NBA Playoffs: It’s not Kobe’s ankle, it’s Chris Paul breaking them

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Game 5 is about ankles.

The one getting all the hype is Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s left ankle. His foot is still attached, so he’s playing. That’s not the question.

He twisted his ankle (and foot) at the end of Los Angeles 93-88 loss to New Orleans in Game 4 and has since refused to get an X-ray or an MRI.  That can be taken as a sign that his ankle is not that bad, or that he is stubborn. Take your pick. Maybe even some of both. But it could backfire.

If Kobe’s ankle isn’t right, his shot will be flat and he won’t be of much help defending Hornets point guard Chris Paul tonight in Game 5. And that could be trouble for the Lakers. Maybe.

The other ankles are the ones Paul keeps breaking.

He has torn up the Lakers defense this series, and in the Hornets’ two wins he has been absolutely dominant in the second half. His crossovers are breaking ankles and creating space, but more importantly they are forcing defensive rotations and then he is finding the open man.

Who is knocking it down? In the first half of Game 4, Trevor Ariza didn’t even need Paul’s help (he got plenty of isolations) and made plays. The Hornets will need more of that.

The Lakers were 2-2 in their first-round series against Oklahoma City last year, too, but found their footing in the next two games. History may well repeat itself.

That footing has less to do with Kobe’s ankle and more to do with the Lakers getting back to pounding the ball inside (then making those shots). Hornets center Emeka Okafor was able to keep Andrew Bynum — the real key for these Lakers this series — in check. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were off.

The Lakers need to get a lot of points in the paint, more importantly they need to own the boards. They are the bigger team, but they were outrebounded last game. Paul had as many as Odom and Gasol combined (13). What Pat Riley told the Showtime Lakers years ago remains true for these Lakers today: rebounds equal rings.

The Lakers need to make Paul work — they had success in Game 2 with ball denial — and they need to be physical with him. They are the bigger team; they need to wear him down. He is the Hornets’ chance. Even slow him to average and the Lakers can win. But when he breaks out, he is a perfect key to unlock the Lakers.

At this point, this series is not about adjustments. It’s about execution. Paul has been the master; the Lakers have been spotty. If the Lakers play like that again, their dreams of a three-peat will be in sudden and serious jeopardy. Because we know CP3 will bring it.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Wizards (shoulder)

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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Giannis Antetokounmpo is on track to repeat as Most Valuable Player.

So, any game he misses is notable.

Bucks:

Expect to see more Ersan Ilyasova and D.J. Wilson. With the trade deadline approaching, this could even be a showcase game for Wilson.

Milwaukee is still favored over the Wizards. The Bucks have outscored opponents by 7.8 points per possession without Antetokounmpo this season. They’re deep.

Of course, anything can happen. It’s only one game in a long NBA regular season.

Which might something to do with Antetokounmpo sitting. Even if he plays in Milwaukee’s next game, vs. the Nuggets on Friday, he’ll get six straight days off. That’s a nice break.