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.”

 

Report: Doc Rivers meeting with 76ers

76ers star Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers
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From the moment the Clippers ousted him, Doc Rivers became the hottest name on the coaching market. The 76ers, Pelicans and Rockets have reportedly expressed interest.

But does the 58-year-old Rivers want to keep coaching after 21 straight years on the sideline with the Magic, Celtics and Clippers and coming off what looked like a trying season?

He’ll apparently at least meet with Philadelphia.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Rivers would be a good fit with the 76ers, who are trying to take the next step in the playoffs.

Of course, the same thing appeared true with the Clippers, and Rivers failed to deliver the desired postseason success in L.A.

But Rivers still holds plenty of credibility. Whatever their differences, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could unite behind a coach who demands such respect. Rivers also holds experience coaching teams with big lineups, which could suit Philadelphia’s roster. There are still adjustments to be made as the game evolves, but Rivers wouldn’t absolutely require a massive overhaul.

It’d also be neat for Glenn Rivers to join the 76ers considering he got his nickname by wearing a Julius Erving shirt to a Marquette basketball camp.

Whether it’s Lakers or Heat, Kentucky is big winner

Anthony Davis
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Los Angeles Lakers primarily wear purple and gold. The main Miami Heat colors are red and black.

And these NBA Finals seem tinged in blue – Kentucky blue, to be precise.

No matter what happens in this title series, Kentucky’s list of NBA champions is sure to grow. Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo and coach Frank Vogel have Kentucky ties from the Los Angeles Lakers’ side; Miami Heat players Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro played at Kentucky, as did Heat President Pat Riley.

“When I look at all these guys and how they’re playing, I’m not surprised that guys would be able to stand up to this,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Tuesday. “The environment here, everything about it is preparing them for the NBA. It’s an NBA environment, how we practice, the competitiveness in practice, the games. Every shot matters here. … These kids, it’s kind of like their rookie year is here.”

Calipari coached Davis, Adebayo and Herro at Kentucky. He tried to coach Rondo, saying Tuesday that he nearly lured him onto the Dominican Republic’s national team – coached by Calipari – with hopes of qualifying for the Olympics.

Vogel was a manager and then video coordinator at Kentucky in the mid-1990s. Riley played at Kentucky for Adolph Rupp in the mid-1960s.

Kentucky is the fifth school to have four former players in a single NBA Finals, joining La Salle in 1956, UCLA in 1980, North Carolina in 1991 and Arizona in 2017. The top two scorers in the playoffs are almost certain to be former Kentucky standouts; Denver’s Jamal Murray currently holds the top spot with 504, and Davis is third with 432 — just five points behind Boston’s Jayson Tatum, a Duke product.

“Obviously, he coached in the league, so he knows what it takes to get there,” Davis said of Calipari. “I think that’s an advantage for all players who go to Kentucky. He’s able to get you ready in one, two years.”

It’s not lost on Heat coach Erik Spoelstra that the finals are going to be a Kentucky recruiting tool, and he also said that Riley isn’t shy about enjoying having players from his alma mater on the roster.

“We love Kentucky players because you’re there to get better, to be pushed, to understand what it means to play for a team, play a role and to train to become a pro at this level,” Spoelstra said. “You’re going to face good competition in practice. You’re going to be expected to work. It’s an environment that, as much as it possibly can, prepares you for the pros, even though it’s at the collegiate level.”

Miami’s Herro is likely to be the first player born in the 2000s to play in an NBA Finals game; he’s usually one of the first subs that the Heat use, so some first-quarter minutes for him on Wednesday night seem probable.

The 20-year-old is not the youngest player in the series, however.

Lakers rookie Talen Horton-Tucker doesn’t turn 20 until Nov. 25. He appeared in two games during the Western Conference semifinals but has been inactive for 12 of his team’s 15 postseason contests.

 

Kevin Durant admits he, Kyrie Irving “solidified” they were joining forces at All-Star Game

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Back in February of 2019, there was a video floating around of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving talking at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte. It led to a lot of speculation the two were planning to team up as free agents.

Days after that video was shot, the growing speculation led then Celtic Irving to scold the media and shoot down the idea he and KD were talking about teaming up, saying, “It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free-agency meeting?… That’s what disconnects me from all that s***.”

Turns out, talking about free agency was exactly what they were doing.

Durant admitted it on his new podcast, The ETC’s with Kevin Durant on The Boardroom.  Get to the 36-minute mark and Durant says:

“The All-Star game video where they caught us in the hallway. That’s when it was solidified that we were going somewhere. They didn’t know for a fact where it was, but it was somewhere.” 

That somewhere turned out to be Brooklyn.

The groundwork for Durant and Irving’s partnership started long before All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, Durant said.

“Like we would have these types of [basketball related] conversations all day, every day. And it grew from there. It just grew from there, it was organic, you know what I’m saying? And it wasn’t something that you can kind of pinpoint and say like, this was the moment. It just, it just happened.”

This is just going to fuel future conspiracy theorists — any time two players are talking at an All-Star Game (or in the bubble), someone will jump to a conclusion. Of course, 99.9% of the time the players are just talking about family or cars or where the Cheesecake Factory closest to their hotel Is located. But every once in a while the conspiracies are right.

This is just fuel for that fire.

 

New California law prompted by crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant crash site
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday approved legislation prompted by the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other peopls that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

Reports surfaced after the Jan. 26 crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the others that graphic photos of the victims were being shared.

Eight deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the scene, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said then, adding that he had ordered the images deleted. He said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.

The measure that will take effect Jan. 1 makes it a misdemeanor with fines up to $1,000 per offense to take such photos for anything other than an official law enforcement purpose.

Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, has sued the department over the photos.