NBA Finals, Lakers Celtics: Role Players turn game six into a blowout

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In games four and five, the main difference between the Lakers and the Celtics was that the Celtic role players played like they were ready to win an NBA Finals, and the Laker role players played like they were terrified to be playing in an NBA Finals. 
You can talk all you want about what type of role players survive in high-pressure situations and which ones don’t; shooters vs. slashers, veterans vs. young players, et cetera. You can talk about the coaching. You can talk about the culture of the team. In the end, it generally boils down to this: role players almost always play better at home, and they almost always play better when their team has a substantial lead than they do when their team is behind. When a team is ahead and the home crowd is behind them, everyone relaxes. Everyone is comfortable running the offense, nobody is afraid of making mistakes, and offensive balance and efficiency generally results. 
When a team gets behind, especially on the road, everyone gets tense, the ball slows down, jumpers get missed, and that’s when the best one or two players on a team have to go ISO or pick-and-roll to try and get their team back into the game. 
The Lakers are fairly comfortable playing from behind thanks to Kobe — the flip side of that coin is that they sometimes lean too heavily on Kobe, and can have trouble playing four quarters of efficient offense as a result. The (playoff incarnation) of the Celtics is a classic front-running team; their defense keeps the other team from making big comeback runs, and they have too much balance in their offense to allow it to go stagnant if a superstar goes cold. 
However, when forced to play from behind, there’s nobody who can jump-start the offense for the Celtics the way Kobe can for the Lakers. Because of that, things can sometimes get ugly when the Celtics fall behind early. In game six, that’s exactly what happened.
The first thing Los Angeles did to get their role players going was to take the pressure off of their role players early. They did that by more or less giving the ball to Kobe Bryant and getting out of his way. Since Kobe’s jumper was on, it was a prudent strategy. Kobe had 11 points and an assist in the first seven minutes of the game. Even better, the pick-and-rolls he ran with Pau Gasol forced the Celtic D to collapse and opened up Ron Artest in the corner for two early threes that got his confidence going. 
By the time Kobe and Ron’s mini-onslaught was over, the Lakers had a 26-16 lead with three minutes to play in the quarter. Kobe was on his game, the shots were falling, the crowd was going crazy. (Nothing gets the Los Angeles crowd going like a Ron Artest three — it’s the adrenaline dump.) It was all good news from there for the defending champions. The Lakers put the Celtics on the ropes early, and they didn’t give the Celtics one chance to recover in the final 42 minutes of play.
The final three quarters of game six were less a contest than an extended Laker victory march, and every Laker got in on the fun. Sasha Vujacic came off the bench to knock in some long jumpers. Shannon Brown got four points on two spectacular dunks. Jordan Farmar threw his body all over the court and finished with three steals. Pau Gasol came an assist shy of a triple-double. Josh Powell, Luke Walton, and D.J. Mbenga all actually got into the game. 
Meanwhile, the Celtics got a total of 13 points from players not named Garnett, Pierce, Rondo, or Ray Allen. Eight of those 13 points came in the final five minutes of play, and no non-“big four” player scored until the fourth quarter. The Celtic role players looked completely out of their element, and the Laker defense absolutely feasted on their lack of confidence and inability to run the offense. 
When they talk about this series 10 or 20 years from now, they probably won’t talk about Tony Allen or Ron Artest. (Well, Artest might get a mention.) They’ll talk about Paul Pierce, Garnett, Kobe, Phil Jackson, Doc Rivers, Rajon Rondo, maybe Pau Gasol. All the same, it was the bit players on both sides who put the Lakers in a 3-2 hole, and it was those same bit players’ fortunes changing that allowed the Lakers to tie the series with a rout. There’s a very good chance that they’ll be the ones making the extra passes, the quick doubles, the timely steals, or the open shots that will end up deciding game seven and the NBA Finals. 

