NBA Playoffs: Game 2 is probably the game when the Lakers wake up

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I feel like we’ve all seen this movie before.

The Lakers are going to come out, get the ball inside to Pau Gasol early and often, defend the pick-and-roll better and just flat out execute their game plan in a way they did not in Game 1. It seems like for the last three years we’ve seen the same thing — the Lakers play a bad game or two in the playoffs, then follow it up with enough games of quality play to win the series. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

For the Lakers it’s not so much about adjustments so much as executing the game plan they were given in the first place.

There are a lot of reasons the Lakers were supposed to run away with this series — the Hornets should struggle to slow Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Bynum and even Lamar Odom. But also we can expect the Hornets to push back. Chris Paul is a perfect problem for the Lakers, who struggle to defend point guards (hello Derek Fisher) and Paul can both score and set up teammates as well as anyone in the league. In Game 1 he was brilliant at coming off the high pick and when Laker big men Bynum and Gasol showed out, he kept is dribble going and moved away from the pick, dragging the big man with him and forcing a switch. Then he’d pull back, isolate on the big man and pick the Lakers’ defense apart.

Thing is, it wasn’t just Paul. Whichever Hornet ran the pick-and-roll dissected the Lakers defense seemingly at will. How the Lakers defend that play will be the biggest key to Game 2.

Look for the Lakers to give Paul different looks, laying back on the pick and asking Fisher to fight through (the strategy they used more during their winning streak). That allows others to stay home on shooters and with cutters. Basically, make Paul score but don’t let him get his teammates going. The Steve Nash treatment.

There are lot of things that maybe hard for New Orleans to duplicate from Game 1. The Hornets had just three turnovers and shot 59 percent last game, numbers that just seem unlikely to be sustained. Same with the guys on the bench shooting 73 percent on their way to 39 points.

But it all comes back to CP3 and the pick-and-roll. That will decide this series. And this game.

You kind of expect the Lakers to come out and take charge of this one. But if the Hornets get another win, they will be in place for one of the great upsets in NBA history. And Chris Paul is just the kind of guy who could pull that off.

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:

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.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.