First press conference shows Mike D’Antoni near opposite of Mike Brown

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It took about five minutes of one press conference for one thing to be very clear:

Mike D’Antoni is about the polar opposite of Mike Brown.

The Lakers wanted a clean break and a new direction, and they got that for sure. Brown was controlling — he was a grind-it-out guy focused on defense and a complex offense where he called plays almost every time down the court. He micromanaged and overthought things.

D’Antoni, not so much.

“I don’t like to call a lot of plays, our offense should flow,” D’Antoni said at his introductory press conference with the Lakers, before falling back on one of his mantras. “The ball should find energy and the ball should find our best guys.”

D’Antoni talked about mindset and getting players not to fit a system but to play to their strengths.

Look what he said about Pau Gasol, saying the Spanish big man will play some four, some five and they will “try to open up a little bit more for him.”

“I know players are criticized a lot for not being tough enough, I just don’t buy into it,” D’Antoni added about Gasol. “He’s a tough guy in the sense he is a skilled guy. There is a difference. Sometimes you get outside of what you do. What he does is great and I’m going to do is get him to do what he does.”

It was the same idea talking about Jodie Meeks: “I told him the only time he needs to shoot is when he touches the ball.”

Meeks is a shooter, D’Antoni doesn’t want him to be a ball handler making decisions. It was the same with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — he talked about flow and space and getting them to do what they do well in just a free flowing way.

He also said multiple times this is the best defensive personnel he has ever had and he expects this team to be a “bear” on defense.

We’ll see. He talked a good game, now is just the challenge of living up to it.

Other press conference highlights:

• D’Antoni did not shy away from title talk: “We’re built to win this year, this is not a project. We have a window and we’re going to try and get through it.”

• He said his first game as coach likely would be Sunday, not Friday against the Suns.

• He said he didn’t hear Magic Johnson’s comments that ESPN has beat into the ground all Thursday. But he basically shrugged off all the criticism saying he understands but if he wins it would all go away. He’s right.

• D’Antoni talked a lot about process. “We have to have goals, we have to understand the game Friday is a step on the road to the championship. We can’t will ourselves into June, but we have to play the regular season. That is important, we have to build a foundation.”

• “I think that’s the biggest challenge, that we didn’t have a (training) camp. The work we’re doing now, today in practice, we would do that in September… The good part is they are great players and they pick it up pretty quick.”

• As for his time in New York… He said he backed the Carmelo Anthony trade, and while he supported getting Tyson Chandler those two deals left them without a point guard to run his point-guard driven offense. They struggled. And when they struggled everything turned on them and everyone got killed in the media. He was philosophical about it.

• D’Antoni on his relationship with Kobe dating back to when Kobe’s dad played with D’Antoni in Italy when Kobe was 12. “He can come over and cuss me out in Italian and you guys might not even know it.”

• Also about Kobe: “That’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever been around… his intensity, that is something that as a coach, I love it. And he’s playing great basketball right now, as great as he has ever played.”

• He says this will not be a seven seconds or less team, but he wants the tempo faster. “If you’ve got the best team, why wouldn’t you play the most possessions that you could play? If you’re the best, defensively and offensively. Any time possessions are cut down, then a bad call or a missed shot and you got a chance to lose. But to me, if we get the possessions up here (holds arms far apart), to me statistically we’ve got a lot better chance to win.”

Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray scuffle (video)

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The Nuggets had a productive weekend. A good way to tell: How aggravated their opponents got.

First, Russell Westbrook initiated a confrontation with Jamal Murray late in Denver’s win over the Thunder on Friday.

Royce Young of ESPN:

“I was standing in my spot, he tried to step over me, and then he shoved me first,” Murray said. “I guess they were losing or whatever, so I don’t know, ask him.”

Said Westbrook: “He was in my way.”

Then, after the Nuggets’ win over the Raptors yesterday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse lashed out at how Kawhi Leonard is officiated.

Nurse, via Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Westbrook and Murray each received technical fouls. Nurse will probably get fined.

But there’s only so much anyone can do about the Nuggets. They’re very good. Teams should get more prepared to handle frustration when facing Denver.

Indiana hires WNBA’s Kelly Krauskopf, she’s first female assistant general manager in NBA

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Women’s progress in the male-dominated world of the NBA is often focused on Becky Hammon in San Antonio and other coaches, or business-side executives such as Clippers president Gillian Zucker.

NBA front offices will start to see changes, too, and that took a big step forward Monday in Indiana with the hiring of Kelly Krauskopf, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Pacers.

