Knicks talk defense, Lakers play it and win handily

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The talk coming into the season was how Tyson Chandler was going to change the Knicks defense.

He might, eventually. But Mike Brown has brought new energy and physicality to the Lakers defense right now — the Knicks shot 31.7 percent Thursday night (and for the season opponents are shooting only 38 percent against the Lakers).

The result was a 99-82 win for the Lakers over the Knicks at Staples. That means the Lakers are 2-2 after having started the season with a back-to-back-to-back without Andrew Bynum. Finishing .500 is a good result. Denver gets to face a better Lakers team with Bynum on Saturday.

This wasn’t a particularly pretty game. Both teams had their moments of sloppy play, like we have seen everywhere the first week of the season due to the lockout. Plus, you can blame it on both teams having poor point guard play. Or you can blame it on tired legs — the Knicks on back-to-back, Lakers on fourth game in five nights.

The difference was the Lakers attacked the rim and the Knicks settled. For example, to start the game, the Lakers were up 14-0 on points in the paint, they pounded the ball in to Pau Gasol. In the end, the Lakers had 44 points in the paint to the Knicks 26 (and a number of those Knicks points seemed to come in garbage time). Tyson Chandler tries but the Knicks team defense leaves him stranded too much.

The Lakers were up 63-51 and the half, then Kobe Bryant asserted himself in the third quarter to make sure the Lakers did not fade. Kobe had 13 points in the third alone as he abused Renaldo Balkman —including a four-point play in the third quarter where Balkman fouled Kobe 26 feet from the basket. Balkman was on Kobe a lot in this game, which is good for Kobe.

Meanwhile, the Knicks started the fourth quarter 1-8 shooting, the Lakers went on a 17-3 run and that was pretty much the ballgame. The Knicks tried to hang around but never made a serious run.

For the Lakers, it’s two wins in a row after a tough start. Their defense has been their strong suit and it is only going to improve with the return of Bynum. In the Phil Jackson era the Lakers usually went as far as their defense would take them. This is a different team, but if they keep defending like this they will win a lot of games.

For the Knicks, they are still trying to figure it out — and they are frustrated about it enough that Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler took technical fouls. After a hard-fought Christmas day win over Boston the Knicks have lost two straight on their West Coast swing. This was the second night of a back-to-back against a good team, you can just write it off. But the Knicks defense has not looked sharp and when the offense matches — a rating of 94.3 points per 100 possessions in this game — it will be hard for them to win.

No reason to panic, but New York needs to get Stoudemire attacking and not floating on the wing as much (he was 4-of-17 shooting). They need to steady their defensive rotations. They need better point guard play out of Toney Douglas and Mike Bibby. They need Carmelo Anthony to keep being this efficient (27 points on 14 shots). They need more offensive games like this from Tyson Chandler (13 points, 11 rebounds).

Overall, the Knicks look sloppy, like a team that needed a longer training camp to prepare for the season. Like the defensive message has yet to sink in.

The Lakers look like a team that hears their new coach and has made defense a priority.

Report: Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers owner Herb Simon and executives Donnie Walsh, Larry Bird, and Kevin Pritchard
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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Paul George said he left the Pacers because they weren’t willing to spend enough.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one to feel that way.

Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president in 2017, citing a desire to do more things outside basketball. Yet, he also reportedly had another reason.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

Indiana is a small-market team that consistently has not gone out and paid big money. We know that this was something that frustrated Larry Bird, who is a legend in the state of Indiana and elsewhere, I might add. It frustrated him enough that he stepped aside.

Pacers owner Herb Simon has a certain way of doing things. Indiana hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2006, the first year the tax line was set before the season.

Despite that, the Pacers have been pretty good. They’ve qualified for the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons, peaking with appearances in the 2013 and 2014 Eastern Conference finals.

Still, Indiana has lost in the first round four straight years. Another first-round loss appears the most likely outcome for this season.

That’s not exactly satisfying for players who want to win championships. Spending big isn’t absolutely necessary to compete on the highest levels. But it helps.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo is approaching 2021 unrestricted free agency. He’s a competitor who’ll evaluate, among other things, whether his current franchise matches his ambitions.

It’s easy to spend someone else’s money. Simon can decide his own limits. But there are consequences of his spending restraint – especially as perception grows about his relative thriftiness.

J.J. Redick describes thought behind meme: ‘I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing’

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J.J. Redick has made the playoffs all 13 of his previous NBA seasons.

The Pelicans have put that streak in jeopardy.

New Orleans lost its first two games in the bubble, a nail-biter against the Jazz and a rout against the Clippers. During that loss to L.A., cameras captured Redick – on the floor exercising his back while out of the game – with a distant stare that became an instant meme.

