NBA Playoffs, Lakers Suns Game 5: Forget the bright shiny offenses, this one is all about the defense

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Kobe_suns.jpgIt’s not about Kobe Bryant seemingly scoring at will this series. Or Pau Gasol in the post. It’s not about Amare Stoudemire or the awakening of the Suns bench.

It’s about defense — that is what has decided every game in this series up to now, it is what will decide Game 5 tonight at Staples Center. The winner Thursday probably wins the whole shootin’ match in the West. This is huge.

In the first two games, the Lakers defense took away the Suns easy baskets on the pick-and-roll. Lakers guards fought over the top of the pick, the big men showed out and other Lakers stayed at home on the three-point shooters. The Lakers took away the dribble penetration that the Suns thrive on and forced them to be jump shooters, and while the Suns are a good jump shooting team they hit less of those than dunks. Or open threes.

But that changed in Games 3 and 4, as did the Suns defense.

The Suns zone defense has gotten a lot of publicity, but it really hasn’t stopped the Lakers from scoring — particularly in Game 4, when the Lakers were putting up points at a high level.

But the zone has dictated how those points have come, and with that the flow of the games. The Lakers launched 60 three pointers in the last two games, and they are not a good outside shooting team. This led to a lot of long rebounds and the chance for the Suns to get easy baskets in transition. The Lakers scored, but the Suns defense helped them score much more.

If the Suns can again keep the Lakers from getting their points at the rim — turning the Lakers into jump shooters like LA is trying to do to them — they will get those same break chances, those same easy points and maybe the same wins.

Kobe is going to get his, but will he get any help from teammates this time around who stop shooting outside and start driving inside? Can Nash and Stoudemire keep getting their shots at the rim, keep exposing the slow rotations of an injured Andrew Bynum?

The answer to one of those questions will be yes, because they will have figured out the other team’s defense. Whichever team’s defense hold firm will win Game 5. And maybe have earned a trip to the Finals.

Did JaVale McGee feign injury to set up open dunk? (video)

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I’m extremely reluctant to accuse anyone of faking an injury, but…

1. It’s JaVale McGee, who has a history of antics.

2. There’s no obvious cause of an injury.

3. McGee recovered incredibly quickly.

If he weren’t actually hurt, this was an illegal play by McGee. Healthy offensive players can’t run off the court like that. The penalty is loss of ball, but I don’t envy officials who had to determine whether the injury was real.

It’s also inconclusive whether McGee established himself in-bounds before catching the pass it. It’s close.

Another debatable point if McGee did this deliberately: Did he waste a clever play in the preseason? Even a sharp defender, Draymond Green, understandably lost track of McGee once McGee limped off. Or was the preseason the only time to have fun like this?

What is clear: The Lakers had another nifty play in their exhibition win over the Warriors last night. LeBron James switched hands mid-air to throw a kickout pass to a wide-open Danny Green:

Rookie of the Year predictions: Can anyone beat out Zion Williamson?

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With the start of the NBA season just more than a week away — it’s predictions time. We’ll be covering most of the postseason awards between now and the opening tip of the NBA season.

As a disclaimer, we get it: making NBA preseason awards predictions is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. We’ll be wrong. But it’s fun, so the NBA staff here at NBC is making our picks. Today…

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans). This is the obvious pick, but it’s also the only logical one. The guy scored 55 points on 71 percent shooting across two preseason games already, and defenses aren’t sure how to stop him. Williamson is an incredibly gifted athlete who will put together a lengthy highlight reel of dunks this season (with Lonzo Ball throwing him some insane alley-oops), but he can do much more than that and will show it as the season wears on. Plus, he has a strong team around him, which makes him even more of a lock for this award. What will be interesting is to see who else is on the ballot at the end of the season (voters have to rank three guys). Ja Morant is going to have the ball in his hands and plenty of opportunities in Memphis. RJ Barrett will get touches in New York. Will Tyler Herro‘s impressive play this preseason carry over. Can Coby White in Chicago or Rui Hachimura in Washington force their way into the conversation? The race for second may be far more interesting than who wins.

