NBA Playoffs, Lakers v. Suns Game 1: Everything's coming up Lakers

20 Comments

kobe-wcf-game1.pngGame 1 of the Western Conference Finals made one thing abundantly clear: unless the Suns are able to come up with some truly remarkable performances, the Lakers will win this series. L.A. is so talented and so long that they’ll receive the benefit of the doubt in almost every regard, and barring a transcendent performance from Steve Nash or Amar’e Stoudemire, Phoenix will lose.

Call it cheap analysis if you will, but the Lakers are better. They are not going to melt down in this series, which puts the onus on the Suns. It’s up to Phoenix to somehow stop the unstoppable force in purple and gold and manage to see the sky through the trees.

I wouldn’t say Game 1 was necessarily par for the course (the Lakers’ offense scored at a rate of 139.1 points per 100 possessions, a truly scorching level of efficiency) but L.A.’s dominance in their 128-107 victory was not unfounded.

Los Angeles has a much better shot at stopping Phoenix’s offense than vice versa, and the Lakers exposed that painful truth in their complete dissection of the Suns’ vaunted, improved defense. Kobe’s 40 has to be the centerpiece, and his 21-point third quarter was the type of noteworthy performance that so frequently gets lost in the playoff shuffle. If the Lakers go on to win the championship, few will remember Bryant’s 21-point Q on a mid-May night, no matter how it demoralized the Suns’ defenders.

That said, we may not see a more singularly dominant stretch of basketball from any Laker this postseason, and for that Kobe deserves to be recognized. Grant Hill, Jared Dudley, and Jason Richardson all did their best to defend Bryant. They fought for position, tried to deny, and challenged shots. It didn’t matter, because Kobe is so, so good at what he does. When Bryant is in that special place, the bucket is less a possible outcome and more an inevitability. That’s what the Suns were charged with stopping tonight, and it’s what the Jazz failed to stop at times in their four-game out in the previous round.

I’d love to say that Kobe is destined for a fall back to earth at some point, but the guy has scored 30+ in every game he’s played since April 27th. He’s done it with plenty of time off and just a day off, at home and away, by shooting 45% from the field or better, against three different opponents, and with one notable constant: winning. Kobe is putting up impressive totals and guiding the Lakers to the promised land, two results that have not always coincided. During this playoff run however, they seem almost inextricable, with just two of the Lakers’ nine wins coming in sub-30-point performances for Bryant.

As always seems to be the case with these Lakers, he wasn’t alone. Lamar Odom (19 points, 19 rebounds) was ridiculously effective, and looked right at home working against Amar’e Stoudemire. Pau Gasol wasn’t nearly as good on the boards (or rather, didn’t have to be as good on the boards), but had 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting.

Those two players best exemplified the problems with the Suns’ defense; Hill et al’s defense on Bryant may have been an exercise in futility, but the Suns’ D on Odom and Gasol was more of a demonstration of their ineptitude. Even if you buy the argument that the Suns are improved on defense this season, those improvements amounted to nothing against players as skilled, as versatile, and as big as Gasol and Odom.

Throw in some beautiful discretion from Ron Artest, better-than-expected defense from Derek Fisher, and solid play from the Lakers’ bench, and it would be a wonder if the Lakers didn’t win in a walk.

Los Angeles wasn’t exactly perfect on defense, though, even if they did manage to prevent Phoenix from scoring at maximum efficiency. The Suns benefited from a balanced offensive performance, featuring six double-digit scorers who were able to attack the Lakers’ D in a variety of ways. However, the Lakers’ true battle was fought — and won — against the Suns’ pick-and-roll.

Robin Lopez (14 points 6-7 FG, six rebounds) looked great rolling to the rim and working the offensive glass, but even his impressive playoff debut wasn’t enough to overcome the Lakers’ smothering of Steve Nash and assault on the passing lanes. Phoenix found ways to move the ball, but the great looks the Suns are accustomed to getting were merely good ones, and considering Phoenix’s considerable defensive troubles, that was more than enough to drop Game 1 into L.A.’s lap.

As I mentioned before, Steve Nash (13 points, 13 assists, four turnovers) and Amar’e Stoudemire (23 points, just three boards) can’t just show up and play. They have to seriously perform if Phoenix is going to have any shot in this series. They’ll need to execute tirelessly on the offensive end, not only to provide the bulk of the offense, but to open up the game for the Suns’ shooters. In a sense, you have a situation in Phoenix similar to that in Orlando, only instead of relying on Dwight Howard’s interior dominance as an offensive foundation, this team relies on the Nash-Stoudemire tandem.