Redick on ESPN Daily:

I was angry we got our butts kicked. It’s embarrassing, and I think my face summed up that first half pretty well.

There’s so many circumstances you could apply the emotions that I was going through in that moment.

Redick is right: That meme fits many occasions, which gives it staying power.

However, it has plenty of competition. Though the feelings displayed aren’t the exact same, Redick didn’t even have the best reaction inside the bubble by an exasperated NBA player. That belongs to Nuggets star Nikola Jokic:

At least Redick got reason to perk up. The Pelicans beat the Grizzlies yesterday to gain ground in the playoff race.

Darren Collison says talk of him playing for Lakers was “overhyped”

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Darren Collison shocked the NBA last summer when he walked away from the game at age 32 — and a likely contract in the four-year, $70+ million range — and retired. His reasons were legitimate, he wanted to focus on his religion — “While I still love basketball, I know there is something more important, which is my family and my faith,” Collison said at the time — but the league has seen a lot of players say they were walking away for good reasons only to come running back.

The rumors about a Collison return started just after January 1 and spun out of control in Los Angeles when he sat with Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss at a game.

Collison stayed retired, and told the “Minute til 6” podcast it wasn’t even close. He was never coming back.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing. Like, I wasn’t even thinking about coming back.”

That game he went to? He just came to watch his friend Russell Westbrook.

“I just wanted to come watch the game as a fan.”

Collison also is smart enough to know how him sitting with Buss would be perceived.

Collison was wanted. The Lakers run LeBron James at the point but could have used the veteran Collison in the role Rajon Rondo filled as a secondary playmaker (Rondo is currently out with a thumb injury). Collison was rumored to the Clippers as well, and Doc Rivers can always find a way to use more guard depth.

Collison, however, seems at peace with his decision. If he wanted to return, he would have done it last summer for 10 figures a season, not for the minimum in January.

 

Three Things to Know: Pelicans finally give Zion Williamson more run, race for 8/9 in West tightens

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Pelicans finally give Zion Williamson more run, suddenly the race for 8/9 in West gets tight

The people who had the biggest impact on the race for the last playoff spot in the West Monday were Shake Milton and the medical staff of the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pelicans’ medical team because they cleared the way for Zion Williamson to play enough to finally impact a game — 25 minutes and being out there late in the fourth. The result was Zion scoring 23 points with seven boards, and more importantly, his attacking the rim opening up the Pelicans’ offense in the team’s first win in the bubble, a critical 109-99 victory over Ja Morant and Memphis.

It felt like old times — Zion and Lonzo Ball were back to putting on a show.

Zion is still trying to get his legs under him, he shot 9-of-21 from the floor and looking winded at points — but he was out there. That matters. His gravity opens up everything else for New Orleans. Brandon Ingram led the way with 24 points, including some clutch buckets late and a lot of shot creation. J.J. Redick had 16 off the bench. The Pelicans have a soft schedule from here on out and may need to win at least four of their remaining five, but they defended better, had Zion out there, and finally looked like a threat.

76ers guard Shake Milton is the other impact player in the West playoff chase because he drained the game-winning three that handed the Spurs their first loss in the bubble.

Here’s what the standings look like in the race for the 8/9 seeds in the West.

Because of their 3.5 game lead entering the restart, the Grizzlies are safe for now despite an 0-3 start in the bubble — losing every game by single digits. The Grizzlies still need a couple of wins, and it won’t be easy when you look at the five games they have left: the Jazz, Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks.

Portland and San Antonio are in the mix, but with Zion getting run and a soft schedule ahead of them, the Pelicans are still the odds-on favorite to make the playoffs — don’t take my word for it, that’s according to fivethirtyeight.com.

2) Whoever wins race for eighth will face Lakers, who lock up West’s top seed

LeBron James has been good in the bubble restart — 19.3 points and seven assists a game — but he hasn’t been the best player on his own team.

That’s Anthony Davis, who has been a bubble beast and dropped 42 points on Utah Monday despite being matched up against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert for much of the night.

Davis led the Lakers to a 116-108 win against the stumbling Jazz. With the win, the Lakers officially lock up the top in the West (something they did in practical terms beating the Clippers on re-opening night). Look for LeBron and Davis to get a little load management the final couple of seeding games.

3) Fred Van Vleet goes off for career-high 36, Raptors keep on winning

Toronto may be the best team in the bubble. They beat the Lakers, and they are getting contributions from everyone. Next up was Fred VanVleet, who had a career-best 36 against the Heat Monday.

Toronto has been doing this all season, getting contributions from different players — it was Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby against the Lakers — and it makes them a serious playoff threat. They don’t need one player to dominate because any one of several players can beat you any given night.

If the Bucks’ stumble, don’t sleep on Toronto being back in the NBA Finals — and just ask the Lakers if the Raptors could win it all.