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LaVar Ball on Lonzo’s debut: ‘His worst game ever’

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — It took Lonzo Ball 20 seconds to get a near-capacity crowd off its feet in his first summer league game.

Just like LaVar taught him.

Ball’s highly anticipated Los Angeles Lakers debut on Friday night started with a flourish on a perfectly timed lob pass to Brandon Ingram. But that was one of the few bright spots for a player Magic Johnson has dubbed as the new face of the Lakers in a 96-93 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The No. 2 overall pick scored just five points and missed 13 of his 15 shots, to the disappointment of a near-capacity crowd that came out to see him. Leave it to his father to sum up the night with some of his trademark straight talk.

“He don’t be discouraged because that’s the worst he can do,” LaVar Ball said. “He can’t go but up. And he still kept them in the game playing his worst game ever. That’s what I like about it.”

Lonzo Ball was 1 for 11 from 3-point range, including a bad miss from well beyond the line – the kind of daring pull-up the Ball family is known for – with 1:16 to play in regulation.

He was also a little slow to react on defense, including when Brice Johnson made a quick spin past him for a dunk. The Clippers posted the highlight on their Twitter account, calling it a “pretty baller move.”

That’s the kind of target that LaVar’s antics have painted on his son’s back. And it’s much bigger than the purple No. 2 under his name.

“Tough game. We didn’t get the job done,” Lonzo Ball said. “I need to be better.”

Scouts do wonder how that unorthodox shooting stroke will translate to the NBA game. What is not up for debate is the Lakers’ return to must-see status with the pass-first point guard on the trigger and his carnival barker father on the mic.

While LaVar Ball has dropped hints that he could tone down the bombastic comments and unending marketing of his Big Baller Brand apparel that turned him into an internet villain of sorts during Lonzo’s lone season at UCLA, he was totally in character for his son’s debut.

“The Lakers fans are coming and my boy is gonna bring `em out,” LaVar Ball crowed at halftime. “Because there’s excitement for the game. It’s entertainment. That boy is going to entertain. He’s been doing it all his life.”

LaVar Ball entered the Thomas & Mack Center to a raucous ovation, flanked by more than a dozen family members. They watched the game from a raised stage behind one baseline, and as he ascended the stairs for the first time, he raised his hands and pumped his fist to the crowd.

Lonzo Ball got off the bus wearing a black Big Baller t-shirt, red shorts and black Big Baller ZO2 shoes – yes, the ones with the $495 price tag – and did two television interviews before he even changed into his Laker uniform. A bedazzled, patent leather backpack draped over his shoulders and established NBA players including DeMar DeRozan, D'Angelo Russell and Isaiah Thomas were all in attendance for the game, while Johnson, the new Lakers president of basketball operations, sat courtside.

Lakers games have always been well-attended here in Vegas, just a four-hour drive from Los Angeles. But this one reached another level, with fans piling into the arena three hours before game time and sitting through a Bucks-Cavaliers game before finally getting to the main attraction. And when Lonzo found Ingram for the alley-oop on his first possession, it looked like things were going to come easy.

“I always said get `em out their chairs on the first play,” LaVar Ball said. “That’s how we used to play with his brothers. Either hit a long 3-pointer from halfcourt or a dunk.”

But it became clear very quickly that things wouldn’t always go smoothly. The sophomore Ingram shined with 26 points in 31 minutes, playing with more assertiveness than his celebrated rookie teammate. Lonzo finished with five assists, four rebounds and two steals.

“It’s got nothing to do with him,” LaVar Ball said. “He’s going to make this team come up and make everybody start passing the ball. And that’s when that chemistry comes in and that’s when that winning comes in. That’s when the winning comes in. Once you start winning, everybody starts feeling good.”

In that way, LaVar is right on the money.

Lonzo’s clothes are flashy, and the first play was quite a highlight. But the rest of his game was decidedly understated, much like his personality. Magic may have dubbed him the new face of the NBA’s marquee franchise and his father says the rookie is on the Lakers because he spoke it into existence. But there is nothing “look-at-me” about him.

