Spurs take care of business against injured Lakers, lead series 3-0

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LOS ANGELES — This is what good teams do. They take care of business.

With injuries forcing the Lakers into lineups without any guards you can name — unless you’re a big D-League fan — the Spurs looked every bit the contender, racing out to an early double-digit lead, never letting up and cruising to a 120-89 win Friday night over the Lakers in Los Angeles. They were professional, cold and efficient all night long. They were the Spurs.

San Antonio is now up 3-0 in the series and will likely close it out Sunday in Los Angeles with a similar performance. Will the Lakers put up much of a fight?

“It’s hard to determine,” Pau Gasol said in a postgame moment of honesty. “We’ll see Sunday how much fight we have in us in order to give ourselves a chance and not have a 30 point loss at home.”

It was 31 points, which is the worst home loss in Lakers playoff history. The Lakers fans who stuck around for the end of the game chanted “we want Phil” but when you look at who is left on the Lakers’ roster Phil Jackson likely would pass.

There were no real surprises here. The Lakers stood no chance Friday night with Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks all wearing suits on the bench due to injury (well, Kobe stayed in the locker room). The Lakers started Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock as their guards. Plus, Metta World Peace just had his knee drained, wasn’t moving well, went 0-for-6 shooting in the first half and didn’t play in the second.

“It’s difficult because we have lineups out there that we’re not accustomed to and it’s hard to get on the same page right away,” Gasol said. “So as much as everybody is trying, tonight there was too many breakdowns.”

Those breakdowns largely came on the defensive end, which has been the Lakers weak link all season anyway. The Spurs shot 61.2 percent for the game, and they got 56 points in the paint on 28-of-39 shooting. The Spurs averaged 123 points per 100 possessions (their season average was 105.9).

Tim Duncan and Tony Parker ate the Lakers defense up. Duncan had 26 points on 12-of-16 shooting, knocking down midrange face-ups, driving around guys and even finishing an alley-oop one handed.

Parker started to look like his old self, the one that played at an MVP level for a stretch of the season. He had 20 points on 9-of-14 shots and carved up the Lakers.

This was a slow and steady march by San Antonio that started early — the Lakers led 6-3 and then the Spurs went on a 14-2 run. It was 30-18 San Antonio after one quarter, 12 minutes in which the Spurs shot 61.1 percent. Meanwhile the Lakers shot 34.8 percent, with Morris and Goudelock shooting 1-of-6. As it has been all season, Pau Gasol and Howard shot a combined 5-9, rest of Lakers 3-14.

Howard finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds, but after the game he was clearly frustrated by the Spurs strategy of fouling him hard nearly every time he went up for a shot. He took 15 free throws on the night, making 7. Morris added 24 points, Goudelock 20 and Gasol 11.

The only bad news for the Spurs was Tiago Splitter going down in the fourth quarter with a sprained ankle. He left the building on crutches but Popovich said that the X-rays were negative. Popovich said don’t expect him to play on Sunday. Expect to see a lot DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner Sunday in Game 4.

If the Spurs close out the series Sunday — and it’s hard to imagine any other outcome — Splitter could have a week to get right. That’s how long the first round of the NBA playoffs go. Duncan was okay with that.

“We’re an older team and we could use all the rest we can get,” Duncan said.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.