Lakers send message to Spurs (and anyone else watching)

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Phil Jackson did not treat this like any other game.

He spent extra time in film preparation for this game, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave Miller (a former Hornet assistant coach).

He sent Kobe Bryant back into the fourth quarter of a blowout, when Kobe usually has ice on his knees. With 3:11 left in the game and the Lakers up 20, he sent Pau Gasol back in from the bench.

Championship teams don’t normally try to send messages in the regular season. Phil Jackson is not usually the message-sending type. But the Lakers clearly felt they needed to and did with an absolute thumping of the San Antonio Spurs, 99-83 (and it wasn’t nearly that close) on national television. After slumps that had some questioning if they were really championship material.

The message — we’re still here and if you want that Larry O’Brien trophy you are going to have to rip it out of our cold, dead hands.

The veteran Spurs heard that message but you can bet were not intimidated. If they meet the Lakers in late May — in the Western Conference Finals — you can bet they will remember Kobe and Gasol in at the end of the game. The Spurs have their motivation, their pride, too.

The actual game itself was a thrashing from the opening tip. The Lakers clearly learned a lot from a similar beat down the Spurs gave the Heat a few nights before. The Lakers defense chased the Spurs off the three-point line all game long. The Spurs were 2-11 from three in the first half.

But the real key to that was Andrew Bynum — the Lakers center controlled the paint. Every time a Spur tried to get a shot off in the lane, he altered or blocked it. Then he got the rebound. That allowed the perimeter defenders to pressure guys at the arc. Pretty soon the Spurs were reduced to what they have reduced other offenses to for so many years — the contested midrange jumper. You don’t win games with that shot.

The Lakers meanwhile played their best game of the season. They ran the offense and it was fluid. They had just two first half turnovers.

The Lakers were up 21 in the first quarter and this was the preverbal boat race. Kobe Bryant had 26 (but needed 25 shots), Pau Gasol had 21 (on 12 shots). The Lakers length was dominant, their bench was solid, every decision they made seemed to be the right one.

The Lakers looked like champions. They looked like a team that has won seven in a row.

You can bet the Spurs will be ready next time. They are champions as well, they know what it takes. But the message has been sent — the Lakers are back and ready to defend their turf.

Suns select Deandre Ayton with No. 1 overall pick in 2018 draft

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First in alphabetical introductions, DeAndre Ayton took center stage at a new pre-NBA draft ceremony with his parents. As he walked right down the middle of two rows of adoring children, Ayton extended his 7-foot-5 wingspan to high-five them on both sides. Then, he took his mother’s hand and helped her down the stairs.

Length and touch.

That – plus strength, shooting touch and hops – is why the Suns made him their first No. 1 overall pick in their 51-year history a few minutes later.

Ayton is the right pick, but hardly a surefire star. With his physical package and shooting ability, it’d be hard for him to fail completely in the NBA. But he is terrifyingly unprepared as a rim protector – a nearly essential skill for centers.

He’ll join a Phoenix team trying to end a franchise-high eight-year playoff drought, though Ayton won’t be starting from scratch. Devin Booker, implicitly and explicitly, screamed out for help. Ayton delivers it in a big way.

The Suns also have Josh Jackson, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. It’d be nice if any of them pan out. But Phoenix also has all its own future first-round picks plus two extra first-rounders from the Heat.

This is a team on the rise, and the Suns will have other chances to add to their young talent base.

But they’ll probably never have a better opportunity than this.

2018 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

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It’s been a long time since there was this much uncertainty at the top of an NBA Draft. While the top pick is a lock, and even No. 2 may have fallen into place, things are wide open after that with plenty of talk about trades up and down — and teams looking to move into the lottery. The NBA rumor mill has been in high gear.

Now the floodgates of wild are about to be thrown open.

Right here is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the evening — every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings. We’ll be on top of news, rumors, and anything else happening around the NBA tonight. Enough with the preamble…

It’s time to put the Phoenix Suns on the clock.

 
Suns small icon 1. The Phoenix Suns: Deandre Aytnon, 7’0” center (Arizona). Physically, he has the potential to be one of the game’s dominant centers — he’s big and long (7’5” wingspan), he moves incredibly well, he can knock down threes, and he can run the court. Offensively he’s going to be put up numbers and be an impact player from Day 1. If he puts in the work when challenged on his defense he could be a force on both ends. He could be the franchise cornerstone the Suns need, the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside.

 
Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). One of the best athletes in the draft and a natural scorer, he’s going to be able to get buckets in the NBA. He’s got a great bounce (an amazing second jump), attacks the glass, can finish at the rim and shot 40 percent from three for the Blue Devils. The question is can he defend — he showed poor defensive instincts and Mike Krzyzewski had to play zone at Duke last season because Bagley (and Carter) could not handle pick-and-roll coverages. He’s got to get better on that end to reach his NBA potential.

 
Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks:

Last pre-draft rumor: Michael Porter Jr. is falling, how far will that be

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Michael Porter Jr. has long been the biggest gamble in the 2018 NBA Draft.

A year ago he was considered a lock top three pick in this draft. Now? Concerns about his back injury — a microdiscectomy that forced him to miss almost all of the college season — have given teams pause.

Those medical reports out of last week’s evaluation for teams in Chicago has Porter falling in the draft, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (while on Sportscenter). How far? Maybe all the way to the end of the lottery — the Clippers with picks 12 and 13, or even the Nuggets at 14.

People who saw the original medical reports told NBC Sports they were “fine.”

It’s a far cry from Sacramento legitimately considering him at No. 2 a couple of weeks ago.

When things get tight, GMs can become risk-averse (they like to keep their jobs). Taking Porter in the upper reaches of the lottery and missing is the kind of thing that could have a GM on the hot seat.

Also factoring into this, rumors of an insular, “diva” attitude from Porter who has always had things focused on him. How will he handle not being the man?

That said, Porter’s physical tools and potential has teams drooling — he’s big and can score inside and out. He has the potential to be a very dangerous stretch four because he’s a fantastic shooter and a high-level athlete.

Some team is going to reach the point in the process where the risk is worth the reward. That may be Cleveland at No. 8, but if not it’s going to be interesting to see which team rolls the dice.

Austin Rivers opting in for $12.65 million with Clippers

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Austin Rivers‘ three-year, $35,475,000 contract caused resentment within the Clippers when his father – Clippers coach and then-president Doc Rivers – gave it to the guard in 2016.

But don’t think for a moment that will bother Austin into bypassing $12.65 million next season.

Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

That high salary will put a target even more squarely on Rivers’ back, but he’s used to it.

He’ll be overpaid, but he can still help the Clippers. Maybe that’s as an expiring contract used to facilitate a larger trade. Maybe that’s on the court. L.A. will reportedly drop guard Milos Teodosic. The Clippers, with the Nos. 12 and 13 picks in tonight’s draft, could select another guard, but few rookie point guards are reliable.