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.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).

Marc Gasol, Mike Conley reportedly meet with Grizzlies owner, what will that mean?

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This summer, Robert Pera maintained ownership of the Memphis Grizzlies and with that meant the status quo remained — the Grizzlies were going to try to ride the duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to the playoffs. There would be no rebuild.

After falling to the Celtics Friday night, Memphis is 19-26, has lost 10-of-11, and are 14th in the Western Conference. Around the league, there is a buzz that Memphis may have to look at trading Gasol, who has a player option this summer and could become a free agent.

With that slide as a backdrop, Gasol and Conley met with Pera recently, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Conley and Gasol, who has a player option for next season worth $25.5 million, sat down with Pera in Memphis this week to discuss the direction of the franchise, league sources said. Pera often meets with key team personnel when he visits Memphis over the course of a season.

Does that mean changes are coming? That’s not what Conley told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“That’s all there was to it,” Conley said after the Grizzlies’ loss in Boston on Friday night. “There was nothing special that came out of it that’s going to change the world or anything.

“We got to talk to him.”

Pera has resisted any kind of rebuild — and in a smaller market, with a community that has embraced the “grit ‘n grind” mantra, there are economic reasons that has been the smart move. While other teams are circling, so far there is no word out of Memphis that there are trades for stars to be had (Chandler Parsons on the other hand…).

Every GM will say of moving players “better too early than too late.” In Memphis, the franchise may have missed that window.