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Too early to panic about Lakers, but this is a flawed team

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LOS ANGELES — The Lakers are going to be a quality NBA team. Sooner rather than later.

Don’t take my word for it, take Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich’s.

“They’re just going to get better and better,” Popovich said after his team became the latest to execute better in the clutch and knock off the Lakers this season. “Luke (Walton) has done a great job with this group, still a very young group… and LeBron’s a great teacher, a great role model, and they’ll just get better and better and better. By that I mean mentally, as much as physically…

“The leadership of LeBron, he’ll demand a lot and he’ll help them all raise to another level for sure.”

Nobody around the Lakers doubts that.

Nobody expected a 0-3 start with the sixth-worst defense in the NBA, either. Los Angeles is allowing 131.7 points per game through three games (their top three pace is part of the reason for that eye-popping number, the Lakers play fast so the opposing team gets more chances against a porous defense).

The Lakers’ shooting was a concern going into the season and those worries have proven justified — Los Angeles is taking 31.4 percent of their shots from three (close to the league average) but are hitting just 29.3 percent of those shots, third worst in the NBA. While their shooting has had hot streaks — L.A. hit 6-of-7 at one point against the Spurs Monday, after starting 4-of-20 —the lack of consistency is not keeping opposing defenses honest. Opposing defenders are packing the paint and making it difficult to execute in the halfcourt, cutting off post passes, jumping in lanes and closing off angles used by the brilliant passers the Lakers have on their roster.

It’s been frustrating. For the team and the fans (who came in with wild expectations with LeBron James in purple and gold).

Yet, nobody around the Lakers is reaching for a panic button, or even looking to see where it is located yet.

“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going in,” LeBron James said after the latest loss. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now but it’s such a long process….

“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to have to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”

“We still have to get used to each other defensively,” Josh Hart added. “We have to know individually when [we] have guys contained and work on not overhelping, not giving up open threes like that. We’re good. We have a young team and it’s a learning experience.”

“We’ve gotten better. It’s only been a month together,” said coach Luke Walton (whose name came up on the top of a gambling site’s list of odds for the first coach to be fired). “We’re rebounding the ball better, we might even have had more rebounds than they did tonight (the Lakers did have more rebounds and more offensive rebounds total than the Spurs). Our assist numbers are up where we want them and we haven’t even started hitting shots yet….

“The way we want to play, I think the pace has been great. All these things as far as who we are as a team are happening. And now we’ve got to close out games and get stops down the stretch and not foul down the stretch. I feel very good about where we’re headed.”

This Laker team is going to find its footing and win games (next up is the Suns, in Phoenix, on Friday).

However, this is also a flawed roster, and how far LeBron and the offense can lift this team is a question back in the spotlight after this start.

Continuity is one problem for Los Angeles.

In each of Lakers’ three losses — Portland opening night, Houston, San Antonio — have come to playoff teams from last season, and teams that have a strong identity. Continuity matters early in the NBA season and the Lakers don’t have any after a lot of roster turnover last summer. That lack of familiarity has come to a head in crunch time in each game — especially the first two. However, against the Spurs, it was the Lakers making plays when down 8 with 1:10 left in regulation, and a LeBron three sent it to overtime. An overtime the Lakers dominated, they were up 6 with :55 left… and then the continuity issues returned, the Spurs executed better, LeBron missed two free throws, and San Antonio went on a 7-0 run to get the win.

“I don’t like to use moral victories, but kind of bodes well,” Kyle Kuzma said. “The three teams we have played all played together for quite sometime. We are a new team and to be in every single game, it sort of means something.”

The Laker offense will be fine, mostly because of the commitment to run (23.7 percent of the Lakers’ possessions this season started in transition, the highest in the league, stat via Cleaning The Glass). The concern is the Lakers lack the shooting needed in the modern game — something Magic Johnson said the Lakers did consciously, they wanted to put more playmakers around LeBron, not just shooters as had been done in Miami and Cleveland — but LeBron is right that when the Lakers get stops and run they are a good team.

Whether they can get enough stops is another question.

When JaVale McGee is on the court this season, the Lakers are a good defensive team (allowing 103 points per 100 possessions, which would be fifth best as a team in the league). However, the team is a dismal 18.1 per 100 worse when he sits. JaVale’s rim protection and rebounding matter that much in the paint. Luke Walton has rolled McGee out there for 23.3 minutes per game, the most he has played since the 2011-12 season, and he was on the court more than 28 minutes vs. San Antonio. McGee only has so many minutes in him a night, and the Lakers may be bumping up against that.

For the Lakers, much of their issues are about communication and recognition on defense — things that come with time and familiarity. Or, continuity. The Lakers look like a team assembled this summer that is still figuring everything out.

Which is exactly what they are. What they should have been expected to be, rather than the pressure some put on them of a three-seed and 50+ win team. This was always going to take time. The only challenge is, in the deep West, time can run out much more quickly.

