That “average” Lakers defense is better than you think

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The Lakers are the defending champions and undefeated and on top of everyone’s power rankings two weeks into the season. Well, almost everyone’s.

Come June all that and $4 will get them a latte at Pete’s.

What matters is what they are building (and what the Heat are building, and the Magic, and the Celtics). So far, the Lakers have built the best offense in the land, averaging a crazy 115 points per 100 possessions (the Suns led the NBA last season at 112.7). Kobe Bryant’s knee looks 100 percent now, Lamar Odom looks recharged and Pau Gasol is rested and ready.

But the Lakers defense? It’s okay. They’re 10th in the league at 101.1 points given up per possession. Traditionally, no matter how great your offense is playing, if your defense isn’t inside the top five you’re not winning a ring.

That’s enough to have some Lakers fans very nervous. Of course, everything seems to make Lakers nation nervous, they’re like a heard of gazelle at the watering hole, spooked by any and every little noise, running all off in a panic over nothing.

But things may not be so bad, as Brian Kamenetzky explained at the Land O’ Lakers blog.

Six of L.A.’s seven opponents (all but Portland) are in the top half in the NBA in pace (average number of possessions over 48 minutes). Five of seven (Phoenix, Houston, Sacramento, Portland, Golden State) are in the top half for offensive efficiency (number of points scored per 100 possessions). In a nutshell, the Lakers have seen a lot of high speed and high efficiency offenses over the first seven games, sometimes in the same night. Still, the Lakers rank a respectable 10th in defensive efficiency, at 101.1 points allowed per 100 opponents possessions. This, by the way, mirrors exactly their defensive efficiency from last season, and we know how that movie ended. Granted, stats fluctuate from year to year, meaning what was good enough a season ago might not be good enough in ’09-’10, but the first seven games have hardly been a train wreck.

Of course, there’s that one other little thing, too — the Lakers get Andrew Bynum back. Last season the Lakers were +3.9 points per 48 minutes better with him on the floor, in large part because he can defend the rim and alter shots in a way Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom do not.

All of which is to say, the Lakers fans can relax a little. Not that they will, they spook easily. But they should, because this is a fun team to watch.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.

 

Celtics try to play down postgame yelling, things thrown in locker room

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“You’re not supposed to be happy when you’re down 0-2. Nothing out of the ordinary, just talking about the game.”

Jayson Tatum is right in his postgame comments, to a point. The Boston Celtics should be frustrated after blowing a 17-point lead and losing to the Miami Heat Thursday night, putting the Celtics in an 0-2 hole.

However, that part about “nothing out of the ordinary” and “just talking” in the locker room postgame? That’s not what went down, according to multiple reporters on the scene in the bubble.

After the game, the Celtics tried to play it all down. That started with coach Brad Stevens.

“Guys were emotional after a hard game, hard loss.”

Kemba Walker wouldn’t even discuss it.

“It was nothing. It was nothing. I’m not speaking about it.”

Enes Kanter took to Twitter to echo the comments of several Celtics, that they are still a family.

Boston may have just been venting postgame, but if they don’t bring the fire from the locker room out onto the court Saturday for Game 3, or this may be a very short series.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites now.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101 (Miami leads series 2-0)
Game 3: Sept. 19, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Sept. 18, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 2: Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3: Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)*
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Boston zoned out in second half, Miami comes back to take 2-0 series lead

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The Miami Heat love bubble playoff games — the Heat are 10-1 in the NBA’s self-created, concentrated basketball environment (and the one loss was by three in overtime to Milwaukee).

Miami also loves its zone defense, something it broke out regularly during the regular season but sat on and didn’t show in the first two rounds of the playoffs (literally zero zone defensive possessions against the Pacers and Bucks, according to Synergy Sports). In Game 2, they went to it for 36 possessions, most in the second half.

The Boston Celtics were thrown off by the zone, scoring 17 points in the third quarter, shooting 4-of-14 from three in the second half, and watching Jimmy Butler make plays like this.

And this, reading a Brad Stevens pet out of bounds lob play to seal the win.

Miami came from 17 down to beat Boston 106-101, giving the Heat a 2-0 series lead. Game 3 is Saturday.

After the game, there was reported yelling by Marcus Smart and throwing of things in the Boston locker room.

“Guys were emotional… after a hard loss,” Boston coach Brad Stevens delicately put it.

The Boston coach also wasn’t buying into talk of the Miami zone defense being the story of the night.

“This isn’t about zones and defenses or offenses. We just need to be better,” Stevens said.

Boston did do better in the first half. After getting outscored by 22 in the paint in Game 1, the Celtics came out in Game 2 and attacked the rim, brought Enes Kanter and his inside scoring off the bench early, shot 10-of-13 at the rim, and won the points in the paint battle 32-18 in the first half.

Then in the second half, with the Heat often in a zone, the Celtics just tried to shoot over the top of it rather than get into the middle of it.

Miami just kept making shots and making plays. Goran Dragic led all Heat players with 25, Bam Adebayo had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Duncan Robinson had 18 going 6-of-12 from three (and keeping Miami close in the first quarter).

Boston had 23 from Kemba Walker, who bounced back with a strong offensive game after a rough first game of this series. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each had 21.

The Celtics are by no means out of this series, but right now they are not executing their game plan with the grit and intensity the Heat bring.

Boston needs to bring the fire they showed in the locker room postgame to the court in Game 3, or the Celtics will find themselves in a hole they cannot get out of.