NBA Playoffs: Bryant takes over with passing down the stretch

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We all know who Kobe Bryant is — one of the most successful, dynamic, creative, and audacious scorers to have ever played in the NBA. Kobe’s passing has always been very good, but he’s generally preferred to take over games with his scoring throughout his career. 
Yet in crunch-time on Thursday night, while passing virtuoso Steve Nash kept the Suns in the game by making tough shot after tough shot, Kobe was the one making pinpoint passes and trusting his teammates to make big finishes. 

Kobe wasn’t as red-hot from the field in game five as he was in game four, but he made enough tough shots in the first 7/8ths of the game to give the Lakers a 88-83 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the game. From that point on, Kobe did most of his damage by picking apart the Phoenix zone with passes that led to layups and wide-open jumpers rather than trying to win the game by himself with contested jumper after contested jumper.
Kobe’s playmaking takeover stared when Bryant found Pau Gasol for a layup with 6:16 left to play. After that, Kobe drew the defense and found Derek Fisher, his longtime backcourt partner and big-shot specialist, in the corner for an open three that put the Lakers up eight. After answering a Steve Nash mid-range jumper with one of his own, Kobe flared up on the weak side to draw the defense away from the corner, where Fisher went to make another catch-and-shoot jumper. 
As Nash kept dribbling around the perimeter and making shot after shot, Kobe remained content to set up his teammates with beautiful passes, finding Pau with a pass in the lane that led to two free throws and Lamar Odom in the “blind spot” of the zone for a layup. With 20 seconds left, Bryant made a beautiful pass to set Gasol up with a dunk opportunity that should have put the game away, but Gasol’s dunk bounced off the rim, allowing the Suns to tie the game with a third-chance three. 
With three seconds left, Kobe forced a game-winner attempt and missed badly, but Ron Artest was there to clean it up and give the Lakers the win, making up for Gasol’s gaffe less than a minute earlier. Just goes to show that trusting your teammates can pay off in all sorts of ways that you can’t expect. 
Kobe couldn’t miss from the field for much of game four, but the Suns were able to take him out of the game late by aggressively doubling Bryant in the fourth. Since the Lakers’ offense had been four guys standing around and watching Kobe up to that point, they had no idea how to attack the zone when the Suns took the ball out of Kobe’s hands. 
In game five, Kobe and Co. made the necessary adjustment. When the Suns forced the ball out of Kobe’s hands, his teammates knew where the weak spots in the zone would be, and Kobe knew where and when to find them when they flashed open. With the Staples crowd and their years of playoff experience giving the Laker role players confidence, they were able to step up and put the game away when the Suns tried to throw double and triple teams at Kobe on the perimeter. 
I could talk about how Kobe willing to set up his teammates in such a big game is an example of how he’s matured over the years, but I’ve never quite believed in the new/old Kobe thing. The defense was giving Kobe passing lanes rather than easy shots, and Kobe has players around him who he can trust to make big plays late in the game rather than the terrible supporting cast he had in his early post-Shaq years. If the Suns go man-to-man late in game six and his teammates are struggling to make shots, I would wager that Kobe would take that game over with his scoring. 
Forget the new Kobe. Forget the old Kobe. Forget looking at each of Kobe’s big playoff performances like a window into his psyche. If you get caught up in all that stuff, you might miss the player who’s been doing the same, mostly amazing thing for a number of years now: the most complete player in basketball, and maybe the most complete player ever, doing whatever he can to try and get his team as many wins as possible, especially when it matters most. 

Rumor: Lakers want to make Kurt Rambis associate head coach

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When Magic Johnson resigned as Lakers president, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss had an opportunity to be bold. Instead of empowering cronies, she could find the best available executive to lead the front office.

Instead, she’s apparently again leaning on the comfort of friends.

As the Lakers’ conduct their coaching search, Kurt Rambis (Senior Basketball Advisor) and his wife Linda Rambis (Executive Director, Special Projects) are quite involved.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

The goal is seemingly to move Rambis to the bench as an associate head coach. But if that doesn’t work, he could become the assistant general manager.

Kurt Rambis interviewing Monty Williams makes sense. Kurt Rambis works in basketball operations, after all. Linda Rambis’ presence makes less sense given her official role within the organization, but she is close to Jeanie Buss.

It’d be something else entirely to install Kurt Rambis as an associate head coach, though. He did poorly as Timberwolves coach and, as New York’s interim coach a couple years ago, made the Knicks into an even bigger mess than they already were.

This shines new light on Magic Johnson reportedly admonishing Luke Walton for not having an experienced coaching staff. Walton had Brian Shaw, a former Nuggets head coach (and someone with his own problems relating to players). Shaw wasn’t enough?

Maybe there was a preference from above, not for any experienced assistant coach, but Kurt Rambis specifically.