“It’s early in the season, it’s three losses,” Hart said. “Like you said, it’s always tight in the West. Sometimes getting into the playoffs can be one game, or half a game. It’s tough. But I feel like once we get that first win, the team will be rolling. We just have to get that first one.”

The optimism remains. And there’s not a panic button in sight in Los Angeles.

Watch Josh Richardson get ejected for throwing a shoe into the stands

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It can be annoying when you can’t complete a simple task sometimes. For example, like when you are trying to put your shoe on and it just won’t work, for whatever reason. Did you suddenly forget how? Why aren’t your fingers working? Did your foot get fatter? A million dumb questions run through your mind at times like these.

That’s apparently what happened to Miami Heat wing Josh Richardson on Sunday as he took on the Los Angeles Lakers.

Halfway through the fourth quarter, Richardson felt that he was fouled on an attempt at the rim. He didn’t get the call, and needed to adjust his shoe in the meantime. When Los Angeles took possession of the ball — and with Richardson still without his shoe — the University of Tennessee product took an aggressive foul on LeBron James.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra then subbed Richardson out as he continued to try to put on his shoe. Frustrated that he couldn’t get it on, Richardson then hucked the shoe into the stands.

Via Twitter:

That move got Richardson a ejected from the game, and rightly so.

Who throws a shoe, honestly?

LA beat Miami, 113-97.

Lonzo Ball says he likes it when Rajon Rondo trash talks him

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Would you want to get yelled at by Rajon Rondo? Pretty much in any circumstance, most people would say no. Especially if they were Rondo’s teammate.

That’s not the case for Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball.

Speaking to ESPN this week, Ball said that Rondo had been pivotal in his development this season, and that he actually enjoyed and encouraged Rondo to antagonize him during practices.

Via ESPN:

“Yeah, he’ll try to get into me,” Ball said. “Just stuff to try to get me going. He talks a bunch of trash in practice all the time, which makes me pretty mad.”

“I told him, my whole life I [respond to] getting yelled at [by the coach] so that is how I respond … if you see stuff, just yell at me. I tune into it. That is how he tries to help me out.”

Ball went on to say that Rondo was, “The best leader that I’ve ever played with” outside of LeBron James.

Rondo has been famously divisive during his time in the league, perhaps getting on the nerves of some veterans but acting as a favorite among younger players in places like Chicago.

Advanced statistics don’t support the idea that Ball has taken a big leap this year, and if anything he has perhaps trended downward as he’s tried to get into a better rhythm with LeBron and this funky Lakers team that’s been built around him.

However, many believe that Ball has the underpinnings to be a solid player and a consistent starter moving forward in his career. If he can glean any positive traits from Rondo in the meantime, all the better.

LeBron James on Lakers adding Carmelo Anthony: ‘I have no idea to be honest’

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Carmelo Anthony is still a member of the Houston Rockets, but for how long?

Houston is trying to find a way to offload the aging superstar, with no apparent buyers ready to step up to the plate. Meanwhile, the NBA community-at-large has being agog with potential landing spots for Carmelo.

The most popular and obvious spot for Anthony to land is with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team made up of a veritable who’s who of former stars from the past decade-and-a-half of NBA basketball.

For their part, the Lakers don’t appear interested externally, and they don’t have a roster spot for him right now anyway. When LeBron James was asked about the potential of adding his Banana Boat friend, he even intimated as much.

Via ESPN:

I have no idea to be honest, that’s not a question to ask me. Right now, we have 15 rosters spots right? We don’t have a roster spot open right now so that’s not a question for myself.

Of course LeBron is being facetious in saying that he doesn’t have say over roster changes. His entire career has been dogged by his sometimes undue influence in either trading for or getting his buddies re-signed to his team.

Still, Los Angeles does seem like the only realistic landing spot for Anthony at this time. One could see a situation in which LeBron, much as he has tried to resist, getting fed up with LA’s middling play as the trade deadline approaches and forcing some kind of Anthony addition.

But for now, Carmelo remains a Houston Rocket and the Lakers don’t have a roster spot open. That’s the story, and they are sticking to it.

Markelle Fultz calls new free-throw routine ‘trial and error’

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The confidence of Markelle Fultz continues to be a question, not just for Philadelphia 76ers fans but for NBA heads around the league wondering just when the former No. 1 overall pick will get back to his old college self.

Fultz continues to struggle in the oddest ways. The sophomore guard was seen double clutching a free throw attempt recently, which apparently led to another new routine at the charity stripe.

In his latest change is one where Fultz does a little juggle of the ball back and forth before quickly moving into a shooting motion. It took many by surprise on social media, and reporters naturally asked Fultz about it.

For his part, Fultz said that he’s not going to change the routine because it appears to be working for him.

Via Twitter:

Hey, whatever gives this kid confidence at this time is something that works.