James Harden proves too much for Lakers in what is dreary opener for Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant vs. Dwight Howard. The Lakers’ cornerstone vs. the guy who spurned the team. That’s how it was billed, that’s how it was sold on talk radio in Los Angeles. And the two men had their moment. They clearly don’t like one another.

However, maybe people should have talked more about James Harden.

He torched the Lakers in transition all night, he was draining threes, he was hitting step backs over Kobe, he was posting up Ronnie Price, he was slashing into the lane, he was basically doing whatever he wanted on the way to 32 points on 17 shots (he got to the line 16 times). When the Lakers made a third quarter push to cut the lead of a blowout game down to 7, Harden got a big and-1 on Kobe Bryant to stem the tide and restore order.

That led the Rockets to a relatively easy 108-90 win over the Lakers in the season opener for both teams.

This was a game overshadowed by a tibia fracture to promising Lakers rookie Julius Randle, who went down in the fourth quarter. He was taken to the hospital where surgery is likely. While no timeline for his return has been given, think in terms of months, this is a weight-bearing bone.

After the game that injury put a damper on things… and the Lakers were already pretty down after a rough first game.

“They’re a good basketball team and now we know we’re a ways away,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said after the game.

Particuarly defensively. Houston was able to get the ball inside, posting up Howard a few times but mostly from the slashing of Patrick Beverley and Harden. Then they either finished or kicked out (and made an extra pass) to get guys open looks at the arc. Look at it this way — only 3.7 percent of the Rockets points came on midrange shots, the least efficient shots in the game. They got their points at the free throw line, in the paint or at the arc — Trevor Ariza made five buckets all night and all of them came on uncontested three pointers (according to Sports VU data from the game).

“I thought we played really well tonight, and there are things we can really build on and learn,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.

The very efficient Rockets offense scored 31 points on 23 possessions in the first quarter and finished the game with a 113.7 offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions). Terrence Jones had 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Rockets, Howard had 13 points (on 3-of-5 shooting) and 11 rebounds.

Lakers fans — and their coaching staff — are left scouring the film trying to find bright spots.  As a team Los Angeles shot 35.4 percent, with a true percentage of 37.3 (compared to 50.7 for the Rockets).

One bright spot is Kobe Bryant looked about as good as one might have hoped after missing a season and having two major surgeries. He had 19 points to lead the Lakers, but he took 17 shots to get there as Trevor Ariza did a solid job on him all night.

Jeremy Lin struggled in the first half with Patrick Beverley on him. Kobe had a team-high 19 points but on 6-of-17 shooting. Ed Davis played well again (as he did in preseason). Carlos Boozer added the empty 17 points, although like with his time in Chicago it felt fairly meaningless. The Lakers also showed a stretch of better, more energized play in the third quarter, they just couldn’t sustain it.

For the Rockets, it was a win and they will take it, no matter how pretty.

For the Lakers… well, things have to get better, right?

 

 

Report: Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon named GM of Pelicans

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The New Orleans Pelicans continue to rebuild their broken front office. Now that David Griffin has taken his place as the Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, the Pelicans are reportedly adding another name to their executive staff.

According to Shams Charania, Brooklyn Nets assistant general manager Trajan Langdon will join Griffin in the New Orleans front office as the team’s new general manager.

Langdon started his front office career as a scout with the San Antonio Spurs, and was named assistant general manager of the Nets in 2016.

Via Twitter:

Brooklyn is a team that has done more with less as of late, and has acted as efficiently as they can particularly as they’ve tried to recover from the moves of a former GM. The Nets moved Billy King Out of the GM job in 2016 in favor for Sean Marks. The Pelicans fired Dell Demps in February.

It looks like the Pelicans are going to do all they can to get Anthony Davis to stay, and that includes a new front office team, upgrades to their practice facility, and a better health and training staff.

Langdon could be just a piece in the puzzle, but he could also be part of the group that has to figure out the best trade package for Davis if the day comes. Either way, New Orleans is regrouping as they move forward with the number one overall pick where they will presumably take Zion Williamson.

Bucks lead East finals 2-0, and now series shifts to Toronto

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals.

Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts.

The supporting cast hasn’t supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green‘s expense.

“We’ve got to be better, man,” Nurse said Saturday. “We’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to hustle more and we’ve got to work harder.”

He may as well have punctuated that by adding “or else.”

In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that’s the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish.

“We can’t rest,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We can’t relax. We can’t assume anything.”

So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn’t care.

“I don’t really give a crap about that,” he said. “I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.”

Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 – which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto’s chances.

It hasn’t worked that way.

Add up everyone else’s scoring in the series, and it’s Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well.

“We’re just trying to be us,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “We’re not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We’re just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.”

The Raptors don’t have to look at the history books to know this series isn’t over.

All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home – then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.

“We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,” Gasol said. “That’s all that matters right now. That’s all that matters.”

 

Andre Iguodala sits fourth quarter with “lower leg soreness,” to get MRI Sunday

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DaMarcus Cousins. Kevin Durant.

Now you might be able to add Andre Iguodala to the list of injured Warriors. He only played 18 minutes in Game 3 Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. Asked about that after the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr listed a hockey injury — lower leg soreness — and said an MRI was coming.

If he has to miss time, that would be another blow to the Warriors. Up 3-0 on Portland, Golden State can close this series out without him, but the Warriors are going to need Iguodala and Durant — and, ideally, Cousins — against the Bucks or Raptors in the NBA Finals starting on May 30.

Iguodala made friends and influenced people when he went back to the locker room late in the first quarter, deciding to flip off the hallway camera on his way.

We will see if the League has anything to say about that or lets it slide.

 

Jordan Bell spectacularly missed dunk, but Warriors reaction was perfect

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Golden State was starting to make its comeback, cutting the lead to eight midway through the third quarter when Draymond Green found Jordan Bell for the breakaway dunk and…

Ouch.

What was impressive though was the Warriors reaction. First, Steve Kerr didn’t take him out. Didn’t bench him, instead left him in and with that showed confidence.

Then there was Draymond Green, who was on ESPN’s Mic’d Up, and was heard encouraging Bell.

Then there was assistant coach Mike Brown, who tried to get Bell out of the moment, in a great story relayed by Ethan Straus of The Athletic.

“So Jordan played against my son Elijah,” Brown explained. “My oldest son played at Mater Dei High School in Orange County and Jordan played at Long Beach [Poly]. So they had a lot of games back in the day. So I went up to him and he thought I was serious, because we took the time out. He’s about to walk out of the huddle and I walk up to him and say, ‘Jordan, listen, don’t worry about the dunk. I saw about three or four of them back in the Long Beach days and you bounced back.’ He fell out laughing. He said, ‘Ah, MB, I didn’t do that back then!’ I said, ‘Yea you did! It’s all good, though!’”

It worked. Bell never lost confidence, never stopped playing the way he plays, and soon enough there was this.

With Portland going smaller and counting on their offense more, Bell is going to have a larger role in that matchup. This is exactly how you build up the confidence of a player so he will come through for you in those moments.