Which team is more likely to come back: Celtics or Lakers?

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Right now, you don’t want to be the Celtics or the Lakers.

History tells us the teams that have won the last three NBA titles are in a lot of trouble. Watching the games and how they’ve been outplayed makes it feel worse. Heading into a playoffs filled with flawed teams — there was no juggernaut — it seemed logical to guess that the two most veteran, battle tested teams would be the ones that figured out the answers first.

Nope. Both have been thoroughly outplayed in the first two games of the second round and both are down 0-2. Both are facing long odds to even get to the conference finals because in both cases the team they are playing is peaking at the right time.

But which one is more likely to find a way out of their hole?

It’s hard to see how Boston could pull it off under any circumstances.

What Miami has done is rip apart Boston’s strength — it’s defense. Miami has been the more physical team (to go with their superior athleticism). Miami has used great ball movement to the weak side, players cutting and diving without the ball, dibble penetration and transition to rip apart the defense that made the Celtics the Celtics. It’s not a lack of effort for Celtics, it’s an inability to stop what the better athletes of the Heat are doing. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been able to get theirs and the Heat have drained the three. Boston has no easy answers.

Going back to the Garden and having a long layoff for a veteran team may help, and maybe Rajon Rondo can finally start to dominate Mike Bibby and the rather sad Heat point guard rotation like he should. Maybe at home the Celtics bench will feel more comfortable and start to outplay the Heat bench.

But the fact is the two best players in this series are Wade and LeBron, and they are finally playing off each other in a way the league feared they would figure out someday. Even if the Celtics get Rondo going and get better bench play, if Wade and LeBron keep going like they are it’s hard to envision the Celtics taking four of five.

As for the Lakers, you can kind of see how they get it done. You just can’t see them doing it.

Dallas deserves credit — they have found what the Lakers are not doing well and pounded away on it. When midway through the fourth quarter of Game 2 they saw how poorly the Lakers were defending the high pick-and-roll, they ran J.J. Barea off it mercilessly. Dallas has fed Dirk Nowtizki because the Lakers have not been able to defend him. The Mavs bench has destroyed the Lakers bench.

But the dynamic here is different than the Heat/Celtics series — when Los Angeles makes a mistake Dallas makes them pay. Credit Dallas for doing that, but it still feels like the Lakers are their own worst enemy, that there is a potential they are not reaching because of themselves, not because Dallas is holding them back. The Lakers last season were able to frustrate Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo on the way to a title and now Barea is ripping them apart? That’s not Dallas, that’s Los Angeles.

So in a sense, you can see how the Lakers could flip a switch and still beat Dallas — Pau Gasol could find his legs and return to being the most skilled big man in the game, the Lakers threes can start to fall, they could decide to start feeding Andrew Bynum, they could try harder on defense. Kobe could go nova.

But what gives you any belief that these Lakers even know where that switch is, let alone know how to flip it.

All season long the Lakers have battled fits of boredom and fatigue, never really honing their execution. They got by on superior talent. Now that lack of execution is costing them because they are up against a talented team that is executing. All the credit in the world to Dallas, who is uniquely qualified to exploit it the Lakers mistakes.

Maybe one of these teams can come back from 0-2. The Lakers stand some chance. But really, it’s hard to see how either of them last past Game 6.

Dwight Howard could miss start of Wizards camp with bad back

Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Dwight Howard joked Monday about the sore back that’s expected to keep him out for the start of training camp with the Washington Wizards.

Coach Scott Brooks downplayed the significance of the injury, too. Still, it’s not ideal that the team needs to put off incorporating its one offseason addition to the starting lineup.

“I’ve been having to do a lot of traveling with shoe companies and stuff like that in China. So just from training, traveling – and airplanes weren’t made for tall people. … It kind of sucks to fly 15 hours curled up in the fetal position,” said Howard, a 6-foot-11 center entering his 15th NBA season.

“So just a minor setback. It shouldn’t take that long for me to get back on the court,” he added. “I’ve been feeling great all summer. Just something that we’ll have to deal with, and it shouldn’t keep me out too long.”

The Wizards traded away starting center Marcin Gortat to the Los Angeles Clippers and added Howard, who’ll turn 33 in December, on a two-year, $11 million contract with a player option. He averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds last season for a Charlotte Hornets team that missed the playoffs and now is with his fourth team in four years.