“Kelly has played the game, worked in the WNBA league office, helped build and run the Fever franchise from its beginning and eventually built a championship team,” said Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard in a released statement. “She is very well respected in all basketball circles and she has great knowledge of our entire operation, so when we looked at this position, it made complete sense to just look in our own building. We think she will be a great asset to myself, General Manager Chad Buchanan and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Peter Dinwiddie as we pursue our goal of building a winning team for our state and our city.”

“As the architect of one of the WNBA’s most successful franchises, Kelly is a true pioneer in our sport,” said Pacers owner Herb Simon in a statement. “I’ve worked with Kelly over the past two decades, so I know her tremendous basketball mind, strong work ethic and proven leadership skills will continue to be of great benefit to our organization.”

Good for the Pacers — hire the best, brightest, most capable people and the organization will thrive. Krauskopf has unquestionably shown she knows how to run a basketball organization.

Krauskopf was the long-time president of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever who helped guide them to three Finals appearances and the 2012 WNBA title. She also worked with USA Basketball, helping select the American women’s teams that have dominated the sport. Then in 2017 jumped to the Pacers to head up their NBA2K League team.

Now she becomes the highest-ranking woman in an NBA front office (she will not have any WNBA or esports duties anymore).

“First, I would like to thank Herb Simon, Kevin Pritchard and Rick Fuson for this amazing opportunity,” said Krauskopf. “I have admired the work that Kevin and his staff have put forth so far and I am honored to be a part of an elite and historical franchise. The chance to work in an NBA front office for a first-class organization filled with great people I know and in a city that has become my home is extraordinary.

“My past experience has shown me that building winning teams and elite level culture is not based on gender – it is based on people and processes. I am excited to join the Pacers as we continue building the best NBA franchise in the business.”

Krauskopf is now the highest ranking woman in an NBA front office, however, she is not alone as Wojnarowski noted.

There is a growing number of women in front office basketball roles in the NBA, including Becky Bonner (Orlando), Amanda Green (Oklahoma City), Teresa Resch (Toronto), Michelle Leftwich (Atlanta), Ariana Andonian (Houston) and Natalie Jay (Brooklyn).

 

Three Things to Know: When good John Wall shows up and hustles, the Wizards can impress

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Lakers go as LeBron James goes. When John Wall hustles, the Wizards go as he does. On Saturday, the Washington Wizards beat out the Los Angeles Lakers (and several other teams) to trade for Trevor Ariza.

Sunday, the Wizards just flat-out beat the Lakers.

Midseason trades can light a fire under a team, and while Ariza has yet to put on a Wizards jersey (again, he was with the franchise from 2012-14) something seemed to light a fire under John Wall and the Wizards. Maybe it’s the trade, maybe it was LeBron James coming to town.

Whatever it was, the Wizards played their best game of the season beating the Lakers 128-110. It was an impressive performance from a team that has looked like it’s thinking about postgame dinner reservations much of the season. The question is can Washington repeat Sunday’s effort? David Aldridge of The Athletic (and myself, and just about everyone who has watched Washington this season) has doubts.

The real take away from this game: The Lakers go as LeBron James goes, when John Wall hustles the Wizards go as he does.

Wall has been at the heart of the disappointing 12-18 start in Washington, often showing little effort on offense when the ball was not in his hands, looking disinterested on defense, and putting up good counting stats but not contributing the little things that help a team win. Sunday the Wall the Wizards need showed up — 40 points, 14 assists, six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Wall was a blur with the ball, making plays in transition, and tearing up Lonzo Ball, Lance Stephenson, and anyone else Luke Walton sent to guard him.

With LeBron, he is the Lakers’ best playmaker and the focal point of everything they do — as he should be — and when he’s off Los Angeles is a different team. An unimpressive team. In Laker wins, LeBron has an insane true shooting percentage of 62.9; in losses that falls to a slightly above average 56.1 percent, plus in wins LeBron’s assists and rebounds are up. Put more starkly, in Laker wins the team out scores opponents by 18.6 per 100 possessions when LeBron is on the court, in losses they get outscored by 12.4 — a more than 30 point per 100 swing.

Sunday in our nation’s capital, LeBron had 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting, had six assists but four turnovers, and was -18. The result was ugly, just a day after his triple-double in Charlotte had the Lakers humming as a team in a blowout win.

The Lakers are 2-3 in their last five away from home with a game in Brooklyn Tuesday closing out a string of road wins games.

2) The hottest team in the East? Indiana has now won seven in a row. Discussion of the best teams in the East tends to focus on Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, and if Philadelphia is on that level yet.

