LaVar Ball on Luke Walton: “Nobody wants to play for him.”

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Ok, I’m just going to take a deep breath before we dive in here.

In.

Out.

Let’s get on with it.

During a recent interview with ESPN, LaVar Ball told Jeff Goodman that he thinks Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton has lost control of the team and that, “Nobody wants to play for him.”

This goes against the wishes of the Lakers organization, who asked Ball to tone down his comments and criticisms of Walton and the team.

Ball based his opinion on players’ body language and that LA has lost nine straight games going into Sunday’s matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.

Via ESPN:

“You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more,” Ball said from a spa resort in Birstonas, where he is staying while his two youngest sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, get ready to make their professional debuts with Lithuanian team Prienu Vytautas. “Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.”

“That’s a good team,” he added of the Lakers, who have lost nine straight games. “Nobody wants to play for him. I can see it. No high-fives when they come out of the game. People don’t know why they’re in the game. He’s too young. He’s too young. … He ain’t connecting with them anymore. You can look at every player, he’s not connecting with not one player.”

Once Ball got on camera with Goodman, his tone seemed more conventional and his conviction lessened. Ball even went so far as to walk back on his comments — perhaps unintentionally — by saying, “The guys look like they don’t want to play. That’s what I see. They probably want to play for him as hard as they can.”

Yes, you read that quote correctly and it does not make sense.

Meanwhile, Walton was asked about Ball’s comments and said he felt his players were playing hard and that he was fine with Ball.

“My only concern with any of it is for Zo,” said Walton. “As long as Zo is fine with it, and Zo can come in and it doesn’t affect mine and his relationship, it doesn’t bother me at all.

This is detrimental to just about everyone involved. Ball was supposed to pull back on his criticism, a pipe dream that lasted a few weeks before waking to groggy reality.

The Lakers are bad and they were always going to be bad. This is still a growing year for their young players — including Lonzo Ball, who has some mixed stats and efficiency indicators — so LaVar Ball’s irritability with losing is a representation of his inability to judge context and performance in professional basketball.

Meanwhile, LaVar’s comments have come to irritate those outside the Lakers as well. Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who is head of the NBA coaches association, took umbrage to both LaVar’s opinions and that ESPN chose to give him a platform.

Via Star-Telegram:

“I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace. ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. But part of that partnership is that the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews, all those kinds of things. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that’s printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust.”

“I’m saying they should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or any validity. Or are they just blowhard loudmouths?”

Carlisle taking issue with ESPN is an interesting thing to consider. On one hand, personal preference may dictate that some never want to see LaVar Ball utter another word about the NBA. His opinions aren’t valid, and instead are groundless observations by someone who is trying to shimmy his way up the ladder in order to improve his financial standing by profiting off of free marketing allowed by coverage of his bloviation.

Then again, newsworthiness isn’t defined by personal preference and, much to my chagrin, my own years working in journalism tells me that LaVar Ball’s comments are sometimes newsworthy. Whether what he says is valid or not doesn’t have complete bearing on whether it’s worth posting. The cult of personality around Ball still demands interest from readers, and so ESPN has reasonable right to publish what LaVar Ball says, pending editorial oversight.

Ball saying he could beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1 isn’t worth publishing. Ball explicitly criticizing the head coach of the Lakers after the team asked him not to and after they reinforced a rule banning reporters from the friends and family area at Staples Center probably is worth coverage.

Still, giving Ball carte blanche to speak without commentary from writers themselves — or offering response from those who Ball is talking about — is probably too far at this point. Ball’s opinions are often baseless, and without added expansion by writers, even relevant quotes from Ball devoid of context and expertise from reporters don’t carry a lot of weight.

Market saturation, coverage fatigue, and context determine whether something from the Ball family is printable at this juncture. I’m fully with Carlisle on exhaustion of LaVar Ball, as well as supportive of shielding Walton from unearned sniping from the peanut gallery. Most of what Ball says is complete nonsense, and so some outlets may be more selective than others in posting what he says.

Stepping aside from Carlisle’s comments on journalism best practices, the issue at hand is the continued haranguing of Walton by LaVar Ball. Walton is more important to the franchise (and has deeper roots) than Lonzo or LaVar Ball. The Lakers’ market presence would not suffer if the Balls were suddenly ejected from LA, especially if the team attracts big free agents this summer like Paul George or LeBron James.

It seems like we are at the precipice, about to see a larger issue peek over the horizon as the team deals with the Ball family. Why would a superstar franchise with potential superstar players want to deal with a loudmouth helicopter parent as they try to fight their way into championship contention in the coming years?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: LaVar Ball won. He got his son to the Lakers just as he wanted after UCLA. But he doesn’t realize it, and the more he keeps pushing the more marginalized he and his son will become in the Lakers organization.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.