Associated Press

Big shoes: Brandon Ingram not daunted by taking Kobe’s spot

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Until a couple of months ago, Brandon Ingram‘s new locker at the Los Angeles Lakers’ training complex was occupied by Kobe Bryant.

The 18-year-old rookie sees the daunting symbolism in literally taking the place of the most prolific scorer in franchise history, and he greets it with a smile.

“I did see where my locker was, and I definitely knew it was Kobe’s locker,” Ingram said. “(General manager) Mitch (Kupchak) told me I had some big shoes to fill when I came in here, but I liked it. I like the pressure that’s on me right now. Of course it’s going to motivate me to do good things on the court. It’s all good pressure for me.”

Ingram put on those shoes for the first time Tuesday at a practice for the Lakers’ Las Vegas summer league team. The No. 2 overall pick in last month’s draft then joined fellow Lakers selection Ivica Zubac in a tour of the complex, posing in front of owner Jeanie Buss’ collection of championship trophies before receiving their new gold jerseys – No. 14 for Ingram, No. 40 for Zubac.

The Lakers believe Ingram is a centerpiece of their next great roster. They’re starting nearly from the bottom after the worst season in team history and the retirement of Bryant, who won five titles and became the NBA’s third-leading scorer during his 20-year career.

Ingram could be two decades away from approaching those achievements, but the smooth-shooting forward hasn’t flinched under the weight of comparisons to Bryant – or to Kevin Durant, another lanky shooter who transformed a struggling team. Just over a year after graduating from high school in tiny Kinston, North Carolina, Ingram is shouldering those burdens with apparent ease.

“He never talked about (being compared to Durant),” said Ingram’s father, Donald. “He definitely has similar tools on the court, but he’s never showed that he feels the pressure. Even here, with people talking about filling Kobe’s shoes, he’s just going to pave his own way. He’s going to be Brandon.”

Ingram is already determined to build chemistry with Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and fellow No. 2 pick D'Angelo Russell, the Lakers’ point guard. His primary goal is to become a more vocal player after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski impressed the importance of communication on him last season.

“I was ready for this first practice,” Ingram said. “Just getting on the floor with those guys, and just seeing how he (Russell) wants to play, and of course how the coach wants to play. Connecting with those guys is really important to see what they want to do to be a contender in this league.”

Ingram’s cool is even impressing Zubac, the 7-foot Bosnian teenager chosen with the 32nd overall pick. Zubac grew up an enormous Lakers fan, but he wouldn’t want Bryant’s locker.

“He can have that pressure,” Zubac said, drawing a laugh from his new teammate.

Ingram will have plenty of support in his rookie season, starting with Luke Walton and the Lakers’ new coaching staff. Los Angeles also signed fellow Duke product Luol Deng as a free agent, and Ingram intends to stick close to his fellow 6-foot-9 Blue Devil.

He’ll also have support from family and friends, including Jerry Stackhouse, his longtime mentor and fellow Kinston native.

Donald Ingram is a veteran basketball referee who has also run a recreation center back home in Kinston. He raised his sons with a healthy respect for the game’s rules and fundamentals, putting Brandon into ball-handling drills as a child. Donald was determined to prevent his sons from falling into what he calls “the AND1” mentality of flashy, highlight-driven play.

“He’s always been a player that listened, even when the adults were playing,” Donald Ingram said. “That’s part of being coachable, his ability to listen. He’s a kid that’s willing to learn.”

Ingram’s 25-year-old brother, Bo, played at the University of Texas before getting drafted by the D-League and playing professionally in Mexico. Bo will be out on the West Coast with Brandon after summer league, looking for a place to live before getting to work in September.

“We’re from the East Coast, and he’ll be 19 years old,” Donald Ingram said. “We want to make sure he has somebody with him, and he’s living as close to the facility as possible. It’s a big concern, and that, to me, is more of a concern than his ability to make an impact with the Lakers.”

Lakers crush Heat with Anthony Davis only center on floor

Lakers star Anthony Davis
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Anthony Davis dislikes playing center.

The Heat let him get away with it.

The Lakers’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals turned on the six minutes where Davis was the only center on the floor. No Dwight Howard, Markieff Morris or JaVale McGee for Los Angeles. No Bam Adebayo, Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard for Miami.

The Lakers outscored the Heat by 18 points in those six minutes!

Davis dominated. He scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting, blocked dunk-contest champion Derrick Jones Jr. at the rim and passed to a wide-open Alex Caruso for a 3-pointer during that first-half stretch.

Davis wasn’t too shabby the rest of the game, either. He finished with 34 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks and was a team-high +23.

Davis’ 34 points rank among the among the highest-scoring NBA Finals debuts since the NBA-ABA merger:

  • 48 points by Allen Iverson in 2001
  • 36 points by Michael Jordan in 1991
  • 36 points by Kevin Durant in 2012
  • 34 points by Adrian Dantley in 1988
  • 34 points by Anthony Davis in 2020

Especially deep in the playoffs, teams have mastered using small lineups to flummox lumbering centers. But that’s not Davis. He’s mobile and skilled like a wing. And he still has size advantages at 6-foot-10.

Some shorter players can at least bother Davis, who prefers to avoid banging inside against stronger opponents. See de facto Rockets center P.J. Tucker. But a frontcourt featuring three of Jae Crowder, Andre Iguodala, Jimmy Butler, Solomon Hill and Jones lacks the brute force to compensate for its height shortcomings against Davis.

