Bynum’s triple-double, NBA playoff record 10 blocked shots lead Lakers to Game 1 rout of Nuggets

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Before the Lakers opened the playoffs at home against the Nuggets on Sunday, George Karl was asked at the beginning of his press conference if he thought his team had a chance. He responded by saying, “The first question and the arrogance of L.A. comes forth,” which was followed by laughs all around.

It turned out to be a legitimate question.

Denver looked completely over-matched in Game 1, and thanks to a triple-double effort of 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots from Andrew Bynum, the Lakers cruised to a 103-88 victory that was truly never in doubt.

If Bynum brings anywhere close to the focus and intensity he did in this one on the defensive end of the floor, the result of the series won’t be in doubt, either.

Denver’s strength offensively had been using Ty Lawson and Aaron Afflalo to get into the paint and create open looks for themselves and for their teammates. The Nuggets have also thrived in fast-paced games, and excel when you allow them to get out in transition. Because of Bynum’s presence in the paint — along with strong efforts from Pau Gasol and reserve Jordan Hill on the glass — there was none of that on Sunday.

Denver’s starting guards each finished 3-of-11 from the field, and were complete non-factors.

“To me, the difference in this game was Andrew Bynum,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown said afterward. “He could control a game without shooting a single shot if he wanted to. He could literally control the game without shooting a shot — that’s how good he is.

“He brought some added juice to the table to where his impact on the game was monstrous. He was an absolute beast down there.”

Bynum was a problem for the Nuggets to deal with on seemingly every possession. His 10 blocked shots tied an NBA playoff record shared by Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton, and set a new Lakers playoff record that had been previously held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The triple-double was the first for the Lakers in a playoff game since Magic Johnson’s in the 1991 NBA Finals.

“On defense, it’s about heart,” Bynum said afterward. “You can stop anybody if you really move your feet, and really get down, but a lot of players don’t want to do it on a consistent basis; they only want to do it when they have to. But tonight I felt like we were up on the pick and roll, and the guards were having a hard time coming off of it. And offensively, we took a lot of shots that were in the paint, and when we do that it’s harder for teams to run, especially with (Pau Gasol) and (Jordan Hill) offensive rebounding.”

On the offensive end, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 31 points, but 12 of those came in the fourth quarter when the game was already well in hand. Devin Ebanks (starting in place of the suspended Metta World Peace) and Steve Blake were the ones that got L.A. going early, thanks mainly to Denver’s strategy of doubling the Lakers’ bigs hard in the post whenever they touched the ball.

The Lakers spaced the floor, moved the ball, and the seldom-used Ebanks and the up-and-down Blake made them pay seemingly every single time.

“We know Denver is doubling, and they’re going to double from all over the place, and they’re doubling quick, and they’re going to double hard,” Brown said. “We have to make sure that we space the floor very well and we move the ball at the right time without turning it over, making the easy pass to the open guy and let them make the assist versus the double team because we know it’s coming on a lot of our guys — from (Pau Gasol), to Andrew, to Kobe.”

Counting on role-players to consistently knock down shots might not be the best long-term strategy — especially on the road, and certainly against some higher-quality opponents later in the postseason. But defense is something you can build a foundation upon, and in Game 1, Bynum was the cornerstone of that effort.

“He was phenomenal tonight, and if he continues to play like he did, picking up the triple-double, being the kind of monster he was tonight patrolling that paint, we’ll be playing a long time,” Brown said.

“It’s not pressure, it’s just the truth,” Bynum said, when told his coach said that if he played like he did today that the Lakers would be in for a long playoff run. “If I come out and play defense, this team is a lot better. … I think today was a good showing that we’re a versatile team and we’re a deep team.”

Bryant summed up the Lakers’ long-term prospects more succinctly.

“We’re a championship-caliber team,” he said.

It’s one game, of course, and Denver will make adjustments as the series goes along. But there is no answer for what Andrew Bynum did defensively on Sunday, and if anywhere near that type of effort is delivered by the Lakers’ center on a consistent basis in these playoffs, the Nuggets won’t be the only team left wondering if they even have a chance.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.