Don’t sleep on Indiana. The Pacers are 20-10, third in the East (ahead of the Sixers and Celtics) and after knocking off the Knicks Sunday they have won seven in a row. Much of that without Victor Oladipo, although he was back and dropped 26 points on just 13 shots on New York.

What has sparked the Pacers’ run is their defense, which has given up less than a point per possession in the last seven games, best in the NBA over that stretch. (Their offense has been middle of the pack, which has been enough.) Opponents are shooting a league-low 41.2 percent against the Pacers in the last seven, plus opponents are not moving the ball well (just 21.7 assists, third lowest in the league in those seven) and they are not getting to the glass. Myles Turner has played strong defense inside, helping key the run.

While much of the Pacers’ run has come against a soft spot in the schedule, they have knocked off the Bucks and Sixers in this stretch. December win streaks are not harbingers of playoff success, but ignore the Pacers at your own peril. This team can play.

3) Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox just ran right past Dallas on the way to 28 points. There is nobody in the league right now faster end-to-end with the ball than De'Aaron Fox. Watch this play from Sunday: What other players can get the rebound (away from a bigger player) and get end-to-end on a one-man fast break better than this? Russell Westbrook, sure. John Wall in the sporadic games he decides to hustle. Fox is with the NBA’s elite in that category?

Fox and backcourt teammate Buddy Hield each had 28 points in Sacramento’s road win in Dallas, spoiling Dirk Nowitzki‘s home debut. The Kings looked like a team with an elite backcourt and Dallas could do nothing about it. These games matter — the win moves Sacramento into a three-way tie for the 6/7/8 seeds in the West, while Dallas is now the 9 seed half-a-game back. When the season ends, these conference games are going to matter in the brutally tight West.

Also, well done Dallas welcoming Nowitzki home.

 

John Wall scores 40, dishes 14 assists as Wizards drub Lakers

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WASHINGTON (AP) Amid all of his team’s losses and infighting and roster flux, John Wall showed just how well he’s capable of playing, producing 40 points and 14 assists to lead the Washington Wizards past a sluggish LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, 128-110 Sunday night.

A day after he and Lonzo Ball each registered a triple-double in a win at Charlotte, James was limited to a season-low 13 points, along with six rebounds and three assists, while making just five of 16 shots. The four-time NBA MVP sat out the fourth quarter.

The Wizards emphatically ended a four-game losing streak, going up by as many as 18 in the first quarter and 27 in the third.

They took full advantage of an opponent playing on a second consecutive night, although James and the Lakers had been 5-1 in the second half of back-to-back sets this season.

The Lakers opened Sunday’s game by going 5 for 19, 0 for 8 on 3s. Washington, meanwhile, made its first five shots and 13 of its first 18, taking a 26-8 lead on Wall’s layup.

Wall’s play was often spectacular, including one no-look, through-the-legs pass to Sam Dekker for an easy bucket.

The All-Star point guard ended the first half with a step-back baseline rainbow jumper over 7-foot-1 center Tyson Chandler to make it 71-51. Wall turned and slapped palms with a couple of front-row folks, then spread his arms wide and basked in the ovation.

By then, Wall already had 28 points, outscoring LA’s five starters – James, Ball, Chandler, Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart – by six.

Recently acquired reserve forward Dekker scored a season-high 20 for Washington, including a buzzer-beating bank shot at the end of the third quarter that put the hosts ahead 99-76.

Washington’s Bradley Beal added 25 points and 12 rebounds.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 25 points for the Lakers, 15 in the second quarter.

Washington was without starting center Dwight Howard, who had back surgery, and injured starting forward Otto Porter Jr., while a pair of players – Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers – were unavailable because they are on their way out of town via a trade that is still not officially complete.

“We’re playing against one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said before tipoff, “and we definitely are undermanned.”

Didn’t matter on this night.

TIP-INS

Lakers: C JaVale McGee missed the game with flu-like symptoms. … A pair of sneakers James wore during a game at the Wizards a year ago Monday – one black, one white, with the word “equality” in capital gold letters on the back of each – was recently placed on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. … Ball finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Wizards: The deal bringing Trevor Ariza to Washington from the Phoenix Suns is still not official, so Oubre and Rivers were listed as inactive Sunday because of “trade pending.” … Markieff Morris left at halftime because of a neck strain. … Porter missed his third game in a row with a bruised knee. … Jeff Green started in Porter’s place and scored 20 points.

UP NEXT:

Lakers: At Brooklyn on Tuesday to close a four-game road trip.

Wizards: At Atlanta on Tuesday.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports