NBA Playoffs, Suns v. Spurs Game 4: The deed is done.

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Nash_eye.jpgThe Phoenix Suns just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns
just swept the San Antonio Spurs. The Phoenix Suns just swept the San
Antonio Spurs.

Maybe if I type that phrase enough times, the
basketball gods will tie my precious typing fingers into knots for my
blasphemy. In what universe could the Suns sweep the Spurs in the
playoffs? In what bizarro dimension is this Phoenix team a
Western Conference finalist, and the most respected franchise in the
league receiving the business end of a broom?

Ours,
apparently. Suspend your disbelief. It’s not easy; it wasn’t easy to
foresee the Suns closing out the series in four games in San
Antonio facing yet another double-digit deficit. Yet they did it,
107-101, because Phoenix has played like the best team in the Western
Conference, even if a little team in Los Angeles would have something
to say about that.

The Suns aren’t just good, they’re damn
good. They’ll be considered underdogs against the Lakers even after
ousting the Spurs in the most impressive of fashions, but any fan,
basketball junkie, or NBA scribe that pencils L.A. in as a Finals
participant needs to take a long, hard look at what Phoenix was able to
accomplish in this series.

Manu Ginobili, who could have made
a legitimate claim as the best Spur over the final stretch of the
regular season, was trapped like mad in the pick and roll and
completely smothered offensively at times. He finished Game 4 with 15
points and nine assists, but shot just 2-of-11 from the field. Tim
Duncan may seem like an imposing match-up for the Suns, but it’s no
secret that Manu and Tony Parker hold the keys to the offense.
Eliminate the threat of Ginobili operating (for either scoring or
playmaking purposes) off of the Spurs’ staple pick-and-roll, and San
Antonio is quite beatable. Quite sweepable, apparently.

Not that
the Suns’ defense ignored Duncan, either. His lack of effectiveness as
the roll man in pick-and-roll situations was shocking, and though
Phoenix committed two defenders and a strong front to the ball-handler
on almost every screen, Duncan never seemed all that open. There were
so many cases where the Suns’ help defenders would beat him to his spot
rolling down the lane in order to contest his attempts or run
interference on the roll lob, and Tim was left in limbo.

That
strategy wasn’t enough to deny him from reaching 17 points (on 50%
shooting) and eight rebounds in Game 4, but the fact that Duncan wasn’t
more of a factor in this series is as much a tribute to the Suns’ post
defense as it was their defensive rotations on the pick-and-roll.

Limit
the effectiveness of those two players on the offensive end, and Tony
Parker’s 22-point, five-assist effort is solid rather than deadly,
George Hill’s night is nice rather than headline-worthy, and hell, Matt
Bonner’s 14 points on just six attempts is nothing special, as opposed
to the Red Rocket that broke the camel’s back.

It’s almost
cliché these days to praise the Suns’ defense, but there’s simply no
way to write a proper recap without giving Phoenix their due. Alvin
Gentry has simply done a phenomenal job — a Popovichian job, dare I
say — of coaching this team into rotating properly on the defensive
end. No matter how much pressure was committed to blitzing Ginobili or
doubling Duncan in the post, the Suns’ defense never seemed to be on
tilt. It was vulnerable at times, but they always recovered.

Phoenix
just came down the court again and again and played consistently solid
defense. It wasn’t so much the effectiveness of the Suns’ D on a
per-point or even per-possession basis (San Antonio still scored 101
points and scored at a rate of 105.2 points per 100 possessions), but
the resiliency of that defense that was the most impressive. It wasn’t
always effective, but the Suns’ rotations were just relentless. They
forced 16 turnovers and limited San Antonio’s three-point attempts
(just 11 to Phoenix’s 24), and they worked, worked, worked.