Dan Feldman: Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans).  Unlike most preseason award picks, I’m not just taking Williamson as the single most likely winner. I’ll take him over the field. He enters the race with the most hype, and he has the talent to back it up. He’s far more than just a dunker. At Duke, he showed he could translate his athleticism to production. That should continue with the Pelicans

Dane Delgado: Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans). Anyone picking against Zion Williamson must be hoping for some kind of catastrophic injury to befall the New Orleans Pelicans star. And he is already a star, by the way. Preseason statistics aside, Williamson is an electrifying player who will have the kind of narrative and media coverage necessary to make a successful and relatively easy Rookie of the Year campaign happen in 2020. He may not be a shooter just yet, but Williamson will buck the trend in NBA stars having to have a 3-point shot to garner serious attention. It’s already here, and there’s nothing Ja Morant or RJ Barrett can do about it. New Orleans won’t have to make the playoffs in order for Williamson to win the ROY, and if they’re a postseason entrant there’s no chance for anyone else.

Bradley Beal signing two-year, $71,764,428 contract extension (player option) with Wizards

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Good thing the Wizards didn’t trade Bradley Beal, as some moron suggested they should have.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal has agreed to extend his deal for two years on a $72 million maximum contract, agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports told ESPN on Thursday morning.

Beal’s extension, which begins with the 2021-22 season, includes a player option for 2022-23

Beal’s contract terms (extension terms bolded):

  • 2019-20: $27,093,018
  • 2020-21: $28,751,774
  • 2021-22: $34,502,129
  • 2022-23: $37,262,299 (player option)

What Beal loses with this extension:

  • A chance to hit 2021 free agency, when his projected max starting salary would’ve been $38 million
  • A chance to trigger super-max eligibility by making an All-NBA team this season or next, which would’ve increased his max salary in 2021-22 to $44 million
  • The ability to get traded this season

What Beal gains with this extension:

  • A guaranteed $71,764,428

That security obviously mattered greatly to Beal. I’m genuinely shocked he’s signing this extension. He’s an excellent 26-year-old wing who has stayed healthy the last few years. Bigger offers likely awaited if he played out his current contract. But an extension now was the only way to lock in major money.

Beal certainly plans to opt out in 2022. His $37,262,299 player option is just a hedge against something going wrong. If he opts out, his max in 2022 projects to be about about $47 million.

Projecting max salaries that far out is difficult. Consider that a rough estimate.

What’s clear: In 2022, Beal will have 10 years of experience and therefore qualify for the highest max tier (35% of the salary cap). The super max is also for 35% of the salary cap (for players with eight or nine years of experience, who can typically receive just 30% of the salary cap).

So, Beal is positioning himself to sign for a 35%-max contract on his next deal – just as he would’ve been without this extension.

The big differences: He’ll have no chance of getting the 35% max a year earlier through the super max, and he’ll be aiming to sign it at age 29 rather than age 27 or 28. The older he is, the less likely someone gives Beal a huge long-term deal.

For the Wizards, this is a coup. They secure their best player at less than his likely market value. It’s for only one more year, but they need all the time they can get to build a winner around him.

Washington remains in rough shape, yet another reason Beal signing this extension is so surprising. But he has touted his loyalty to the Wizards. He’s putting his money where his mouth is.

Of course, this doesn’t get Washington out of the woods. Beal alone can’t lift the team from the cellar. The clock is now ticking toward 2022 free agency.

But this gives the Wizards more runway. They have three years to build an appealing supporting cast. Heck, if it comes to it, they could even trade Beal as soon as this offseason. He’ll hold much more value with two years, rather than one year, remaining on his contract.

Washington ought to be thrilled with this extension. If Beal is also happy with it, good for him.

With fantasy basketball season about to start, time to get Rotoworld Draft Guide

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Winning is far more fun than losing.

In the case of fantasy sports, it’s also far more profitable. Plus you get bragging rights, which is almost as good as the cash. Almost.

When the NBA tips off next Tuesday, so does fantasy basketball season. If you want to dominate your league, or be ready for daily fantasy leagues, or you’re just a hoops junkie happy to read lengthy breakdowns of players, then you need the Rotoworld Draft Guide. Or, better yet, the entire season pass.

Right now, you can get all of that at a discount.

It’s an investment that will have you ready for fantasy basketball season.

If you’re looking for a way to brush up on top picks during your commute or time on the elliptical at the gym, check out the PBT Podcast below where Tommy Beer joins me to talk top picks, sleepers, and guys to avoid.