NBA Playoffs: The Hornets stun the Lakers

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You could hear a pin drop in the Staples Center. The Lakers were supposed to steamroll the short-handed New Orleans Hornets in the first round on their way to a potential three-peat, but the Hornets stunned the NBA world and took game one in the Staples Center. And unlike the Grizzlies’ win, the Hornets’ win didn’t come down to a single possession. While the Hornets never opened up a huge lead on the Lakers, they rarely trailed in the game, and were able to pull away at the end. Pau Gasol was invisible. Kobe Bryant was outplayed by Chris Paul down the stretch. For the first time in the Phil Jackson era, the Lakers lost a 1st-round series opener at home.

From the very beginning of the game, something didn’t seem quite right for the Lakers. As Jackson put it after the game, “I think we were late on everything. They were the aggressors, they stayed aggressive and beat us to balls…We’re not really good in morning games. Our just just weren’t really sharp all year. We really weren’t animated and really aggressive. I thought Ron Artest was probably our best player out there today.”

The Lakers seemed reluctant to get the ball inside, which is where their biggest advantage against the Hornets — or any other team, for that matter — should be. The ball rarely came to Pau Gasol in the post, and Gasol was passive when it did — at one point, he had Jarret Jack guarding him after a switch, but immediately passed the ball back out to the perimeter.

The Hornets were able to use their speed advantage to get into the paint, and outscored the Lakers 52-34 in the painted area. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for one offensive rebound. Kobe Bryant had a great shooting night and looked unstoppable at times, but found himself playing one-on-five far more often than Phil Jackson would have liked.

When the Lakers fail to establish their inside game and are forced to rely on Kobe creating from the perimeter, there’s always a chicken-or-egg question: were the Lakers forced to rely on Kobe because their interior game wasn’t working, or because Bryant didn’t work hard enough to establish their interior game? In the post-game press conference, a visibly frustrated Jackson seemed to be of the latter opinion, saying that “There wasn’t a lot of direction towards [Pau Gasol]. There weren’t a lot of balls in the post. We didn’t get the ball inside, which is one of our strengths.”

Hornets coach Monty Williams, who admitted that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the way his team was able to handle the defending champions, seemed completely dumbfounded by Gasol’s ineffectiveness, and noted that Gasol shot over 70% against the Hornets when the two teams played each other in the regular season. Ron Artest came to play on Sunday, and was more than willing to bang for tough baskets and offensive rebounds inside, but for most of the game, the Lakers reverted to Kobe vs. The World offensively.

On defense, the Lakers had nothing resembling an answer for Chris Paul, who looked like the best point guard in the world on Sunday. He picked apart the Laker defense with precise passes. He used his ballhandling ability to work in between the Laker defenders and get easy pull-up jumpers before the help could react. He was active on defense and on the glass. He went hard to the basket and either made the basket or drew a foul. He had perfect control of the offense, and was the biggest reason the Hornets only turned the ball over three times all game. He was regularly able to force the Lakers to switch a big man onto him and break down the defense from there. With the precision of a surgeon, Paul rendered the Laker defense completely helpless.
After the game, Kobe was frustrated with the way his team defended Paul and the rest of the Hornets, saying “We didn’t do the coverages, defensively, that we  were supposed to do. We just didn’t do ’em.”

In the last five minutes of the game, Paul accounted for 15 points and one assist while Kobe went 0-4 with one turnover. Paul has been inconsistent for the last two seasons, and Kobe has the last two Finals MVP awards on his mantle, but Paul was the superior player in game one.

One thing that both teams should be worry about is the play and injury status of Aaron Gray — the little-known center made all five of his shots off the bench, was a game-high +25, and, according to Phil Jackson, outplayed the Laker bigs. Unfortunately for the Hornets, Gray twisted his ankle and suffered a mild sprain with about a minute left in the game. If he’s back at 100% on Wednesday, it’s bad news for the Lakers. If he’s not, the Hornets are going to be forced to give more minutes to D.J. Mbenga.

Was this game a fluke, or do the Lakers have to worry about whether or not they will advance to the second round? It’s clear that the Lakers will need to have Bynum and especially Gasol playing at a higher level than they did tonight. If the Lakers don’t use the advantage they have inside against the Hornets, they will make this into a much more even series than it should be on paper. They will need to get more out of their bench, especially Lamar Odom. They will need to find some way to stop Chris Paul, or at least slow him down.

If they do those things, the Lakers can easily take this series in five or six games, even with the setback they suffered tonight. But if the Lakers continue to allow Paul to run rampant and forget that two of the best big men in the NBA play for their team, Phil Jackson’s legendary career could end on a very low note.