With
the difficulties that the Suns posed for the Spurs on the other end,
that was obviously enough for them to not only win the series, but do
it without dropping a single game. San Antonio simply lacked the
ability to cover all of the bases of the Suns’ multifaceted offense,
and their peak-too-early performances reeked of a team that was just a
bit outmatched. “They made it hard for us to guard them for 48
minutes,” Gregg Popovich said. “We’d go into the fourth quarter and
someone for them would step up. Those are the kinds of things that
happen with that team.”

At various points in this series, that
nameless “someone” that stepped up has been a strong perimeter
defender, a three-point shooter, a hustle rebounder, and an undersung
reserve. In Game 4, it was Steve Nash, who came back into the game
after receiving six stitches over his right eye in the third quarter to
lead the Suns to a remarkable close-out performance. Nash, with one eye
swollen shut, was responsible for 21 of his team’s 31 points while the
game was still meaningful.

“I just feel fortunate that I had the
chance to get back out there,” Steve Nash said. “I don’t know how it
didn’t keep me on the sidelines.” It’s something of a wonder that it
didn’t. Nash’s eye was not only bruised, but swollen almost completely
shut. So naturally, he not only hit a pull-up three in transition just
moments after returning the floor, but got excellent looks for both
himself and Amar’e Stoudemire in the game’s deciding minutes.

Amar’e
was a force on his own for most of the game (he had 29 points of his
own), but with Nash spoon-feeding him wide open mid-range jumpers to
complement his prior assault of layups, dunks, and runners, he was
finally able to exact his revenge against San Antonio. “It’s
beautiful,” Stoudemire said of finally defeating the Spurs in the
postseason after falling short in four straight attempts. “It feels
great.”

It must. Phoenix has a long road to head, but the sight
of San Antonio’s corpse at their feet has to offer some relief. If not
as evidence that the Suns have exorcised their demons, then at least as
validation of their success this season. This is no longer the team
that struggled to match up with the Blazers at times, but a deep,
talented squad capable of giving any playoff opponent a run for their money. Even the Lakers. Even an opponent waiting beyond that’s even more challenging.

That’s
just how good these Suns are, and though Phoenix still continues to
surprise — as they did tonight, even when their series victory seemed
imminent — nothing about this team should be startling from this point
forward. Based on their performance from this series, we should expect
the best from the Suns. They’ve played well enough to earn that.   

LeBron James: Team chemistry not “like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast.”

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We shouldn’t overreact to the opening night loss for the Lakers in Portland, there were a lot of things in there we should have expected. First, Portland is a superb team led by two All-Stars that is always tough at home. The  Moda Center is never an easy place to win for any team. Second, the shooting woes the Lakers had were too be expected when we looked at the roster, and while it’s going to be a lingering problem all season they will have better nights than 7-of-30 from three and 0-of-7 from the corners.

However, the biggest takeaway is this: The Lakers lacked continuity and chemistry, and in a one-point game in the fourth (101-100) that really started to show, while the Trail Blazers are primarily the same team running primarily the same system, and their chemistry fueled the win.

That also shouldn’t be a surprise. So LeBron James, how long is it going to take for the Lakers to find that chemistry? (As reported by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN).

“Um, not as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen,” James said when asked how long it will take for the Lakers’ chemistry to develop. “I always kind of compare it to like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast. It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are.”

LeBron has history on his side here. Both when he went to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and when he returned to Cleveland, his teams got off to slow starts as they figured out their team chemistry. It takes player a while to adjust to playing with LeBron — who was working hard to set his Laker teammates Thursday rather than just taking over — and for him to adjust to them. Both those Cleveland and Miami teams went on to the NBA Finals.

The difference is this is the West and there is almost no margin for error, and early struggles could cost the Lakers’ playoff seeding. Or more.

Shirtless man berates Bulls center Cristiano Felicio on Philadelphia street: ‘You ain’t no Michael Jordan’

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Cristiano Felicio didn’t play in the Bulls’ loss to the 76ers last night.

But the center made an appearance in Philadelphia.

Josh Haber:

Plenty of well-articulated points here that are worth thoughtfully considering.

