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.

Blazers fan gets ejected from game in spectacular fashion (VIDEO)

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The Portland Trail Blazers are down to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, 3-0. It’s not been a pretty matchup thus far, with the Warriors looking like their old selves without Kevin Durant.

The Blazers have struggled, and although Damian Lillard reportedly has separated ribs, their problems have been deeper than that. Portland came out looking particularly flat in the third quarter on offense through no pressure of Golden State. It was embarrassing, and lackluster.

The Blazers lost again on Saturday, 110-99, and emotions are running high in Rip City after the team made it to the Western Conference finals for the first time in 19 years.

Perhaps that’s what led to this Blazers fan getting a ejected during Saturday’s game?

Via Twitter:

In videos posted to social media, Trail Blazers security at Moda Center can be seen pushing a rather large gentleman out of the lower bowl behind the stanchion as he yells at Golden State fans. The man decided to finish his drink before it being pushed up the steps to the concourse, much to the delight of the fans around him.

We are supposed to admonish behavior it like this, although we don’t know what led to him being ejected by Blazers security. At one point the announcers on ESPN did say that there was a fan who had thrown something on the floor, and perhaps this is related. We haven’t been able to confirm whether these two incidents are related, but in watching the video it’s clear what the mood is in Portland.

If the Blazers are going to go down playing… well, however it is they have been playing — they certainly don’t look like the Portland team from the regular season — no doubt some folks are going to decide to get rowdy and have a few refreshments.

Game 4 is at Moda on Monday at 6 p.m. and I doubt this guy will be in attendance.

Report: Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon named GM of Pelicans

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The New Orleans Pelicans continue to rebuild their broken front office. Now that David Griffin has taken his place as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Pelicans are reportedly adding another name to their executive staff.

According to Shams Charania, Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon will join Griffin in the New Orleans front office as the team’s new general manager.

Langdon started his front office career as a scout with the San Antonio Spurs, and was named assistant general manager of the Nets in 2016.

Via Twitter:

Brooklyn is a team that has done more with less as of late, and has acted as efficiently as they can particularly as they’ve tried to recover from the moves of a former GM. The Nets moved Billy King Out of the GM job in 2016 in favor for Sean Marks. The Pelicans fired Dell Demps in February.

It looks like the Pelicans are going to do all they can to get Anthony Davis to stay, and that includes a new front office team, upgrades to their practice facility, and a better health and training staff.

Langdon could be just a piece in the puzzle, but he could also be part of the group that has to figure out the best trade package for Davis if the day comes. Either way, New Orleans is regrouping as they move forward with the number one overall pick where they will presumably take Zion Williamson.

Bucks lead East finals 2-0, and now series shifts to Toronto

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals.

Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts.

The supporting cast hasn’t supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green‘s expense.

“We’ve got to be better, man,” Nurse said Saturday. “We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to hustle more and we’ve got to work harder.”

He may as well have punctuated that by adding “or else.”

In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that’s the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish.

“We can’t rest,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We can’t relax. We can’t assume anything.”

So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn’t care.

“I don’t really give a crap about that,” he said. “I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.”

Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 – which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto’s chances.

It hasn’t worked that way.

Add up everyone else’s scoring in the series, and it’s Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well.

“We’re just trying to be us,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “We’re not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We’re just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.”

The Raptors don’t have to look at the history books to know this series isn’t over.

All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home – then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.

“We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,” Gasol said. “That’s all that matters right now. That’s all that matters.”

 

Andre Iguodala sits fourth quarter with “lower leg soreness,” to get MRI Sunday

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DaMarcus Cousins. Kevin Durant.

Now you might be able to add Andre Iguodala to the list of injured Warriors. He only played 18 minutes in Game 3 Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. Asked about that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr listed a hockey injury — lower leg soreness — and said an MRI was coming.

If he has to miss time, that would be another blow to the Warriors. Up 3-0 on Portland, Golden State can close this series out without him, but the Warriors are going to need Iguodala and Durant — and, ideally, Cousins — against the Bucks or Raptors in the NBA Finals starting on May 30.

Iguodala made friends and influenced people when he went back to the locker room late in the first quarter, deciding to flip off the hallway camera on his way.

We will see if the League has anything to say about that or lets it slide.