NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 3: The Suns get in the zone and suddenly it looks like a series

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stoudemire_Odom.jpgSaturday in practice, Suns coach Alvin Gentry was not happy. He wanted to run some more zone but the Suns were playing it worse than they had in the first two games. Which was hard to do because they had been terrible at it in those games and the Lakers had carved it up.

“To be honest with you guys, in practice yesterday it was the worst it has ever been,” Gentry said in a post-game interview shown on NBATV. “I got really upset because I didn’t think it was very good at all. When (the Lakers) started the game making a ton of shots we said, ‘well, we’ve got to give it a try’ and we got some stops.”

The Lakers shot just 4 of 21 against the zone in the second quarter. The Lakers who had shot 58 percent in the first two games shot 48 percent in this game, largely because of the zone. Combine that with an aggressive and attacking Amare Stoudemire and the Suns won Game 3 118-109.

If the zone works again in Game 4 on Tuesday, the series will head back to Los Angeles tied (Lakers lead 2-1 now).

The Lakers came out settling more for their jump shots even before the zone came in, but they hit them. That is why they led after one quarter 32-29. Then Phoenix went to the zone and the Lakers put up just 15 points in the second quarter as their outside shots stopped falling. That should be expected — the Lakers are not a great outside or three point shooting team, just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc on the season (23rd in the league). The only guy hitting shots was Kobe Bryant, who had 36 points on 13 of 24 shooting.

Usually against the zone the Lakers still try to go inside, with bigs flashing into the high post, they did a little of that in the second half, but they still settled enough to take 32 threes, making just nine. In two of the three Lakers losses this postseason, they have taken more than 30 threes.

“I think we figured (the zone) out in the third quarter, but we didn’t figure out defensively what we had to do,” Jackson said in his televised interview.

While the Lakers settled, the Suns attacked. Phoenix had 42 free throw attempts — sorry Lakers fans, that had nothing to do with the officiating and everything to do with the Suns taking the ball the rim. Stoudemire had Andrew Bynum — a clearly slowed and hurting Bynum — in quick foul trouble. His replacement, Lamar Odom, ended up fouling out.

For the first time in this series, the pressure shifts to the Lakers to adjust — to use actions in the triangle offense to better exploit the zone they will certainly see next game. Jackson has two handfuls of rings because he knows how to make playoff adjustments. But if the Suns zone can force the Lakers into jumpshooters again, this series could end up tied.

LeBron James rips AAU workload: ‘AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid’

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Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.

 

Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton to miss 3-4 weeks with thigh contusion

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Khris Middleton, coming off a summer with Team USA, has quietly continued his All-Star level play this season — an efficient 18.5 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from three but also finishing well at the rim, and the Bucks offense is 3.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

However, he’s not going to be on the court for a few weeks due to a deep thigh bruise, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In the third quarter of the Bucks win over the Thunder Sunday, Middleton suffered the thigh bruise, which sent him to the locker room. While he returned to the bench, he did not return to the game. Afterward, in the locker room, Middleton didn’t seem to think it was that serious.

It turned out to be a little more than that, it has to be a deep bruise to have him out for up to a month.

Kyle Korver would be next in line to get those minutes, but he sat out Sunday with a “head contusion.” Behind him look for smaller lineups with Pat Connaughton, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, and Wesley Matthews to get more minutes, plus maybe a little Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

After 0-6 start, Raptors coach Nick Nurse celebrates successful challenge like he won a championship (video)

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After the Raptors won the 2019 NBA title, Toronto coach Nick Nurse hugged Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri.

Some of the hug recipients changed, but Nurse’s celebration didn’t look that different last night.

Nurse missed his first six coach’s challenges then finally got one right during the Raptors’ win over the Lakers. He responded by hugging everyone – including a Los Angeles fan – around him.

This was a long time coming. Even after a couple early failed challenges, Nurse sounded exasperated.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

Maybe Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a noted challenge critic, will eventually experience this euphoria.

Report: Gordon Hayward to have surgery on left hand

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How good would Gordon Hayward be if he could just stay healthy?

Hopefully we will find out someday, but probably not for the next couple of months after his agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Hayward will have surgery on his non-shooting hand to repair a broken bone.

There will be no official timeline for recovery until after the surgery, but after going under the knife Hayward is likely out at least six weeks. Stephen Curry is out three months after surgery on his non-shooting hand (that is a different injury, but it shows how long the timeline can be).

The play where the injury happened was innocuous.

Even so, it has left Boston with some big questions to answer through New Year’s Eve, or whenever Hayward returns. Hayward was having a bounce-back year, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. He’s been a critical playmaker for the Celtics.

For Boston, this likely means a lot more Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye, and maybe Javonte Green.