Fatigue catches up with shorthanded Lakers in blowout loss to Suns

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PHOENIX — The Lakers haven’t won both games of a back-to-back set all season long, and thanks to Kobe Bryant missing his second straight game with an ankle injury, along with Mike D’Antoni refusing to expand his rotation beyond the seven remaining healthy players he trusts, L.A. continued that tradition as it suffered a 99-76 loss at the hands of the Suns.

“I just wasn’t ready to grasp at straws,” D’Antoni said afterward, when asked about only going seven deep into his rotation until the final few minutes. “After it’s over with, yeah [I would have used more players], if you would have told me it was going to be that way.”

There was energy from the Lakers early on, as both Steve Nash and Dwight Howard were extremely active to start things off. Howard had 11 points and six rebounds in just nine first quarter minutes, while Nash took a more proactive approach to the offense by scoring 10 first quarter points of his own.

As the game wore on, the offense was tougher to come by. Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison, who had both contributed so much to the Lakers’ last two wins, were largely ineffective, while Nash and Howard managed just nine and five points respectively the rest of the way after their fast starts.

Howard seemed particularly affected by fatigue, on both ends of the floor.

“I tried to do my best to get in certain spots, but they did a good job of spreading the floor tonight,” he said of his defensive effort. “They forced me to make longer returns back to my man. It’s not easy. They’ve got [Goran Dragic] coming down the lane trying to make plays, then he kicks it out to my man on the perimeter, and I have to make a long run. So it’s tough, but we’ve just got to keep fighting.”

When asked if that’s something he can improve upon, Howard stressed the difficulty of that task.

“I don’t think it’s easy for anybody to do that,” he said. “Protect the basket as a big, close out to a guy shooting the ball at the three-point line. It’s not that easy, but we’ll continue to get better, continue to push through fatigue, and I’ll get myself in better shape for the playoffs.”

Offensively, while Howard’s activity level was high to start the game, he managed to shoot just 4-11 in the first quarter, and finished just 2-7 over the game’s final three quarters. D’Antoni seemed to think Howard was pressing to get through the physical way the Suns were defending him a bit too much.

“I just thought he kind of took it personal and tried to go at ’em,” D’Antoni said of Howard’s offensive struggles. “We need to do more pick and rolls, roll him into the post, get him a little bit on the move, get the ball into him. And we just kind of — because I think we were tired — we just kind of got stuck in mud and tried to wrestle our way through it.”

Howard paused and chuckled a bit when asked if the physical play affected his game, presumably due to the fact that he would need to choose his words carefully to avoid being fined for his comments. But the contact that was being allowed seemed excessive at times, yet Howard did his best to take the high road, both during the game and afterward.

“A lot of stuff happened in the paint, and for me, I’ve just got to do my best and not say anything to the refs,” Howard said. “It’s hard, but I continue to talk to myself, push myself to leave the referees alone, and hopefully they might look down there a couple times.”

The Lakers weren’t taking this loss too hard, as seemingly everyone was aware that the circumstances of playing without Bryant, on the second night of a back-to-back, with only a seven-man rotation had as much to do with it as did the Suns’ inspired play. Nash in particular seemed to have his explanation chambered for the assembled media that came looking for post-game answers.

“We just kind of hit the wall,” he said. “It was our ninth game in 14 days in seven cities, and you could just kind of see the wheels fall off. Especially lately, with guys injured we’ve been playing a seven-man rotation, and I think it caught up with us a little bit.”

Kevin Durant already tired of free agency rumors: ‘Don’t ask me every time you see me’

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It’s going to be one of the most discussed undercurrents of the NBA season:

Is this Kevin Durant‘s final season with the Golden State Warriors?

He can opt out next summer of his $31.5 million deal, and sources from multiple teams around the league think he may be ready to bolt the Bay Area and have his own team. Teams are already preparing for it and getting their pitches ready, and the Warriors are privately bracing for him to leave. The Knicks, Clippers, and maybe a dozen other teams are rumored and want to make their case. (The Lakers are in that group, too, but is Durant going to leave being in a team culture Stephen Curry created to being in LeBron James‘ shadow and culture? You thought he took flack for joining a championship Warriors team, imagine the reaction if he joins LeBron?)

Durant almost certainly does not know what he’s going to do next summer, staying with Golden State is a real possibility, but as rumors have their own life around the NBA this is going to be a topic all season long. People are going to try to read the tea leaves with everything Durant says and does.

