NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz Game 3: To beat LA, the Jazz are going to have to improvise

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Williams_Fisher.jpgImprovisation is one of the cornerstones of jazz.

Except in Utah.

The Jazz are one of the most structured teams in the NBA, they execute their flex offense with a precision no team in the Association can match. Crisp passes, plenty of off-the ball movement, flashes into the high post, back door cuts. It tore apart the Denver Nuggets in the first round, because the Jazz are disciplined offense and the Nuggets (especially without George Karl screaming at them) are an undisciplined team.

But the system has not worked on the Lakers. For two straight games the Lakers have held the Jazz under their offensive efficiency numbers for the regular season. Why? Because the Lakers are a team of long arms and bodies — there is a lot less space to slip that pass through to a backdoor cutter. The Lakers are taking away the Jazz’s preferred offensive plays, cutting off passing lanes and contesting shots.

The Jazz need to improvise.

To beat the Lakers they are going to have to break out of the flex offense and let one of the –if not THE — best point guards in the game loose.

Free Deron Williams.

He himself told the Desert News he is going to improvise some this game, back home at Energy Solutions Arena.

D-Will did more of that in the first series against the Nuggets, pushing the ball and getting some transition baskets on the Nuggets (who weren’t good at getting back). The Jazz are going to have to run more on the Lakers and get some baskets before their defense gets set, for one.

Williams also has the single biggest matchup advantage on the Jazz — Derek Fisher can’t stop him one-on-one. What Fisher has done well so far is guide Williams toward the long-armed help of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. (This is where the Jazz miss Mehmet Okur, a big who can hit the long ball and pulls one of those defenders away from the basket.) The Jazz need to run some high pick-and-rolls, some pure isolations, even post Williams up on Fisher. They need to exploit that matchup.

It’s not all offense, defense matters too. The Jazz need, to use coach Jerry Sloan’s words — toughen up on defense. They have let the Lakers basically set up their offense in the spots they want. Can’t do that with Kobe Bryant and Gasol and Bynum — they will score a lot from those spots. The Lakers have matchup advantages inside and they have exploited them. The Jazz need to challenge the Lakers for every spot on the floor, make them start where they are uncomfortable.

Having Andrei Kirilenko back will help with that. The Jazz need more size in this series, and AK-47 provides that. Just his shot blocking threat will change how the Lakers can attack the rim.

The Jazz will also have its big home-court advantage — a loud crowd and some high altitude. The crowd will help; the Jazz could use the energy.

Is all that enough to take two games from the Lakers? That is essentially what the Jazz have to do, they cannot go back to Los Angeles down 3-1, the Lakers are too big and too good for the Jazz to climb out of that hole. All they have to do today is win one.

The Jazz can get that win — but they are going to have to improvise to do it.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

Associated Press
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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.

Rockets survive gut punch from Warriors, even Western Conference Finals at 2-2

AP
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The Houston Rockets can only win against the Golden State Warriors in one way: ugly.

During their Game 2 blowout against the defending champions, Houston’s 22-point victory was ugly for the Warriors. In Tuesday’s Game 4 win, it was ugly for the Rockets despite the 95-92 score in their favor.

Golden State came out of the gates hot, scoring the first 12 points of the game as it was clear that the Warriors were drawing off of the home crowd back in Oakland. Houston eventually settled, coming back with a massive 34-point second quarter. Mike D’Antoni, using an abbreviated rotation, found a way to up his team’s defense on the Warriors, clamping down on Golden State from the 3-point line.

The Rockets took a 53-46 lead into the half, and needed to brace for the coming changes from Steve Kerr’s squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Warriors answered with a 34 point quarter of their own to open the second half. Golden State found their range from 3-point land as — guess who — Stephen Curry started to go nuclear. Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points but shot a woeful 37.5 percent from the field, started to slow even as he got open looks off jumpers above smaller defenders.

Then came the fourth quarter.

Houston remained resolute, and full of energy as PJ Tucker and Chris Paul jumped for loose balls and battled for rebounds. Meanwhile, Golden State appeared to slowly run out of gas. Steve Kerr said as much after the game, intimating that his own shortened lineup without Andre Iguodala could have played a role.

D’Antoni, who obviously had a game plan to better defend Durant, then focused his attention toward Curry. The Warriors point guard finished the game shooting 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter, including a miss on the final shot of the game.

Curry scored 28 points with six rebounds and two assists. Durant added 12 rebounds and three assists to his scoring total. Draymond Green contributed 11 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists.

For Houston it was Harden who led the way with 30 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Paul had 27 points to go with four assists and two rebounds. PJ Tucker, who scored just four points, grabbed a whopping 16 boards. Clint Capela was much the same, scoring eight points while grabbing 13 rebounds.

This season’s Western Conference fighters has been both puzzling and Expected. Well the variants of victory margin has been much greater than any of us anticipated for both sides, the fact that the coaches on each bench are trying to out dual each other each game Runs with the idea we have of some of the best playoff series in NBA history. In fact, the back-and-forth battle between two teams as they trade winds is perhaps what makes be later rounds of the NBA playoffs so worth watching.

Houston’s victory was gritty, and defensive, and not much to look at. True to his persona, after the final horn Rockets point guard Paul called it, “A fun game.”

While we finally got ourselves a close conference finals game out West, the question now turns to what the teams will do for Game 5 back in Houston. Will this series become more competitive? Or will Houston and Golden State continue the back-and-forth, big-margin victories we’ve seen thus far?

No matter what, there’s no doubt the Rockets will be trying to recapture the defensive aura they held in Game 4 as Golden State tries to find a way to break through it.