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.

Montrezl Harrell reportedly reaches deal to return to Clippers

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The Clippers liked Montrezl Harrell last season (he came from Houston in the Chris Paul trade), he averaged 11 points a game for the team with a very efficient PER of 24.7.

He was one restricted agent some around the league thought another team would try to poach, but in a tight market nobody was making an offer because the Clippers were just expected to match. So the Clippers and Harrell (and his agent) sat down and figured out something that worked for both sides, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The deal is fully guaranteed for both years, according to the report. That’s a fair price for his services, and Harrell gets back on the market in two years when the salary cap will have gone up by more than $15 million (at least by the NBA’s early predictions). He will have more options on 2020.

The Clippers are now just $500 below the luxury tax. They also have 16 contracts, which is bad news for C.J. Wilson and his non-guaranteed deal. (Technically Patrick Beverley has a non-guaranteed contract as well, but if healthy he will be back.)

For a couple of seasons, this is a good fit. Harrell will bring some athleticism and bounce to a frontcourt rotation that already includes Tobias Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat, and Boban Marjanovic. The Clippers are a pretty good team, the problem is in the West pretty good could be the 10 or 11 seed. The conference is that deep and brutal.

Would Dwyane Wade take a big payday in China? Would Jahlil Okafor?

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Dwayne Wade is making a tough decision: Does he want to go through the physical grind to get his body ready for one more season of NBA basketball in Miami? Or, is it time to retire?

For some of the greats — most recently Kobe Bryant talked openly about this — they still love the game and the camaraderie, but they get to a point they no longer have the same passion for putting in the increasing work on their bodies to get it in NBA-level condition to perform at the level they expect. Wade is struggling with that debate right now.

Or, he could just go to China.

From Sportando:

Dwyane Wade is still a free agent after his season with Cavaliers and Heat. Wade has not decided yet whether to play one more season or retire. But D-Wade is wanted in China. Xinjiang Flying Tigers are ready to offer him a monster deal, as reported by Zhang Duo.

It’s hard to imagine Wade jumping on that, but not impossible. The salary is not going to be the motivator — he has made just shy of $180 million in salary alone in his career, and much more with endorsements — but rather the move would be about building his brand and his new lifetime shoe deal with Li-Ning, a China-based shoe manufacturer. Business-wise, it could be good for Wade to spend a season in China.

Of course, family and other considerations have to be at the forefront of his mind, which is why this still feels unlikely. Just never say never.

One guy who could go there and rehab his reputation is free-agent Jahlil Okafor. Also from Sportando:

Okafor is practicing in Miami but the Heat are unlikely to sign him but in China there are several teams interested in signing the former Duke center, as reported by Zhang Duo.

Okafor has worked out for NBA teams but has no offers (or, at least none he’s taken) and it’s increasingly unlikely he would get a fully guaranteed contract for this season. He, understandably, is clearly still working toward that goal.

In China, Okafor could put up big numbers, show he is healthy and moving well, get a good payday, and be back in the USA in time to get picked up by a team for a playoff run (the Chinese season ends in February or March, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs). It’s a big cultural adjustment and not for everyone, but Okafor has to be considering all his options at this point.

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.

 

Report: Nemanja Bjelica agrees to three-year contract with Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica wanted some stability. That got pulled out from under him when  Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves rescinded his qualifying offer. He quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million offer, with Philadelphia, but then came to regret it because he wanted more security than that single season. Bjelica was considering Europe.

Then the Sacramento Kings stepped in. Friday night, the two sides reached a deal.

The Kings have signed both players who backed out of verbal agreements with teams this summer, Bjelica with the Sixers and Yogi Ferrell with the Mavericks.

Bjelica is a floor-spacing big man who should fit in well with the Kings’ frontcourt rotation that includes Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Willie Caulie-Stein, and others. Bjelica provides shooting — he hit 41.5 percent from three last season (where he took nearly half his shots). Bjelica has a solid all-around game that a lot of teams could have used. Including Minnesota and Philly.