ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Last season: It was supposed to be yet another year spent contending for a championship for a storied Lakers franchise that already has 16 of them. L.A. loaded up with free agent talent in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and was on paper the team most believed would stand in the way of a second straight Miami Heat title.

Instead, it was a season full of drama and disaster. The Lakers were decimated by injuries to nearly anyone that mattered, Howard struggled to embrace head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system and playing alongside Kobe Bryant, and the team snuck into the playoffs only to be swept in the first round by the Spurs.

If all of that wasn’t bad enough, Bryant went down with a torn Achilles injury near the end of last season that will have a lingering effect on the team entering this one.

Signature highlight from last season: Bryant’s Achilles injury and subsequent free throws that helped give the Lakers a much-needed late season win to keep their playoff hopes alive was a candidate here, as was Steve Nash, literally the best teammate in the game, losing his temper Dwight Howard. But those were both bummers for Lakers fans, so instead let’s revisit some vintage Bryant heroics during one of the team’s most exciting wins of the year.

Key player changes: The loss of Dwight Howard in free agency immediately dropped the Lakers out of championship contention in the eyes of most pundits. But L.A. did a nice job of adding talented role players at below market value to support the stars still in place on the roster.

  • IN: Chris Kaman, Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Wesley Johnson were all signed to guaranteed contracts for the upcoming season.
  • OUT: Dwight Howard choose to sign in Houston in free agency; Earl Clark did the same with the Cavaliers, as did Antawn Jamison, now with the Clippers. Metta World Peace was waived using the amnesty provision, and was picked up by the Knicks. Other seldom-used players who are no longer Lakers: Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, Devin Ebanks.

Keys to the Lakers season:

1) The health of Kobe Bryant: Recovering from an injury as severe as a torn Achilles is no small task, even for someone with a ruthless work ethic and insanely high pain tolerance as Kobe Bryant. While his rehabilitation appears to be going well and Bryant has said that he’s ahead of schedule, the timing of his return isn’t nearly as important as the quality of his play whenever he does see the court this season for the first time.

Assuming a healthy Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, with the latter playing in a contract year as the featured big man in Mike D’Antoni’s offense, there is still legitimate star power on the Lakers roster beyond whatever Bryant brings. He puts the team over the top, however, in terms of having enough talent to do real damage — but only if he’s back playing close to the level we’ve come to expect, at least for the majority of the season.

2) Pau Gasol returning to All-Star form: Ever since coming to the Lakers via trade during the 2008 season, Gasol has been the one who largely was blamed publicly when things weren’t right with the team. He’s been the constant subject of trade rumors, and due to a variety of factors, many thought it was a long shot that he’d even be back with the Lakers this season.

Gasol appears healthy now, and after being marginalized in favor of Dwight Howard, D’Antoni has spent every opportunity praising Gasol’s abilities, and seems genuinely excited about being able to feature him in the offense. There should be a monster year on the horizon for the Spaniard, and depending on what version of Bryant we see, Gasol’s return to form could help the Lakers overachieve by most people’s standards.

On the flip side, Gasol is in the final year of his contract, and will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he stumbles at all or the team doesn’t produce wins in spite of his stellar play, the Lakers could look to dump him at the trade deadline in order to make sure they get something in return for a player of his caliber. A lot will hinge on Gasol’s play this season, both in terms of the team’s fortunes, as well as what the future may hold for him personally.

3) One word — Defense: The good news for the Lakers is that Mike D’Antoni has had a full training camp to put in his offense, and the Lakers have added players like Nick Young and Jordan Farmar who should thrive in his system while having no trouble putting up big numbers.

But D’antoni teams have never been known for their lock-down defense, and the personnel in place this year looks to be woefully inadequate on that end of the floor. Nash, Young, and Chris Kaman have a history of struggling defensively, yet all are expected to play big minutes this season. Bryant has proven he can play above average defense over the years, but was dreadful there a season ago, largely by personal choice.

