NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Slowing Kobe Bryant

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Thumbnail image for Kobe_Ganett1.jpgAgainst Orlando, the Celtics were willing to let Dwight Howard score. They single-covered Howard so perimeter defenders could stay home on the Magic’s shooters. They thought (correctly, it turns out) that Dwight Howard could not beat them alone, even if he went off for a big night.

Try that with Kobe Bryant and he will beat you.

Boston knows that, and they don’t mess around with Kobe. History has shown that the way the Celtics defend Bryant is almost the opposite of what they did to Howard — they try to force the ball out of Bryant’s hands and make some other Laker beat them.

Against L.A., Boston goes to an overload defense — they bring the help man over to the strong side early to give Ray Allen help (also look for Tony Allen to get a lot of Kobe time, he may be their best defender on him). What Boston does is not unlike the Kurt Rambis-designed defense the Lakers rode to a tile last year. Boston’s version is more complex and more active, but the principles are the same.

With that setup, there is always help nearby with Bryant, forcing him to go through a couple of men to get off his shot and keeping him out of the paint. The Celtics defense is based around keeping the other team out of the paint.

The Celtics are also very quick to double Bryant, and they bring the double from a variety of places so he is not getting a consistent look. The double also will come if a Lakers big comes out and sets a high screen for Bryant — the Celtics will trap Kobe coming off the screen.

Whatever Boston does, Kobe is still going to get his points — he is playing the best basketball of his career right now. The Lakers offense was very fluid against an admittedly overmatched Phoenix defense, and Bryant came through shooting 52.2 percent for the series. He buried the Suns with the impossible at the end of Game 6. Whatever Boston does he is still going to get and hit some crazy shots.

If the Celtics goal is to take the ball out of Bryant’s hands, other Lakers are going to have to step up and win games. The Lakers will need quick ball reversals; they will need to make the Celtics pay for their double teams and overloading the strong side. The Lakers do that better now than they did two years ago, but they are inconsistent.

In the end, Bryant (and Pau Gasol’s) creativity will be key. There are not a lot of secrets with what the Lakers do on offense or who the Celtics plan to do on defense. These teams know each other from two years ago and their strategies have not changed. By the third game, it will be execution and the ability to freelance that will get points, because the opposing team will anticipate the next pass or offensive option.

And when it comes to creativity in getting points, nobody is playing better than Kobe Bryant right now. Stopping him will not be easy, because even when you think you do he still hits the shot. Just ask the Suns.

But for the Celtics, beating the Lakers starts with slowing Bryant.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).

Marc Gasol, Mike Conley reportedly meet with Grizzlies owner, what will that mean?

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This summer, Robert Pera maintained ownership of the Memphis Grizzlies and with that meant the status quo remained — the Grizzlies were going to try to ride the duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to the playoffs. There would be no rebuild.

After falling to the Celtics Friday night, Memphis is 19-26, has lost 10-of-11, and are 14th in the Western Conference. Around the league, there is a buzz that Memphis may have to look at trading Gasol, who has a player option this summer and could become a free agent.

With that slide as a backdrop, Gasol and Conley met with Pera recently, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Conley and Gasol, who has a player option for next season worth $25.5 million, sat down with Pera in Memphis this week to discuss the direction of the franchise, league sources said. Pera often meets with key team personnel when he visits Memphis over the course of a season.

Does that mean changes are coming? That’s not what Conley told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“That’s all there was to it,” Conley said after the Grizzlies’ loss in Boston on Friday night. “There was nothing special that came out of it that’s going to change the world or anything.

“We got to talk to him.”

Pera has resisted any kind of rebuild — and in a smaller market, with a community that has embraced the “grit ‘n grind” mantra, there are economic reasons that has been the smart move. While other teams are circling, so far there is no word out of Memphis that there are trades for stars to be had (Chandler Parsons on the other hand…).

Every GM will say of moving players “better too early than too late.” In Memphis, the franchise may have missed that window.