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.

Dwight Howard will join Lakers for restart, donate check to social justice cause

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“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction… I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families? This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our unity starts. At home! With Family!!”

Those are the words of Dwight Howard, who was among the players questioning the NBA’s restart in Orlando.  He was grieving the loss of Melissa Rios, the mother of his 6-year-old son, David, and was looking at his family as the biggest priority in his life. As it should be. Howard also is committed to the Black Lives Matter movement and, as he stated, saw the NBA’s return as a distraction.

In the end, he has decided to play in the NBA restart and donate his checks the rest of this season to charity, something Howard announced on CNN (hat tip Dave McMenamin).

That is about a $700,000 donation by Howard to Breathe Again.

Howard played a central role as a big man off the bench on a Lakers’ team that is the odds-on favorite to win it all. A ring would be the cherry on top of his Hall of Fame career.

Howard wants to be a part of that, but it means sacrificing time with family. He said it was not an easy decision, and he is putting his money where his mouth is donating his earnings to charity.

The thoughtfulness behind those decisions shows the kind of maturity Howard has grown into, even if fans never see it.

Jaylen Brown heads to restart with Boston, plans to use voice for social justice

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The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown has been one of the most active NBA players in the Black Lives Matters movement — even driving from Boston to Atlanta to lead a protest.

That’s not changing because he’s going to Orlando for the NBA restart.

Brown admitted he considered not playing in Orlando due to the pandemic, but the opportunity the NBA’s platform provided to speak on social issues was too great to pass up, Brown said in a conference call with reporters Monday, via the Associated Press.

“Once I thought about the opportunity that the organization and the NBA presented to play for something bigger than myself, I was signed up,” he said. “I plan on using my voice while I’m down there. I plan on spreading light on things that are getting dimmed and hopefully the NBA and our organization can understand.”

Brown is not alone in thinking that. Portland’s CJ McCollum is on the executive committee of the National Basketball Players Association as well and said a lot of players see the same opportunity.

“But now [the talk is] more around what impact we can make to support what is going on in the real world, to continue to support Black Lives Matter and the things we’re facing as a society,” McCollum told NBC Sports. “Those are the calls we’re having now. How can we impact? How can we spread awareness on certain things in the world that are going on?…

“The biggest thing is to take advantage of the platform [in Orlando], to coincide with the NBA and figure out productive ways we can continue to spread information, to continue to educate, to continue to put light on things that have often been behind closed doors and never been brought out to the public eye, so I think those are the conversations we’ll continue to have.”

One way players can make a statement is by replacing the name on the back of jerseys with a message pre-approved by the league. Brown, like 76ers forward Mike Scott, is not a fan of how the NBA handled it.

“I think that list is an example of a form of limitations,” Brown said. “I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more…

“The bottom line is there are improvements that need to be made,” Brown said. “The NBA has a great voice, a lot of resources and a lot of influence. We’re appreciative that they’re helping and aiding in a lot of those things that we care about. That’s really important.”

Brown understands the NBA’s voice, and he heads to Orlando planning to use his.

76ers’ Mike Scott on social-justice messages on NBA jerseys: ‘That was terrible. It was a bad list’

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The NBA approved a list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys:

  • Black Lives Matter
  • Say Their Names
  • Vote
  • I Can’t Breathe
  • Justice
  • Peace
  • Equality
  • Freedom
  • Enough
  • Power to the People
  • Justice Now
  • Say Her Name
  • Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can)
  • Liberation
  • See Us
  • Hear Us
  • Respect Us
  • Love Us
  • Listen
  • Listen to Us
  • Stand Up
  • Ally
  • Anti-Racist
  • I Am A Man
  • Speak Up
  • How Many More
  • Group Economics
  • Education Reform
  • Mentor

76ers forward Mike Scott, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

They gave us some names and phrases to put on the back of jerseys,” Scott said. “That was terrible. It was a bad list, bad choice. They didn’t give players a chance to voice their opinion on it. They just gave us a list to pick from. That was bad. That’s terrible. Just voice your opinion, how you feel.

“I don’t know how you can use your platform. I don’t know. Vote. Of course, vote. See what laws we can change. But I’m all about just doing, instead of just saying or posting or putting something on the back of your jersey. I don’t think that’s going to stop anything. I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know.

Celtics wing Jaylen Brown, via Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“I would like to see — because I think it can still happen — more options available to put on the back of our jerseys,” Brown said Monday in a video conference with reporters. “We understand anything vulgar our league doesn’t necessarily represent, but for histories and causes such as now, I think that that list is an example of a form of limitation. I think we should be able to express our struggle just a little bit more.

” … I was very disappointed in the list that was agreed to. I think things were tried and attempts were made to add to that list, but the NBA agreed that that list was satisfactory. Hopefully we can get some more names on that list.”

“Maybe ‘Break the Cycle,’ ‘Results’ — that’s what everybody is really playing for — ‘Inequality by Design,’ ” Brown said, “things like that I think may have a deeper impact than some of the things that were given to us. I think it was a little bit limiting.”

As far as Scott’s complaint about players not having a voice in the list, the plan was presented as developed in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association. Perhaps, this is another example of union leadership not being on the same page as its members. But to be fair, it’s difficult to satisfy everyone. Scott and Brown don’t necessarily speak for players en masse.

Of course the NBA – a multi-billion-dollar company – was going to allow only sanitized phrases. The middle has shifted, but not enough for mainstream support for a sharp criticism like Brown’s “Inequality by Design.” (He’s right, though.) The NBA doesn’t want too much controversy.

However, simply by operating, the league gives players platforms and resources .

Nobody should have expected these jersey messages to be the primary means of change. They’re fine and can help draw attention.

But players can do more outside the league’s formal structure, including speaking up in interviews – like Scott and Brown did today.

Pelicans sign Sindarius Thornwell as substitute player. For whom?

Sindarius Thornwell vs. Pelicans
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Three Pelicans tested positive for coronavirus. At least.

Is one of them not playing in the NBA’s resumption at Disney World?

Despite having a full roster, New Orleans is signing Sindarius Thornwell.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed free agent guard Sindarius Thornwell as a substitute player for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Thornwell will wear #12 for the Pelicans.

Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune:

At this stage, only players who can’t play due to coronavirus or choose to it out can be replaced. That’s not Darius Miller, who’s still recovering from an Achilles injury.

With Zion Williamson looking fit, the Pelicans could be dangerous. They’re in a tight race to force play-in games. But they don’t have much margin for error in the playoff race.

So, keep an eye on whom Thornwell is replacing.