Associated Press

Lakers hit new low in loss to Suns 118-109, likely dooming their playoff chances

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns took a unique approach to guarding LeBron James, putting 7-foot-1 center Deandre Ayton on him.

James got his numbers, but the Suns frustrated the Lakers’ star and were able to push back when he tried to lead a late charge.

Ayton had 26 points, 10 rebounds and primary defensive duties against James, helping the Suns hold off the Los Angeles Lakers 118-109 Saturday night.

“That was a fun game,” Ayton said. “I’m going to sleep well tonight.”

Phoenix lost the first three games this season against Los Angeles by double digits, but had the Lakers a bit discombobulated through three quarters in the season series finale.

The Suns’ defense on James, led by Ayton, helped.

The four-time league MVP was frustrated at times with Phoenix’s defense and his team’s inability to hang with the NBA’s worst team.

But, as he has so many times, James tried to lead the Lakers back.

With Los Angeles trailing by 14 with 6:06 left, James scored on a three-point play, hit a 3-pointer and kicked out to Brandon Ingram for a corner 3 on the break. He followed with a dunk off a baseline drive to get the Lakers within 112-109.

Los Angeles got no closer, losing a game it couldn’t afford to lose while fighting for a playoff spot.

The Lakers, at 30-33, are now 4.5 games back of the eight seed Spurs (who won Saturday) and the final playoff slot in the West, with 19 games to play. Their next three games are the unrelenting Clippers, then the Nuggets, Celtics, and that is followed by a five-game road trip through the East. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Lakers with an eight percent chance of making the playoffs.

“We needed this game for obvious reasons,” said James, who had 27 points, 16 assists and nine rebounds. “It is just unfortunate with the opportunities we’ve had that we haven’t been able to seize the opportunity.”

The Suns appeared as if they would wilt down the stretch, as they had done so many times.

Instead, Phoenix shut down the Lakers and made six free throws in the final 52 seconds to win for the second time in three games following a 17-game losing streak.

Devin Booker added 25 points for the Suns.

“We showed we can close games, execute in crunch time, having enough discipline,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “They we were coming hard at us.”

Both teams were in the second game of a back-to-back. The Lakers lost 131-120 to Milwaukee after the Bucks closed the game on a 15-2 run. The Suns followed their first win in six weeks with a 130-116 loss to New Orleans, allowing the Pelicans to hit 16 3-pointers and shoot 67 percent in the second half.

The Lakers won the last meeting against Phoenix 116-102, despite playing without James, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.

The Suns got off to a much better start in the season series finale against the Lakers, leading by 10 and making 13 of 19 shots in the first quarter.

Phoenix stretched the lead to 14 early in the second quarter, but Los Angeles used a late run to pull within 66-59 by halftime.

The Suns continued to frustrate James and the Lakers in the third quarter, stretching the lead to 95-78 behind Booker’s 12 points.

Midway through the fourth quarter, James led a push, but the Suns shoved back.

“We need to be better. We need to be a lot better,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “I am happy with the fight we showed in the fourth quarter, but where we are at in the season, that is the desperation that we need to start the game with.”

 

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?