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.

Chris Paul says players don’t really talk about money in locker room

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Locker room banter flies all over the conversational map: Clubs/restaurants to first cars to rappers to Fortnite to why Player X never has any lotion and always has to borrow someone else’s.

What doesn’t come up? Money.

That according to Chris Paul, who should know after 14 years in the league and now serving as the players’ union president. He was talking about his campaign to help players become more financially aware and said this to Clevis Murray of The Athletic.

“I think the reason why I’m so passionate about this is because I’m finishing up my 14th year in the NBA, and I’ve been around long enough to realize that guys in our league, we talk about everything in the locker room except for finance, except for money,” he said. “Nobody talks about money, because it’s one of those uncomfortable things.”

It’s a strange dynamic in an NBA locker room because everybody knows what everybody else makes, it’s very public, and that provides a certain measuring stick of worth.

Yet how does one player tell another “man, your entourage is too big, you’re blowing your money.” Players finally making money understandably want to take care of family and close friends, but other people come into their life and things can spiral fast. CP3 says he gets it, and he is working with Joe Smith — who made $60 million in NBA earnings and lost all of it — to help prepare rookies.

The stories of NBA players blowing through their money absolutely happen, but they also are not the majority, and the numbers are shrinking. More and more players are learning to be smarter with their money and set themselves up on some level for life after basketball. Not all, but guys who stick in the league a few years tend to learn. If Paul and the union can come up with ways to reach players at an earlier age and prepare them for what is to come, all the better.

Bobby Portis says watch out for underrated Knicks, they could make playoffs

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You don’t want a player on your team that heads into the season thinking, “we suck, I just hope we can get to 20 wins and not be embarrassed every night.” Even if that might be the reality for that roster.

Enter Bobby Portis of the New York Knicks. The Wizards let him walk to save money and he has ended up on a Knicks team with a lot of guys who see themselves as underrated: Elfrid Payton, Marcus Morris, and Julius Randle. Plus New York has young players with a lot to prove — especially after Summer League — in Kevin Knox, R.J. Barrett, and Mitchell Robinson.

Portis likes this underdog team, he told Alex Kennedy of Hoopshype.

I love being underrated, man. I’m an underdog. I say that every day. We’re the team that’s being counted out right now. People are looking past us. They’re talking about stars going to new teams and this and that, and that’s okay. Everybody on this team has a huge chip on their shoulder. We’re the guys who are always picked second. I think that’s going to make us close. Our practices are going to be top-notch; we’re all going to be competing and that’s going to make us better. We have a lot of dogs on this team, which will help us out as well. Collectively, we all have a chip on our shoulder – a log on our shoulder – so we’re going to go out there and play with an edge. I think that’s great for us.

So… playoffs?

Yeah, for sure, for sure. The naysayers, the haters, the people who are doubting us will say that we’re crazy as hell for saying that. But we have a bunch of guys who are coming in each and every day with that log on their shoulder and that’s going to push us to become a great team. We have a lot of pieces who can play. I think we’re loaded at every position; there are two-to-three players who could start at every position. When you have that much talent, that rises the competitiveness and improves the team as a whole.

That is exactly the attitude you want to see heading into the season.

The Knicks are going to struggle this year, talent wins out in the NBA and the Knicks don’t have enough of it. However, if the goal is to build a culture of gritty players who go play all out and are tough to play against — the cultures the Nets and Clippers developed that drew stars to them — the Knicks are on a decent road. New York didn’t pull a classic Knicks this year and overspend on a couple of second-tier stars when they struck out on the big guns, they went out and got decent players on short contracts. Stay flexible, build a culture.

We’ll see if Portis will be part of that going forward, but he has the right attitude.

Report: Lakers claim Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 24-year-old MVP playing in Milwaukee and heading toward a super-max decision that could have him hit 2021 unrestricted free agency.

Big-market teams are licking their chops.

That probably has something to do with the Lakers adding his brother, Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kostas Antetokounmpo was the last pick in last year’s draft. He spent the season on a two-way contract with the Mavericks, who just waived him. He’ll remain on a two-way deal with the Lakers. The 21-year-old was alright in the NBA’s minor league, but he’s not a tantalizing prospect.

Except for his connection to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. But maybe he’d change his mind if someone close to him has a positive experience there. That must be the Lakers’ hope, at least.

It’s worth a shot, and the Lakers aren’t the only team trying this angle. The Bucks also signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo this summer.

Harden on fit with Westbrook: ‘When you have talent like that, it works itself out’

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It was the question everybody asked about 30 seconds after they heard Russell Westbrook had been traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul (after the initial shock of the deal wore off):

Do Westbrook and Harden, two of the most ball-dominant, isolation heavy players in the NBA, actually fit together?

Harden says yes. Of course, what else is he going to say, but he was earnest about it in comments to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle at the Adidas and James Harden ProCamp event last Friday.

“When you have talent like that, it works itself out. You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”…

“It works,” Harden said. “It’s that trust factor. I trust him; he trusts me. And with the group that we already have and the things we already accomplished, it should be an easy transition for him to be incorporated right in and things are going to go.”

That is essentially is what Mike D’Antoni said, and what Rockets GM Daryl Morey is betting on.

Will Westbrook, and to a lesser degree Harden, be willing to make sacrifices and adjust their games? It is the question that will define the Rockets’ season.

My prediction: The duo works it out on offense and becomes one of the hardest teams to stop in the NBA. They will work it out. However, having to play Harden and Westbrook together on defense for extended stretches will cost Houston in the playoffs earlier than they planned.