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.

Gordon Hayward posts new workout video, he is moving pretty well

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Player workout videos on Instagram are a lot like how your life (or, your parent’s life) appears on Facebook — everyone looks their best, is always having fun and doing something interesting, and the daily grime of life has been scrubbed away.

That said, Boston’s Gordon Hayward looks good — he seems to be moving very well — in this latest workout video he posted.

It’s a good sign to see Hayward moving like that in July, months before that reconstructed ankle needs to be put to the test on the NBA hardwood.

With Hayward and Kyrie Irving healthy, the Celtics start the season as the favorites in the East — but Toronto is a sudden, serious challenger if Kawhi Leonard is all the way back and healthy. Philadelphia is talented and in that mix as well if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can take strides forward with their game.

The top of the East is going to be very interesting next season.

Montrezl Harrell reportedly reaches deal to return to Clippers

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The Clippers liked Montrezl Harrell last season (he came from Houston in the Chris Paul trade), he averaged 11 points a game for the team with a very efficient PER of 24.7.

He was one restricted agent some around the league thought another team would try to poach, but in a tight market nobody was making an offer because the Clippers were just expected to match. So the Clippers and Harrell (and his agent) sat down and figured out something that worked for both sides, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The deal is fully guaranteed for both years, according to the report. That’s a fair price for his services, and Harrell gets back on the market in two years when the salary cap will have gone up by more than $15 million (at least by the NBA’s early predictions). He will have more options on 2020.

The Clippers are now just $500 below the luxury tax. They also have 16 contracts, which is bad news for C.J. Wilson and his non-guaranteed deal. (Technically Patrick Beverley has a non-guaranteed contract as well, but if healthy he will be back.)

For a couple of seasons, this is a good fit. Harrell will bring some athleticism and bounce to a frontcourt rotation that already includes Tobias Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat, and Boban Marjanovic. The Clippers are a pretty good team, the problem is in the West pretty good could be the 10 or 11 seed. The conference is that deep and brutal.

Would Dwyane Wade take a big payday in China? Would Jahlil Okafor?

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Dwayne Wade is making a tough decision: Does he want to go through the physical grind to get his body ready for one more season of NBA basketball in Miami? Or, is it time to retire?

For some of the greats — most recently Kobe Bryant talked openly about this — they still love the game and the camaraderie, but they get to a point they no longer have the same passion for putting in the increasing work on their bodies to get it in NBA-level condition to perform at the level they expect. Wade is struggling with that debate right now.

Or, he could just go to China.

From Sportando:

Dwyane Wade is still a free agent after his season with Cavaliers and Heat. Wade has not decided yet whether to play one more season or retire. But D-Wade is wanted in China. Xinjiang Flying Tigers are ready to offer him a monster deal, as reported by Zhang Duo.

It’s hard to imagine Wade jumping on that, but not impossible. The salary is not going to be the motivator — he has made just shy of $180 million in salary alone in his career, and much more with endorsements — but rather the move would be about building his brand and his new lifetime shoe deal with Li-Ning, a China-based shoe manufacturer. Business-wise, it could be good for Wade to spend a season in China.

Of course, family and other considerations have to be at the forefront of his mind, which is why this still feels unlikely. Just never say never.

One guy who could go there and rehab his reputation is free-agent Jahlil Okafor. Also from Sportando:

Okafor is practicing in Miami but the Heat are unlikely to sign him but in China there are several teams interested in signing the former Duke center, as reported by Zhang Duo.

Okafor has worked out for NBA teams but has no offers (or, at least none he’s taken) and it’s increasingly unlikely he would get a fully guaranteed contract for this season. He, understandably, is clearly still working toward that goal.

In China, Okafor could put up big numbers, show he is healthy and moving well, get a good payday, and be back in the USA in time to get picked up by a team for a playoff run (the Chinese season ends in February or March, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs). It’s a big cultural adjustment and not for everyone, but Okafor has to be considering all his options at this point.

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.