Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

LeBron James denies that Lakers must repair relationship with him

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Lakers president Magic Johnson reportedly planned to fire coach Luke Walton and wanted to fire general manager Rob Pelinka. Instead, Johnson resigned with a stunning public announcement without first telling owner Jeanie Buss. Pelinka, who has many detractors throughout the league, is now in charge of the front office. The Lakers reportedly offered to keep Walton, but he bolted for the Kings. The Lakers have no coach. They do have a roster LeBron James described as “[fart noise].” Johnson will reportedly help the team recruit free agents.

Nearly one year after signing LeBron James, the Lakers are a mess.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

I think it’s very precarious right now. I think the trust that LeBron James has in the Lakers organization has been damaged – maybe irrevocably. I’m not saying it can’t be repaired. But right now, there’s a tough bridge that has fallen that’s going to be need to be put back together. And that’s going to have to be a proving ground for Jeanie Buss, for Rob Pelinka, for Kurt Rambis, for Linda Rambis – whoever else is involved in this process now. And there’s going to be an initial thing proven with whoever is hired as the coach and then this summer.

LeBron, via Instagram:

Even if LeBron has lost confidence in the Lakers, his denial is important. It means he doesn’t want to escalate this issue.

LeBron, for good reason, holds extreme confidence in himself. I’m sure he believes, as long the Lakers have him, they’ll be alright.

But he can’t do everything, and he knows that, too. He often held the Cavaliers’ feet to the fire. He signed a series of short-term contracts, creating the threat of departure. He demanded Dan Gilbert spend more. He, often passive-aggressively, called on executives, coaches and teammates to perform better.

LeBron hasn’t shown that same urgency in Los Angeles, starting with locking in for three years – longer than any contract in his return to Cleveland.

Maybe this is an older and more mature LeBron trying to present steadiness amid chaos.

Or maybe this is yet another sign LeBron went to Los Angeles with priorities other than winning. After all, the Lakers’ shoddy operation won’t prevent him from enjoying his L.A. lifestyle and Hollywood proximity.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts makes Russell Westbrook ‘next question’ jokes (video)

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Damian Lillard took a well-deserved victory lap after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer sunk Russell Westbrook – who seemingly took a shot at Lillard last year – and the Thunder.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts had fun at Westbrook’s expense, too.

Westbrook has repeatedly answered questions from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoma with, “Next question.” Though Westbrook shifted to variants of “not sure” after the last couple games of the series, he still didn’t meaningfully answer Tramel’s questions.

Stotts interjected himself into Westbrook’s feud with Tramel before Game 3.

Clay Horning of The Norman Transcript:

Also, when former Sooner standout Terry Stotts, who is head coach of the Trail Blazers, entered the pregame interview room on Friday, the first thing he said was, “Go ahead, I’ll answer your question, Berry.”

Then, Stotts really laid it on thick after Game 5 last night, as shown in the above video. He specifically called on Tramel to ask a question then joked how badly he wanted to answer with “next question.”

Stotts landed on the hot seat after Portland got swept in the first round last year. He kept his job and did a fantastic work with the Trail Blazers this year. It’s great to see him enjoying himself.

I also can’t help but wonder how Westbrook feels about Stotts.

Kyle Lowry’s ring finger “popped out” during Game 5, he will be ready for Game 1 vs. 76ers

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In the second quarter of the Raptors’ close-out win against the Magic, Kyle Lowry injured his finger, apparently dislocating the ring finger on his right hand, his shooting hand.

However, it’s the playoffs, he was back in the game quickly and he will certainly be ready to go Saturday when Toronto begins a second-round showdown against Philadelphia. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN has the details.

Lowry jammed the finger while deflecting a ball in the second quarter. During the subsequent timeout, the Raptors’ medical staff attended to Lowry’s hand on the bench. He returned to play but went back to the locker room with 2:41 remaining in the first half.

Lowry, who was wearing a splint on the finger during the postgame news conference, started the second half for the Raptors and finished with 14 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“It popped out, but it’s fine,” Lowry said. “I popped it back in. Got a couple days to get it back and recover, and hopefully it will be better by Game 1. Well, it will be better by Game 1.”

It needs to be because the Raptors can’t have another 0-of-7 shooting start from him, which is what they got in an ugly Game 1 loss to Orlando. The 76ers are not the Magic, Toronto can’t have another dreadful start in Game 1 and dig themselves a hole at home.

Lowry’s shooting and playmaking will be a big part of that next series.

Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. wants to work out with Kevin Garnett this summer

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Last summer, Jaren Jackson Jr. did some workouts with Kevin Garnett before embarking on his rookie campaign. It made sense for a lanky 6’11” rookie who can score in the post or step out and shoot threes to work with Garnett. There’s a similarity to the style of their games.

This summer Jackson wants to go back to that well, he told David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Specifically, Jackson said he wants to improve his “motor” and his ball-handling and his shooting mechanics entering year two.

And he hopes to work on some of those skills with Garnett over the coming months. Jackson and Garnett spent time together last summer and again in February when Garnett visited Memphis to feature Jackson game for his “Area 21” segment on TNT.

The veteran Conley had some ideas for that workout and what Jackson needs to add to his game.

“I think for him, working out of the post, like mid-post, being able to jab and shoot off the glass, basically like Kevin Garnett would do,” Conley said.

Jackson had an impressive rookie season, averaging 13.8 points a game, shooting 35.9 percent from three, playing good rim-protecting defense, and he fit well with veteran point guard Mike Conley (and Marc Gasol, before the Grizzlies traded him). Despite being shut down with a thigh bruise after 58 games, Jackson is almost a lock for All-Rookie First Team.

He showed the potential to be a future All-Star and the cornerstone of the Grizzlies franchise into the future. Most importantly, he seems willing to put in the work to get there.