Without that regular offensive threat, the Suns shooters were blanketed on the perimeter, as evidenced by the team’s 22.7% shooting from beyond the arc. That’s more than just a cold night, even if every miss from the perimeter can’t be attributed to L.A.’s close-outs. Jared Dudley (1-5 3FG) and Channing Frye (1-7 3FG) were forced into some contested looks and were out of rhythm when they finally found the space to fire unimpeded.

If you’re looking for one side of the ball to attribute blame, the offense wasn’t it for Phoenix. The Suns’ offensive efficiency in this game (116.3 points per 100 possessions) was actually higher than their season average. As I mentioned before though, the Suns will have to be good enough on offense to make up for their major defensive flaws, and until we see even a spark of that in this series, the games will continue to default Lakers.

Jarrett Jack thinks Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant will join Lakers with LeBron

Getty
Leave a comment

Jarrett Jack is no longer with an NBA team, but no doubt he is still plugged in and continues to pay attention to rumors and movements around the league.

Of course the biggest rumor heading into the next two seasons is about what will happen with the team surrounding LeBron James on the Los Angeles Lakers. Kevin Durant has been one rumored target. Some kind of trade surrounding New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis is another.

Jack recently decided to weigh in on what might happen with the Lakers in the coming seasons on Twitter and, according to him, Jack thinks that LeBron will team up with Davis and Durant.

Via Twitter:

This is of the utmost hearsay at this point, and it’s fun to look at these type of assertions by folks orbiting the league because of the cultural impact rumors have on just about everyone. The idea that a recent former player would be weighing in publicly about a super secret plan to get three major superstars on one team in the biggest market in the NBA would have been crazy a decade ago.

Now? Not so much.

Of course the reality of the situation is much different. The Lakers will have the cap space to sign Kevin Durant this summer if he chooses to opt out of his contract with the Golden State Warriors. Weather Davis can find a way to the Lakers is another thing altogether.

The Pelicans big man has appeared to say all the right things externally, and the only way New Orleans is giving him up is if Davis decides to force his way out. Even then, it’s not immediately clear what the Lakers could give up in order to get Davis that wouldn’t completely decimate their team.

Keep these rumors coming, to be honest. I am all for everyone getting in on these rumors early. If they turn out to be true, it becomes a fun tinfoil-hat experiment on what kind of secretive potential discussions were had before things were made official. Then again, if Durant decides to join the New York Knicks and Davis stays put in Louisiana for the rest of his career, it’s an odd commentary on nobody wanting to join up with LeBron in LA.

Either way, it’s a wild story.

Charles Barkley says Warriors won’t make Finals without Kevin Durant

Getty
2 Comments

I vacillate back and forth on whether Charles Barkley is a genius or a complete goober. On one hand, Barkley’s comments on TNT broadcasts are often the thing that gets folks around social media talking, and indeed posts like this written about him. From a media executive perspective, Barkley is a gold mine that creates ratings.

Then again, the very thing that makes Barkley’s comments noteworthy is what makes them so inauspicious.

Just listen to what Barkley had to say on Thursday about the possibility of Kevin Durant leaving the Golden State Warriors this offseason.

Via Twitter:

If you’re unable to watch the video above, the idea that Barkley put forth was that if Durant decides to leave the Golden State Warriors, the team will no longer be contenders.

Not just “worse” or “not as good” according to ol’ Chuck. Without Durant, Barkley thinks the Warriors won’t be one of the teams angling for the Finals in the seasons to come.

If you’re a fan of the NBA, or Basketball-Reference.com, or, I don’t know, Googling things, this is patently crazy. Golden State won 73 games before the arrival of Durant, and won a championship without him. They looked unstoppable before Durant, and the former Oklahoma City Thunder star joined Golden State because that’s how he could win a championship. He needed them, not the other way around.

It’s been clear for some time that Stephen Curry — not Durant, or Draymond Green, or Klay Thompson, or Andre Iguodala — is the fundamental building block of this team. In fact, as of publication we’re in the midst of a projected 10-game absence for Stephen Curry due to a hamstring issue. In three missed games the Warriors have lost to the Los Angeles Clippers and played a tight game with the Atlanta Hawks at home at Oracle. They just don’t look the same.

Which brings us back to Chuck.

The great sports loudmouths of our time (pick your favorite, really) all get paid to do what they’re best at in this Era of Hot Takes: state an opinion that’s patently untrue and watch the reaction to it spread like wildfire, all while retaining enough plausible deniability that media executives aren’t forced to issue public apologies or worse, see ratings fall.

