The Extra Pass: You may not believe this, but a D’Antoni team is winning with defense, plus game recaps

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LOS ANGELES — Six games ago, a frustrated Mike D’Antoni decided to shake up the rotation of his struggling 3-5 Lakers: Chris Kaman was out of the starting lineup, Jordan Hill was in; Nick Young became a sixth man and Wesley Johnson became the starting three; and with Steve Nash out Jodie Meeks became Steve Blake’s backcourt mate.

It worked — after the Lakers 100-86 win over Sacramento Sunday night, Los Angeles improved to 4-2 with that rotation and they have won three straight. Yes, they have done this mostly at home (5-of-6) but the bottom line is the Lakers are a .500 team at 7-7.

And you can thank the defense.

Seriously. A Mike D’Antoni team is winning with defense. A team that was 17th in the NBA in defense last season then lost its two best defenders is winning with defense.

In those six games the Lakers are allowing just 97.9 points per 100 possessions, which would be fifth best in the NBA on the season. Opponents are shooting just 42.5 percent overall and 31 percent from three. Teams are converting on only 55.2 percent of their shots in the restricted area and they are shooting 31.8 percent from the midrange.

An active and at times swarming Lakers defense frustrated the Kings in the second half Sunday as Sacramento shot just 33.3 percent in the final 24 minutes, putting up just 38 points. The Kings had an offensive rating of 88.1

“We are sticking to our principles a lot,” D’Antoni said after the Lakers win Sunday. “I think they’re getting to the point where they’re not thinking about things and just reacting and sticking to what we are doing. They’re just following the game plan really well. The last part is their effort. They want to do it. I think because you share the ball on offense and everyone feels good about how they are playing that transfers on the defensive end and get more team energy.”

The Lakers are doing it with energy — this is not a team of lock-down defenders or elite athletes known for their defense. But starting with the ball of energy that is Jordan Hill on the back end the Lakers are doing a good job of driving guys to help and closing out on shooters. They are playing hard and fundamentally sound defense. In the NBA, a league full of athletes, defense really starts with effort.

“Intensity,” Pau Gasol said of the defensive improvement. “I think we’re communicating. I think we’re doing a good job defensively. For the most part I think we did a good job of holding this team to 86 points. I think we showed a great effort and we just have to keep that up.”

Is this sustainable long-term? Likely not, at least not at this level. We’ll see if the Lakers can keep that up on the road, with three games in four nights this week — Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit. Then they come home to the red-hot offense of Portland. That is going to test the Lakers newfound defensive commitment. Plus soon they will work Kobe Bryant back into the rotation — a 35-year-old guy coming off a serious surgery.

But at least for a couple of weeks now, the Lakers have done it with defense. Which was about the last thing we expected from them this season.

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Pistons 109, Nets 97: Brooklyn looked like they could get a win at home after a pretty good first half — Joe Johnson had 16 points in the first 24 (he finished the game with 34) and with a late 13-2 run the Nets were up 7 at the break. Then the third quarter happened. The Nets shot 26.3 percent in the third, the Pistons shot 66.7 percent and got to the line. Brandon Jennings had 10 in the quarter. Brooklyn couldn’t make that up in the fourth as the Pistons stayed hot. Rodney Stuckey led the Pistons with 27.

Clippers 121, Bulls 82: Did Chicago miss Derrick Rose? Yes. But that’s not why they lost by 39 — Chicago just did not show up defensively. The Clippers have the second best offense in the NBA this young season and they showed hit hitting 58.5 percent of their shots, they were moving the ball (32 assists on 48 makes) and they had an offensive rating of 129 on the night (they are averaging 108.6 on the season). Jared Dudley led the way for the Clippers with 21 and hit 4-of-5 from three. Chris Paul had 16 points and 17 assists. Don’t expect another bad Bulls defensive performance, Tom Thibodeau seemed frustrated with it after the game.

Suns 104, Magic 96: The Suns took the lead with a 13-5 run in the first quarter, led the whole way on the road and even when the Magic got within three it felt like the Suns would get the win. The reason is Goran Dragic who was just the best player on the floor — 23 points, 13 assists, and no turnovers. Gerald Green added 20 and the Suns just got the tempo up and the Magic could not keep up. Good news for Orlando —Tobias Harris was back in the lineup. He looked rusty but he was at least back.

Thunder 95, Jazz 73: Oklahoma City is a good team in a good groove lately. Utah is a bad team playing worse than anyone in the NBA. Together this is what you get — OKC had doubled up Utah at one point, 66-33. This game had all the suspense of “How I Met Your Mother” will end, we’ll spare you the long story. Suffice to say moving Marvin Williams into Utah’s starting lineup didn’t change anything, and as you might expect rookie Trey Burke struggled in his first NBA start. Utah won the last quarter by 10 or this would have looked a lot worse. Kevin Durant had 19 on 9 shots, Perry Jones had a nice 13 off the Thunder bench. Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert with 10 each led the Jazz. Yes, seriously.

Lakers 100, Kings 86: As discussed above, the Lakers had a solid offensive night — Xavier Henry had 21 points, Pau Gasol had 20 points and 10 rebounds — but the Lakers really won this game with defense. In the second half the Kings scored just 38 points on 33.3 percent shooting as the Lakers protected the rim well and closed out aggressively on shooters. The Lakers led most of the way but never by much until the Lakers bench (often its spark plug this season) put up a 10-0 run late in the third then a 15-6 run to start the fourth. At that point it was over. DeMarcus Cousins had 17 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists but couldn’t get really going as the Lakers threw a lot of bodies at him. Greivis Vasquez had 20 points and kept the Kings going in the first half. But the Lakers turned their defense into transition offense and pulled away for the win.

