Celtics earn sixth straight win by taking apart the Lakers

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The Celtics and Lakers have the most storied rivalry in the history of the NBA. No matter what’s happening with each team individually throughout the course of a given season, whenever the two teams meet, there’s always a special kind of buzz and energy that surrounds those contests.

That wasn’t the case in Boston on Thursday, however, because only one of the two teams bothered to show up.

While the Lakers lacked energy, the Celtics were exploding with it. Behind a huge third quarter run and a balanced team effort, Boston put the wood to L.A. and cruised to a 116-95 win, the team’s sixth straight after losing Rajon Rondo for the season with a torn ACL injury.

The Lakers were playing without Pau Gasol, who suffered a tear of the plantar fascia in his right foot near the end of the team’s win over the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday. It was announced shortly before tip-off that Gasol will miss a minimum of 6-8 weeks.

With Gasol out indefinitely, the pressure has been mounting on the enormous shoulders of Dwight Howard to return to the lineup, after missing his team’s last three games due to re-aggravating the torn labrum in his right shoulder.

Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash may have added to that a bit, each saying over the last couple of days that Howard needs to try to play through the pain, especially since L.A. will be without Gasol for so long, and with the urgency to win games increasing with each passing day.

Howard played 28 minutes and finished with nine points and nine rebounds, but turned the ball over four times while going just 1-6 from the free throw line. He was unable to come close to matching the intensity and energy Gasol brought to the Lakers during the team’s three-game win streak (which took place during Howard’s three-game absence), and fouled out while Mike D’Antoni somewhat inexplicably had him still in the game for the first 6:53 of the fourth quarter, while the Celtics pushed their lead to as many as 32 points.

Boston had control of this one from the start, but after trailing by as many as 16 in the first half, the Lakers were hanging around within 10 or 11 points midway through the third. That’s when the Celtics put on a devastating 23-8 run over the period’s final 4:52 — one that left them with a 95-69 lead, and put the game in the win column much earlier than expected.

Paul Pierce led his team with 24 points, and Kevin Garnett finished with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals in just 23 minutes of action. Garnett surpassed the 25,000 career-point milestone in this one, after connecting on a spinning, fadeaway jumper over Earl Clark early in the second quarter.

The Celtics remain firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. On the Lakers side, it’s easy to want to throw (more) dirt on the grave the team is seemingly unable to stop digging for itself. But the reality is that they remain just three and a half games out of the eighth and final playoff spot out West, and after winning six of seven before this most recent humiliating loss, the team isn’t likely to pack in the season just yet.

L.A. will need Howard to continue to recover and gain more confidence playing through the pain of his shoulder injury, as well as bring some intensity to his performances that his teammates can feed off of. Gasol was able to provide that at times, and while the Lakers are still Bryant’s team, the one who the franchise is looking to build its future around needs to start acting like the cornerstone he can be for L.A. to have any shot at redemption this season.

Jerry West on NBA Draft: “I don’t know how you could pass Zion Williamson”

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A rumor started buzzing around NBA Twitter last week, a second-hand report that NBA legend and Clippers’ consultant Jerry West was praising Murray State guard Ja Morant, saying he would take him in front of the presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson.

The source of that rumor: comedian Jeff Garlin, saying it on the Dan Patrick Show.

Jerry West himself went on the Dan Patrick show Thursday and shot that down saying “it Would Be Like Passing Jordan in the draft.”

Two players were picked in front Jordan in the 1984 Draft. The Houston Rockets took Hakeem Olajuwon, and while Jordan went on to be Jordan nobody can fault the Rockets for how this picked turned out — two titles and a Hall of Fame big man in your organization is an amazing draft.

The one everyone talks about was Portland at No. 2, when executive Stu Inman and coach Jack Ramsey decided they were set on the wing in Clyde Drexler and needed a big man, so they selected Sam Bowie out of Kentucky. Bowie might have had an excellent NBA career if injuries had not plagued him, but he was no Jordan. It’s the ultimate NBA cautionary tale — draft the best player on the board, not according to need.

Williamson is projected by teams as the best player on the board. By far. Even the Morant fans have him a clear second. Plus, Williamson comes in hugely popular and a brand unto himself — he will sell tickets and sponsorships. Not drafting him would be a stupid business decision, not to mention a basketball one.

Whoever lands second in next month’s draft lottery will do well with Morant. Whoever is third will likely get R.J. Barrett out of Duke and… let’s just say that’s where it gets interesting.

Likely top-10 pick Jarrett Culver of Texas Tech makes it official, declares for NBA Draft

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We all knew this was coming, but on Thursday he made it official:

Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver is declaring for the NBA Draft, where he is expected to be a top-10 pick. He made the announcement at a rally on the Tech campus Thursday, then took his message to social media.

Culver, a 6’6” wing player, passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (he only hit 30.4 percent from three this season, but it was 38 percent the season before and his stroke looks good), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he may have the best feel for the game of any wing prospect in this draft. The only question is athleticism — he’s not a classically explosive, and the NBA is loaded with freak athletes on the wing.

Still, Culvert looks like a rotation wing player with the potential to be more, and that should land him comfortably in the top 10 in this draft (likely 5-8).

Nuggets take 13-game losing streak in San Antonio into Game 3

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In 2009, Carlos Boozer had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Jazz’s win over the Spurs. Paul Millsap backed him up.

A couple months later, Boozer had 31-13 in another Jazz win over the Spurs. Again, Millsap backed him up.

Late in the 2012-13 season, rookie Damian Lillard led the Trail Blazers to a blowout of the Spurs. Will Barton played three minutes in garbage time.

Those are the only three times current Nuggets starters have won in San Antonio.

After splitting the first two games of their first-round series in Denver, the Nuggets must win at least once in San Antonio to advance. The first opportunity comes in Game 3 tonight.

Denver has lost 13 straight road games against the Spurs – a drought longer than the careers of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris. The Nuggets’ other starters didn’t fare much better before joining Denver. Barton went 1-5 in San Antonio with Portland. Millsap went 2-20 in San Antonio with Utah and Atlanta.

Even several notches below their dynasty status, the Spurs remain especially tough at home.

The Spurs went 32-9 at home and 16-25 on the road this season. Maybe that’s an aberration in a limited sample. But they also went 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road last season.

That’s a 79% win percentage at home and 37% on the road. The last time a team had such a large disparity over a two-year span was the 2008-2009 Jazz.

This might just be San Antonio’s post-Kawhi Leonard identity.

Here are the largest home-road win percentage differences in the last decade:

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There’s another possibility: It’s not that the Spurs are that good at home. It’s that they’re that bad on the road.

But San Antonio trailed only the Nuggets, Bucks and Raptors in home record this season.

The Spurs also won Game 1 in Denver, where the altitude has historically given the Nuggets a strong homecourt advantage. If Denver dropped that game to a lousy road team, that’d be its own problem.

Either way, the Nuggets have a real challenge on their hands.

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.