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.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.

Michael Jordan donates $2 million to Hurricane Florence recovery efforts

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Michael Jordan is North Carolina through and through. His father is from Wallace, he played his high school ball in Wilmington, he won a national championship in college as a North Carolina Tar Heel in Chapel Hill, and he is now the part-owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets.

All those cities have been in the news the past several days for the wrong reasons — they have been part of the devastation Hurricane Florence has unleashed on the region. There are 34 reported deaths from the storm, 26 of those in North Carolina.

To help out, Jordan is donating $2 million to the relief and recovery efforts. Jordan is contributing $1 million each to the American Red Cross and the Foundation For The Carolinas’ Hurricane Florence Response Fund.

“It just hits home,” Jordan told The Associated Press. “I know all of those places: Wilmington, Fayetteville, Myrtle Beach, New Bern, and Wallace… So quite naturally it hits home, and I felt like I had to act in a sense that this is my home.”

This is not all Jordan and his Hornets are doing to help out. Charlotte and Fanatics teamed up to design a T-shirt with the Hornets logo in the middle of the states of North and South Carolina surrounded by the words “Carolina Strong” and 100 percent of the net proceeds from the shirt sales will go to the Foundation For The Carolinas’ Hurricane Florence Response Fund

On Friday, more than 100 members of the Hornets organization will partner will help pack disaster food boxes at Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. The disaster food boxes – with Food Lion donating the food — will be shipped to Wilmington, N.C., Fayetteville, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and distributed to those who have been directly impacted by the hurricane. The organization’s goal is to pack 5,000 boxes.