This is why I choose to believe that Barkley is one of the best commentators out there from a national, target demo perspective. Execs have to love the guy. Here we are, writing another story about How Chuck Said Some Thing Crazy, and the cycle can continue. Durant will go to the Knicks or the Lakers. The Warriors will be in the Finals again in 2020. And nobody will care about Chuck’s old takes. I think I can feel the wrinkles of my brain smoothing over.

NBA promotes five referees, including two women, to full-time status

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Ashley Moyer-Gleich is eight years removed from playing in the NCAA Division II tournament. Natalie Sago officiated her first game six years ago, and the players were sixth-grade girls.

They’re in the NBA now – as part of one of the most elite sororities in the game.

Moyer-Gleich and Sago are among five officials who were promoted Thursday by the NBA to full-time status, making them the fourth and fifth women in league history to have that designation. They join former league refs Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner and current official Lauren Holtkamp as women to get formally hired.

“It’s difficult not to say Ashley and Natalie aren’t the second and third `women referees’ being added to the staff,” NBA vice president and head of referee development Monty McCutchen told The Associated Press. “But true equality comes when they’re just going to be `referees’ on our staff. And that’s what we’re really trying to achieve, this sense that their work warrants their advancement.”

The league also promoted Mousa Dagher, Matt Myers and Phenizee Ransom to the full-time level. Dagher further adds to the diversity of Thursday’s moves – he was born in Syria and moved to the U.S. as a 15-year-old in 2006. Myers spent more than a decade in the G League, and Ransom was there for six seasons.

“It’s such a momentous experience, to be working toward being part of the top of your craft and joining our staff,” Holtkamp said. “I’ll never forget getting the phone call and the same will be true for all five of these referees. And Natalie and Ashley, to know they’re joining our staff full-time, I’m beyond excited for them and what this means professionally and personally.”

Moyer-Gleich and Sago have both worked five NBA games this season – three regular season, two preseason. That was enough to confirm what McCutchen and other league officials have known for some time.

They’re ready.

“It’s been unreal, really,” said Sago, whose father has been a referee for more than 30 years. “It’s just been a very fast path for my officiating career and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had great role models, Lauren being one, and other NBA referees at these camps who kept saying, `You’ve got something.’ And all of a sudden, bam, I got the phone call and it’s such an honor.”

Sago got the call from NBA senior vice president and head of referee operations Michelle Johnson as her flight from one G League game to another earlier this month was taking off. She had to wait nearly two hours before she could call her father to give the news.

Her rise was also rapid: She got spotted at a Division III game in St. Louis – a Sunday afternoon game before about 15 fans – about three years ago and invited to an NBA camp.

“It’s very unique, how quickly it’s happened,” Sago said.

There will be a day when Moyer-Gleich, Sago and Holtkamp – along with any other women who follow them, something that seems quite likely with 17 other women working games in the G League this season – will get judged like any other referee, without the `female’ disclaimer.

They all know that day isn’t here yet.

“Everything that we do, that’s in comparison to the same exact thing our male counterparts might do, will be magnified,” said Moyer-Gleich, a standout player at Millersville University in her native Pennsylvania before starting her ref career. “What we do will be held under a microscope. Right, wrong, indifferent, I have come to peace with that.”

Palmer worked 919 contests before retiring in 2016. Kantner refereed 247 games between 1997 and 2002. Holtkamp has been assigned 214 games, and former non-staff official Brenda Pantoja – who never made the full-fledged ranks – was part of seven crews in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

The NBA has made hiring more women throughout the league a top priority, and that extends to the refereeing roster. Over the summer, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said it was “a bit embarrassing” that the league currently has only one full-time female referee.

“I know that I’m good enough,” Moyer-Gleich said. “I know I belong there.”

McCutchen and other top NBA executives agree. He stressed that there was no mandate to hire women. His charge, he said, was to hire the best refs, period.

“I am committed that this be egalitarian,” McCutchen said. “If you can do the work, if you can stand up to the standards of our league but not the standing of our players and apply the rules, that should be open to any package it shows itself in.”

 

Rajon Rondo to have surgery on fractured right hand

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Los Angeles Lakers did not want to put a timeline on his return when they announced Wednesday night that Rajon Rondo had fractured his hand. Officially the timeline was “weeks.”

It’s going to be more than a couple of weeks — Rondo will have surgery on his right hand in the next day, something confirmed by Luke Walton.

Lonzo Ball has been starting for the Lakers and that will continue (the 1-3 pick-and-roll with Ball setting the pick for LeBron James was something Portland had no answer for). The challenge is depth beyond Ball, the Lakers don’t have another traditional point guard on the roster. Luke Walton said Brandon Ingram will play some at the point now.

Ball said he is up for the added responsibility.