One last time we can thank the lockout for the joys of a condensed schedule — the Lakers and Thunder are going to play the rare playoff back-to-back the next two nights.
Which clearly favors the younger legs and better athletes of the Thunder. It’s going to be a lot harder for the Lakers to control the tempo and limit the Thunders transition points in Game 4.
With the Lakers already down 0-2, that makes Game 3 basically a must win.
Los Angeles feels it should have won Game 2, up 7 with two minutes left, but a Kobe Bryant turnover that led to a Kevin Durant dunk, a Steve Blake turnover, a Durant three and… it snowballed.
Thing is, the Lakers need to basically have the same game again and this time just close it out.
The Lakers did a great job dictating the tempo of Game 2. Big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol did a great job being aggressive on the pick-and-roll cutting off Russell Westbrook’s path to the basket. The result was an isolation heavy, disjointed Thunder offense. The second best offense in the NBA regular season (by points per possession) was held to 77 points.
Look for OKC to counter by just trying to get out and run, and to have better counters on their pick-and-roll. And I just have a feeling the answer will be more James Harden, their best playmaker.
Oklahoma City is the better team. History says that teams that start a series winning the first two win nearly 95 percent of the time. But expect a desperate Lakers team on Friday night. This is still a team with rings, a team with pride that believes they still can win it. Win it all. They are not going to roll over.
And they know this is must win.
76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.
Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:
The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.
A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.
But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.
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.
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.
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.