Kurt Helin

Getty Images

Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Monday: Can Damian Lillard, Blazers replicate Game 3 performance?

3 Comments

This is not as detailed as the 6,397,326 Game of Thrones recaps on the web today, but it is a humble little look at what to expect in the NBA.

1) Can Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Mason Plumlee replicate their big nights? The Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum we knew from the regular season showed up in Game 3 — 59 points on 42 shots. Their jumpers were falling, combined they hit 10-of-17 from the midrange and 5-of-13 from three. Thing is, we knew they could do that once they got space. The big key for Portland in Game 3 was Mason Plumlee — he played the pseudo Draymond Green role as the passing big who helps the guards get free from traps, and he finished with nine assists. He also had 21 points and was a beast on the offensive glass, where Portland had 18 second chance points. It was an impressive performance all around, but the Clippers will adjust their defense and the question becomes can those three replicate their performance. Or will Al-Farouq Aminu finally start to hit some jumpers and open up the floor. Portland was more aggressive on defense in Game 3, but the Clippers will adjust to that, Portland will have to play better to even the series.

2) Can Charlotte replicate what it did to beat Miami last game? Charlotte put up it’s first win of the series in Game 3, with Frank Kaminsky (15 points) and Al Jefferson in the starting lineup and Jeremy Lin dropping 18 off the bench. But watch the game closely and it’s fair to question if this team can win the same way again. Their offense was not impressive, shooting 38.9 percent overall and hitting just five threes on their way to a 101 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions. What they did do well was get to the free throw line 22 times (hitting 21). If the Heat can limit fouls, Charlotte may well struggle to put up points. Also, after a dominant first two games from the Heat offense, it went stone cold in Game 3 — the starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade shot 11-of-33 from the floor, which was better than the bench shooting of 4-of-17. The Charlotte defense was better (they have played better at home all season), but Miami is going to hit more shots.

Bottom line is it’s going to take a much better game from the Hornets to even this series.

3) What can Dallas do to extend its season one more game (at least)? Like a cornered animal, teams facing elimination are desperate and dangerous. The problem for Dallas — who are 1-7 against OKC this season including the playoffs — is they do not have as much talent as Oklahoma City. Dallas needs to slow the game down, junk it up a little – which they did fairly well in Game 4, but turnovers and Oklahoma City trips to the free throw line won the Thunder the game. Dallas needs to play a near perfect, grinding game, and get big nights from Dirk Nowitzki and Raymond Felton to live another day. It would help if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could combine to go 15-of-55 again, but I wouldn’t bank on that.

Five names to watch as potential next Lakers’ head coach

Getty Images
12 Comments

Lakers’ management didn’t want to make a rash decision about letting their head coach Byron Scott go after two seasons where he set a franchise low for team wins his first season then shattered that record this past season. There is logic there — rushed, emotional decisions are rarely the best ones. Plus there is the legitimate concern that if the Lakers are going to change the guy at the head of basketball operations next summer — Jim Buss set his own timeline to step down if the Lakers didn’t improve to be second round or better playoff team (although he and Jeanie Buss disagree on that exact timing) — the team wouldn’t want to saddle the new decision maker with a coach he didn’t select.

However, Sunday night the Lakers pulled the trigger and fired Scott.

By the time they did, the two biggest names in coaching circles were off the board. While Tom Thibodeau allegedly was interested in the job, he was never going to get the dual coach/GM job with the Lakers he really wanted (he did get that in Minnesota). The bigger miss for the Lakers was Scott Brooks, a guy who had developed a young core in Oklahoma City into contenders and who his players loved (plus the ties to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook wouldn’t hurt). There was some mutual interest between the sides, but while the Lakers thought about Byron Scott, Brooks took the job in Washington.

So who do the Lakers hire now? While there will be a long list and an extensive search, here are five names to keep an eye on, in descending order of likelihood.

1) Luke Walton, Golden State Warriors assistant coach. This is the dream candidate for the Lakers. A popular former player who has a coaching pedigree that includes playing for Phil Jackson (the next GM?) and having a front-row seat for Stephen Curry and the small ball revolution the past two seasons. He showed he has some coaching chops this season when he led the Warriors to a 39-4 record with Steve Kerr out with back pain (although what that really showed is Walton knows how to ride an elite horse, a very different job would await him in Los Angeles). The Lakers want him, the Warriors have always been concerned this would be the job he might leave them for. The question is, will he take the job? Walton can afford to be picky, he will have options for years, and the Lakers’ organization is not the most stable one right now. If he gets a sense he will just be tossed about in the winds of change, Walton could stay put by Kerr’s side.

2) Ettore Messina, San Antonio Spurs assistant coach. He is a former Lakers assistant coach (under Mike Brown) who has a fantastic knowledge of the game and won big in Europe as a head coach. If the Lakers want to move to a more modern offense (think Warriors/title-winning Spurs) he could bring that style, and he knows the game. This is not another David Blatt, Messina doesn’t have that ego but he does have that knowledge of the game. He would put the Lakers’ young core in positions to succeed. This would be a tougher sell with parts of the fan base, this is not a guy with the big name the Lakers are seeking.

3) Mark Jackson. The former Golden State coach and current ESPN analyst helped develop the young talent in Golden State, and they turned out pretty good. He’s undoubtedly passionate about the game. He will form a connection with the young players on the Lakers. But he created an almost (maybe not almost) paranoid “us vs. them” feeling in the Golden State locker room between them and management (and everyone else), he was not seen as easy to work with. That may not fit well in the already turbulent Lakers organization.

4) Kevin Ollie, University of Connecticut. This would be the “hey, Kevin Durant, check this out” hire. Ollie is a former NBA player who has had success on the college level as a coach, and is also someone Durant saw as a mentor his first season in the league. While there are NBA GMs who have their eye on Ollie, he’s not considered a guy likely or ready to make the jump to the NBA yet. This would be a pretty naked political move aimed at KD, one not likely to impress the star.

