Associated Press

No moral victory, but Lakers show Spurs they will not roll over


LOS ANGELES — In the end, the Spurs were the Spurs.

They executed, they played smart, they moved the ball and found the open man/mismatch, they were disciplined, and when the defense made things difficult LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard (23 points a piece) hit the shot anyway. That’s what they do.

But the Lakers did not make it easy Friday night.

Los Angeles, the biggest surprise team in the NBA this season, started off a brutal stretch of their schedule showing the kind of fight any coach can respect.

“Luke’s (Walton) done a great job of making them believe and playing aggressively, and you can really see it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They came back and stuck it to us… We got after it and executed better, but I am just so impressed with what he has done with this group.”

“I thought we did a good job of fighting,” said Lakers’ forward Julius Randle. “A decent job of executing. It’s just any mistake that you make on the defensive end, they’re going to make you pay.”

In each half, the Spurs starters would pull away to a comfortable double-digit lead in the first 10 minutes, and in each half the Lakers bench sparked a comeback that made things interesting Friday night at Staples Center. Los Angeles got 57 points from its bench on the night, the Spurs 28.

“We just compete,” Jordan Clarkson said of the Laker bench. “You know we get some stops during those times. We’re pushing the ball and getting easy buckets in transition.”

When it was getting tight late the Spurs did the things they always do — they destroy opponents’ runs by just making shots — and San Antonio got the 116-107 win. There may be no moral victories, but a season ago the Lakers would have rolled over in a game like this. No more. These Lakers are learning and they are gaining respect along the way.

“They’re talented, they’re playing hard — it looks like they want to play hard for Luke, and they play with a lot of energy and they have great pieces…” said Spurs point guard Tony Parker. “I give them credit. In the first half we had a good lead, they came back. They played physical, they got into us, they created turnovers, and in the second half we had to play a lot better, a lot smarter, and cut our turnovers to win the game.”

Los Angeles has a rough stretch coming up the next couple weeks — including a home-and-home with the Warriors — but they looked like a team that can compete through that stretch (and they need to if they are serious about their playoff dreams).

The Lakers’ core needs to step up like it did on Friday. Julius Randle bullied former Laker Pau Gasol at times, going right at him in transition (that got harder when the Spurs moved Aldridge onto Randle, people underestimate how big and strong Aldridge is and Randle could not push him around).

“It was good for him, going against Pau and Aldridge, two of the best in the game,” Luke Walton said of Randle. “I thought he did a good job, he still needs to do better doing his work early, especially against players that talented. Julius has the belief and strength to fight and defend bigger players.”

Los Angeles played without point guard D’Angelo Russell who was out with left knee soreness and will be re-evaluated Sunday. That meant this was a duel of older European point guards — Tony Parker vs. Jose Calderon.

Los Angeles missed Russell’s shot creation and attacking the rim in the half court. Combine that with the always-executing Spurs defense and the Lakers were just 6-of-22 shooting in the first quarter, had just two points in the paint, turned the ball over five times, and trailed 26-16. And the game didn’t feel that close.

Then in the second quarter, the Laker bench picks up the energy, gets a few stops, goes on an 8-0 run and cuts the lead to five, forcing Popovich to call a couple of timeouts. And get David Lee out of the game. But the Lakers had gained some confidence and the shots were falling — particularly for Nick Young, who had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half alone (22 for the game). The Lakers were pushing the pace and attacking in the half court, getting buckets in the paint.

Los Angeles tried to carry that over to the third quarter, but then a 7-0 Tony Parker run had the Spurs starters back in a groove. The Spurs ran more pick-and-rolls to go at specific mismatches in the second half, and pretty quickly the Spurs were up a dozen. San Antonio hit 11 shots in a row, and put up 39 points on 74 percent shooting in the third, and by the end of the quarter it was 91-76 Spurs.

Tell me if you’ve heard this before, but in the fourth David Lee came in and the Spurs couldn’t get a stop — the Lakers got hot again and the lead got all the way down to five. The Spurs countered going small — Aldridge at the five — and it worked when he picked up a couple of quick buckets. But still there was no quit in these Lakers, and they cut the lead down to five when Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson hit threes while Spurs miss wide open ones on the other end.

However, in the end, the Spurs executed. Like they always do.

The Lakers can learn from that.

Rumor: Warriors acquired first-rounder, Andrew Wiggins for Giannis Antetokounmpo trade

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Andrew Wiggins, who's now with Warriors
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Warriors have the NBA shook.

Even in last place.

It was more understandablenot necessarily right, but understandable – when Golden State was dominating. The Warriors won a title, won 73 games, signed Kevin Durant then won two more titles. In the midst of the run, they were treated as invincible. A team that great had never signed an outside free agent that great. Golden State really did seem “light years ahead.”

So, when the Warriors traded D'Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins and picks, some people cowered about what Golden State had up its sleeve next. Speculation even turned to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who faces a super-max decision this offseason and looked quite chummy with Stephen Curry (similar to how Kevin Durant once did while still with the Thunder).

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

Some around the league believe the Golden State Warriors acquired a first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves, along with Andrew Wiggins, with the notion of a potential future trade with the Bucks.

