Lakers hold off Nets in D’Antoni’s head coaching debut

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Mike D’Antoni made his long-awaited debut as Lakers head coach on Tuesday, but the team’s previous win over the Rockets looked much more like his style. Nevertheless, the substance was there as L.A. overcame some mistakes to get a 95-90 win over the Nets that pushed the team over the .500 mark for the first time this season.

The first half of this one looked like what we might expect to see when the Lakers face quality teams while running this new system. There was plenty of trading baskets, and the Nets were able to get a lot of good looks as L.A. was slow in its defensive rotations, when they bothered to rotate at all. Brook Lopez was the main beneficiary of the New Jersey offense, getting 12 first-quarter points and ending up with 17 by halftime, scoring both inside and out.

Deron WIlliams did the damage for the Nets in the second quarter, straight up abusing Lakers guard Darius Morris for 10 points in less than six minutes. But after scoring 34 points in the second to take a one-point lead into the locker room at the half, the Nets managed just 33 points the rest of the way, thanks to a combined 5-of-21 shooting from Williams and Joe Johnson in the final two periods, and a dismal team shooting of under 33 percent.

As is going to be the case more often than not, while New Jersey struggled to manufacture offense, the Lakers had too much talent to ultimately be stifled. L.A. got huge games from Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace — the four combined to go 29-of-54 from the field, good for 53.7 percent, and good enough to beat just about anyone.

There were some bumps along the way, however. The Lakers were outrebounded, and gave up 14 on the offensive end. The reserves are still giving way too much of the game away when the starters try to get some rest, and over the course of the season, heavy-minute efforts like this one where four of the five starters play 38 minutes or more (with Howard surpassing 40) are going to add up.

And of course, we have the free throw shooting. A horrific 19-of-37 night from the line, led by Howard going 7-of-19 (including an airball) is certainly cause for concern. Avery Johnson tried to exploit the problem further by intentionally fouling Howard sporadically in the fourth quarter, but didn’t fully commit and picked an extremely curious time to do so.

Brooklyn trailed 77-73 with 10:32 to play in the game. The Nets went on an 11-1 run to lead 84-78 with 5:22 to play, holding the Lakers without a field goal for over five minutes, the last two while L.A. had its starters back on the floor. That was when Johnson first called for the “Hack-a-Dwight,” and did it once more a few possessions later. Howard made one of two free throws each time, getting the Lakers a free point with no time having run off the clock, which is pretty important when a team is losing and there’s only a few minutes left to play.

Bryant took over for L.A. down the stretch, scoring his team’s last eight points — six of which came from the free throw line — in the game’s final two minutes to close this one out.

This was a good win for the Lakers, their first over a quality team on the young season, and their first while facing adversity under their new head coach. It wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as their last outing, or as run-and-gun as it could be under D’Antoni once Steve Nash returns and the team has some time to get clicking under the new system. But wins are beautiful no matter how they come, and that’s especially true for a team as talented as this one that began the year with such a rocky start.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.

Report: NBA formally submits proposal to lower draft age to 18, end one-and-done

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It’s coincidental this happened the day after Duke star and likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson sprained a knee in a much-hyped, nationally televised game. This is been in the works for a while and is now becoming realty:

The NBA formally submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) to lower the draft age from 19 to 18. Meaning players could be drafted to the league straight out of high school. While that will not come until likely 2022, the formal proposal starts the project, reports Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.

The NBA has submitted to the National Basketball Players Association a formal proposal that will lower the draft-eligible age to 18 from 19, a person with knowledge of the proposal told USA TODAY Sports…

The league and union have had informal discussions about lowering the age limit, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record saying the current 19-year-old age limit is not working for the league or college basketball.

This is the first step in formal negotiations to lower the age limit by the 2022 draft. The issue is collectively bargained between the NBA and NBPA, and both sides need to agree to any rule change.

There have been sticking points during those informal discussions between the sides. Specifically, the league wants to require that agents provide every team with full medical reports on players, and the league wants players to be forced to participate in some level of the NBA Draft Combine. As of now, agents often withhold medical info from teams they don’t want to draft their players (that doesn’t always work) and elite players often do little more than get measured at the combine. It’s a fight over information and the sides will need to find a compromise.

Silver had told reporters over the summer that the NCAA’s own report from Condoleezza Rice’s Commission On College Basketball called for an end to one-and-dones, and that has motivated him to end the practice. However, to give teams ample time to gear up scouting and get development programs in place, nothing will happen before the 2022 draft.

This has been a long time coming, the one-and-done rule is a compromise neither the NBA or colleges liked much, and it has made players resentful. What exactly the process will look like on the other side remains to be seen, but it should be better than the mess we see right now.