That means adjusting yet again – to new teammates, to a new coach, to a new system.

In Washington, everything revolves around the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Last season, when Wall appeared in only 41 of 82 games, the Wizards went 43-39 and were eighth in the Eastern Conference, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Toronto Raptors.

Howard, an eight-time All-Star, said that he has not had a chance to get on a court with Wall and Beal to start getting a feel for one another.

“But one thing that I have done is I’ve watched a lot of film to really learn the tendencies of my teammates. Where they like the ball. Where they like to get screened at. Just things that will really help them get to their sweet spots,” Howard said. “A lot of times, the best way to really understand your teammate is by watching film.”

Brooks, Beal and others said all the right things at Monday’s media day about Howard.

“He’s going to make my job a lot easier. He’s going to make everybody’s job a lot easier on both ends of the floor, because you still have to respect his ability at the rim. He averaged 16 and 13 last year. Those are great numbers, you know? In our system, those can increase, easily,” said Beal, who led Washington in scoring by averaging 22.6 points and was an All-Star for the first time.

“Watching him, if you don’t hit him, it’s over. He’s going to dunk on you. And I love it. Because I think that’s going to get me hyped – just being able to have a big who’ll just flush it on you every time and somebody who will block some shots if you get beat on defense,” Beal said. “He’s a threat on both ends of the floor.”

Now it’s just a matter of getting Howard out on that floor with the rest of the Wizards.

“We’re just going to be careful. Not sure if he will practice tomorrow” when camp opens, Brooks said at the club’s media day.

Brooks listed Howard’s status as “day-to-day,” saying he wasn’t “overly concerned.”

“But we’re not going to rush him to get back,” the coach said.

 

LeBron James forcefully shoots down idea he came to Los Angeles for showbiz

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LeBron James is a smart man, one who knows what his empire is built upon:

Basketball.

And him being better than anyone else in the world at it.

While his post-career life is in Los Angeles — his production company has “The Wall” on NBC, is in the early stages of putting together an NBC comedy about the family life of Ben Simmons, is producing “The Shop” on HBO, is making “Space Jam 2” with LeBron as the star, and more — do not suggest to LeBron that might get in the way of basketball.

“I’m a basketball player. I play ball, that’s what I do,” LeBron said earlier in his press conference. “That’s what I live by and when I do it at the level I do it at everything else takes care of itself.

“As far as my business, those things have been taking care of themselves long before I came out here to be part of the Lakers franchise.”

LeBron is right about that. His production company — led by Maverick Carter — has been working on Space Jam for a couple of years now, and if LeBron had decided to stay in Cleveland or sign in Philadephia or anywhere else that project would still be going forward. They’d still be filming next summer in the off-season, regardless of where he played.

LeBron is very good at compartmentalizing his life. The great ones are. Kobe Bryant had side projects, but it never slowed down the effort he put into the game. Same is going on right now with Stephen Curry and James Harden. Michael Jordan did it before them, and Magic Johnson before him. Those guys have brands that are empires of their own now, but they all know what the foundation of that success is.

And they don’t let anything get in the way of basketball. Not like that.

Enes Kanter: ‘When I think about playoffs, my nipples get hard’

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The Knicks season should be about laying a foundation. They’ll remain patient with their best player, Kristaps Porzingis, returning from injury. They said they won’t trade draft picks.

But they’ve also paid enough lip service to competing this season to, um, excite Enes Kanter.

SNY:

We’ll be sure to check in on the softness of Kanter’s nipples when the Knicks miss the playoffs by dozens of games.

Tom Thibodeau says he expect Jimmy Butler to report to Timberwolves if not traded within week

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Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor reportedly ordered team president Tom Thibodeau to trade Jimmy Butler, who is excused from participating in media day and training camp (apparently because of his hand injury).

But Thibodeau isn’t rushing to proclaim Butler will be dealt.

Chris Hine of the StarTribune:

Kent Youngblood of the StarTribune:

If Butler isn’t traded in the next week, this could get incredibly awkward. Would Butler report? If he does, how would Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each react?

I expect this to be moot. The odds are stacked highly in favor of Minnesota dealing Butler soon.

But, now, there’s a close deadline with even more drama looming on the other side.