Lakers earn fifth straight victory with Christmas Day win over Knicks

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LOS ANGELES — The Lakers beat the Knicks 100-94 on Christmas Day to earn their fifth straight victory, one that came in an intense and competitive game that came down to the final few possessions.

Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony each finished with 34 points, J.R. Smith had 25 off the bench for New York, while Metta World Peace chipped in 20 for L.A., along with some stellar physical defense on Anthony in the game’s first half.

1ST QUARTER: LAKERS 25, KNICKS 23

Darius Morris started again for the Lakers alongside Steve Nash in the backcourt, with Mike D’Antoni saying before the game that he didn’t want to continually change his lineups, especially while riding a four-game win streak. He also started off with the defensive assignment on Carmelo Anthony, but with Anthony having a significant size (and skill) advantage on Morris, he scored easily over him on jumpers the first two possessions.

D’Antoni had enough of that nonsense after a little over four minutes, when he sent in Metta World Peace for Morris to check Anthony instead.

Carmelo finished just 2-of-7 from the field for five points, while playing all 12 minutes. The Knicks got a nice boost from Kurt Thomas, who led the team with six points by making all three of his jumpers after good ball movement found him for essentially wide open looks.

On the Lakers side, it was nice to see Nash initiating the offense on virtually every possession, and he ended up with four points and four assists in 10 minutes.

Highlights for L.A. included Pau Gasol finding Dwight Howard for an alley-oop slam, and World Peace finding Kobe Bryant on a backdoor cut for an acrobatic flying reverse layup.

Bryant finished the period with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and drove to the basket for an and-1 after holding for the team’s final shot of the period for a good 18 seconds, dribbling the clock down on the wing for one of the longest isolation sets you’ll ever see.

2ND QUARTER: LAKERS 51, KNICKS 49

The intensity picked up considerably in the second period, and each team had a breakout offensive performance from one of its reserves.

J.R. Smith had 10 points in the period, on 4-of-6 shooting, hitting an impressive array of jumpers in the process.

But World Peace was absolutely dominant for the Lakers, scoring 16 second-quarter points on just four shots, including hitting all three of his attempts from three-point distance. World Peace also made life miserable for Anthony, who was 2-of-4 from the field in seven minutes, and suffered some bumps and bruises along the way during those one-on-one battles.

The Lakers offense looks to be much improved in terms of ball movement, and players moving to their spots with high activity and a sense of purpose. Nash and Bryant had one such sequence that exemplified this, where Bryant received the ball in down low, kicked it back out to Nash, who allowed Bryant to re-post before dumping it back in, which resulted in a bucket inside.

Lakers not named World Peace are shooting 1-of-10 from three-point distance, with Pau Gasol being the lone made basket from beyond the arc on a somewhat silly three first-half long range attempts.

3RD QUARTER: KNICKS 78, LAKERS 77

Now things are getting interesting.

Metta World Peace started the second half in place of Darius Morris, presumably to continue the stellar defensive job he did on Anthony. But Anthony had other ideas.

Carmelo was electric in the period, switching his strategy of trying to score inside on World Peace in favor of hitting his patented jumper. He hit his first three for 7 quick points in the third quarter’s first two minutes, and that sparked a 12-2 New York run to open up an eight-point Knicks lead at 61-53.

Anthony continued to do damage to the tune of 17 points in the period, to give him 27 for the game through three.

Kobe Bryant got going in the second half of the period, helping to cut into the Knicks lead with 11 points of his own, including an and-1 bucket with the clock winding down to end the third.

4TH QUARTER: LAKERS 100, KNICKS 94

The Knicks offense that was so red-hot in the third began to stall in the final period, and the Lakers ball movement, led by the exceptional play of Nash, was the difference.

Tyson Chandler and Metta World peace fouled out on consecutive possessions, on equally questionable calls with a little over two minutes to play.

Pau Gasol was relatively quiet with 13 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, but made two huge plays down the stretch that helped seal it — the first coming on an aggressive post-up attack while Anthony was defending which got him to the free throw line, and the final coming with the Lakers clinging to a 97-94 lead.

With 12 seconds to play, Nash found Gasol streaking down the center of the lane for the powerful slam, which blew the roof off the Staples Center and cemented the Lakers big win over a very good New York Knicks squad.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.