Lakers problems: It’s all about the defense

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Pau Gasol cannot find his place in the Mike D’Antoni offense. Steve Nash is still clearly not fully used to his new teammates. The Lakers lack shooters. With all the talent the Buss family is paying a pretty penny (well, many pennies) for we all expected an exceptional offense from the Lakers. So it’s been better than a lot of people realize (sixth in the NBA in points per possession) but inconsistent.

However, their offense not why the Lakers are two games below .500 more than 30 games into the season.

Their real problem is the defense. It is 17th in the NBA. They struggle in areas that good teams — like the Clippers on Friday — can exploit.

Don’t think it’s all about the defense? Look at the loss to the Clippers Friday night — Gasol was nonexistent on offense, they missed a lot of shots and the Lakers still put up 102 points. Problem is they gave up 107. Or to put it another way, they scored 107.5 points per 100 possessions in the game (slightly above their season average), but they gave up 113.8 per 100.

There seems to be a “once Dwight Howard gets healthy everything will be just fine” feeling around the Lakers and their fans. And that would certainly help. But it’s not the only issue and who knows what that timeline is anyway. I went back and re-watched every point the Lakers surrendered the last two games (thanks NBA.com) and it’s clear the issues are bigger than any one player.

Los Angeles is surrendering 42 points a game in the paint, seventh most in the NBA. That’s an easy one to say is all about Howard, but it’s really about rotations.

source:  There is a great example in the Clippers game Friday, with just over 2 minutes left in the first quarter. The Clippers are taking the ball out under the Lakers basket, CP3 gets free  on the left baseline off a Ronny Turiaf pick that takes Darius Morris out, essentially making this a pick-and-roll situation, so Jordan Hill comes out to help — but nobody helps Hill. Look at the spacing in the photo. Turiaf rolls, takes the bounce pass and dunks. Hill had to help or CP3 would have had a layup. Metta World Peace doesn’t move and the other Laker defenders — Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol — have to stick with their men out on the weak side.

The reason the Lakers give up so many points in the paint is often this — they struggle mightily with the roll man in the pick-and-roll. The Lakers perimeter defenders can’t stay in front of the ball handler, the big man helps and everything breaks down. The roll man shoots 57 percent when he gets the ball back against the Lakers, according to Synergy Sports. That’s 28th in the NBA.

There are other issues. The Lakers are 23rd in the NBA in defending isolation according Synergy. Also the “old and slow” Lakers struggle with teams that can push the ball in transition, something the Clippers did well. If your big men can run the floor well — and the Clippers’ bigs can — you can get easy and spectacular shots.

All of this is not simply solved. Howard getting healthy would certainly be a big step in the right direction. But right now Kobe is gambling and roaming again, and exposing the defense when he does. Gasol can look as lost on the defensive end as he does on the offensive end at times. (Although, to the people telling me on twitter Gasol was THE problem, on the season the Lakers give up 104.5 points per 100 when Gasol is on the floor, 110.7 when he sits. He alone not issue.)

On top of it all, is Mike D’Antoni the coach that can fix it? The Lakers weren’t defending for Mike Brown and he had the reputation of a defensive coach. The Lakers seem to be listening to D’Antoni, but that’s different than executing.

You see it is flashes — six minutes here, 8 minutes there. There are moments the Lakers show they can defend. But because of focus and physical limitations it never lasts.

Until it does, it doesn’t really matter what happens with the Lakers offense, they are not going to get near the level they expected before this season.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.