that Ariza and Green entered the Clippers’ locker room immediately after the game and engaged in a hostile, verbal altercation with several Clippers players.  The league’s investigation further concluded that Rockets players, James Harden and Chris Paul, followed Ariza and Green into the corridor outside the locker room in an effort to defuse the situation, and accordingly, discipline is not warranted.

It’s difficult to unsort exactly what happened away from the court. I don’t envy the NBA’s job here, nor do I blindly trust that the biggest stars should escape punishment.

Ariza and Green will miss games against the Timberwolves on Thursday and Warriors on Saturday. Paul and Harden (if healthy) will be eligible to play in both nationally televised contests.

I’m just surprised Griffin didn’t receive additional penalty for striking Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni:

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Anthony Davis

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The New Orleans Pelicans look every bit the playoff team right now — at 23-20 they are the farthest they have been over .500 and fivethirtyeight.com lists them with an 82 percent chance to make the playoffs.

They wouldn’t be there without Anthony Davis, who has been brilliant all season but has turned it up in the past week, and that got him the NBC ProBasketballTalk Player of the Week award. In his last three games, Davis has averaged 43 points on 56.3% shooting, plus 14 rebounds a game, and the team. More importantly, the Pelicans have won every game, including knocking off Boston behind his 45 points a couple of days after he dropped 48 at Madison Square Garden.

Just to be clear on one other thing, the Pelicans are not trading Davis anytime soon. Because they’re not stupid.

Paul Pierce says he told Celtics not to show Isaiah Thomas tribute video

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Isaiah Thomas announced he was withdrawing his request for the Celtics to play a tribute for him Feb. 11, the same night Boston will retire Paul Pierce’s number.

That was a nice gesture that ended a dispute started by Pierce, who said he preferred not to share his night with Thomas. It made Thomas look magnanimous, and it prevented Pierce – even if he had a fair point – from continuing an unbecoming campaign that made him look petty.

Except, before Thomas’ announcement, Pierce revealed just how far he went to stop Thomas’ video.

Pierce, via Jackie MacMullan and Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

“Danny and I talked about it for 40 minutes,” Pierce explained to ESPN early Tuesday afternoon. “He told me, ‘This is what we have planned,’ and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘If you don’t want us to do Isaiah, we won’t.’ So I told him, ‘I really don’t.’ So that was it.

“That’s how we left it.”

“(Thomas) had a shot to be honored,” Pierce said. “You came to Boston. Whether you are playing or not, you should have had your tribute then. I just don’t see how, if someone is having a jersey retirement, they’re going to be running other tributes for other players.

“Danny tried to sell me on it, but I told him, ‘He had a shot, Danny, and he punked you on it. He pretty much dictated everything.’ They let it happen because they felt sorry how (the trade to Cleveland) went down. It’s guilt. That’s what it is.”

Ainge said Tuesday night that Thomas intended all along to bow out of the video tribute once he learned of Pierce’s reservations.

If only Pierce kept quiet publicly a little longer, he could have avoided looking even pettier. Yet, he revealed his conversation with Celtics president Danny Ainge, so he we are.

That probably won’t matter to those close to Pierce, though. Though Rajon Rondo was most blunt, he wasn’t the only member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team to take Pierce’s side.

Tony Allen, via Jay King of MassLive:

“Yeah, I’m with Pierce, man. He didn’t put in more work than Pierce. Anybody disagree? OK. Paul Pierce put in big work, man. Why would they honor him on that same day, man?”

Kevin Garnett, as relayed by Pierce to ESPN:

“Everyone understood where I was coming from,” Pierce said. “KG was like, ‘Isaiah who? Hell no, you’re damn right you’re not sharing your night with him.'”

Was there nobody to in Pierce’s life to tell him just to let Thomas have his short video during pregame introductions?

Pierce got his wish. He just looks even pettier as a result.