5) Jeff Van Gundy. He’s listed fifth not because the Lakers aren’t interested, they are. He’s not listed fifth because he couldn’t do the job — he could do it very well, the Lakers’ anemic defense would get a lot better quickly under him. He’s listed fifth because nobody can be or has been as picky about his landing spot back in the NBA as Van Gundy and the instability of the Lakers front office will keep him from taking the job. Van Gundy wants GM powers or at least a strong partnership with someone he knows he can work with (Daryl Morey in Houston, for example), he does not have that in L.A. He doesn’t know how much longer the GM will be in place.

Watch LeBron James’ vintage dunk, 22 points in series ending win

2 Comments

It was Kyrie Irving who hit the big shots — from a half-courter to the dagger three late — that keyed Cleveland’s series-clinching win against Detroit Sunday.

But LeBron James had 22 points and some throwback moments as well. The combination of the two was more than the Pistons could handle.

Check out all of LeBron’s buckets below.

Pistons battle to very end, but too many big Kyrie Irving shots means 100-98 Cleveland win, series sweep

5 Comments

Detroit looked like a team of the future this past week. They have fantastic young talent with Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tobias HarrisKentavious Caldwell-Pope and more. They have a coach in Stan Van Gundy that knows how to mold a winner. They showed a lot of fight this past week in the first playoff appearances of this core.

But Cleveland is a team of the present. And it showed.

All series long the Cavaliers made plays late in games when they needed to — that included some big threes from Kyrie Irving on Sunday night, including the dagger three, as the guard finished with 31. The result was a 100-98 win for the Cavaliers and a sweep of the Pistons in the first round.

Cleveland will now get about a week of rest while awaiting the winner of the Boston/Atlanta series, which is tied 2-2 after a Celtics overtime win Sunday.

If you’re a Pistons fan, there’s a lot to be optimistic about going forward. Andre Drummond is a beast and showed it Sunday with 17 points and 11 boards, a sweet driving layup, and he hit half his free throws for a night. Trade deadline addition Tobias Harris had 23 points and 13 rebounds. Marcus Morris had 24. A few more pieces and a little more seasoning, and this team will be a threat in the East.

But there are hard lessons to learn along the way. Including on the game’s final play — the Cavs were up by the eventual final score when Irving missed a shot, giving Reggie Jackson a chance (the Pistons were out of timeouts). Jackson drove the length of the court harassed by Irving (Jackson almost lost the rock at one point), he gets to the arc, then rather take another couple steps in and get closer for a game-tying shot Jackson leapt into Irving trying to draw a foul and in doing so missed an off-balance three. There was no call because there was no foul — Jackson initiated the contact, and nobody is going to make that call in that place anyway. Ballgame.

For LeBron James — 22 points on the night — this is his fourth straight first-round playoff sweep. J.R. Smith added 15 points, including one ridiculous deep three that had him silencing the Piston faithful.

The Cavaliers may not have looked invincible in this series, but they got the sweep against a team that pushed them. They stayed healthy (a step forward from last season) and Irving played well. It’s the first step on the way to the Finals, and that is all that matters. Just win baby.

It’s official: Lakers fire coach Byron Scott

Getty Images
16 Comments

This was expected after a 17-win season, the coaching having an uneasy relationship the team’s young stars, and two seasons in a row where the Lakers had one of the two worst defenses in the NBA.

But because they’re the Lakers, it couldn’t happen without drama.

The Lakers took their time getting there but they are making a coaching change. This was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and has since been confirmed by the Lakers.

“We would like to thank Byron for his hard work, dedication and loyalty over the last two years, but have decided it is in the best interest of the organization to make a change at this time,” Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said in a released statement.

The Lakers had a team option on Scott’s contract for next season, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN (it had been reported Scott had a guaranteed year, however, he did not meet performance baselines to make that a guaranteed season).

Scott was 38-126 in his two seasons as the Lakers head coach, and the Lakers defense was atrocious both seasons. His old-school manner rubbed the young players the wrong way. Those and other reasons were certainly there to let him go; that said what Scott was hired to do was guide the Kobe Bryant farewell tour the last couple years while the Lakers searched for a new direction and more young talent. He did that — Kobe was put front and center and given all the shots he wanted. In that sense, Scott did what was asked of him.

But it was time to move on.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said after the season that he wanted to take some time, let the raw emotions of the season heal a little bit, then make a decision on Scott’s future. That makes sense.

But in that time two things happened. First came the rumors that Scott could stay on — if Jeanie Buss is going to get her brother and the head of the Lakers’ basketball operations Jim Buss to step aside next summer (something still up for debate), wouldn’t it make sense to wait for the new GM to hire the new coach? So you live with another year of Scott, then make a regime change. Those rumors buzzed around, and there is some logic to that because now if there is a new GM he’s stuck with a coach he didn’t select, and that rarely ends well.

The other was that Scott Brooks took the Washington Wizards job. He was both a great fit for the Lakers, and there was some mutual interest.

The leading name for the job will be Luke Walton, although whether he would leave Golden State for the Lakers less stable organization remains to be seen. If you’re looking for a long-shot name, try UConn coach Kevin Ollie — someone Kevin Durant respects highly.

The Lakers are a development coaching job right now. The Lakers have good young talent in D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. — some of whom were not fond of Scott — but they need a couple of seasons of growth and strong coaching development to become the players that lead the Lakers back to prominence. Over the next couple years, the Lakers may draw some free agents once that core is in place as a foundation. But it’s going to be a process — a style of play and a culture must be built.

Whoever the Lakers hire, expect some drama.