Report: FBI investigating Big Baller Brand co-founder Gregory Alan Foster

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It’s sad that people take advantage of athletes. A lot of people do it when these guys are very young and clearly talented, and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is no stranger to that.

Ball cut ties with his Big Baller Brand earlier this year, even covering up his “BBB” tattoo with a bad-looking pair of dice. This was because Gregory Alan Foster, one of his confidants and business partners, allegedly stole money from the company to the tune of several million dollars.

Now the FBI is reportedly investigating Foster for his involvement in bilking money from Ball.

Via LA Times:

The FBI is now investigating whether Foster defrauded the Ball family out of millions of dollars, according to two law enforcement sources. While it’s unclear when exactly the official investigation began, one of those sources said it is at least two months old.

Lonzo Ball and the family’s shoe and clothing business recently accused Foster in a lawsuit of taking more than $1.5 million out of the company’s bank accounts and accepting “substantial undisclosed referral fees” from at least eight loans he arranged on behalf of the company.

“[Foster is] like my second dad,” Lonzo replied. “So when he came to me, I just talked to him and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He just gave me his story. Now, looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped at it back in October.”

According to the Times, Foster’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Hopefully Ball will be able to recover some kind of financial damages from all of this.

Spurs’ smart defense, veterans force Game 7 with 120-103 win over Nuggets

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Nikola Jokic had a career night — 43 points, a personal and franchise playoff best, plus 12 rebounds and nine assists. Once again the two-man game, the pick-and-roll with him and Jamal Murray got into the lane and carved up San Antonio.

The Spurs lived with that. What they did, however, was not collapse off Denver’s shooters to help in the paint — to try to contest twos but give up good-look threes. Denver got its buckets inside — they won the points in the paint battle 72-36 — but shot just 8-of-31 outside the paint on the night.

The Nuggets stars took the shots they were given — Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — but the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets were missing. The Spurs took that away.

Combine that with veterans LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points on 10-of-18 shooting), DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 12-of-16 shooting), and Rudy Gay (19 points on 7-of-11 shooting) stepping up and you end up with the Spurs pulling away for a 120-103 Game 6 win on their home court.

It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver. The winner advances to take on Portland in the second round.

“We didn’t defend tonight, from the jump ball,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “They came out and scored 34 points in the first quarter, shot 70 percent or close to it [66.7 percent in first], and to give up 120 points in a potential elimination game, 57 [percent shooting]. It just wasn’t good enough.”

The game was decided by a 22-4 San Antonio run that spanned the end of the third and into the start of the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets pulled away.

“It was turnovers for us, it was offensive rebounds for them, and just no defense,” Malone said of the run.

The other difference in the game was the three-point shooting, an area where the Nuggets have dominated through the first five games. Thursday both teams took 24 shots from three, but the Spurs made 10 and the Nuggets six. That’s a dozen points to San Antonio in an area Denver needs to win.

It was like that all night.

San Antonio came out playing like the desperate team on the brink of elimination, playing with energy and staring out 7-of-10 from the floor. The Spurs built up a 10-point point first-quarter lead behind Aldridge, who had 13 points in the first quarter, 6-of-9 from the floor, plus the team shot 65.4 percent for the quarter.

Denver was not phased (this was the fifth time in six games they lost the first quarter), and after shooting 0-of-7 in the first quarter hit 4-of-5 to start the second. The Nuggets got back to playing the kind of ball-movement hoops — with a lot of Murray and Jokic playing off each other and scoring — and the Nuggets grabbed the lead back in the quarter. However, after a DeRozan putback bucket off his own missed free throw at the buzzer gave the Spurs a 64-60 lead at the half. That hustle play seemed to signify the Spurs night.

The game was close through much of the third, but the trends favored San Antonio.

Then the late-quarter run started, and Denver faded. Now they need to find their mojo on the plane home, because Saturday is win-or-go-home for everybody.

Chris Paul doesn’t like anyone touching the top of his head (VIDEO)

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Chris Paul is listed at six feet tall, and he’s definitely not any shorter than that. Nope, no sir. To even suggest as much would be ridiculous!

In any case, Paul is shorter than most of his teammates because he plays in the NBA. As such, Paul has probably had a lifetime of everyone towering over him despite his obvious incredible talent surpassing those of his compatriots.

So maybe being touched on the top of the head is a weird “thing” for him? At least, that’s what it appeared to be from this video.

Via Twitter:

You know somebody has a trigger when they are ready to turn around and fight you after a playoff series win, especially when they’re your own teammate.

Note to everybody: don’t touch the top of Chris Paul’s head.

Hall of Famer and Celtics hero John Havlicek dies at 79

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Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics Legend John Havlicek has died.

According to the team, the 13-time All-Star passed away peacefully in his home in Jupiter, Fla. The Celtics released an announcement on their website marking Havlicek contribution to the team.

Via Boston Celtics:

John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments. He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played. Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired #17 hangs in the Garden rafters. His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self. He was extraordinarily thoughtful and generous, both on a personal level and for those in need, as illustrated by his commitment to raising money for The Genesis Foundation for Children for over three decades through his fishing tournament. John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released this statement:

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA.  He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history.  A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players.  We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

No matter what kind of basketball fan you are, if you know anything about the history of the game you at least have the phrase “Havlicek stole the ball!” burned into the folds of your brain.

That famous steal came in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals to seal a Game 7 win against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Finals that season.

Thoughts are with Havlicek family and Celtics fans, who of course will remember him in their own special way today.