Stephon Marbury has arrangement to procure 10 million medical masks for New York

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Former NBA player Stephon Marbury told The New York Post that he’s arranged a deal to deliver 10 million N95 medical masks to New York. These masks are much-needed among healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marbury is having the masks produced at cost in China, where he played the last seven years of his career.

Although Marbury currently lives in Beijing, China, he said “At the end of the day, I am from Brooklyn. This is something that is close and dear to my heart as far as being able to help New York.”

While growing up, Marbury starred at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn and on New York City’s famed playgrounds. After one year at Georgia Tech, Marbury left for the NBA. The high-scoring guard played for five teams during his 13-year NBA career, including his hometown New York Knicks.

After sitting out for two seasons, Marbury signed to play for the Beijing Ducks in 2011. The move was initially seen as a way for Marbury to prove he could still play at an NBA level. Instead, Beijing became home-away-from home for the New Yorker.

Marbury averaged 21.6 points per game in 271 contests spread over seven seasons with the Ducks.

Georgetown sophomore Mac McClung declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Georgetown sophomore Mac McClung told ESPN Jonathan Givony that he’s declaring for the 2020 NBA Draft.

McClung first came to national prominence when his high school highlights blew up on YouTube:

In his second season at Georgetown, McClung averaged 15.7 points and 1.4 steals per game. A foot injury in late-January kept McClung out of the lineup for nearly a month. He returned for one game in late-February, but played just eight minutes off the Hoyas’ bench.

The six-foot-two guard is known for his deep shooting range and his highlight dunks. McClung’s shot is inconsistent however, as he shot under 40% in each of his first two seasons at Georgetown. McClung’s defense also needs work.

McClung projects to be a point guard in the NBA, due to his size. To make it as a lead guard, he’ll need to work on his ballhandling and playmaking. With those question marks, McClung is seen as a stretch to be drafted in the second round.

McClung stated he’s signing with an NBA/NCAA approved agent. That will allow him to keep his college eligibility as he goes through the pre-draft process.

Report: NBA Together asks players who have recovered from COVID-19 to consider donating plasma

Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert
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Shams Charania of The Athletic reports that the NBA Together initiative is asking NBA players who have recovered from coronavirus to consider donating plasma:

NBA Together was created in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, as the NBA suspended the 2019-20 season.

One of the efforts NBA Together is supporting is the COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. This project has brought together top medical specialists to determine if plasma donations could help in treating coronavirus.

Several NBA players have tested positive for COVID-19. This group includes Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz, Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics and Christian Wood of the Detroit Pistons. All players reported either feeling no symptoms or have recovered from the affliction.

Video: Carmelo Anthony says he’d have won 2-3 titles if drafted by Detroit

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In an Instagram Live chat with friend Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony said he’d “have won 2-3 championships” if drafted by the Detroit Pistons:

Anthony was drafted third overall in the 2003 NBA Draft by the Denver Nuggets. LeBron James went off the board first to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pistons then drafted Darko Milicic with the second pick. Chris Bosh was drafted fourth by the Toronto Raptors, and Wade was selected with the fifth pick by the Miami Heat.

James, Wade, and Bosh would famously team up in Miami seven years later. Those three and Anthony all put together Hall of Fame careers. Milicic was another story entirely.

Detroit had that second overall pick by virtue of a 1997 sign-and-trade with the then Vancouver Grizzlies for forward Otis Thorpe. Vancouver didn’t even keep Thorpe for one full season, as he was shipped to the Sacramento Kings at the 1998 trade deadline. By the 2003 draft, the team had moved from Vancouver to Memphis.

The Pistons went on to win the championship in 2003-04, despite relatively limited production from rookie Milicic. The seven-footer played in just 34 games as a rookie during Detroit’s title run. Milicic then appeared in just 62 games over the next two seasons before he was traded to the Orlando Magic at the 2006 trade deadline.

Despite never living up to his draft position, Milicic did carve out a 10-year NBA career. On the other hand, Anthony blossomed into a 10-time All-Star.

Anthony went on to make six All-NBA teams over the course of his time with the Nuggets and New York Knicks. He holds a career average of 23.6 points per game, but has yet to win that elusive ring.

Detroit passing on Anthony is one of the more interesting what if’s in recent NBA history. The Pistons only got the one championship, but made the Finals back-to-back years. They had a multiple-year run of contention behind a core of Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton in the backcourt. The frontcourt was anchored by Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince. The one thing that group struggled with on occasion was scoring, which Anthony would have provided.

Had Anthony been drafted by the Pistons, he’d likely have a ring and Detroit would have a fourth banner. Who knows? Maybe they’d each have a couple more beyond that.