Kurt Helin

Kobe Bryant tells Lakers fans to go ahead and freak out if they want

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I live in Los Angeles, and while driving around Tuesday I flipped on some sports talk radio in town — specifically the Lakers’ flagship station ESPN 710 — and was treated to 15 minutes of Lakers’ fans freaking out. The hosts were trying to be reasonable noting that rebuilding is a process and what mattered was the development of Julius Randle (who has looked good), D'Angelo Russell, and Jordan Clarkson. But some fans would have none of it — Laker exceptionalism is alive and well among parts of the fan base, and this team is going to stink for a second straight season.

Some fans are freaking out. Kobe Bryant says go ahead if it makes you feel better.

I know that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has to make his team sound competitive and say things preseason like they can make the playoffs. However, that seemed to set expectations far too high in some quarters — this was never a playoff team in the West. Those fans feel let down. I thought this team could win 31-32 games, but right now that looks optimistic.

While Kobe’s shooting and the offense are garnering most of the attention right now, the Lakers’ bigger issue is the defense by far (as noted in Five Takeaways today). As in, the Lakers aren’t playing any of it.

The Lakers are giving up an average of 113 points per 100 possessions so far this season, ranking them dead last in the NBA. Teams are shooting 48.6 percent overall against them (second worst in the NBA) and the Lakers are last in the league at creating turnovers (11.6 percent of opponent possessions end in a turnover). The Lakers’ pick-and-roll coverage is a disaster in style for the bigs they have on the roster. Roy Hibbert isn’t a defensive savior used that way, the Laker defense is only two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (and is still allowing 112 points per 100 with him on the court).

This will be Byron Scott’s fifth straight team to finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency (going back to his Cleveland days). If you’re going to say he doesn’t have the talent on the roster, I will note that last season’s Sixers were 13th in the league in defensive efficiency. And that right now the Timberwolves, Celtics, and Magic are all in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.

It’s going to be a long campaign for Lakers fans.

Mike Budenholzer never stops coaching, even if his team isn’t listening

Mike Budenholzer
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It was late in Atlanta’s Tuesday night win in Miami, a game they had led and controlled from the second quarter on, but Miami was making interesting late.

The Hawks needed to make some plays to hang on and win (they did) and reigning Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer was drawing it up — and would keep drawing it up no matter who was around.

Budenholzer had a good sense of humor about it.

Hat tip to the Starters’ Tas Melas.

Five Takeaways from an NBA Tuesday: Pacers figuring out small ball

Paul George, Alec Burks
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Tuesday night in the NBA was not exactly loaded with marquee matchups (wait until Wednesday for that), but it did have a couple unexpected outcomes and some things worth noting. In case you were designing a hypersonic jet rather than flipping around League Pass, here are five things you should take away from Tuesday in the NBA:

1) The Indiana Pacers are learning the finer points of small ball. The Pacers used their speed to swarm the perimeter defensively, generating 15 steals — second-most by any team this season — in a 94-84 win over the previously unbeaten Pistons. George Hill (four steals), Monta Ellis (three), Paul George (two) and C.J. Miles (two) led the swiping. Indiana (1-3) scored 30 points off turnovers, bolstering an offense that remains up and down. At least Miles and George combined to make a few 3-pointers after gaining separation from Detroit power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was stuck covering one of the Pacers’ two quick starting forwards. —Dan Feldman

2) Andre Drummond is playing in beast mode. The Pacers will take the win, but the Pistons’ Andre Drummond was the single best player on the floor in this game — Drummond finished the night with 25 points and 29 rebounds. This isn’t some one-off, he’s played four games and had two 20/20 nights already — the last guy to have two 20/20s in the first four was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (according to ESPN’s stats). Drummond has scored 81 points and grabbed 78 rebounds in those four games – the last guy to have more than 70 and 70 after four games was Charles Barkley. He is playing like a max contract guy. —Kurt Helin

3) The Lakers’ sad defense isn’t getting better under Byron Scott. The Lakers surrendered 117 points to the Denver Nuggets in a loss Tuesday night at Staples Center, and that’s just continuing the trend that has the team 0-4. The Lakers are giving up an average of 113 points per 100 possessions this young season, ranking them dead last in the NBA. Teams are shooting 48.6 percent overall against them (second worst in the NBA) and the Lakers are last in the league at creating turnovers (11.6 percent of opponent possessions end in a turnover). Roy Hibbert isn’t a defensive savior, the Laker defense is only two points per 100 possessions better when he plays (and is still allowing 112 points per 100 with him on the court).

After Tuesday’s loss, coach Byron Scott was again bemoaning the Laker defense and saying that what the guys are learning and doing in practice is just not translating to regular games yet. Scott talks a good game about defense, he can’t stress it enough mentioning it to the team or the media.

But here’s the reality — this will be Scott’s fifth straight team to finish in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency (all his teams in Cleveland, plus his Los Angeles squads). That’s not just about the talent on the roster — last season’s Sixers were 13th in the league in defensive efficiency; this year’s Timberwolves, Celtics, and Magic are all in the top 10 so far. Yes, I get the small sample size caveat, but this much is true — if you have a good system and can get players to buy in, you can be a decent defensive team. Scott isn’t getting that and hasn’t for a while. It’s not suddenly going to change; the Laker defense will struggle all season. —KH

4) How good is the Bulls’ defense? Through their first three games, the Bulls were allowing opponents to shoot just 39.6 percent, and it looked like they hadn’t lost their good habits from the Tom Thibodeau era. But Jimmy Butler thinks it was more luck than skill and said so after the Hornets dropped 130 in beating Chicago Tuesday.