These Lakers don’t have quite enough firepower to outscore teams, and don’t have nearly enough defensively to shut their opponents down for extended stretches .That middle ground is likely going to be troublesome to escape, and along with the uncertainty surrounding Bryant, it’s the primary reason that most have the Lakers finishing out of the playoffs.

Why you should watch: Well, the first reason is you won’t have much of a choice — the Lakers will be on national television 29 times. Beyond that, the intrigue surrounding how Bryant returns, what Nash has left to give in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, and what ends up happening with Gasol are each reasons on their own, and combined they’ll make the Lakers as interesting as usual.

Prediction: 46-36, one more regular season win than last year’s supposed world-beater squad, and enough to secure one of the final two playoff spots in the West.

Look, there are six teams that are essentially guaranteed to make the postseason in the Western Conference, which only leaves two spots up for grabs. There are a lot of “ifs” surrounding this Lakers team, but I’m taking the optimistic approach on Kobe’s health and the overall team talent being enough to finish in seventh or eighth place when the regular season is finished.

Luka Doncic leads Mavericks over short-handed Warriors 112-109

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic gave the Dallas Mavericks a glimpse of an exciting future – and extended a bad week for the Golden State Warriors.

The rookie scored 24 points, including a short jumper that put Dallas in front for good, and the Mavericks beat the Warriors 112-109 on Saturday night.

The 19-year-old from Slovenia arrived in the NBA having led Real Madrid to the 2018 Euro League title. On Saturday, he hit a 10-footer in the lane with 1:10 left to put Dallas up 109-108, then sealed the game with two free throws with seven seconds remaining.

“I’ve been doing this when I was in Madrid, too,” Doncic said. “I love the last-minute shot. (But) of course it’s different. It’s the NBA. It’s the best league in the world.”

Golden State played without injured starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and lost for the fourth time in six games. The Warriors dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season, and Saturday they led by eight points in the second half before the Mavs rallied.

Kevin Durant scored 32 points, but only three in the fourth quarter on 1-for-7 shooting. Klay Thompson added 22 for the two-time defending NBA champions. Durant missed two shots and Thompson one in the final minute, all of which could have either tied the game or put Golden State ahead.

“You don’t set NBA records being frustrated,” Thompson said. “I’m not going to go over here and dwell on missing a couple of shots, missing a game-tying shot this early in the season.”

Harrison Barnes had 23 points for the Mavericks, who have won four in a row. It was just the second time Dallas has beaten Golden State in their past 19 meetings, the other coming on Dec. 30, 2015 – one of only nine games the Warriors lost that regular season.

An 8-0 Mavs run early in the fourth quarter, capped by Dwight Powell‘s three-point play, gave Dallas its first lead since early in the third quarter, 93-92, with 9:18 to play. After Golden State surged ahead again, the Mavericks hung tough and Dorian Finney-Smith‘s fast-break layup put Dallas back up 107-106 with 1:45 remaining.

“Our guys worked incredibly hard to wear on them throughout the game and we made their shots a little more difficult,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you work as hard as we did, you get luck to go your way.”

In addition to missing Curry (left groin strain) and Green (right toe sprain) in the midst of this rough stretch, the Warriors are still trying to repair the bad feelings caused by Green’s dust-up Monday night with Durant and subsequent suspension.

“Just trying to move forward,” Durant said. “Are we going to talk about this the whole year? We just want to play ball. I know that’s all I want to do.”

 

Donovan Mitchell scores 28, Jazz beat Celtics 98-86

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BOSTON (AP) — Donovan Mitchell had 28 points and six assists, bouncing back from one of his worst performances of the season and leading the Utah Jazz to a 98-86 win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night.

Ricky Rubio scored 20 points for Utah, which beat Boston for the second time in eight days and swept the season series. Rudy Gobert had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Derrick Favors finished with 10 points and eight boards.

Mitchell took 35 shots and did not record an assist in Friday night’s 113-107 loss at Philadelphia. He was far more efficient against Boston, going 10 for 21 from the field and 3 for 4 at the free-throw line.

Boston scored its fewest points since a 93-90 loss at Orlando on Oct. 22.

