NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 2: The Celtics will play like themselves, but is that enough?

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Garnett_jumper.jpgAll that time spent in Boston practices working on the triangle sets, and the Lakers destroyed the Celtics vaunted defense with the old-fashioned pick-and-roll in Game 1.

What people forget is that this happened some in 2008 — the Lakers had maybe their best offensive success with the pick-and-roll. But as Darius of Forum Blue& Gold reminded me in an email the Celtics had a counter move: James Posey. The differences in personnel will force much different adjustments this time around, and it may not be enough.

The Celtics will make adjustments — starting with their energy level and physicality in Game 2. They have to. Everything for the Celtics flows out of their defense, and against the Lakers in particular they need to get stops, rebounds and get Rajon Rondo out and running for some easy transition baskets.

To do that, they have to stop the pick and roll.

The Lakers had Andrew Bynum come out and set the high pick and Kobe Bryant as the ball handler. All too often Kobe was allowed to turn the corner with little or no resistance and he went driving into the paint, which broke down the Celtics defense. Kevin Garnett would step out to help on Bryant and that left Pau Gasol free to get rebounds.

So the Celtics started try and trap Kobe coming off the pick with Kendrick Perkins and Ray Allen, to get the ball out of Kobe’s hands. Then Gasol would flash to the high post area and Kobe would get him the ball. Then Garnett was screwed. He had two responsibilities: Stop Gasol’s 17-foot jumper (which he can and did hit) and cover Bynum rolling to the hoop. Garnett is a great defender, but he cannot be in two places at once. That is where you saw that nifty Lakers interior passing tearing up the Celtics.

Again, this happened some in 2008, but things were different. Gasol was setting the picks for the Lakers, not the injured Bynum, and Odom was the guy flashing to the high post. Back then the Celtics could counter with James Posey, who could body Odom and give him trouble. The Celtics also put Paul Pierce on Kobe because they were not afraid of the Lakers small forward. Pierce did a good job in the Kobe-stopper role. The Celtics could go with a small lineup — KG at the center spot — and had a lot of success with that.

This time around, it’s not that easy. No James Posey, for one. Second, the Celtics run a real risk going small because Phil Jackson will not adjust — he will try to pound the Celtics with his front line. Ask Phoenix and Utah about that. Also, putting Pierce on Kobe now means Ray Allen trying to guard Ron Artest, and Ron-Ron is too big and strong for Allen, the Lakers could post that up all day.

Look for Boston to use some of the Phoenix defensive strategy. Not the zone, but the idea of packing the paint a little more and making the Lakers jump shooters. Even if that means giving up a little of the aggression out on the wings the Celtics like to use to throw teams off. The Celtics cannot let the Lakers once again get into the heart of their defense off the dribble or pass. Nobody is stopping the Lakers front line if they get to shoot 8 footers all night.

Expect to see the physical Celtics, expect to see the Celtics front line that pushes and believes the paint is its home to protect. The Lakers will counter and they still have weapons — Lamar Odom was almost non-existent in Game 1, but he could explode at any time. And these Lakers will push back — as a reminder Jackson has been splicing scenes from “Inglorious Bastards” into the Lakers game film. A movie about guys who took no prisoners.

The style and pace of this game will be more to the Celtics liking. The question is, will that be enough? With this Lakers roster, it may not be.

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

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).