Adebayo’s lingering shoulder injury hangs over Miami’s ability to match up. Though he has size, Olynyk is far from an ideal defender. Leonard, who got a DNP-CD tonight, might have to play in Game 2 Friday.

Lakers go on 75-30 run, blow out Heat in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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All-season long, one of the first things opposing coaches would say after facing the Lakers was, “it was so hard to adjust to their length and physicality.”

The Miami Heat learned that lesson the hard way Wednesday.

The Heat raced out to a 13-point lead early in Game 1 of the NBA Finals as they forced the Lakers to become jump shooters. Then those shots started falling, Miami started missing, the Lakers started running, and everything came apart for the Heat. The Lakers closed the first quarter on a 19-3 run.

That run became 75-30.

“It’s been that way all year long, whenever we start to miss a couple shots, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do on the other end,” Jimmy Butler said.

That was the ballgame.

The Lakers were physically dominant, shot 15-of-38 from three (39.5%), and blew the Heat out of the building in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, 116-98. LeBron James finished with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and nine assists. Anthony Davis added 34 points and added three blocked shots — Miami had no answer for him inside.

The Lakers led by as many as 32 before some good garbage time play from Miami — 18 points from Kendrick Nunn — made the final score look more respectable than the game itself was.

Game 2 of the Lakers vs. Heat Finals is Friday night.

“You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities,” LeBron said. “We started flying around. We started getting defensive stops. We started sharing the ball a lot better offensively and just got into a really good groove.”

“The Lakers set the tenor, the tone, the force, the physicality for the majority of the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward.

More disturbing for the Heat are the potential injuries to critical players.

Goran Dragic did not come out of the locker room for the second half and had X-rays on his foot. While there is nothing official, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports he tore his plantar fascia. He is officially TBD, but it will be a difficult injury to play through. It’s devastating blow for Miami.

With Dragic out Tyler Herro got the second-half start, and in Game 1 he tied an NBA Finals record being -35 for the game (Kobe Bryant, Game 6 of 2008 Finals against Boston).

In addition, Bam Adebayo went back to the locker room in the third quarter, appearing to have aggravated the shoulder issue he had against Boston. The team said X-rays were negative, but he did not return to the game.

This game turned on Adebayo. On media day Tuesday he said, “You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls.” He knew he couldn’t get in foul trouble, and yet he did, picking up a second foul in the first quarter, sending him to the bench. Up to that point the Heat were up three, but when he went to the bench the Laker run started.

“Our guys are just hustling their tails off, flying around on the defensive end, and then playing effort offense, as well,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said of the Lakers’ run through the second and third quarters. “Really pushing the tempo on the break, attacking the paint, and crashing the boards. Just the pace of the game really picked up in those two quarters, and obviously, they were the difference makers.”

The Lakers got 13 points from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and 11 from Danny Green (who hit three from beyond the arc).

Miami’s defensive game plan was to double LeBron when he drove, make him pass out, and dare the other Lakers shooters to beat them. The Lakers role players did and that was a key difference.

Miami got 23 points on 13 shots from Jimmy Butler, but he also tweaked his ankle during the game. Herro had 14 points but on 6-of-18 shooting, and as a team the usually sharp-shooting Heat shot 31.4% from three.

Because of the rapid pace of games in the bubble, the Heat have just two days to regroup and try to make this look more like a series — Game 1 looked like the varsity vs. the JV.

“We talk about how damn near perfect that we have to play, and that was nowhere near it,” Butler said. “There’s nothing to be said. We can watch all the film in the world, we understand, we know what we did not do, what we talked about we were going to do, we didn’t do. We didn’t rebound, we didn’t make them miss any shots, we didn’t get back, all of those things led to the deficit that we put ourselves in.”

Miami guard Goran Dragic doubtful to return to game with foot injury

Goran Dragic injury
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Goran Dragic, like seemingly every member of the Miami Heat, couldn’t find his rhythm in the first half — 3-of-8 shooting, three assists, but some missed defensive assignments as the Heat started to fall behind.

Part of that may have been a foot injury — Dragic did not come out for the second half and his return is doubtful with a left foot injury, the Heat announced.

There are no other details on the injury as of yet.

Tyler Herro started the second half for Miami in his place.

The Heat has struggled with the Lakers length — and Los Angeles can’t miss from three — with that has the Heat down 26 early in the third quarter.

L.A. Lakers will stay big, start Dwight Howard at center

Dwight Howard start
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While it is easy to say the Lakers’ best lineups have Anthony Davis at center, the numbers say the Lakers are best playing big with another player at center and Davis at the four.

That’s how the Lakers will start the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat on Wednesday — and Dwight Howard gets the call, the team announced.

This start was expected, especially after how well Dwight Howard played in the Denver series against Nikola Jokic.

It creates an interesting defensive choice for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat: Do they start Bam Adebayo on Davis and have Jae Crowder on Howard, or reverse that. Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player who may be the best one-on-one matchup in the league for Davis,  but does Spoelstra want to risk early foul trouble for his star center, and would it wear Adebayo down to have to work so hard on both ends. Expect Crowder to start on Davis and Adebayo to get the key minutes later in the game.

The challenge for the Lakers: Howard fouls a lot.

“Probably fouling,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said when asked what was at the top of the team scouting report for the Heat. “I think they are great at getting to the free throw line. If we can play with discipline, not give them opportunities to shoot free throws, set their defense, that will help us win games, because they are great at getting to the free throw line.”

Howard can’t mess that plan up for Los Angeles. But he’s going to get the chance.