Durant has been there before, and he’s already tired of it this time around, as he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“I just want people to focus on basketball,” Durant told Yahoo Sports after posting 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “Focus on what goes on the court. I know it’s hard to keep up with it. I know it’s easy to look at that type of [expletive] because it’s the entertainment side. But wait until the season is over with to analyze [free agency]. I know it’s your job and it’s hard to say that, but try to shift some of your focus to the court, too. I know you have to still do your job and check on stuff like that, but every day? Every city I go to? Come on, man. I said what I had to say at media day. I understand your job, but let’s come to a little agreement. Don’t ask me every time you see me. If it’s the first time I’m seeing y’all, I don’t mind answering. But every time? Come on, bro.”

It’s easy to appreciate Durant’s “just focus on the games” sentiment, but the simple fact of the matter is that is not what fans want — it’s not what they read, watch, and consume. We all want to play fantasy GM and player movement is of far bigger interest to fans than the game itself. Coverage of the league reflects that taste now.

Which means the questions are going to keep coming. How is Durant going to handle that?

“It depends on how I feel that day,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “If I’m in a [expletive]-up mood, you’re going to see. Ask me that question and you’re going to really see what mood I’m in.”

No contract extension for Kristaps Porzingis, is that a problem? Depends…

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Most teams, when they get a franchise cornerstone player, lock him up with a max contract extension as soon as humanly possible. Minnesota did that this summer with a big offer to Karl-Anthony Towns (which he eventually signed). Before that Philadelphia did it with Joel Embiid, New Orleans with Anthony Davis, and on down the list.

Kristaps Porzingis is that kind of player for the Knicks.

But there was no contract extension for KP this offseason. This has nothing to do with the torn ACL that will have him out most if not all of this season (which tips off tonight for the Knicks at home against the Hawks).

The reason is cap space — not giving Porzingis an extension now frees up $10 million extra to go big game hunting in free agency next summer. After that, the Knicks can sign him after to that max contract. It’s what the Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard (and the problems between those two sides that led to Leonard being a Raptor were not about that contract).

It all works if the player understands this is not a “snub” but rather a strategic salary cap move designed to put a better team around him. The player has to be good with the move or it can create bad blood.

Does Porzingis and his camp know and understand all this? Knicks GM Scott Perry hinted yes, but was a little vague, via Ian Bagley of ESPN.

Is this a good move by the Knicks? Depends. The extra money is helpful next summer. Perry and team president Steve Mills are smart men who have made good decisions (mostly) so far, and it sounds like they have been clear to Porzingis and his people about what they are doing and why. That’s important.

The question is, did Porzingis fully buy into it? That we do not yet know. We won’t know until we see what Porzingis does next summer (his actions will speak louder than any words when he returns).

In theory it doesn’t matter, the Knicks control Porzinis’ rights as a restricted free agent next summer and they would match any offer. He’s not leaving NYC. However, in practice what the Knicks don’t want to do is create bad blood, something that festers and becomes an issue when this contract is up (Porzingis could sign an offer sheet with another team that is shorter than the max the Knicks want to throw at him).

I expect we will see Porzingis back with the Knicks this season, but not until the last 10-20 games of the season. He’s not coming in as a savior to get the team to the postseason, rather just getting his legs under him and shaking off some rust before another long summer of work. It’s the following season that he will be targeting.

We will see if the Knicks can use that extra $10 million in cap room to get another star to be with him that season.

Nets’ DeMarre Carroll has ankle surgery on eve of season

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NEW YORK (AP) — Brooklyn Nets forward DeMarre Carroll has undergone right ankle surgery and will miss the start of the season.

The team says Carroll had a right ankle arthroscopy. It was performed Tuesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Carroll started 73 games at forward for the Nets last season, averaging 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds.

The Nets say updates regarding Carroll’s return will be issued as appropriate.

Brooklyn opens its season Wednesday at Detroit.

 

PBT Extra: Five players to watch in NBA’s MVP race

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It was difficult to limit this list to just five.

The NBA’s race for the MVP award seems wide open this season. LeBron James is the favorite of the Las Vegas books (thank Lakers’ fans for that) and James Harden has been first or second three of the past four years, so he cannot be counted out. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have each won it before, although they tend to cancel each other out on the same team.

This year feels like we could see new blood winning the award. Maybe Anthony Davis of the Pelicans. Maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks. Maybe Kawhi Leonard is back to form in Toronto and we shouldn’t count him out. Joel Embiid is touting himself in Philly.

I make my prediction and talk about the players to watch in this new PBT Extra video.