Spurs avoid total meltdown, hand Lakers their 5th straight loss

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In what’s been a familiar site lately, the Lakers lost a game on Wednesday night, this time to the Spurs 108-105. The loss drops them to 15-20 on the season and represents another shovel of dirt on their playoff chances in what’s been their most disappointing season…maybe ever.

The win gave the Spurs their 15th win (in only 17 games) in San Antonio this season and allows them to keep pace with the red hot Clippers and Thunder in the standings by pushing their record to 28-10 on the year. The win also allows the Spurs to bounce back from a loss in their most recent game, un unsettling defeat to the Hornets.

The result to this game, for nearly everyone, was a foregone conclusion. The Lakers have stunk, were missing Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, and were on the second night of a back to back. Meanwhile, the Spurs are the Spurs and were playing at home. It really should have been that simple.

Except, of course, it wasn’t. I guess that’s why they play the games.

Early on the game went mostly as expected. The Spurs were able to build a relatively comfortable lead, using a combination of good off ball movement and their size advantage to get easy shots inside. The Lakers, as they have all year, struggled to defend for multiple passes and were thus beat by back door cuts when the ball was reversed while also falling victim to offensive rebounds when they didn’t help the helper on San Antonio dribble penetration.

As the game went on, the Lakers did well to stay within striking distance with Metta World Peace (23 points) able to take advantage of his match up with Tiago Splitter by scoring inside off dribble penetration and out by making deep jumpers when Splitter got sucked into the paint.

The Lakers were also bolstered by a career night from Earl Clark who, thrust into the rotation due to L.A.’s injuries, found creases in the Spurs’ defense. Clark used his athleticism and active legs to slash into the lane and get shots close to the basket and then hit his mid-range jumper when the defense sagged off him. Clark’s 22 points (on only 12 FGA’s) were surely found money for the Lakers but desperately needed someone to offset the cold shooting night Kobe Bryant was having.

However, even with the Lakers keeping it close the Spurs were right there to snuff out any attempt for an upset. Whenever the Spurs needed a bucket, Tony Parker (24 points, 6 assists, 10-16 shooting) would drive to the rim or hit a mid-range jumper. If not Parker, then Ginobili (19 points, 8 rebounds) would go on the attack and either hit a key shot or draw a foul that sent him to the foul line.

If the game had actually continued in this fashion — and it certainly looked like it would — no one would have batted an eyelash at the result. After all, it’s what we all expected.

But in the lead in to the fourth quarter, the Lakers started to make one more push that felt different. Down by 17, World Peace hit a three pointer. After a Ginobili turnover, Kobe then hit a short jumper to cut the Spurs’ lead to 12. A Parker miss was followed by an Earl Clark long 2 and suddenly it was 10. The quarter would end with Kobe hitting another jumper to cut make it a single digit game, but with Manu getting it back to 10 with free throws.

With the stage set, the 4th quarter became a drama filled period with both sides showing some clutch shot making to give their side a boost. A running Nash jumper from 19 feet was countered by a Gary Neal three pointer. A Clark lay in off a Nash pass would only give a short momentum boost as Stephen Jackson hit a three, and then another. Before you knew it the Spurs were back up by 16 and with only 7 minutes to go the game was over.

Not so fast. Here is where the game got really good.

Furiously, the Lakers began their final try at a win. And, in one of the more un-Spurs like performance you’ll see, it looked like San Antonio wanted the Lakers to have it. Spurs turnovers became Laker baskets. Made shots by Antawn Jamison, World Peace, and Kobe seemed to only further unravel the Spurs.

With Stephen Jackson arguing a non-foul call, he earned himself an ejection after two technicals and, with the ensuing FT’s the Lakers would only trail by 5. The possession that followed was the Lakers best of the game where nearly every player touched the ball and it ended with a Jamison lay up off a nifty pass from Nash. Three point game.

Sadly, for the Lakers, that would be as close as they’d get, though the last minute of the game was just as exciting. A Ginobili three pointer to push the Spurs back up to 6 was quickly countered by a triple by Clark. On the Spurs final possession they’d turn the ball over and give the Lakers one last shot.

However, in the most anticlimactic of endings the final Laker shot would be what we’ve all seen countless times. Even though the team was down three, Mike D’Antoni eschewed a set play call and instead gave the ball to Kobe to work in isolation deep on the wing. He rose up a foot behind the three point line and missed a contested jumper that bounced harmlessly off the rim. Ball game.

As it stands, the Lakers, though shorthanded, are showing more fight than they have all year. But, it’s just not making a difference in the win column. This game offered excitement, but like so many other games this season it ended in disappointment.

Meanwhile the Spurs just keep trucking. They came into the game with the league’s 5th ranked offense and defense in terms of points per possession. This game did nothing to show they can’t continue to keep that up, though I’m sure Coach Popovich would have liked a cleaner finish.

I’m also sure he’s not going to give this win back. No matter how much the Lakers could have used it.

 

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.