Lakers president Magic Johnson: I get fined every time I talk about other players, but nobody else does

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Magic Johnson got the Lakers fined for tweets he sent while holding a ceremonial executive title. Once he started running the front office, his blinking at Paul George on national TV contributed to the Lakers getting fined again for tampering. Johnson’s praise of Giannis Antetokounmpo drew yet another tampering fine.

So, though he escaped punishment for his recent comments on 76ers guard Ben Simmons, Johnson refused to answer a question about Hornets guard Kemba Walker.

Carolina Blitz:

Johnson:

You know I can’t answer any questions about no players, because every time I do it, I get fined. But anybody else do it, they don’t get fined. So I’m going to stay away from that one.

I don’t blame Johnson for feeling that way.

Other teams’ owners, coaches and executives have repeatedly publicly discussed rival players without facing announced punishment.

To be fair, the NBA doesn’t reveal every fine. Bucks owner Marc Lasry reportedly just got fined for tampering, but the league never announced it. But, at minimum, there’s an inconsistency with how the NBA exposes Johnson’s transgressions.

Even NBA commissioner Adam Silver said last year there’s a spotlight on the Lakers due to prior tampering. That strikes me as unfair. The Lakers already paid for their prior violations and should now be held to the same standard as everyone else.

And for what it’s worth, I wish that standard allowed an all-time great point guard like Johnson to publicly share his thoughts on Kemba Walker.

In wake of Rudy Gobert snub, Jazz propose changing All-Star-selection process

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Jazz center Rudy Gobert and many in Utah were upset about him getting snubbed from the All-Star game.

Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey is doing something about it.

Lindsey on The Zone Sports Network:

This examination of the process is just long overdue, and Rudy frankly highlights this. So, therefore we would recommend the following things and measures to the league:

A: Form an All-Star-selection committee, by former players, by former NBA coaches, by former management, by former scouts, by former NBA media and using current, but unattached, analytic personnel to consult with that group. In our opinion, the committee should be rotated, share a little bit of the love. In our opinion, the committee should be paid for their time and expertise.

B: The selection process should be an ongoing education process. Head coaches don’t have time to get a weekly update on who’s doing well, even in raw per-game numbers and much less in advanced numbers on who’s impacting what. Their job is to organize their own group. So, let’s make this something where’s there’s an ongoing process of who’s having a good game, who’s having a good week, good month and driving winning as much as anything. So, that would be B.

C: There’s a committee. There’s a selection room. There’s a process. There’s a criteria. And the vote should be made public. Let’s open it up, a little bit like NCAA teams do now for the tournament. And I think you could monetize it. I think it’d be compelling TV. There’s no conflict of interest by the committee, because ex-coaches, ex-management people, ex-media – they’re hopefully voting their conscience and voting to the facts.

In our opinion, and point D, the criteria should be a combination of per-game stats, advanced stats, win-loss records, player decorum and player behavior. In our opinion, these measures should be of the highest-possible standards, both tangible and intangible.

Imagine a world where Lindsey’s committee was already in place. Now imagine that committee picked the same All-Stars this year – including Gobert getting snubbed – as in reality.

In that alternate universe, Lindsey might be proposing NBA coaches choose All-Star reserves. After all, who’d be more likely than coaches to reward a dominant defender and excellent screen-setter like Gobert?

Lindsey’s proposal is needlessly complicated. The current system gets some picks wrong, but it mostly works. Lindsey’s system would also get some picks wrong but mostly work. That’s just the inevitability of the setup. There will always be debate about the final spots on an All-Star roster.

The feasibility of Lindsey’s plan is also questionable. Who are these former coaches and former management without aspirations of re-entering the league? Who qualifies as former media in a world where it’s increasingly easy to remain somewhat involved? Are any of those people still connected enough to the game to make good choices?

Besides, everyone has biases. Even people removed from the game still have biases.

The NBA’s new voting system for choosing All-Star starters – 50% fans, 25% players, 25% media – has worked well. Maybe the simple solution is adding a coaches component and using that for reserves, too.

As front office looks toward free agency, starless Clippers winning now

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CHARLOTTE – The Clippers have no All-Stars here.

