Mike Brown defends himself, Princeton-style offense

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Mike Brown should be glad there is not an election next Tuesday on his status as Lakers coach.

To say Lakers fans are livid after an ugly 0-2 start would be to underestimate the level of frustration around the City of Angels. It’s not just that the Lakers lost — although that is never accepted well — but how they lost. It’s been ugly. They have been outworked for two straight games by teams with less talent.

Taking the brunt of the blame is Brown’s implementation of a Princeton-style offense — a system based on passing big men and cuts off the ball that had a lot of success after the college where it got its name because it allowed smart but less-athletic teams to compete with the big boys.

Except that while the Lakers have big boy athletes they’re not playing flowing basketball — they are thinking and not simply reacting. It led to a poor shooting first game and 25 turnovers against Portland on Wednesday. They have Steve Nash and Dwight Howard but have run few classic pick-and-roll sets.

Leading the new crusade against the offense were Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal on Inside the NBA on TNT after the Lakers first loss. Barkley said he wants his accountants from Princeton, not his offense. Mike Brown laughed off the criticism, reports Mark Medina at the Los Angeles Daily News.

“I’ve been criticized by those guys before. It’s okay,” Brown said with a laugh. “It comes with the territory. I think they’re funny guys. They’re very funny and a joy to watch on TV for a lot of people. I’m okay with that….

“The first thing is with our offense, every time down the floor — and if they want to, they can call Steve Nash and ask him — Steve Nash has the right to play pick and roll if he wants to,” Brown said. “He has said it himself that he doesn’t feel like he’s as burdened because he doesn’t have to make every play for everybody all the time with what we’re trying to do. He can give it up and still have a chance to get it back. He’s said that he feels as fresh as he’s ever felt in his career because he doesn’t feel the pressure of making every single play.”

Nash said that. He also said he deferred to much and tried to get the Princeton sets going rather than calling his own number and that he needed to be more aggressive. He said he was thinking too much.

Last season the Lakers ran more traditional NBA sets and thought teams defended those too easily. Kobe Bryant and others wanted a return to a read-and-react offense. But when you have an abundance of talent simple makes some sense. It’s old Vince Lombardi football theory — you can run the power sweep all the time, and if you have the talent and can execute it the other team will not be able to stop it even if they know it is coming.

But now the Lakers are committed to the more complex series where Nash is supposed to push the ball on the break and then if it’s not there choose between pick-and-roll or Princeton or other standard sets. I can’t imagine why that is taking a while to get down.

But the Lakers knew the offense might take a while to come on line, it was their defense that was going to keep them afloat until then. Of course, through two games the Lakers defense has been worse than the Bobcats’ last season (literally, they are giving up five more points per 100 possessions than the worst team in NBA history). Part of that is the turnovers leading to easy buckets. And part of that is Dwight Howard is not right and a dominant defensive force. And part of it is effort.

It’s a whole lot of things that have the Lakers 0-2. And while it’s too early to panic or vote Mike Brown out of his chair (he’s lucky the patient Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak have the only votes that count) the Lakers have a lot of things to fix.

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

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When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.