Spurs have little trouble with Lakers on the way to 2-0 series lead

60 Comments

The necessary adjustments the Lakers needed to make in order to have a shot in Game 2 against the Spurs were only going to work if they were able to turn in a similar defensive performance that held the Spurs to 37.6 percent shooting in Game 1 of the series.

Since San Antonio used a combination of efficient ball movement and balanced scoring, and got a superstar performance from Tony Parker in the second half, any small improvements the Lakers made on the offensive end were rendered meaningless. As a result, the Spurs cruised to a 102-91 victory that gives them a 2-0 series lead heading back to Los Angeles.

In the first half, it was Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili doing the damage for the Spurs offensively. Leonard had 14 points at the intermission, while Ginobili did what he does, scoring a quick and devastating 12 points while playing just over 10 first half minutes.

Parker then took control in the third, scoring 15 points in the period to extend the Spurs’ lead to as many as 13 points. He added nine more in the fourth, giving him 24 of his game high 28 points in the second half.

The Spurs as a team shot 51.2 percent from the field for the game, including 7-14 (50 percent) from three-point distance.

The Lakers did a decent job of cleaning up their mistakes from the game before in terms of not being so predictable in forcing the ball into the post. Pau Gasol finished the game without a turnover, while Dwight Howard committed five of the team’s 13 it totaled in the game. But even though the spacing was better and the actions before the post entry were more effective, the Lakers have no quickness from their guards on the perimeter, which allows San Antonio to recover and contest shots after doubling the post far too easily.

The Spurs continue to get away with playing Matt Bonner for extended stretches against Howard and Gasol, and have been unable to consistently punish him when he’s on the defensive end. Bonner spent plenty of time fronting the post, and it was effective enough to deter the guards from trying those passes on more than one possession.

Bonner finished with 10 points, five rebounds and three steals in 29 minutes. By contrast, Howard finished with 16 points, nine rebounds, and four blocked shots in 32 minutes. Just one more area where the Lakers should have a much bigger advantage if they’re going to have any chance of winning even a single game in this series.

Meanwhile, there’s more news on the injury front that L.A. will have to deal with in advance of Game 3 on Friday. Steve Nash played 31 minutes and contributed nine points and six assists, but he was laboring just to get up and down the floor, and was clearly limping by the time he checked out midway through the fourth once the game was decided. Nash said postgame he’d have another epidural or two to try to get himself ready for Game 3.

Jodie Meeks sat this one out with an ankle injury, and he’s scheduled to have an MRI to assess the extent of the damage. Steve Blake left late in the fourth quarter with a right hamstring injury, and he’s scheduled for an ultrasound on Thursday.

Ultrasounds and epidurals are supposed to be discussions involving pregnant women, not professional basketball players.

It just shows once again how far off the rails things have gone for the Lakers due to all of their injuries, but should the Spurs continue their high level of play on both ends of the floor, the pain of this season in Los Angeles will only need to be endured for two more games.

Bucks bring in Christian Wood for training camp, give him chance to make roster

Getty Images
2 Comments

For three seasons now, Christian Wood has bounced between the NBA and G-League (he played for the Sixers, who cut him to bring in Elton Brand, and Charlotte). He has been trying to improve and show he has NBA skills — a 6’11” forward who has a face-up game, an improving outside shot, and his defense seems to be coming together. He’s still just 22 years old.

The best he looked was playing for the Bucks at Summer League in Las Vegas this year, where he averaged 20.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a game, shot 55.4 percent, and made the All Summer League First Team.

That got him a training camp invite to Milwaukee this fall.

The Bucks have a final roster spot open, and they have now signed Woods and Shabazz Muhammad for camp, giving them a chance to compete for it and impress new coach Mike Budenholzer. (Tyler Zeller also is on a non-guaranteed and could get that spot.)

Budenholzer likes bigs who can shoot and space the floor, and Woods shot 30.4 percent from three in Las Vegas — not earth shattering, but he’s a more willing shooter from the outside than Muhammad. It’s going to be an interesting battle to watch in Bucks training camp. In Las Vegas, Woods looked like an NBA player, but Vegas can be a desert mirage, he needs to carry that play over to training camp to get a roster spot.

Kyle Kuzma on LeBron James’ Lakers: “a lot of people are underestimating us”

Getty Images
2 Comments

Just how good are the LeBron James led Los Angles Lakers?

