Dwight Howard dominates as Lakers cruise past Nuggets

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The Lakers were coming off of a miserable 77-point performance against a defensive-minded Pacers team on Tuesday, and the Nuggets were coming to town after playing a wild one the night before on the road against the Warriors.

The combination of those two factors, along with Denver’s fearlessness in playing uptempo basketball, spelled disaster for them Friday night in Los Angeles.

The Lakers put up a ridiculous 71 first-half points, and behind a dominant performance from Dwight Howard and balanced production from everyone else, had little trouble in cruising to a 122-103 victory at Staples.

This one was over in the first quarter, and maybe even before it started. Reporters saw a message from Lakers coaches on the team’s whiteboard in the locker room which challenged Howard to win this game on his own, and he delivered from the very start.

Howard was featured offensively, and responded with 16 first-quarter points on 7-of-9 shooting. The activity level kept him engaged defensively, where he grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots in the game’s first 12 minutes.

Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, was happy to facilitate on this night, and only bothered to take three shot attempts in the first, while dishing out five assists in his de facto point guard role. Bryant got going offensively in the second with 10 points in the period, but that was nothing compared to the shooting performance off the bench from reserve guard Jodie Meeks.

Meeks hit his first five three-point attempts of the night, all in the second quarter for 15 points in the period. He finished 7-of-8 from three, good for 21 points in just 17 minutes.

The other stellar performance of the night belonged to Antawn Jamison, who had a throwback game scoring at will as a reserve, and finished with 33 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. He was active around the basket and seemed to always be in a position where his teammates could locate him with ease.

Bryant finished just 5-of-15 from the field, and he, Pau Gasol, and Chris Duhon tied for the team lead in assists with eight apiece. With so many other players being prolific offensively, and with the team still in desperate need of Bryant to facilitate rather than score, a line like that from him is not only more than acceptable, but it’s welcome, and to be expected.

The night belonged to Howard, who finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds, and even drilled an open three from the corner with nine seconds left to cap his stellar performance. Some of this was on the Nuggets’ style of play and the personnel mismatch, but the majority of L.A.’s success was simply forced by the outstanding team play of the Lakers.

Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers reportedly agree to four-year, $45 million contract extension

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Cleveland wanted this to happen, he’s the son of a Cavaliers’ legend who showed last playoffs he can have a role in whatever is next for this team post-LeBron.

Larry Nance Jr. wanted this to happen — he was born in Akron and was raised in the area, Cleveland is where he wants to be.

So as had been expected, the Cavaliers and Nance were able to work out an extension to his rookie contract before the deadline, as reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Joe Varden of the Athletic said the final numbers were four-years, $44.8 million.

That seems about a fair price. Nance was a steal in the draft by the Lakers 27th back in 2015 and was a fan favorite in L.A., but was sent to Cleveland in the Isaiah Thomas trade. Nance is a quality rotation player on both ends, a guy who averaged 8.7 points per game last season (expect that to go up) and shot 58.1 percent overall (and a 58.5 true shooting percentage, above the league average). He had a PER of 21.5 while with the Cavaliers last season (and a 20.2 PER with a 68.5 true shooting percentage in a smaller playoff role), showing the kind of versatility prized in today’s NBA.

This contract is a win for both sides.

Jodie Meeks set to dodge nearly $600K in suspension penalty with trade from Wizards to Bucks

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Jodie Meeks was set to forfeit $596,686 this season due to his performance-enhancing-drug suspension.

Instead, he could receive his his entire $3,454,500 salary.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Wizards are in line to save $6,146,794 in luxury tax with this move. Subtract the amount paid to the Bucks, which surely includes at least Meeks’ full salary. But that’s still at least $ 2,692,294 in savings, which is why Washington also sent a draft pick.

Milwaukee was in the right place at the right time – with the Greg Monroe trade exception (from the Eric Bledsoe deal) just large enough to absorb Meeks – to extract an extra draft pick.

But the big winner is Meeks, who can’t serve a suspension while not on a roster and therefore can’t have his pay docked. If he signs again in the NBA, he’d still have to sit 19 games, but his lost salary would almost certainly be based on a minimum salary, not the higher amount he’s due this year.

Report: Pacers, Myles Turner agree to four-year, $80 million extension

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Update: There’s the not unexpected wrinkle:

 

The Pacers’ identification and development of young players stagnated in the Paul George era and might have contributed to his exit. Indiana’s kept first-round picks in the seven years between drafting and trading George: Miles Plumlee, Solomon Hill, Myles Turner, T.J. Leaf.

Turner is the lone hope to emerge as a secondary star, and though now it’d be next Victor Oladipo rather than George, the Pacers will pay Turner as such.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

That’s a sizable deal, not just in terms of dollars but also opportunity cost. This will unnecessarily cut into Indiana’s cap space next summer.

Turner will begin the offseason counting against the cap at his 2019-20 salary, which based on the reported terms, will be between $17,857,143 and $22,727,273. If the Pacers didn’t extend him and let him become a restricted free agent, they could have held him at $10,230,852, used their other cap space first then exceeded the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

So, why lock him up now? Indiana clearly believes his production will outpace his salary. This prevents another team from signing him to an even larger offer sheet next summer.

The 22-year-old Turner can live up to this deal. He’s a good 3-point shooter and shot-blocker. He must play with more force inside and either improve his foot speed or defensive recognition, ideally both. But he has plenty of tools for a modern center.

That said, if the extension is fully guaranteed, this is too much of a gamble on Turner for me. For sacrificing so much cap flexibility next summer, the Pacers should have gotten more of a discount. Of course, if this deal is heavy on incentives and short on guarantees, that could swing the analysis.

Report: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.