Report: Lakers, Celtics discussed Howard for Rondo swap. Lakers deny it.

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UPDATE February 16: 2:31 am: It didn’t take long for this rumor to be shot down by one of the principles involved, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

The buzz started Friday night that the Lakers and Celtics had discussed a Dwight Howard for Rajon Rondo (there would need to be other players). And before you say “this is what you say before you make a trade” know that Kupchak is about as straight a shooter as there is. He spoke with Chris Broussard of ESPN.

 Kupchak said “I haven’t talked to Danny Ainge in weeks. I made the statement a week or 2 ago that we’re not going to trade Dwight Howard and that hasn’t changed.” Kupchak said at no pt this season has a D12-for-Rondo trade been discussed.

As discussed below, this trade really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ken Berger is too good a reporter not to have gotten this from a reliable source but the Lakers have been clear on their intention to keep then re-sign Howard this summer. It’s hard to see them giving up on that to bring in Rajon, who has ruffled feathers with veterans in Boston and is undergoing an ACL surgery.  It didn’t pass the smell test, apparently for a good reason.

However, if the Celtics were negotiating with the Clippers and wanted to create some leverage, this is the kind of thing they would leak. Hypothetically.

February 15, 10:01 pm: On Friday, Dwight Howard said point blank that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told him he would not be traded at the deadline.

But this is the time of year when teams discuss all sorts of trade ideas. Some wild and seemingly unrealistic.

Like this note from Ken Berger of CBSSports.com — the Lakers have had preliminary discussions about trading Howard to their hated rival the Boston Celtics.

However, CBSSports.com has learned that the Lakers have engaged in preliminary trade discussions with an unlikely trade partner regarding Howard: their fierce rival, the Boston Celtics. The centerpieces of the possible deal, which hasn’t gained any traction, would be Howard and Rajon Rondo…

Other significant pieces would have to be involved, since Rondo’s $11 million salary is substantially less than Howard’s $19.5 million.

Some subsequent rumors after this reports said the idea was floated before Rondo got injured but died when his ACL tore.

Honestly, this doesn’t make a ton of sense — and Berger even admits that the Celtics have gotten the impression the Lakers are not trading Howard.

For the Lakers, you’d be throwing this season away trading for Rondo, who is out for the year and is about to undergo ACL surgery. Not that the Lakers current players haven’t seemingly thrown this season away all by themselves, but it’s different if management would do it. Plus, for the Lakers, they are trading away the guy they saw as the face of the franchise post Kobe. Is the temperamental Rondo really a better fit next to Kobe Bryant now? Is Rondo the guy you can build around long term?

It makes more sense for Boston — if they can get Howard to re-sign this summer. Which is no given, he has taken to saying he doesn’t want to talk about any of that until after the season. The Celtics would need assurances from Howard he would stay, then they still would have to give up someone like Brandon Bass and a younger player or pick just to make the numbers work.

I’ll add this, when the Lakers have made big trades (say getting Howard or Pau Gasol before that) they have come quickly and seemingly out of nowhere. This is not that.

Never say never, stranger things have happened in the NBA. But this is pretty much standing right next to never with it’s arm around it.

Smart money still says Howard is a Laker this season and next. Even if that frustrates some Lakers fans.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.