Improved Lakers get measuring stick game against Thunder

10 Comments

There was a time not so long ago when the up-and-coming Thunder were measuring their improvement against the Lakers.

Now, it’s the Western Conference champion Thunder that are the measuring stick and the Lakers who want to see where they stand after a run of better play. The two face off Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

It’s been well documented that after Lakers started the season an unimpressive 17-25 they have started to turn it around and gone 13-5 since. The thing is, it’s not that the Lakers are dramatically better in their last 18 overall — their point differential per 100 possessions +2.5, less than one point per 100 better than it was when they were eight games below .500.

What has changed is they got healthy, and with their key guys got to play together for a stretch modified Mike D’Antoni system, and with all that they started to find there identity. It’s taken a lot of Kobe Bryant — sometimes as scorer, sometimes as facilitator. It’s taken Steve Nash to work a lot off the ball. It’s taken Dwight Howard defending and playing more pick-and-roll. It’s been the role players finding their way.

It’s been the Lakers finally forming an identity like was expected of them in training camp (but injuries and a coaching change to a radically different system delayed that cohesion). Now that they have a sense of self the Lakers are winning the close ones they lost earlier in the season. Such as the 99-98 win over the Hawks on Sunday. John Schuhmann has all the numbers to back this up over at NBA.com — the Lakers with an identity are playing much better in the clutch than they did. They are now a .500 team.

But the Thunder are a whole new level of challenge. They are the measuring stick. They are still the favorites to make the finals out of the West, they have the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant.

What are the keys for Tuesday night? They all revolve around the Lakers defense, because the Lakers will score some (that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good) but the question is can they slow the Thunder at all:

1) The Lakers transition defense. Among all their many weaknesses this season, this has been the biggest — if you can run on the Lakers you can beat them. Los Angeles allows teams to shoot 58.1 percent in transition and score 1.16 points per possession, 23rd in the NBA. In the first meeting between these teams this year the Thunder shot 9-of-11 in transition and 3-of-3 from three. If this is an up-tempo game it will not be a close one.

2) Lakers pick-and-roll defense against Westbrook. It’s been improved in recent weeks but in the first meeting the Lakers struggled to stop Russell Westbrook (33 points) on this play. Westbrook has 60 points combined in the first two meetings this season. If Westbrook in particular, but also Kevin Durant and others, are allowed to probe and create off the pick-and-roll the Lakers defense will get picked apart and they will struggle.

On the other hand, when Westbrook went cold — 6-of-22 in the last meeting of these teams — the Lakers got the win. I say went cold because Westbrook completed just 3-of-8 shots inside the restricted area and I’m not sure the Lakers should count on that again. But the Lakers also turned him into a jump shooter and he struggled in that role — Dwight Howard is key here taking away the paint from Westbrook on drives.

3) Can Los Angeles slow Kevin Durant. I know, everyone writes they want to do this and he’s the league’s three-time leading scoring champ for a reason. He dropped 42 on them in a game this season. However, in the last meeting the Lakers had some success with Earl Clark — Durant was 3-of-11 with Clark on him. I’m not sure I’d want to bet on that trend continuing, but you can bet the Lakers go back to that well and if Clark can even just slow Durant and make him work for his baskets it will help.

Doc Rivers failed to deliver in playoffs for Clippers

Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

Listen to all the praise being heaped upon Doc Rivers – as both a coach and person – in the aftermath of his firing. He has earned that. It’s why he’s already in demand for openings around the league.

But it’s impossible to ignore his teams repeatedly falling short in the postseason.

The Clippers hired Rivers specifically for his ability to win deep in the playoffs. He guided the Celtics to the 2008 championship and back to the 2010 NBA Finals. For a downtrodden franchise like the Clippers, getting Rivers looked like a coup.

In Rivers’ seven seasons, the Clippers averaged winning 63% of their regular-season and seeding games. There have been 152 seven-year stretches that good in NBA history.

All of them produced at least five playoff-series victories.

Except the Clippers of this era.

Rivers’ Clippers won just three postseason series in seven years.

Rivers didn’t even emphasize the regular season. He often eschewed practice to keep his players fresh. And his teams still won so many regular-season games, which speaks to the Clippers’ star power.

Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and  DeAndre Jordan then Kawhi Leonard and Paul George – Rivers’ teams were loaded.

They also never advanced past the second round.

Of course, that requires more context.

Beating the Warriors in the 2014 first round looks even better in hindsight, considering Golden State turned into a dynasty. The 2015 Clippers-Spurs series, which L.A. won, had no business being in the first round with teams that good. The Clippers lost in the second round to the Rockets when Josh Smith and Corey Brewer – Josh Smith and Corey Brewer! – got hot on 3-pointers. The Clippers lost to the Trail Blazers in the 2016 first round after Chris Paul and Blake Griffin got hurt. Griffin got hurt again in a first-round loss to the Jazz the next year. The Clippers overachieved just to make the 2019 playoffs.

