NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz game 1: Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan get together, again

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Thumbnail image for Jackson_Bryant.jpgDid Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan even bother to look at the advanced scouting reports for this series?

These two coaches — running the exact same systems — have been going at it since the mid 1990s. There are no secrets here. No surprises, no new counters that have not been tried multiple times before. This is a well-known dance between coaches.

But Jackson keeps coming out on top, because he has had the better players. That likely does not change, either. The Lakers pose some matchup questions that the Jazz cannot answer, especially as banged up as they are along the front line.

These two teams last played a month ago and the Lakers blew the Jazz out of the water with a 20-2 first quarter run. The game was never really in serious doubt after that (although the Jazz made a couple runs of it against the sad Lakers bench.)

The Lakers defense made that run, for a couple reasons. One was they forced the Jazz to start their offense farther out on the floor than they normally like, to the point a couple early turnovers came because Jazz players just stepped out of bounds.

Jazz turnovers will be key– the Jazz run the crisp-passing flex offense, and they run it better than anyone, but it is an offense with a lot of interior passing. The Lakers bigs have long arms. They knock down some passes, and those tend to be quickly become transition points for the Lakers. Unlike in the last round against the youth Thunder, now the Lakers want to get out and run, they are the better transition team. If the Jazz cut the turnovers down, they cut out some easy offense for the Lakers.

One Utah matchup that always gave the Lakers trouble was Mehmet Okur — to get easy points against the Lakers need to pull their bigs away from the basket. You need a stretch four (I hate to type that, it’s becoming a cliché, but it rings true here). But Okur is out for this series with a ruptured Achilles tendon, and that is going to be trouble for the Jazz, because the Lakers bigs will have more freedom.

And the big matchup advantage for the Lakers in this matchup has long been inside. And it’s not just that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum — who will play through his knee injury, but look for Phil Jackson to try to get him rest — can score at will. It’s that they slow down one of the keys to the Jazz offense: Carlos Boozier.

Boozer averaged just 11.3 points in four games against the Lakers this year, on 39 percent shooting (thanks to Forum Blue & Gold for that). And he averaged less than 10 shots per game. The length of Pau Gasol really hampers Boozer in the post, and Gasol is long enough to challenge his jumpers out at 15 feet.

The Jazz may try to counter that with the return of Andrei Kirilenko, at some point. However, how much of an impact he can have remains to be seen.

Where the Jazz have the advantage is Deron Williams. He is as good a point guard as there is in the game, he can slash the lane, shoot the three, and averages 10.5 assists per game. He will utterly destroy Derek Fisher. Destroy.

This is where the lack of Okur hurts — the Lakers bigs will try to block off the paint and force Williams to pull up with the 12-footer. This season, Williams shot just 32.8 percent from 10 to 15 feet (via Hoopdata).

One other little matchup the Lakers can fall back on — Kobe Bryant vs. Anyone. Slowed by injury or not, Wesley Mathews is not stopping Kobe when it matters.

This is a matchup the Lakers should win — the matchup advantages all fall to them. But Deron Williams can win a couple games himself. Bynum is slowed and Kobe Bryant is banged up. And we know this — the Jazz are a good team that plays hard. They will not roll over. The Lakers will have to fight for this one. But they probably will, at least just enough to win.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37, Scoot Henderson 28, as both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?