With Kobe out, Suns hand Lakers worst loss of the season

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Kobe Bryant was a late scratch on Saturday in Phoenix, but his absence wasn’t the reason for the Lakers’ 125-105 loss to the Suns, the team’s worst of the season. It was the defense, or more specifically, the lack thereof that enabled Phoenix to set season highs in total points (125) and points in a single quarter (38 in the second), as well as a franchise record for fewest turnovers (3).

The 20-point defeat is the largest for the Lakers this season, surpassing the 15-point loss the team experienced at the hands of the Thunder back on Feb. 23 in Oklahoma City.

“Whether Kobe’s here or not, we shoot 49 percent and score 105 points … Throughout most of the year if you tell me we can get to 105 points in a game at that percentage, hey — we win,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown noted afterward. “I’m going to Vegas and betting on that one.”

What Brown wouldn’t have bet on was a 17-point second quarter from Michael Redd that propelled the Suns from down eight to up five at the half, and a 20-point third quarter explosion from former Lakers guard Shannon Brown that had Phoenix up by 16 after three, and effectively put the game out of reach.

“It felt good, just knowing that I could get the chance to help the team win,” Shannon said. “Nothing for my personal self, just helping the team win. Everything I threw up just felt like it was going to go in.”

And wasn’t the performance even more special, considering it came against the team he used to play for?

“Yeah, of course,” Brown said. “You always want to play well against the team that traded you or let you go, or however you want to put it. I can play this game.”

On the offensive end, things weren’t terrible for L.A. With Bryant’s 30 or so shots unaccounted for, the Lakers bigs had plenty of chances, and combined for 52 field goal attempts, with Pau Gasol being more efficient than Andrew Bynum in finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds to Bynum’s 23 and 18, while taking two fewer shots.

But when you let Redd and Brown go crazy in consecutive quarters on the road, you’re really not giving yourself much of a chance. Mike Brown recognizes this, and knows the Lakers are in trouble in the postseason if they don’t find a way to get things straightened out.

“Our problems are defensive,” he said. “Sometimes it has carryover because we will turn the ball over with unforced turnovers, which lead to easy buckets for the other team, and they get excited, they get energized, and next thing you know, they go on a run because of the unforced turnovers that we give up.

“We have some problems that we’ve got to hopefully correct that we’ve been doing a decent job of hiding, and now with eight, nine games to go, hopefully we can get it done. We’ve got to play better defense than this or than what we’re playing, in order to be able to make a run.”

While the Lakers are talking about a run in the postseason to the Finals, the Suns are just trying to get into the playoffs to give themselves that chance. A slow start to the season when they suffered losses at home to some of the league’s bottom feeders in New Jersey, Cleveland, Toronto, and Golden State leaves them frantically fighting for the eighth and final spot in the West, and the loss in Denver on Friday night certainly didn’t help that cause.

The Nuggets, however, gave that one right back to the Suns on Saturday, losing on the road to the Warriors. Phoenix seized the opportunity and did its part by beating up on the Kobe-less — and ultimately, defenseless — Los Angeles Lakers.

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.