Kyrie Irving had 20 points for the Celtics, who had won two in a row. He also had the move of the night.

Jayson Tatum finished with 10, but no other player scored in double figures for Boston.

The Celtics were just 8 for 26 from the field in the third quarter. They had to play much of the period without Irving, who fouled Mitchell on a 3-pointer with 5:40 left. Mitchell made all three from the line to put Utah up 68-55, and then Irving picked up his fifth foul just 28 seconds later.

Irving returned in the fourth, but Boston was unable to catch up. Mitchell blocked a dunk attempt by Gordon Hayward and Utah took it the other way for an alley-oop dunk by Favors from Geoges Niang to put the Jazz up 83-64 with 9:07 left to play.

Utah ended a two-game losing streak, which started with a 118-68 loss at Dallas on Wednesday.

 

Kemba Walker scores 60 but Jimmy Butler hits game-winner with .03 in OT, Sixers win

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Kemba Walker was putting on a “how dare you leave me off your list of top free agents next summer” kind of show in Charlotte, dropping 60 on Philadelphia while Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler trying to stop him. It was a virtuoso performance.

And then Jimmy Butler did this.

This is why the Sixers wanted Butler (or at least one reason). When it got to the end of games Joel Embiid can’ really create his own shot, Ben Simmons can create but his lack of shooting has defenders playing off him and daring him to take jumpers. J.J. Redick can create a little, but that’s not what he does.

It is what Butler lives for. And it’s not the only big play he made late, look at this block and save on Walker to set up the game-winner.

Report: Kings’ front office, coach Dave Joerger disconnect could lead to his firing

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The 8-7 Sacramento Kings are one of the best surprises of the young season. Sacramento has found an identity with point guard De'Aaron Fox pushing the pace — they are the second fastest team in the NBA at 106.3 possessions a game, with 20 percent of their trips down the court starting in transition (also second in the league). While the Kings are middle of the pack in both offense and defense ratings, that is a massive step up from where most predicted this young team to be this season.

So, of course, Sacramento is finding a way to screw that narrative up. Because… Kings.

A disconnect between the front office led by Vlade Divac and coach Dave Joerger could lead to the coach’s dismissal, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Joerger’s handling of 2018 No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III could eventually lead to the coach’s dismissal, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Sources said the franchise is growing frustrated with how Joerger is distributing minutes and assigning roles to the team’s young prospects.

The front office views this season as a development year, sources said, but it was still confident that the team would be competitive and grow with Bagley, promising guard De’Aaron Fox, and forwards Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere getting meaningful minutes. Joerger, generally regarded as one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the league, has favored playing veteran players over developing youth, especially in crunch time.

Vlade Divac, the general manager of the Sacramento Kings, quickly came out in a statement given to NBC Sports and said:

“Dave has our full support and confidence. We continue to work together to develop our young core and compete.”

All season long Jeorger has gone with Nemanja Bjelica over Bagley down the stretch (Bjelica also starts over Bagley). When Kosta Koufos was healthy, he also was a guy Joerger trusted in key moments. Two-way contract player Troy Williams has earned a lot of minutes from Joerger, more than Bagley at times. Joerger’s rotations are not consistent and the report says players don’t feel the coach is communicating clearly about their roles.

All NBA coaches are constantly dealing with the developing vs. winning balance (even the elite teams like the Warriors have young players they are trying to bring along). It’s an age-old problem to have the GM wanting the youth learning on the fly and the coach wanting to win now.

Instability for coaches has been a hallmark of the Kings under owner Vivek Ranadive, going back to before when the Kings pushed out Mike Malone — a DeMarcus Cousins favorite — for George Karl. Malone had taken over for Keith Smart, who coached a season and a half. Jeorger took over for Karl and is in his third season.

The constant coaching upheaval leads to system upheaval and a lack of continuity. It’s been an ongoing issue for the Kings, but as their young players start to develop and show potential — Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein are playing well.

Expect denials all around, but this sounds like about the most Kings thing ever.