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.

Kevin Durant on relationship with Draymond Green: ‘Don’t ask me about that again’ (video)

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After their heated argument, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are on the same page in at least one regard: They won’t answer questions about each other.

At least Green explained himself before shutting down follow-up questions. Durant wouldn’t address it at all. He was terse.

Really healthy situation Golden State has going.

Of course, the Warriors also have a ridiculous amount of talent. That will help them win, feel good about themselves and get past this.

But until Golden State starts winning, this isn’t going away.

Three Things to Know: Warriors won’t escape Draymond Green-Kevin Durant questions by getting throttled by Rockets

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Warriors still have problems. Deep-seeded, dynasty-ruining problems? Not sure. But problems, nonetheless.

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant talked with each other. Green explained himself publicly. Durant wouldn’t address it in the slightest.

But a 107-86 loss to the Rockets leaves it difficult to feel good about the star forwards moving on productively from their heated argument.

This could be as simple as Stephen Curry being injured. Even before Green and Durant sparred, people were learning just how important the point guard is to Golden State.

And the Rockets are no easy out. They’re 3-1 since excising Carmelo Anthony, whom even Houston now acknowledges is done there, with three straight double-digit wins over Pacers, Nuggets and Warriors.

Still, it’ll be impossible to look beyond the Green-Durant dynamic until Golden State wins like it did before. In Green’s first game back from suspension, that didn’t come close to happening.

2) The Clippers are winning. That’s important beyond even underlying factors like how they’re playing.

L.A. has won three straight – beating the Bucks in overtime, Warriors in overtime and Spurs 116-111 last night. Against quality competition like that, racking up victories is crucial. Even if the Clippers stumble or have injury issues later, those three wins could be vital come playoff-seeding time.

At 9-5, the Clippers are tied for fourth in the Western Conference. But that’s just two games ahead of 12th. There’s no separation early in the West race, and there might not be margin for error all season.

Other teams will come around – like San Antonio. In a 1-5 stretch, the Spurs have been outscored by 61 without Rudy Gay and have outscored opponents by 24 with him. He was +14 in 25 minutes last night. As he gets healthier, San Antonio should improve.

But the Clippers don’t need to wait on anything. They’re deep and play hard. Lou Williams hits big shots. They’re ready to win right now.

3) The Nuggets avoided complete doom and gloom. After a 9-1 start, Denver had lost four straight. Jamal Murray violated team rules, and Nuggets coach Michael Malone pulled him from the starting lineup. But Denver still cruised to a feel-good 138-93 win over the Hawks.

Monte Morris started and played steadily. Murray was good off the bench. It probably didn’t matter much. The Nuggets likely would have beaten Atlanta with an injured Isaiah Thomas at point guard.

But Denver – especially star Nikola Jokic – still seems like a team that can get too down on itself when things aren’t going well. Momentum snowballs, even when it starts against the Hawks.

Draymond Green reportedly told Kevin Durant: ‘We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave’

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Draymond Green got into an argument with Kevin Durant so feisty, it caused a Warriors player to predict Durant will now leave Golden State in free agency next summer.

Just what did Green say?

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Green called Durant a “bitch” multiple times, sources said. In a summarized version, sources said Green shouted, “You’re a bitch and you know you’re a bitch.” The rhetoric, sources said, continued even when Kerr attempted to direct the team’s attention to his whiteboard.

Green blurted to Durant something along the lines of, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave,” sources said.

Wow. That’s pretty darned harsh. And if Durant walked away say saying “That’s why I’m out“… wow.

This would explain why Green’s teammates supported his suspension. He clearly went too far, as even he expected a fine. But this was quite the way to carry on.

When Green and Durant bickered last year in a similar, though less heated, incident, it was claimed Green was using “reverse psychology” to motivate Durant. I was never convinced whether that was accurate or cooked up after the fact to cover for Green’s misbehavior. Will we hear a similar explanation this time?

Scottie Pippen says Durant-Draymond beef could derail Warriors championship hopes (VIDEO)

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Scottie Pippen is a six-time NBA champion, and has played with some of the biggest personalities to ever grace the league. Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman, Rasheed Wallace, and Michael Jordan just to name a few. As such, Pippen has some relevant insight into the superstar battle royale that’s happening right now between members of the Golden State Warriors.

On ESPN’s “The Jump” on Thursday, Pippen compared the situation between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant to his time with the Chicago Bulls. In particular, Pippen pointed out that both he and Jordan had issues with Dennis Rodman when he arrived in Chicago from the San Antonio Spurs to start the 1995-96 season.

Pippen also levied a pretty heavy take that not many have leapt to just yet, saying he felt the divide between Durant and Green could destabilize the Warriors enough to cost them this year’s NBA championship.

Via ESPN:

I didn’t like Dennis Rodman. I didn’t like Dennis when he came to the team, Michael [Jordan] didn’t like him, but we existed on the basketball court because we respected what Dennis did on the court and we knew the value that he brought to the game for us. But in this situation, where you’re talking about your teammates, that’s out of character for players. As a team, we bond. We lock hands, and no one is allowed in that circle.

As a player, we knew that this was coming I mean for pretty much the whole 90s our championship run was built on what players wanted. We went against management [a] numerous amount of times. But when it came to play, and we got in between the lines, we played for each other, we played for the city of Chicago. And I think this is one of them situations the players gotta look beyond any situation. This is not one of those situations where they can look ahead. They have to work out their own internal affairs, and right now this could cost them a championship. If KD don’t feel comfortable playing with Draymond, who do you walk away from?

I’m not sure if I am ready to go that far just yet, just because the Warriors have so much firepower when everyone is healthy it’s not clear who would step up and dethrone them even if Durant and Green remain icy toward each other.

The NBA as a league is astute at marketing players individually and putting forth the stories about how well guys get along. It’s also adept at hiding which players actively hate each other, especially when those guys are on the same roster.

Green and Durant have spoken, and although we don’t know if they will ever be friendly again, at this point we have to just watch what happens between the two stars.

More important is the health of the Warriors, and we are seeing just how much they need Stephen Curry now that he is out with a hamstring injury. Golden State has already lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and played a tight game against the Atlanta Hawks at home at Oracle in Curry’s absence.