Las Vegas’ Westgate Sports Book put their under/over win total at 48.5. I’ve seen predictions that range from the three seed to talk of them missing the playoffs. Nobody really knows because, while LeBron’s greatness isn’t in question, there are plenty of questions about the fit around him: Lance Stephenson? Can Lonzo Ball play well off the ball more considering his shot? Where does Rajon Rondo fit in the PG rotation? What kind of step forward will Brandon Ingram take? Michael Beasley? Is JaVale McGee ready for a larger role? Will the Lakers go small at times with LeBron at the five? (I think that could be their best lineup, if used right.)

Kyle Kuzma thinks you’re selling the Lakers’ short.

Back in his hometown of Flint, Michigan, this week for a YMCA promotion, Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN he has worked out with LeBron and they like this roster.

“We are both definitely excited about the roster and the pieces that we have,” Kuzma told ESPN on Tuesday, after visiting with 20 kids from the Safe Places program at his hometown Flint YMCA as part of the “My Y Story” content series. “And we think that a lot of people are underestimating us. It is definitely going to be fun playing with all these new guys.”

“A lot of people say we got a lot of different people, a lot of new people,” added Kuzma, who also is holding a three-day camp for children in his hometown. “But change can be a good thing. It is not necessarily always a bad thing. There’s a lot of teams in the NBA that need to work on their chemistry; we are just one of them…

“I don’t know why people kind of just rule us out because we are young,” said Kuzma, who was a first-team All-Rookie performer after averaging 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season. “We are hungry. We are competitive. Anybody that watched us play last year, we were in a lot of games.”

The big change the Lakers made this season is good — LeBron makes the Lakers a threat. Kuzma is right on that front.

However, the question has never been “will the Lakers be good?” They have LeBron and some quality talent around him, of course they will be. The questions are more along the lines of “how fast can they come together?” and “where do they slot in the West, where there are a lot of good teams?” Assuming Golden State and Houston finish as the top two seeds in some order, where do the Lakers rank against Oklahoma City, Utah, Portland, New Orleans, Minnesota, Denver, and San Antonio? And that’s without getting into teams such as Memphis or the Los Angeles Clippers who have potential if they can stay healthy. That’s 12 teams I just mentioned battling for eight playoffs slots, 12 teams capable of winning at least 45 games if not more. The margin for error in the West is minuscule.

But are we underestimating the Lakers? Depends on what the standard is. These Lakers are not contenders yet. But do you really think a LeBron James team is going to miss the playoffs?

Change of plans, NBA clears Jordan Clarkson to play in Asian Games

Associated Press
1 Comment

The Philippines national basketball team just got a lot better.

Jordan Clarkson wanted to play for the Philippines in the upcoming Asian Games (his mother is a native of that country, so he is allowed), but the NBA did not clear him to do so saying this tournament was not part of the agreement between FIBA and the NBA that allows the league’s players to take part in major international events (the Olympics, the basketball World Cup, etc.).

However, there has been a change of heart and Clarkson has been granted a special waiver.

The Cavaliers’ guard will miss his country’s first game against Kazakhstan today but will play in the rest of the tournament. As noted in the release, two Chinese players with NBA ties — Houston’s Zhou Qi and Dallas’ Ding Yanhuyang — also were cleared for this tournament.

There is a “club vs. country” tug of war in soccer and other international sports, including basketball. While players want to represent their countries — for both patriotic reasons and the fact the major international events such as the Olympics can help boost a players’ brand — teams see injury risk, coaches not necessarily looking out for the long-term health of the player, and something that can pull them out of off-season training and work on parts of their game. This time, the countries won, but don’t bet on the NBA expanding its list of FIBA events it will clear its players for.

Geeking out on NBA prospects: R.J. Barrett almost dunks from free throw line, Zion Williamson does

Getty Images
4 Comments

Duke is stacked this coming season. STACKED. They should have three lottery picks in next year’s draft. (Does that mean they are the team to beat in the NCAA? That’s not the way basketball works. But that’s another discussion.)

Duke is in Toronto for a series of preseason exhibition games, and at the end of the workout likely No. 1 pick next June, R.J. Barrett tried to show off by almost dunking from the free throw line.

Then freak of nature Zion Williamson showed him how it’s done.

That’s worth more looks.

Damn Zion is a freak of nature. Can we just put him in the next dunk contest now?