NBA Playoffs: Now we find out what the Lakers are really made of

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Kobe_Artest.jpgThe Lakers meandered through the second half of the season without a care in the world. At least they played like it.

So Los Angeles fans and media set up imaginary tests for them. The five game road trip was one. Late season matchups with the Thunder, the Magic, a couple with the Spurs all got that “test game” billing. There were others.

Those weren’t real tests. There were no consequences for failure. They were the pop quizzes of the NBA season, and the Lakers treated them as such.

Now game five Tuesday night — that is a real test. Lose and it’s may be a final exam.

Winner of game five wins the series 83 percent of the time. Los Angeles drops game five and the odds of winning two straight — one in Oklahoma City — against a good and growingly confident team are not good. Climbing Mount Everest in shorts might be easier.

Does anybody really have any idea what Lakers team will show up?

Not in terms of pure effort — backs against the wall, the Lakers always come out with energy. It’s a matter of execution and matchups. The Lakers know what they need to do, but for the last two games (three, really, despite the win) they have not been able to execute it. Credit Oklahoma City with some of that – they are a very good team. This is not the Lakers rolling over, they are getting knocked to the ground.

Still, the Lakers have a game plan. First, they have to slow the Thunder down. Kobe Bryant compared the two teams to deer and elephants, and the Lakers were not the nimble ones. Los Angeles can slow the pace down by not turning the ball over — they have been pretty good about that — and making shots. That second part has been the problem.

In game four, Los Angeles focused on getting the ball inside to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, but didn’t get as many points out of that as they would hope. The reason is the Thunder can afford to collapse down on the Lakers close to the basket because LA is not making them pay with three pointers. Inside only works if there is an outside to balance it. Ying and Yang.

It was the little things in game four — a couple times the double came down on the Laker big, who tried to reach around the defender for a kick-out pass, but the shooter never moved to a good position to receive the pass. The result was a deflection out of bounds.

In game three the Lakers shot okay from the outside but stopped trying to get the ball inside and jacked up 31 threes. There is no balance. No inside at the same time as the outside.

So they just expect Kobe to bail them out. And that isn’t working. Again credit the Thunder, who have the athletes to defend him. Is there anything Kevin Durant can’t do?

Game five is going to be telling. These Thunder do not back down, not for anyone. Their confidence is growing. The Lakers have, when they have needed it, been able to summon another gear. But now they need one they haven’t reached all season. They need a level of execution that has not been seen.

It’s not going to be easy. But no real test is. However, passing tests like this is what champions do.

Report: Celtics telling teams Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart absolutely not available in trades

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The Celtics – run by Trader Danny Ainge – entered the season with as much trade speculation as ever.

But off to an impressive 11-3 start, Boston sounds content with its current roster.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Boston has made it clear to anyone who has asked that their core players are absolutely not available. That includes, sources said, both Hayward and Smart, players who have been floated as possible trade chips in the past.

Only a few players are absolutely not available, and they’re all far better than Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart. For the right offer, the Celtics would trade either.

But this report is significant because, if Boston isn’t willing to even engage negotiations, that makes it much more difficult to find that right offer.

Hayward was returning to All-Star form until hurting his hand. Smart is playing incredible defense. They help a Celtics team trying to win now. Hayward (29) and Smart (25) are also young enough to have staying power. Though Hayward can opt out this summer, Boston will have his Bird Rights, and he just chose the Celtics during his last free agency. Smart is locked up a couple additional seasons at a very-reasonable salary.

With trade speculation, the question is always: Why would another team value a player more than his current team does? Perhaps, another team just adores Hayward and Smart so much, it would surrender enough to entice Boston. But we know how the Celtics feel about those two, and that’s why a deal is so unlikely.

Report: 76ers didn’t offer Jimmy Butler five-year max contract once free agency opened

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The 76ers offered Jimmy Butler a five-year max contract, according to Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports. However, Adrian Wojnarowski reported Philadelphia wasn’t offering Butler a five- or even four-year max deal.

What explains the discrepancy?

Maybe timing.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But on June 30, there was no five-year maximum offer for Butler, multiple sources say.

That doesn’t explicitly say the 76ers offered Butler a five-year max earlier, but it intentionally leaves the possibility wide open. After all, when Philadelphia traded for Butler in the final year of his contract, everyone knew he expected a max contract. He said so himself. After early tension, the 76ers still expressed desire to re-sign Butler. As free agency neared, they kept sending those signals.

What changed?

Maybe Philadelphia had second thoughts about paying Butler so much. There are reasonable concerns. But it’d be odd if the 76ers went so far down the road toward re-signing Butler only to reverse course at the last moment because of internal evaluations. That assessment could have been made earlier.

Al Horford unexpectedly became available, and Philadelphia used Butler’s vacated cap space to sign him. With Butler and the capped-out Heat wanting him in Miami, the 76ers also leveraged another good playerJosh Richardson – in a sign-and-trade. Perhaps, once realizing it was an option, Philadelphia just preferred Horford and Richardson to Butler (and retaining J.J. Redick‘s Bird Rights). That’d be simple enough.

Whatever happened, I bet it’s the crux of the secret story Butler recently alluded to.

Nets to wear ‘Bed-Stuy’ jerseys (video)

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Nets forward Kevin Durant said, “The cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Brooklyn is cool.

So, the Nets are getting more overt about connecting to the image of their borough. After wearing Notorious B.I.G.-inspired uniforms with Coogi-sweater-style trim, Brooklyn is slapping “Bed-Stuy” – the neighborhood brought to mass popularity by Biggie, Jay-Z and others – onto its jerseys.
Nets:

I can’t decide whether these jerseys are actually cool or trying too hard to be cool.

Also, the Nets apparently aren’t daunted by a Coogi lawsuit.

First non-white player in modern professional basketball, Wat Misaka dies at 95

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SALT LAKE CITY — Wataru “Wat” Misaka, the first non-white player to play in the league that was the predecessor to the NBA, has died. He was 95.

Misaka played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947-48 season in the Basketball Association of America. He was the league’s first player of of Japanese descent.

A 2008 documentary called “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story” told the story of what Misaka went through as a trailblazing athlete.

Misaka attended a 2013 Utah Jazz game to watch Jeremy Lin play.

The University of Utah athletic department said in a news release Thursday that Misaka died Wednesday in Salt Lake City. He grew up in Ogden, Utah.

Mikasa was the point guard on the Utah team that won the NCAA Tournament in 1944 and the NIT in 1947.