NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 5: What happens if Bynum is not right, again?

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odom_bench.jpgAndrew Bynum is going to play. He had his knee drained of more fluid, and he is in the full “I will play through the pain” warrior mode we fans expect from athletes. He will be in the Lakers starting five tonight.

But he was out on the court Thursday night, too. For all of 12 minutes, time that included Kevin Garnett going over the top to block one of his shots. Bynum tried but had nothing to give, and Los Angeles could not adjust.

What happens if it is the same thing tonight? What if Bynum’s mind is willing but his flesh is weak? What can the Celtics do? What can the Lakers do?

First, there are a few out there who still think Bynum’s presence doesn’t matter that much. They are wrong. So far in the finals, the Lakers are outscoring the Celtics by about 5 points per 48 minutes when Bynum is on the court, the Celtics are outscoring the Lakers by 5 per 48 when he sits. With Bynum on the bench, the more physical Kendrick Perkins can make things difficult on Pau Gasol, while Kevin Garnett takes Lamar Odom out of the game (Odom does some of that himself). The Lakers bench gets thinner. The Lakers are not nearly as good.

So how do the Lakers adjust?

It has to start with Odom. I compare Odom to rolling dice at the craps table — over 1,000 rolls I can tell you pretty much what the numbers will be, but on any one given roll it is purely random. Game to game, Odom is random.

This series he has not attacked — he had Glen “Big Baby” Davis on him for extended periods of Game 4 but did try to take him off the dribble (Davis is nimble for a big man but Odom should be able to take him). On defense, Odom crowded Davis outside and allowed Davis to use his quick first step to get by him and to the rim. Davis shoots 33 percent from 10 to 16 feet and 35 percent beyond that. Live with the jumper.

Odom needs to attack on offense, grab rebounds and lead the break. He needs to defend.

Beyond that, the Lakers should go with more Luke Walton — he helps the offense flow but never saw the court in Game 4 — and maybe even give Josh Powell some run and tell him to be physical.

Finally, the Lakers should run more. So should the Celtics. Whichever team is getting the easy points in transition is getting the wins. It is the bellwether of this series (that and rebounds, but you need the rebounds to run).

Boston needs to attack off the dribble when Bynum is out. His long arms defend the rim well, but Gasol and Odom do not. Boston needs to test Bynum early, ideally by making him rotate over to take on a driving Rajon Rondo. The Celtics need to get Bynum on the move, because he can’t. Run some pick and rolls with his man, something both Utah and Phoenix did with success against him.

If draining the knee means that Bynum can play a solid 25 minutes for the Lakers, it is a huge plus for them. But if he can’t go, it’s the team that adjusts that will head back to Los Angeles up 3-2.

Emmanuel Mudiay beautifully fakes behind-the-back pass to get open layup (video)

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This is where I reminder you Emmanuel Mudiay is just 23. It’s not too late for Mudiay – now with the Jazz after stints with the Nuggets and the Knicks – to implement enough craft into his game to succeed in the NBA. Point guards tend to develop late.

(Relatedly, Jarrett Culver is just a rookie. Falling for this sweet move doesn’t destine him to poor defense. And at least his Timberwolves beat Utah yesterday.)

Carmelo Anthony talks opportunity, playing role as he starts play in Portland

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Carmelo Anthony has got his chance.

Portland is a team that needs what Anthony can bring to the court, and Anthony needs the Trail Blazers to end his career on his terms.

Saying the whole thing came together in about 48 hours, Anthony talked about joining Portland in a video posted to YouTube called “The Next Chapter.” He said the Blazers have long been on his mind.

“I always kept my eye on Portland. It just didn’t work out at other times, but now it seems like a perfect opportunity. Me and Dame, we’ve been talking for the past couple years, just off and on. CJ has been playing in my Black Ops runs for the past four years. I just look at that opportunity, that team and say, look ‘this is what I can bring to the team, this is where I can help it.’ It will only work if all parties see it the same way.”