This should scare any Lakers coaching candidates. Not getting to pick your own staff is a negative. Having the owner’s hand-picked choice forced upon you is a huge red flag. That means management will be confident in an internal replacement if it’s considering firing you.

Damian Lillard says Paul George being a poor sport: ‘If anything, it was bad defense’

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Damian Lillard made the coldest shot the NBA has seen in years – a buzzer-beating, series-winning, 37-foot pull-up 3-pointer over Paul George.

George called it a “bad shot.”

Lillard on the Pull Up podcast:

It was a good shot.

I think a lot of people don’t know what goes into the moments. That’s because they’re not the ones that’s there. I literally work on those shots. And I don’t work on it so I can just come out and just shoot it for the whole game. I work on it just because, over my career, I know how much attention I’m going to get from defenses. So it’s just like you’re just keeping stuff, adding more things, adding more and more, keeping stuff in your pocket, in case these types of situations do present itself. Even if it’s not something you want to lean on, it’s something that you have there, that you worked on, you spent time doing. So, you’ve got confidence in it when the time does come. That’s why, when I was just standing there, I was like, well, it’s probably not good in a lot of people’s eyes. But I’m comfortable with this, and I’m confident in this. So, to me, it’s a solid shot.

For him to say that’s a bad shot, that’s just kind of being a poor sport. If anything, it was bad defense, because I had the ball in my hands with two seconds, and I wasn’t going to drive, so maybe he should’ve just bodied up.

Whether a shot is good or bad depends on the context. With the game tied, the Trail Blazers wanted to ensure they took the last shot of regulation, make or miss. The Thunder’s defense was set. Lillard has tremendous range.

In a good shot/bad shoot binary, I’d call this a good shot. It certainly wasn’t a great shot. But in that situation, I think it passes the test (though I’m obviously biased by seeing it going in).

The fact that it was such a difficult shot doesn’t take anything away from Lillard. It only adds to the accomplishment.

I’m loving his victory lap. After Portland got swept by the Pelicans in the first round last year, he faced questions about his ability to perform in the playoffs. It’s time to put those to rest.

There’s plenty of room to debate whether that incredible basket was a good shot or a bad shot by process. But Lillard is built for these moments. There’s no doubt.

NBA, Kings investigating sexual-assault allegations against Luke Walton

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Kings coach Luke Walton is being sued for sexual assault. He is not facing a criminal investigation.

Kings release, via NBC Sports California:

The Sacramento Kings and the National Basketball Association announced today that they have commenced a joint investigation into the allegations contained in a civil lawsuit filed Monday against Kings Head Coach Luke Walton.

The Kings have hired Sue Ann Van Dermyden, founding partner of Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux, who is an expert on employment law with decades of experience in conducting investigations, and Jennifer Doughty, a veteran investigator and senior associate attorney at Van Dermyden Maddux. They will lead the Kings investigatory team.

The NBA’s investigatory team will be led by Elizabeth Maringer, Senior Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, Integrity and Investigations. Prior to joining the NBA, Ms. Maringer served 12 years as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, including three as Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.

The Kings and the NBA take these allegations very seriously and will collaborate to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.

In 2016, Derrick Rose was sued – and found not liable – for sexual battery. The NBA did not investigate that situation as the lawsuit unfolded.

Why did the league change its approach now?

Rumor: Jeanie Buss mistakenly CCed Magic Johnson on Rob Pelinka’s emails critical of Johnson

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As he stunningly resigned as Lakers president, Magic Johnson bemoaned “the backstabbing, the whispering.” It seemed he was talking about general manager Rob Pelinka. And maybe he was.

But perhaps Johnson was also referring to owner Jeanie Buss.

Ric Bucher of FS1:

My understanding is is that there were some emails that were exchanged between Rob and Jeanie … about Magic and about what Magic was and wasn’t doing. They were critical emails. And somehow, some way – Jeanie, from what I understand, was CCing or blind CCing Magic on everything. That was sort of protocol, standard issue. Somehow, the exchange between Rob and Jeanie ended up on that string of the blind CCs that were going to Magic. So, Magic now is seeing emails from Rob to Jeanie that were critical of what he was doing.

And maybe most important in all this is that there was no indication that Jeanie was backing Rob up in terms of either going to Magic and letting him know that this was going on or going back at Rob and defending Magic. That was not happening. And so when he talked about the backstabbing, to me, my understanding is that’s what started it. And the fact that Jeanie waved goodbye and said, “Thank you for all that you did,” was that she didn’t necessarily disagree with what Rob was saying.

The problem with this story: It’s believable, and a lot of people want it to be true. I want it to be true! It’s hilarious.

But that opens the door for people spreading it, even if it’s untrue. It’s a lot of fun to pile on the Lakers right now.

Back to the believability. Johnson, even while resigning, has frequently called Buss his sister. Would she really participate in email chains critical of her own brother?

Oh, right.