Maybe Rivers would’ve been the right coach for the Clippers in the 2021 postseason. New issues arise, and he already proved he can coach a team to a championship. The Clippers are taking a huge risk with this move.

But this year’s historic collapse against the Nuggets reflected particularly poorly on Rivers, who has now blown three 3-1 leads as a coach. The Clippers were disjointed – an issue that lingered throughout the season. His personnel and tactical decisions were suspect.

And – perhaps most importantly – there was no track record of success in L.A. to fall back on.

The Clippers’ problems weren’t all Rivers’ fault. The timing of his ouster, after his job appeared safe, raises questions.

But it might just be this simple: Rivers was hired to win in the playoffs. He didn’t.

Report: Doc Rivers was surprised to learn Clippers were ousting him

Former Clippers coach Doc Rivers
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Clippers framed the conclusion of Doc Rivers’ coaching tenure as, “Doc Rivers Departs LA Clippers” and “Chairman Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers have reached a mutual decision that Rivers will step down as head coach of the LA Clippers.”

What really happened?

Dan Woike and Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

people with knowledge of the situation said Rivers was surprised to learn the Clippers wanted to move on.

Internally, Rivers enjoyed support even after the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. But ultimately, the sting from yet another disappointing end to a season prompted the change.

The Clippers suffered a historic upset by blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets. In a season with legitimate championship aspirations, the Clippers fell short of even the conference finals for a record 50th straight year.

Of course, the coach was going to face scrutiny for that collapse. And Rivers deserved plenty.

But once the smoke cleared, Rivers appeared safe.

What changed?

Despite the Clippers’ initial spin, it’s becoming increasingly clear Rivers got fired. Still, many questions remain about the shocking move.

LaMelo Ball not worried about where he gets drafted, “Anywhere is a great fit”

Leave a comment

Lavar Ball has his opinion. Always. When the patriarch of the Ball family went on the “Road Trippin'” podcast a couple of months ago, he said he didn’t want his youngest son, LaMelo Ball, drafted by the Warriors because he would have to come off the bench behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. “Michael Jordan didn’t come off the bench,” was his logic.

LaMelo Ball is about as interested in his father’s opinions as most 19-year-olds.

“I’m my own man. He’s his own man. He has his opinions, I have mine,” the younger Ball said of his father on Monday while speaking to reporters via Zoom as part of the NBA’s pre-draft process.

“I feel I could play on any team and do good anywhere I go,” Ball said. “Anything that happens, I’m positive.”

Ball is projected to be a top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, scheduled for Nov. 18. Rumors have bounced around the league that if the Timberwolves keep the No. 1 pick they will select Ball to pair with D'Angelo Russell in the backcourt. The Warriors have the No. 2 pick, the Charlotte Hornets select third, followed by Chicago then Cleveland.

Ball spent a chunk of his time with reporters denying having had contact with many teams at the top of the draft, although he said he didn’t know about Minnesota. He did say he had contact with the Knicks, who pick eighth, adding they just wanted to get to know him as a person (outside the online persona). Ball will not be on the board when New York makes its pick (the Knicks could trade up to get him, all the teams at the top of the draft are listening to offers).

Ball’s consistent point was he could fit in with any team.

“Anywhere is a great fit,” Ball said. “It’s the NBA. You put me with good players, I feel like it’s even gonna be better.”

Ball said he has adapted to the unprecedented pre-draft process, in part because his path to the NBA is untraditional. He said he realized back when his father had him playing in Lithuania at 16 he was not going to have the more traditional route to the NBA that his brother Lonzo Ball had, but LaMelo embraced it. LaMelo spent last season playing in Australia before returning to the states to prepare for the draft.

“I feel like I am dealing with it well,” Ball said. “I kinda like it, that nobody has been through something like this, it’s kinda unique, like me… I’m one-of-one.”

For now, Ball is in the Detroit area working out, preparing for the draft. He said some of that Detroit toughness is rubbing off on him.

But he’s happy to bring that with him wherever he gets drafted.

NBA playoffs, Finals schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

2020 NBA Finals schedule
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It may be five months after they were originally planned, but the NBA playoff schedule has reached the point the 2020 Finals are here.

It is down to the final two. There is LeBron James leading the Lakers against the team where he first won his ring. And then there is the gritty Miami team that nobody expected to be here — except themselves.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except for one two-day break between Game 4 and Game 5
Even more members of families for the players, coaches, and team staff are in the bubble for the Finals.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Conference Finals

Eastern Conference Finals

No. 5 Miami beat No. 3 Boston 4-2

Western Conference Finals

No. 1 L.A. Lakers beat No. 3 Denver 4-1

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0