NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz Game 4: Utah, now all hope is lost. Officially.

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Kobe_layup.jpgIt’s a simple but true basketball axiom — good tall will beat good small.

The Jazz are good, they played hard and execute their offense well, but the Lakers were just a taller, longer team. A better team.

In the first two games of the series Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom punished the Jazz inside for wins. Game three the Jazz doubled the post hard to take the ball out of the Lakers bigs hands.

It worked. Well, except for the fact the ball went more into Kobe Bryant’s hands and the Jazz had nobody who could guard him.

Monday night it was a combination of the two. The Lakers were too big early on (and  the TNT announcing crew beating that fact into the ground during the Game 4 broadcast like they were getting paid a bonus for every time they used the word “length” doesn’t make it any less true). Then later Kobe got his.

Gasol had 33 points and 14 rebounds, Kobe added 32 — he scored at least 30 in every game this series — and while the Jazz battled like they always do the Lakers won Game 4 111-96. Los Angeles swept the series 4-0, first time ever Utah has been swept in a seven game series.

This game was not quite like the others, but that was because of the Jazz.

In Monday’s Salt Lake Tribune the sports section banner headline was, “All Hope Is Lost.” Jazz players ribbed the Tribune’s Jazz beat reporter about that before the game — then they went out and played like it was true. The team that fought through every pick in game three was going under them and letting Kobe Bryant have room. The Jazz were not bringing hard, aggressive double teams to the ball when Bynum or Gasol got it in deep, and the result was Gasol getting going early and having 17 first half points.

“Once we got down a little bit, it was deja vu,” Deron Williams said in a postgame interview broadcast on NBATV.

The three close losses before — by 14 points total — had taken the hope out of the Jazz. The Lakers looked like they were going to run away with this one, up 20 at one point and 17 at half.

But the Jazz do not to just roll over. They came out on a little run to start the third quarter and cut the Lakers lead to single digits, doing it by getting some turnovers and points in transition. Williams led the charge, scoring 21, a number the hustling Paul Millsap matched. Los Angeles got away from what they wanted to do — Kobe kept trying to hit daggers while Gasol didn’t get to touch the ball. And suddenly Utah was on a run.

But the Lakers steadied and for much of the second half the lead fluctuated in the 8 to 12 range. The Jazz just couldn’t close the gap.

Basically because the Lakers were taller. And couldn’t cover Kobe.The basic themes of this series playing out again.

Now it is back to Los Angeles for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals next Monday. It’s the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns — two good teams.

But a matchup where the Lakers are taller. Again.

Maintenance rest starts early: Kawhi Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Jimmy Butler all out Saturday

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Last season the NBA leaned in on teams resting players, particularly in high-profile, televised games. The NBA built in rest before those games to help, and teams mostly played along, but players who teams wanted to be cautious with still got their rest. That is not changing now, NBA teams have science to back it up.

The rest is starting early this season — Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, Boston’s Gordon Hayward, and Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler are all out Saturday night on the second night of back-to-backs.

Neither of these should be a surprise. Both Hayward and Leonard are coming off injuries that cost them a season and both are clearly feeling their way back into this season (Leonard seems ahead of Hayward on that front so far). Both Toronto and Boston have their eyes on May and June, there is no reason to push a player and risk injury in October that could be a much more significant setback.

In Toronto, OG Anunoby will start on the wing for Leonard. In Boston, Aron Baynes will start as Brad Stevens goes big.

In Minnesota…

It will be interesting to see how the Timberwolves come out against Dallas without Butler, who is their spark plug. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns should step up and have big nights to lead the team, this is a game Minnesota should still will, but how will they respond on a back-to-back? Something to watch.

Lakers’ James to make home debut against Rockets tonight

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — LeBron James will make his regular-season home debut as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when they host the Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

James, a four-time NBA most valuable player, signed with the Lakers in July after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to four straight NBA Final appearances, including their first championship in 2016.

He has played in every NBA Finals since 2010, also winning titles in 2012 and 2013 with the Miami Heat.

