NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz Game 3: The Jazz get everything they want, except the win

19 Comments

Fisher_Korver.jpgWhat if?

Not just what if Deron Williams nailed the crossover 22-footer, a favorite move of his and a shot he has buried so many times before? Not what if Wesley Mathews tip chance off that shot had gone in?

But for the Utah Jazz, what if you do basically everything you want to do, and you still can’t win?

That’s why this Lakers 111-110 win has to hurt in Salt Lake City. Not just because the Lakers are now up an insurmountable 3-0 in the series. Okay, maybe that’s part of it. But it’s also because they have been so close, and because they did so much of what they wanted in game three.

Think about the Jazz checklist coming in to this game: Limit the Lakers inside. Make Ron Artest and Derek Fisher beat you, ideally with threes. Get off to a fast start at home. Pick up the pace. Have D-Will be more aggressive in transition and attacking Fisher off the dribble.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check

And they still lost.

Just barely — this was one of the most dramatic games and finishes of the playoffs. There was a stretch of the game where Kyle Korver and Ron Artest were trading threes. There were big shots and answers. There was a key last minute turnover, and a chance for the Jazz to win.

What if? It’s just hard not to ask it.

There will be a game four Monday, there’s no more strategy for Jerry Sloan to employ. They did nearly everything they wanted to do. Still wasn’t enough.

“Tonight we went over getting the ball out of the post, we were trying to help on the post, make them beat us from the perimeter,” Williams said postgame in interviews shown on NBATV. “Fish hadn’t shot well, Artest hadn’t shot well in the series. So we felt like we could live with outside shots, but it kind of bit us in the butt a little bit.”

“I was so happy that Coach Sloan had that defensive strategy to play off me,” Artest said. “Got me going a little bit.”

Twittering Artest was hot from three — he had been 7 of 42 so far in the playoffs. But he hit his first three on his way to 4 of 7 from deep and 20 points. Derek Fisher was 3 of 7 from deep and had 20 points as well.

All that shooting was par It was one of the most fun, dramatic games in a postseason and the end was fantastic as the two teams combined for 20 points in just over the last two minutes.

The dramatic end started with 1:25 left and Williams blowing past Fisher, again, but then kicking out to the hottest shooter in the game, Korver. All nylon on the three. Again. He was 5-5 from three, 9-10 overall and had 23 points.

A couple possessions later, down three with 54 seconds left, the Lakers come down and at this point the triangle is forgotten in Lakers minds. It’s all Kobe setting up whatever it is he wants. Pau Gasol set a high pick and Kobe’s defender went under it, so he drained the three. Tie game. He had 35 points. Because he’s good. And feeling healthy.

D-Will comes down and just attacks Fisher again, then even with Gasol there he got to a good spot and hit a high-arcing 12-foot baseline jumper. Fisher answers with a three over Kover’s outstretched arm.

Lakers up one when Mathews passed up three looking hesitant but then got the ball back two seconds later and missed an open three. He had a rough ending to the game. The Jazz fouled Kobe and two made free throws later the Lakers were up three. The Lakers then foul Williams before he can shoot, two free throws that he makes, and we’re back to the Lakers by one with the ball.

Then on an inbounds play (on the Lakers end of the floor after a timeout) Artest threw the ball to where a cutting Fisher would be, but the rookie Mathews made a veteran play, wrapping his off arm around Fisher to slow him down, and the pass went bounding into Korver’s hands, and he called timeout to set up D-Will’s game winner. Or what might have been

Williams’ crossover was pure, he just missed it. Mathews — who was Kobe’s man but Kobe was watching the ball and not boxing out — timed it right for a great tip in. Both just rolled on the rim and out.

What if?

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

Tim Warner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
2 Comments

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.

 

Just a reminder, after draft and free agency Wizards have still not named official GM

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM back in April — to the joy of Wizards fans everywhere — it was expected they would have a new head of basketball operations in place by the draft.

Nope.

So by the start of free agency, to guide the Wizards through this tumultuous summer?

Nope.

Tommy Sheppard has been doing the job on an interim basis, and as Jeff Zillgit of the USA Today points out a lot of league talk in Las Vegas was about why Leonsis just hasn’t given Shepard the job.

Team executive after executive had the same question when the Washington Wizards’ unresolved top front-office job opening came up. “Why not just give Tommy the job?”

Tommy is Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards’ longtime exec, who has been running basketball operations since owner Ted Leonsis decided not to bring Ernie Grunfeld back. Sheppard ran the draft, free agency and the Wizards’ Summer League team, but he doesn’t have the full-time job.

A couple of more prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at points. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

At this point, after Sheppard has built the team for this coming season, is Leonsis really going to bring in someone else?

The Wizards have decisions to make. This is a young roster not ready to be a threat in the East, but with Bradley Beal and the injured John Wall (likely out for the season after tearing his Achilles), they also are capped out. So far they have turned away calls from other teams about a Beal trade (nobody is calling about a Wall trade with his max contract extension just kicking in).

Come July 26 the Wizards can offer Beal a three-year, $111 million extension, both sides are talking and the offer is expected to be made. That’s when the big decision comes — if Beal doesn’t sign that offer the Wizards have to look at trading him. Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards, but there was plenty of informed league speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and may not sign the extension, essentially forcing his way out. It’s something to watch in the coming weeks.

It probably would be nice to have a locked-in head of basketball operations by then, but who knows what Leonsis will do.

Cameron Payne reportedly agrees to partially-guaranteed contract with Toronto

Getty Images
1 Comment

Cameron Payne was the starting point guard at one point early in the season in Chicago (until Kris Dunn returned), it didn’t last long, and by the middle of the season he was waived. The Cavaliers picked him up in a limited role at the end of the season.

Payne played for Dallas at Summer League and needed to impress there to have a shot a roster spot for next season. He did, averaging 20 points per game on 51 percent shooting, and he had one 32-point game.

The Toronto Raptors will bring Payne and let him compete to be the third point guard, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Raptors have Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet at the point, there are not a lot of minutes to be had there. However, both men are in the final year of their contracts. Plus, he brings some pregame dancing that every team needs.

The Raptors now have 16 potential NBA contracts coming into training camp, which means there will be cuts. The fact Payne has a decent guarantee his first year means he’s going to get a real look.

Payne, the No. 14 pick of the Thunder back in 2015, has struggled to find a fit in the NBA. While his skill set should fit the modern game, he doesn’t quite shoot or distribute well enough to earn a coach’s trust. He will try to change that with Nick Nurse.