Steve Kerr: “I support Colin Kaepernick 100 percent,” says true patriotism is helping others

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If you’ve seen or heard Steve Kerr talking politics in the past few years, it’s no surprise the Warriors coach has Colin Kaepernick’s back — he’s blasted the NFL’s national anthem policy before

Kerr once again threw his support behind Kaepernick during a wide-ranging interview with Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area, which can only be seen in full on the new NBC Sports My Teams app (you can see part of the interview video above).

“I support Colin Kaepernick 100 percent, and I think he deserves a chance to play,” Kerr said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “And I was happy see Eric Reid was picked up recently — Kap’s teammate who also knelt last year. So I support their right to play.”

Earlier in the same interview, Kerr shared his qualms with the militaristic and nationalistic displays before sporting events. What if the NBA just did away with the anthem before games completely?

“It wouldn’t bother me. I’m not for it, nor against it,” Kerr said. “I believe patriotism is about doing something good for others, for other Americans. That’s the best way to be patriotic, to get out and volunteer and help others. That’s what drives me crazy about the uproar over the NFL players who have knelt in a fight for social justice. So many of them have given so much to their communities — given not just money but time. I read a lot about Malcolm Jenkins in Philadelphia and what he’s done in his community. And Chris Long. And people like Colin Kaepernick who have given a million dollars to charity.

“I’m so proud of so many athletes who are out there in their communities, knowing the power they have and the financial resources they have to make a change. That’s patriotism to me. The anthem is just kind of a symbol for that.”

The NBA has not faced the same national anthem issues as the NFL because no NBA players have taken a knee (they have locked arms on some teams). There are a lot of reasons for that, most of which have nothing to do with politics (or even the NBA’s rule that players “stand and line up in a dignified posture” during the anthem). For the NBA it’s more about  Commissioner Adam Silver and owners encouraging players to speak out on social issues, making the players feel heard (and cutting off the problem before it blew up). Besides, the player/owner power balance is different in the NBA than NFL, no NBA owner would dare cross a superstar player that way (the free agent backlash would be sharp). Of course, the biggest reason is the NBA’s core demographic is younger, more diverse, and more urban (read: bluer) than the NFL’s, and if an NBA player kneeled there would not be the same kind of vitriol from the fan base. Most would just agree.

However, protesting during the anthem is an issue that still hovers over the NFL. While Kerr wants to see Kaepernick get a chance to play, as a former general manager himself he understands why it has not happened (and it’s not about anything on the field).

“I also see this entire media frenzy that surrounds it,” Kerr said. “And if I’m a GM of a team, I know the minute I sign Colin Kaepernick, it’s like signing Tim Tebow. Or it’s like signing, you know, one of the Ball brothers. And that’s probably a bad analogy. But it’s going to come with a storm. So even if your heart’s in the right place, and you go, ‘You know what? This is all BS,’ I want my team to be able to function. And I want to bring in a backup quarterback. But I don’t want a news conference every single day. I could see a GM going, ‘Man, I don’t really want to deal with that.’ That’s modern media. That’s modern American life.”

Kerr plans to keep using his platform to speak out on American life. And some basketball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anthony Davis wants to be great player on great team ‘every year. Not every other year. Not every few years. Every year’

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Pelicans star Anthony Davis has made the playoffs just twice in six years. Last season was the first time he won a a series.

That’s atypical for a player of his caliber.

Davis, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“When you look at LeBron, every year you know he’s going to be great and his team is going to have a chance to win the title,” Davis said. “From here on out, I want to be in that conversation every year. Not every other year. Not every few years. Every year. If that’s going to happen, we’re going to have to win, and I’m going to have to be the most dominant player.”

Davis is putting it on himself to be that player.

The big question: Are the Pelicans good enough to be that team?

Both Davis and New Orleans met his expectations in a resounding opening win over the Rockets, but it’s a long season. The Pelicans are good, though flawed. They’ve never contended for a title with Davis, let alone done so annually. As he enters the midst of his prime, it might be now or never.

Davis can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and he’s setting a bar. A high one.