The Bulls defense is what has carried this team through its first four games, if that has been a mirage then there is reason for concern. That said I expect the defense isn’t as bad as it looked Tuesday, and the offense will pick up. Things such as playing Nikola Mirotic more, and splitting Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, are smart, it’s just going to take time for the players to find a groove and the team to reap the benefits. There needs to be patience, and enough defense to carry them through this part of the season. —KH

5) Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the Raptors’ first game, and they celebrated with a win. On Nov. 3, 1995, the Toronto Raptors beat the New Jersey Nets 94-75 at the Sky Dome, opening a new era of basketball in Toronto. A lot of people south of the border don’t realize how big the Raptors’ fan base is (they were fifth in the NBA in attendance last year) and rabid they can be. Basketball in Toronto is a thing.

All those Raptor fans should be happy, their team is 4-0 and atop the Eastern Conference early after a 102-91 win in Dallas. The Raptors are defending well under new addition DeMarre Carroll and have the league’s fifth-best defense (in points allowed per possession). Meanwhile, the offense is eighth in the league behind an impressive and thinner Kyle Lowry (who dropped 27 on the Mavericks).

It’s early, but on their 20th anniversary the Raptors may have the best team the franchise has ever seen. —KH

Jazz not worried about slow start for Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward, Andre Roberson
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gordon Hayward entered the season ready to raise his profile in the league. Things are off to a slower start than expected through three games.

Hayward has averaged 12 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists going into Wednesday’s home opener against the Trail Blazers. Those aren’t the numbers those around the organization – or Hayward – hoped for, but there’s certainly no panic from such a small sample size.

“Just a little bit of a slow start for me personally, but the team is playing well and that’s what I’m focused on,” Hayward said. “I’ll find a way to get it going and get back in the groove of things. Hopefully I can find it in this next game. But feeling good about where we’re at as a team.”

Hayward returned from the summer visibly stronger and said he worked on finishing during the offseason. He showed that late in a season-opening loss to Detroit after struggling much of the night. Shots just haven’t fallen, as Hayward is shooting what would be a career-low 35.3 percent from the field. The points, rebounds and assist averages would all be the lowest since 2011-12 for the sixth-year player.

Hayward finished last season with an average of 19.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

Coach Quin Snyder wasn’t interested in dissecting Hayward.

“I’m not in the evaluate Gordon business,” Snyder said. “At least not after every game. Gordon’s established himself as one of the best players in the league. Every game’s going to present different challenges.

“I thought he played really well against Indiana. He’s gotten some offensive fouls that, to me, are baskets. I like what he’s doing and where he’s going.”

There will be some developmental time for this Jazz (2-1) team. There’s a different dynamic with Dante Exum injured and rookie Raul Neto starting at point guard. Alec Burks is back from a shoulder injury that ended his 2014-15 season. He plays the same position as Hayward and is a creative player with the ball in his hands. Derrick Favors has been extremely aggressive with the new range on his jump shot and leads the team with 21.3 points per game. Second-year wing Rodney Hood has blossomed himself and has averaged 15.3 points.

“From the first week of practice (Hayward had) been really aggressive. That’s what we want,” Snyder said. “There’s different ways for him to be aggressive. Whether it’s shooting the ball, making plays defensively. I think we’ve seen a little bit of everything. At certain times too he’s going to put all that together.

“It’s an adjustment for him, too, with Rodney and Alec back and Dante not here. Everyone’s kind of finding where their shots come, what their role is. I think those roles will be dynamic. I think they’ll change as the season progresses. Not in a major ways, but we’ll see them evolve.”

Hayward explained that he’s not going out looking to get his offense. He’s just as involved in spacing the floor and making the extra pass, not to mention his defensive effort.

And that’s most important for an organization that led the league in defense after the All-Star game last year. The team just isn’t built to win shootouts.

“We’re a young team,” Hayward said. “We’re going to struggle sometimes offensively, but as long as we can maintain our defensive principles, I think we’ll be all right.”

The Jazz are currently No. 23 in the league in scoring (94.3 points) after an Eastern Conference swing that included the Pistons, 76ers and Pacers. Utah leads the league in defense after giving up just 79.7 points per game. The Spurs are No. 2 with an opponent’s average of 89.5 points.

The defensive effort is off to a fast start. Things are still developing on the other end of the floor, but there are few concerns about Hayward.

“Gordon’s one of the most unselfish superstars in the league,” Jazz forward Joe Ingles said. “He’ll take the shots that he gets. He doesn’t force much, either. … I think we’ll have a lot, this year, of different guys having big games each week.

“He’ll break out soon and you guys will leave him alone. He’s fine.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope dunks, Jordan Hill isn’t going to stop him

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If you haven’t been watching the Pistons this season, you’ve missed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope playing very well. He’s been making plays and was one of the key reasons Detroit started off 3-0.

Also, he can dunk. Just ask the Pacers’ Jordan Hill, who tried to get in the way and it didn’t work out for him.

Two things you should note out of this game. The first is Andre Drummond had 25 points and 29 rebounds, and he is a complete beast.

Second, the Pacers won and looked the best they have this season.