Lakers, Spurs losses shouldn’t have fans nervous. Yet.

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This is not a changing of the guard in the West.

Not yet.

The day is coming when Oklahoma City and maybe New Orleans or Memphis are going to be whooping the Lakers and Spurs in the playoffs and it will not be an upset. There will be a passing torch (or more likely, the ripping of the torch out of Kobe Bryant’s hands, he’s not giving it up willingly).

But don’t read that into the Lakers and Spurs dropping their games Sunday.

The Lakers and Spurs had bad days (for different reasons) and while they may both have a tougher series than expected one game is not a huge signal.

What we really saw is that in the West, the bottom half teams are still very good, and fully capable of beating the elites when the elites are not at their peak. But we’re a ways from saying the Spurs and Lakers are not the teams to beat.

For the Lakers, their pick-and-roll defense was terrible and Chris Paul was brilliant in making them pay for it. Derek Fisher cannot guard Paul. But what Paul did brilliantly was come off the pick and when Laker big man Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol showed out on him, he kept is dribble going and moved away from the pick, dragging the big man with him and forcing a switch. All the while Paul never gave up his dribble. It was a master tactical move and the result was Paul isolated on Bynum or Gasol a lot. And he abused them.

Hence, the three New Orleans turnovers total in the game.

It was defense that sparked the Lakers hot streak after the All-Star break, and they are a team that often does not play well if they don’t respect their opponents. And for all the lip service they gave to how good they thought the Hornets were, they did not go out and play like it. They went through the motions. It’s why the Hornets shot 59 percent on shots inside of 10 feet in the game.

This is what we have seen from these Lakers before. They eventually do show up and play hard. Expect a different defensive effort on Wednesday night.

As for the Spurs, you see just how much Manu Ginobili means to them. The Spurs shot 21 percent (7-of-33) on midrange sots in this game (compared to 42 percent for the Grizzlies). The Spurs missed some shots they make, while the Grizzlies could not miss — Marc Gasol was 9-of-10 and Zach Randolph could not miss from the midrange.

The Spurs have lost the first game in five of their last seven first-round playoff series, this is not going to rattle them. They’ve been here.

Look for the Spurs also to hit their shots next game while the Grizzles percentage drops.

One loss does not make a changing of the guard. The Spurs and the Lakers remain the teams to beat in the West.

Now two losses in a row to start a series….

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.