This is so silly.

Minnesota’s first-rounder (top-three-protected in 2021, unprotected in 2022) is a nice asset. The Warriors’ 2020 first-rounder will also land high in the draft. But Wiggins didn’t suddenly turn into a valuable player in Golden State. Owed $94,738,170 over the next three years, Wiggins still carries negative value. The Warriors aren’t now deftly positioned to land Antetokounmpo.

Golden State showed incredible vision by building an excellent team that appealed to Durant and clearing cap space to acquire him. But the Warriors got multiple fortunate breaks – Stephen Curry taking a smaller contract extension while injured in 2012, Golden State blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2016 NBA Finals, the salary cap spiking in 2016.

The Warriors can’t duplicate everything, swoop in and land Antetokounmpo.

Sure, it’s possible Wiggins improves in Golden State. Maybe Antetokounmpo will decline to sign a super-max extension, which should force Milwaukee to at least strongly consider trading him. It’s also conceivable Antetokounmpo threatens not to re-sign with anyone besides the Warriors, scaring off other teams and leaving Golden State’s offer the best that the Bucks’ get.

But it’s such a remote possibility of all that happening, it’s not worth worrying about.

This is paranoia about the Warriors at its worst.

Chris Paul on 2020 Olympics: My wife wants to go to Tokyo

Chris Paul
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chris Paul feels great starring for the Thunder.

So great, he might even take on extra workload.

Paul – who helped Team USA win gold medals in 2008 and 2012 but didn’t compete in 2016 – said he’s “very serious” about playing the 2020 Olympics. Paul:

I’m excited about the opportunity. My wife is sort of calling the shots on this one. She said she wants to go to Tokyo.

I’ve been blessed and fortunate to play in 2008. I had no kids then. In 2012, my wife couldn’t come, because, four days after the gold medal game, she had my daughter.

We often hear about players missing international tournaments due to personal reasons. But that can go both ways. Paul might compete due to personal reasons.

Paul faces steep and deep competition for making the team at point guard: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Russell Westbrook, Kemba Walker, Mike Conley, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White. Trae Young didn’t even make the list of finalists.

USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo said players who’ve previously represented the U.S. will get favorable consideration. So, that’ll help Paul.

If he plays, Paul – who turns 35 in May – would be Team USA’s third-oldest Olympian:

Chris Paul

Age for Team USA’s first game or, in 2020, first game of the tournament

Did John Beilein’s methods lead to Dylan Windler’s season-ending injury?

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein and Dylan Windler
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Beilein gave the Cavaliers problems mentally.

Did he also give them problems physically – especially Dylan Windler, who’s missing his entire rookie year?

Shams Charania, Jason Lloyd and Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Warning signs for Beilein could be traced to the Cavs’ Summer League schedule, when the rookie coach ran a collection of (mostly) G Leaguers and non-roster invites through extended practices, multiple times a day. This is precisely what Beilein would have done at Michigan, especially with an entirely new batch of players, this early in a season calendar. But players not only complained about the work, they also were drilled in games by opponents who were clearly well-rested. And this was in Summer League.

There was at least one player, though, involved in those early summer workouts under Beilein who was expecting to make a major contribution to the Cavs this season. Rookie Dylan Windler, a late first rounder, was supposed to compete with Cedi Osman for minutes on the wing. But he never played a game this season because of a stress injury in his left leg — which could be traced back at least in part to being overworked during the summer.

Would Windler have missed the season under a different coach? It’s impossible to say. Counterfactuals are complex.

But there was legitimate reason to be concerned with Beilein’s approach. Teams have learned the importance of rest. Fatigued players are more susceptible to injury.

Beilein’s longest college season was 41 games. He coached 54 games in Cleveland – and left with much of the season remaining.

Handling the grind of the NBA season was always going to be an adjustment for the long-time college coach. It probably got understated amid concern about him relating interpersonally to his players.

The Cavaliers needed practice time. They needed work to develop. That’s clearly what Beilein prioritized.

But they also needed to limit the physical toll, and it’s reasonable to question whether Beilein did enough there. Even if he was learning that the NBA is more marathon than sprint, the several months Beilein coaches the Cavs were enough to cause issues.

Bucks’ minor-league coach suspended two games for rant (video)

Bucks minor-league coach Chase Buford
Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chase Buford, who coaches the Bucks’ minor-league affiliate, went on an epic rant after the Wisconsin Herd’s latest loss. He singled out referee Matt Rafferty as a “f—ing clown” and said the officials were “bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating.”

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

G League release:

Wisconsin Herd head coach Chase Buford has been suspended for two games without pay for a direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials.

I can’t recall an NBA coach ever getting suspended for something he said during a press conference.

I also can’t recall an NBA coach ever saying something so inflammatory during a press conference.

In 2005, then-NBA commissioner David Stern threatened to ban Jeff Van Gundy from the NBA after the then-Rockets coach criticized officiating. That incident still led to just a $100,000 fine. Twice as large as any previous fine for a coach. But still just a fine, nonetheless.