Clippers show resolve, while Lakers show why they will miss playoffs in loss

AP Photo
9 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Playoff teams have players that step up in the face of adversity.

When the Lakers make a third-quarter push (what is it with the Clippers and the third quarter?) and took to take an 82-79 lead, the Clippers responded with their own 8-0 run — with every basket from rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet. The Clippers moved the ball and trusted their teammates, particularly in the fourth, and it led to open looks. All night long Patrick Beverley was a pest.

In the fourth quarter and down 12 — with their season essentially hanging in the balance — the Lakers finally started to play with real urgency. Or, desperation if you prefer. It worked for a stretch, the Lakers cut the lead to five. However, to complete a comeback a team has to get stops and the Lakers defense, which has been worst in the NBA in the 10 games prior to Monday, could not stop the Clippers. With the lead at 5 LeBron James hustled hard and overhelped, which left Danilo Gallinari open, and the Clippers best shooter drilled a three.

The Lakers never got closer than those 8 points.

The Clippers responded to adversity and that earned them an important win Monday night, 113-105, both helping secure their playoff spot and putting a dagger in the Lakers’ playoff dreams.

It was the kind of win that had Clippers owner Steve Ballmer walking down the halls of Staples Center after the game yelling, “Yes! Yes!”

With this loss, the Lakers playoff chances are all but mathematically dead. They are now 5.5 games back of the eight-seed Spurs with 18 to go. Basically, the Lakers have to go 15-3 the rest of the way to get to the 45 wins it will take to make the dance in the West. That’s not happening from a team that has gone 2-4 since LeBron said he was activating playoff mode after the All-Star break, and they are 4-9 overall since LeBron returned from his groin injury (4-8 when LeBron plays).

The Clippers will be going to the playoffs (barring an utter collapse). And it’s because when this team was hit with serious adversity this season, the players rallied.

“We took a hit. When we made that trade (sending out Tobias Harris at the deadline) it hit our locker room,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “But we got them to believe we want to win still, we’re going to win still. Then for them to start start doing it just shows you how resilient they are.”

The Lakers were done in Monday by three things that have plagued them all season and will have them vacationing by mid-April.

One is injuries. Brandon Ingram, who has averaged 27.8 points per game on 57 percent shooting since the All-Star break, was out with a sore shoulder. LeBron grabbed his groin and asked out at one point. Kyle Kuzma left the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his right ankle, and while X-rays came back negative coach Luke Walton said after the game he didn’t expect Kuzma to be ready for the Lakers next game Wednesday.

“The injuries are taking their toll on us,” LeBron said after the game, noting the Lakers were basically down to a six-man rotation by the end of this one.

Without Ingram, the Lakers didn’t have a consistent secondary scorer. Rajon Rondo started that way shooting 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and hitting some driving layups. However, the Clippers kept letting him take jumpers and Rondo shot 1-of-7 the rest of the way.

Which leads to the second issue — the Lakers do not have enough shooting. The Lakers got a lot of clean looks in this game but shot just 26.2 percent outside the paint. They were 10-of-36 from three (27.8 percent). That was a design flaw in the roster from how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka constructed it last summer — saying they thought it was more important to put playmakers around LeBron than shooters — that has come back to bite them on too many nights.

However, it is the defense — the third issue — that has done them in. While the defense was better for stretches against the Clippers than it was in recent losses to the Suns and Pelicans, it was not good. And not near good enough consistently. The Lakers didn’t close out well on shooters and didn’t protect the rim. Gallinari led the way for the Clippers with 23 points, and Lou Williams had 21 off the bench.

The Clippers stars stepped up under adversity and executed. It’s something the Lakers need to model… next season.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

0 Comments

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

0 Comments

Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

0 Comments

There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.