He speaks quietly and with a straight face, nothing like the mega-watt smile Johnson brought to Hollywood from Michigan State. Surrounded by cameras after the game, he couldn’t wait to move on.

“The only way to go now is up,” Lonzo said. “That’ll probably be the worst game I’ll have all week so hopefully I keep getting better.”

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.

Attacking Jamal Murray sparks Nuggets, who hold off Lakers for Game 3 win

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Down 0-2 to a LeBron James team, the Denver Nuggets’ backs were against the wall.

The Los Angeles Lakers learned — like the Jazz and Clippers before them — that the Nuggets have a couple more gears when their season is threatened.

Jamal Murray attacked from the opening tip, set the tone for Denver, then when the Lakers made it interesting late, stuck the dagger in the Los Angeles.

“I didn’t have any doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is we won six straight elimination games…

“For some reason, this team loves the bubble.”

Denver pulled away from the Lakers in the second quarter and held on at the end to take a 114-106 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers still lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.

Murray was the best player on the floor in Game 3, scoring 28 points, dishing 12 assists, grabbing eight rebounds, and forcing the Lakers’ defense to adjust to him.

“When you look at these three series we’ve played so far, he’s starting to get the respect from the other teams, and they’re game-planning, they’re blitzing him, they’re double-teaming.”

Both Denver and the Lakers came out attacking the paint early: The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points, and they scored 34 of them in the paint (60.7%)

In the second quarter, however, the Lakers started settling for jumpers while the Nuggets kept attacking. Denver went on a 15-2 run to start the quarter — with Nikola Jokic on the bench — and Denver went on to dominate the next two quarters, leading by as many as 20.

The Nuggets got a big night from Jerami Grant, who had career playoff hight 26 points. Jokic added 22 plus 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Lakers could not get jump shots to fall. Los Angeles was 6-of-26 from three (23.1%), and worse, they scored 12 points on 24 spot-up shot attempts (stat via Synergy Sports).

LeBron James did his part — a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists — and Anthony Davis added 27, but the Lakers defensive energy, and with that transition buckets, were not there.

Until the fourth quarter.

The Lakers got much more physical and aggressive defensively, and the Lakers went on a 19-2 run, which included six straight Nuggets turnovers at one point. The Lakers went to a zone defense that flummoxed Denver.

Eventually, Murray and Jokic righted the ship. Denver stretched the lead back out and got the win. After the game, the Lakers to a man said they needed to bring that fourth-quarter energy all game on Thursday.

One thing talked about after the game was Murray’s elbow to LeBron.

“I don’t think it was blatant. I don’t know his mindset, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” LeBron said postgame.

The other thing talked about postgame — now we have a series.

Zach LaVine reacts to Chicago hiring Billy Donovan: ‘Wow, that’ll be good’

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Zach LaVine learned about the Chicago Bulls hiring Billy Donovan as their head coach while playing Call of Duty.

Which means there is a recording of his real-time reaction to the news.

“Damn, we just got Billy Donovan as our next head coach… wow, that’ll be good.”

LaVine also Tweeted about the hire.

He wasn’t the only Bulls’ player excited about the hire.

Bradley Beal, a former Donovan player at Florida, loved the hire.

Donovan takes over a Chicago team that seems on the cusp of something. How big a something remains up for debate. The roster has young talent: Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter, and the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Donovan is an upgrade over Boylen, both in terms of player relations and tactics, making the Bulls better.

Even with Donovan, what is the ceiling for these Bulls? Next season they are not going to be better than the Celtics, Bucks, Heat, or Nets, and likely not the 76ers or Raptors either (unless Toronto tears down the roster). That’s six. And a lot of people would put the Indiana Pacers on a level above the Bulls as well. Bottom line: Even with a coaching upgrade and player improvement, the Bulls are likely scrambling for a bottom playoff spot in the East.

The Bulls are looking beyond next year. Expect Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas to spend the next season deciding who fits and who doesn’t, and shake up the roster accordingly. By then the Bulls may be in a better place to be a threat in the East.

Whatever happens, the Bulls got better with this hire, and their biggest star likes it.