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NBA Summer League Notebook for Monday: Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen has a rough day

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LAS VEGAS — There is far too much going on at Las Vegas Summer League to see everything, or write about everything, so here are a few things from my notebook Monday that didn’t make it into a post, organized in the traditional bullet-point format.

The Chicago Bulls are rebuilding. The question among most Bulls fans was not “should we rebuild?” Rather, it was “can Gar/Pax handle the job?”

Their first big move — with the No. 7 pick they got from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler deal — was to draft Lauri Markkanen, the 7-foot three-point shooter out of Arizona. He was a guy that left scouts divided heading into the draft, some loved his potential and what he could be, others thought his game would not translate.

Monday was a rough day for the rookie, who shot 1-of-13 from the field. It wasn’t pretty.

“I can definitely improve something (with my shot), being more balanced and getting lower on my shot, but I’m not really worried about it,” Markkanen said after the game, sounding like a seasoned shooter. “Those kinds of days happen, not often, but sometimes you just have them.”

The Bulls aren’t concerned either.

“Lauri missed shots, it looked like everyone was going down,” Bulls GM Gar Forman said. “You can see he can put the ball on the floor, he’s a good passer, he’s a very skilled player, he’s got some toughness he’s just got to get physically stronger, which is normal for a 19-20 year old kid. Since we’ve had him in the building, we’ve been really impressed with his work ethic and his skill level…

“I thought he played really well the other night. When he struggles to make shots, that’s just part of the learning process.”

After watching him for a couple of games the potential with Markkanen is there, you can see it in flashes, but like the Bulls it’s going to be a long process to get where he wants to be.

• I know what the Bulls gave up to get him, but if the team picks up the option on Cameron Payne for the 2018-19 season, it’s only to save face after a disastrous trade.

• The Rockets are set at point guard, with Chris Paul and James Harden, but the way Isaiah Taylor has played this Summer League, he looks like he could be the third guard on the roster — and maybe push for some run next season. He had 18 points and 8 assists on Monday and was looking good doing it.

Taylor is under contract with the Rockets but spent last season in the then D-League (now G-League).

“When you watch Isaiah Taylor play now compared to last season when we were here, it just shows you how important the G-League is,” said Rockets Summer League coach Roy Rogers. “Because when he left us after training camp and went to the G-League, he became such a better player. He learned how to distribute the ball better, to slow down, to speed up, he’s just such a different player. We have to give credit to our G-League coaching staff, they did an excellent job wit him, and he’s come up this summer, he’s really worked hard. We’re excited where his future is going…

“He’s been able to depend on his speed and athleticism, and as you get to the NBA, we all know NBA assistant coaches watch hours and hours of film and if there’s a weakness, they’re going to expose it. So they’re trying to keep him out of the lane, and he’s hitting the three point shot. He’s got a chance to be a special player.”

• The Rockets may have another G-League find in forward Troy Williams, who had 27 points to lead Houston on Monday.

“Troy has been relentless, he’s been fearless, and I like what I’ve seen out of him thus far,” Rogers said. “There’s been a couple shots he’s taken where I went ‘Ughhh… good shot’ but he has that belief in himself. He’s the kind of guy who can come in and change the game, he’s really making a defensive end. I’m really excited about how he’s progressing.

• Houston’s Zhou Qi is tall, long, and mobile — which has led to some big time blocked shots.

• It was a let down for the crowd, but the Lakers were smart to sit Lonzo Ball Monday against the Kings’ and De’Aaron Fox. The Lakers reported he had a sore groin, and whether he could play through it isn’t the point — this is Summer League. The Lakers aren’t winning this thing (they are 0-2) and considering the injury risk and other negative’s what’s the point? If you bought a Summer League ticket expecting to see stars, you misunderstand the event.

• The Suns’ drafted Josh Jackson third, and the forward who played a lot of four at Kansas is having to adjust to the three at the NBA level.

“I’m getting used to it,” Jackson said. “The three is probably my natural position. Just being out there with our guys, they’re just so versitle, so tall, so athletic, just makes the game really fun.”

The key for him making the transition is his jumper.

“Once I knock down my outside shot, I feel like the defender has to respect it a little bit more, and that opens it up for me to do what I’m really great at, which is get to the basket. Hopefully, I can keep knocking it down, but even if I’m not I’m going to keep shooting it anyway.”

Report: Dwight Howard was nearly ejected for language in Game 3

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Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it.  Based on NBA.com matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).

Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.

Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”

Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.

Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.

The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.

Game 4 between the Lakers and Nuggets is Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Lakers lead the series 2-1.

 

J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

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.