James had 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his Los Angeles debut against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday night, but the Lakers lost 128-119.

The Lakers will likely need a better start with their long-range shooting against the Rockets. Los Angeles missed its first 15 tries from 3-point range before finishing 7 for 30 (23.3 percent) against Portland.

James said he and his new teammates are still going through a feeling-out period.

“It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are,” he told reporters after his Lakers debut. “It’s going to take patience from our team, from all of us, to just figure out one another, figure out what we are good at, figure out what we are not so good at, how we can be better at it.”

The Rockets returned their core players from last season’s team that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and they added 10-time NBA All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony to the mix. They seemed to run low on energy in their season opener against the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night, however.

After getting outscored by 17 points in the first half, the Rockets were unable to generate a push against the Pelicans and lost 131-112. New Orleans shot 53.1 percent from the floor.

“I thought they were tired,” said Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached the Lakers for two seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14).

James Harden, who averaged an NBA-leading 30.4 points last season en route to winning NBA MVP honors, was held to 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Anthony, who played the last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, scored nine points off the bench on 3-for-10 shooting.

Harden, a Los Angeles-area native, is averaging 30.3 points in 32 career games against the Lakers.

One of the bright spots for the Lakers in their season opener was the play of reserve shooting guard Josh Hart. The second-year player scored 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting, including 3 for 5 from 3-point range.

Hart played 27 minutes, the same as starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. who was limited to five points on 1-for-3 shooting from the floor.

Hart didn’t want to talk about his offense afterward, but rather how he could improve on his defense after Portland reserve shooting guard Nik Stauskas scored 24 points and shot 5 of 8 on 3-pointers.

“Just got to make sure we get the adjustments down and get better on defense,” he told Spectrum SportsNet.

Raptors’ pregame video on Canadian broadcast is group therapy session for Toronto

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Raptors fans are pumped — and they should be, their team knocked off the Celtics Friday night with Kawhi Leonard dropping 31 points (and still showing some rust on the offensive end, he is going to get better). Toronto is positioned to be the one team in the East that is a genuine threat to the Celtics (sorry Philly, not just yet).

Yet Raptors fans as a whole expect the worst, they come with a grey cloud following them and an inferiority complex, Leonard is a free agent next summer, and there is a history of players leaving Toronto…

Which is why the Sportsnet Canada broadcast pregame video is remarkable — it’s a group therapy session for Toronto and all of Canada. To be clear, this was not shown in the arena before the game, it was on the national broadcast, but still, check it out.

Letting go of the past, not worrying about the future, and living in the moment is always good advice.

Leonard said the key to keeping him in Toronto is winning, and Friday night was a good first step down that road. Of course, there’s more to it than that and other teams are going to be in the mix (keep an eye on the Clippers), but sources around the league I talk to think the Raptors have a chance. Sort of like Paul George in Oklahoma City, if he has a very positive experience, it’s possible he opens his mind to staying. Plus, he can get five years, $190 million from the Raptors and four-years, $139 million from anyone else, for a guy coming off basically missing a season due to injury that security and guaranteed money may matter.

Nobody knows what will happen next summer — Leonard and his family/advisors have been unpredictable. Leonard likely doesn’t even know yet.

Which is why Raptors’ fans should let go of the past, live in the moment and savor this season — it could be the greatest one in Raptors’ history.

 

Watch highlights of Pelican’s franchise-record 149 point blowout of Kings

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We’re just two games into the season, but the New Orleans Pelicans have the best offense in the NBA, averaging 127.9 points per 100 possessions. In what has felt like a high scoring start to the season in general (it’s too early to draw conclusions), nobody has been blowing up like Anthony Davis (28.5 points per game) and the Pelicans.

Friday night they dropped a franchise record 149 points on the Sacramento Kings.

Nikola Mirotic had 36 leading eight Pelicans in double figures. Check out the highlights above. And light a candle for the Clippers and Nets, the next two teams up to try to stop the Pelicans freight train.