One of the things that gave teams pause about welcoming in Anthony was whether he’d accept a role. The Trail Blazers have a pecking order: Damian Lillard is the alpha and CJ McCollum is the No. 2. Anthony is coming off the bench, not being the focal point of the offense. Anthony is saying the right things.

“What happened before is the past, I can’t dwell on that, I learned from that. This happened at a point in time in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations and just life, and my approach is totally different.”

Anthony could make his debut as soon as tonight when Portland faces the Pelicans. If not, it will be soon.

Then it will not be about words, but actions.

 

Marcus Smart forced to leave Celtics game with with ugly right ankle sprain

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Marcus Smart has been playing through a lot of bumps, bruises, and minor injuries, refusing to take time off as the Celtics are off to a red-hot start to the season.

He will have to sit out a while with this one, however.

Smart went down with a scary non-contact right ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of Boston’s win against Phoenix Monday. It happened with 9:12 to go in the fourth quarter and Smart didn’t return.

The real test with ankles is the next day (when there will be further testing), but there was optimism after the game that the sprain was not that bad, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“They’ll check it in the morning,” [Boston coach Brad] Stevens told reporters after the game and added, “it doesn’t look too bad.”

In his postgame comments, Smart said he was okay but he had aggravated the “exact same ankle injury I was coming back from.” He added that he “should be fine to play the rest of the road trip.”

Smart’s a competitor who wants to play. Still, with this being the same ankle he has injured twice now the team might be wise to force him to sit for a few games and let his ankle (among other ailments) heal completely and not become a chronic issue all season (there’s still nearly five months of NBA regular season left).

Look for an update from the team later on Tuesday.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20. I, for one, welcome our new Luka Doncic overlord.

LeBron James is right, Doncic is a “bad m***** f*****.” Doncic is destroying the Association and he’s not yet old enough to legally buy a drink. Monday night against the Spurs he had arguably his best game yet: a career-high 42-points, plus 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

It’s hard to get a grasp on just how historic a start to the season Doncic is having, but to help here’s the full list of players who have had 40+ point triple-doubles at or before age 20:

LeBron James
Luka Doncic

That’s it. Expand that to age 21 and you can add Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Isiah Thomas. That’s some Hall of Fame company Doncic is running with at a young age.

Doncic has six triple-doubles this season, which leads the league. On the season he is averaging 29.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game, all with a ridiculously efficient 61.2 percent true shooting. Those rebounds are the real difference maker, by the way.

It’s far too early to have a serious MVP conversation, but if you do, Doncic has to be a part of it. He’s been that good this season.

Did I mention he’s only 20?

2) Also making history: James Harden. The Beard put up 36 points in 33:06 minutes on the court against Portland, which is actually slightly below his per game average (39.2) but is still its own bit of history.

Russell Westbrook is right about how we view Harden sometimes, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I think that a lot of people like to normalize greatness when you see it over and over again, but it’s not normal because there’s nobody else that can do it. If it was normal, everybody would do it.”

Westbrook, by the way, had his own big night with a triple-double of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The Rockets have won eight in a row and are one of the NBA’s hottest teams right now.

3) Paul George sticks a dagger in his former team, Clippers beat Thunder. It looked like the night former Clippers would get revenge on their team: First Danilo Gallinari hit a three to tie the game at 86-86, then Chris Paul made two free throws for an 88-86 Thunder lead.

Then Paul George happened.

Gallinari had a shot at a three to win but it missed, George hit a free throw after being fouled, and the Clippers get out 90-88 with a win. The real Los Angeles star for the night was Montrezl Harrell, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.

George saw his minutes jump to 29 in just his third game back from shoulder surgeries (plural, as in both of them) but did not score north of 30 like his first two games as the Thunder defense had more of a focus on him.

Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game with a bruised knee suffered against the Rockets.