Not Danilo Gallinari. Not Montrezl Harrell. Not even Tobias Harris, who spent most of the season with L.A. before getting traded to the 76ers.

Heck, nobody who has played for the Clippers this season – including Gallinari, Harris and Lou Williams – has ever made an All-Star team.

No Clippers are participating in All-Star Saturday Night events, either. Their only representative here is rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Yet, the Clippers are an impressive 32-27.

“When you just have a bunch of guys that are selfless and just want to play for each other and just want to ultimately win,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “things like that happen.”

The Clippers are on pace for one of the best-ever records for a team with no past or present All-Stars. Here all the all-time leaders (counting only seasons with an All-Star game):

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The Clippers’ success is particularly surprising because this was supposed to be a transitional year for them.

They moved on historically quickly from the Chris PaulBlake Griffin-DeAndre Joran Lob City era. Everyone from the Clippers’ 2012-17 teams was gone before the season even began. Since the early 1950s, only these Clippers, the 1996 Mavericks and 2003 and 2004 Hawks completely turned over their rosters within two seasons.

The Clippers have made no secret of their interest in Kawhi Leonard. They’re also reportedly pursuing Kevin Durant. Jimmy Butler could be in the mix.

“The front office and coaches and teammates are all competitive guys and want to be good for a long time,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

Here’s the rub: Many of Gilgeous-Alexander’s teammates might not be around for that ultimate goal.

To open a projected $57 million in cap space this summer,* the Clippers had to stock their roster with expiring contracts.

*Based on the Clippers renouncing all their free agents and not having a first-round pick. L.A. owes the Celtics a lottery-protected first-rounder.

Beverley will be a free agent this summer. So will Harris and likely Avery Bradley, who got dealt to the Grizzlies shortly before the trade deadline and has just $2 million of his $12.96 million salary next season guaranteed. So will Marcin Gortat, who got waived around the trade deadline.

Yet, these players put aside personal agendas to help a franchise that’s transparently looking past them. It’s a tribute to the players. It’s a tribute to Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too. This team has played hard and shown great camaraderie.

It won’t get easier even after moving Harris, L.A.’s top player this season who’s entering free agency. Ivica Zubac, JaMychal Green, Garrett Temple and Wilson Chandler – acquired before the trade deadline – also have expiring contracts.

Don’t assume the Clippers will fall off now. They added solid vets who could fit this culture.

The Clippers’ identity – starless, transient – remains intact. The winning could, too.

It’s not that the Clippers got snubbed. I thought none deserved to be an All-Star.

That’s the beauty of this team.

Pelicans reportedly fire GM Dell Demps

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Dell Demps has been on the hot seat for a few years now, just scraping by while making short-term moves that appeared more about keeping his job and winning games now over planning for long-term success around Anthony Davis.

This season that all seemed to catch up with him — Davis demanded a trade and the Pelicans are well out of the playoff chase in the West.

That has cost Demps his job after nine seasons, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Frustration with Davis leaving the building is more the last straw that cost Demps his job rather than the sole firable offense. Demps has been on thin ice for a while, what happened Thursday was just enough for New Orleans to pull the trigger now rather than wait until after the season. But the sense around the league is this was coming no matter what.

If Demps had traded Davis to the Lakers at the deadline he would have been fired anyway. Also, sources have told me that it wasn’t Demps’ call, that ownership and upper management (the people above Demps) did not want the Laker trade and he couldn’t have pulled the trigger on the deal even if he wanted to. Ownership and upper management didn’t want to feel “bullied” into a deal.

It was thought by many around the league that there would be a housecleaning in New Orleans after the season and that the new GM, whoever he or she is, would be the one making the call on the trade and the direction the team takes next. The question is, will coach Alvin Gentry be out, too?

Expect the Pelicans to move reasonably quickly on finding a replacement, whether it is internal or external. They want someone in place to have a strategy for the team heading into the draft, a strategy that includes what to do about a Davis trade.