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.

Knicks will not offer Kristaps Porzingis max contract extension to preserve cap space

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Inking Kristaps Porzingis to a max five-year, $158 million extension to his rookie contract seems like a no-brainer for the Knicks. Porzingis is more than the best player on the Knicks, he is where the fans have placed their faith. Yes, he’s coming off an ACL tear that will keep him out for at least part of this coming season, but he is the Knicks’ cornerstone to their rebuild. The man should get paid.

And he will the Knicks say… just not this summer.

Team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry said at a press conference they talked with Porzingis about paying him as a restricted free agent next summer to preserve cap space to land more talent to play alongside him. From Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The Knicks hope to re-sign Porzingis when he is a restricted free agent in 2019. That way, the team could climb over the salary cap. An extension now would take up precious cap room. Doing it next summer would open up $10 million in cap space.

“Our philosophy is that we’re going to stay connected with [the Porzingis camp],” Perry said. “It’s a long-term thing. Obviously, you mentioned the point of the cap space in July. But we just feel like we’re in a real good space with him, as well as he is with us. And we’re going to do the right thing by him and this organization.”

“He’ll never feel like he’s not a cornerstone part of what we’re trying to do here,” Mills said. “He understands that. We make that crystal clear to him and his representation.”

The Knicks are going big game hunting next summer and Kyrie Irving is reportedly at the top of their target list. Jimmy Butler also could be an option (the Knicks are on his short trade list, but the team made it clear they are not giving up assets to get a player they can land in free agency).

What the Knicks are doing with Porzingis has been done before by teams, most notably the Spurs with Kawhi Leonard (and that move is not part of the ill-will between the sides that led to the trade to Toronto). It can work — if the player fully understands this is simply a cap/flexibility move and is not offended by the “snub.” The question is how does Porzingis and his camp feel about it? We will find out down the line.

Either way, the Knicks will be able to keep Porzingis, they can offer the same extension next summer, and can match any offer another team might make to poach the star big man. However, to get to that point Porzingis would have had to sign that offer sheet from another team, a sign of discord between the sides. The Knicks cannot let it get to that. They cannot allow bad blood build up. New coach David Fizdale flew to Latvia this summer to talk to Porzingis and get him on board with the plan. The energy seems good between them, the Knicks can’t let money get in the way of that.

At the press conference, the Knicks’ brass also refused to put a timetable on Porzingis’ return from the ACL surgery last February. He is expected to miss much of the season, not returning until around Christmas at the earliest and maybe closer to the All-Star break in February. Or later. The Knicks are not going to pressure him.

J.R. Smith gets shirtless as Browns win first game since 2016 (VIDEO)

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LeBron James may be a Los Angeles Laker now, but JR Smith is still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Media day is right around the corner, and so NBA players are trickling in to their respective cities from their offseason locations.

Thankfully for us, Smith is already in Cleveland.

On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns of the NFL won their first regular season game since Dec. 24, 2016. In attendance was none other than Smith, and lo and behold he was once again shirtless.

Just the way we like him.

Via Twitter:

Smith was famously shirtless in 2016 during the Cavaliers’ championship parade (and seemingly for much of that summer) after they beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. Someone even printed out a shirt you could wear that turned you into a shirtless JR.

There probably won’t be much celebrating in Cleveland for Smith this season, and therefore not many reasons for him to get shirtless on everyone. The Browns winning a Thursday night game seems like an appropriate arena for this type of thing now.

Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, John Wall team up for Hurricane Florence relief

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Along with Michael Jordan, several other NBA players, teams, and the league have decided to team up in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Relief for the eastern seaboard, specifically the Carolinas, has been the subject of many charitable efforts thus far.

Now we can add Chris Paul, John Wall, and Stephen Curry to the list of players trying to help the beleaguered coastal states.

All three players are natives of North Carolina, with Curry being from Charlotte, Wall being from Raleigh and Paul being from Winston-Salem. The three are the public face of an effort to raise $500,000 to help aid in post-hurricane relief.

Via Twitter:

The damage from Florence has been significant. According to one report from NBC News, home losses in the town of New Bern, NC (pop: 30,101) have reached an estimated $32 million.

Moody’s Analytics released a report that said that a conservative estimate of total damage caused by Florence is in the range of $17 billion.

Video from the North Carolina Department of Transportation published on social media this week confirmed how great the flooding was just in terms of visual scale.

If you’d like to help donate to the effort, you can do so by clicking the link in Curry’s tweet or following the link here.

Richard Jefferson’s father killed in drive-by shooting in Los Angeles

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Richard Jefferson Sr., 65, the father of NBA veteran Richard Jefferson Jr., died on Wednesday when he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.

The report comes to us from TMZ, who says that it is still unclear whether the elder Jefferson was the target of the attack or if it was something more random.

Via TMZ:

Richard Jefferson Sr. was in front of a liquor store in a primarily residential area around 6:52 PM when a vehicle rolled up and someone inside opened fire.

Jefferson Sr. was struck multiple times in the torso. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Sources say Jefferson Sr. was with 2 other men at the time of the shooting. It’s unclear if Jefferson Sr. was the target.

The Los Angeles Police Department is still investigating the shooting, and we of course are hoping they will get to the bottom of this crime.

Thoughts are with Jefferson at this time, who according to ESPN grew closer to his father in recent years. Jefferson’s parents split when he was young and Junior grew up in Arizona with Senior residing in California.