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.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.