Three takeaways from Lakers holding off Rockets to even series

Leave a comment

When you have LeBron James and Anthony Davis on your roster, you win a lot of games.

Sunday night in Game 2 of the Western Conference semi-finals, the Los Angeles Lakers defended well but not consistently. They got out in transition and attacked the rim, but not consistently. The Rockets launched three balls but did not make them consistently (well, Russell Westbrook was consistent, but not in a good way).

In the end, it was LeBron and Davis combining for 62 points that pushed the Lakers past a Houston Rockets team that made 10 more threes. Los Angeles won 117-109, tying the series at 1-1. Game 3 is Tuesday night.

Here are the three big takeaways from Game 2:

1) Los Angeles was running in transition again.

Los Angeles and its veteran-laden roster may not look like a fast break threat on paper, but no team added more points per possession through transition than the Lakers this season.

After a stagnant Game 1, the Lakers were off and running again in Game 2, with 16 fast-break points in the first half alone, plus they had some key ones late when Los Angeles pulled away for the win. The defense forcing six steals in the first half led to a lot of transition opportunities for Los Angeles.

When the Lakers are running they are attacking, and that carries over to their halfcourt offense. That’s what Davis was doing. He was getting to the rim, facing up and at least getting into the lane, then shooting over PJ Tucker or any undersized defender Houston threw at him.

The Lakers went with a lot of Davis at the five in this game, as an injured JaVale McGee (ankle injury) played only eight minutes, and Dwight Howard never touched the court. That was hit or miss for the Lakers as Davis was actually -7 for the game (there’s a lot of noise in that statistic, but you get the idea). With Davis and LeBron attacking, the rest of the Lakers were moving into open spaces and the Laker offense had a lot of movement and flow.

Until the third quarter. At that point the Lakers got stagnant, it made them easier to defend, and suddenly it was Houston getting the ball up the court quickly and exploiting mismatches. The Rockets put up a 41 spot in the third and entered the fourth with a two-point lead.

Starting midway through the fourth, the Lakers started defending well enough to get stops (more on that in a second) which allowed them to get out and run. At the end of the fourth the Lakers needed to get a few buckets from the halfcourt, but that’s why it’s good to have LeBron James on your team. He stuck the dagger in Houston late.

“We’re at our best when he’s in attack mode,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said postgame.

It also helped the Lakers got the full playoff Rajon Rondo game. He played well on both ends (even if he was 1-of-5 from three and shouldn’t take those). Rondo was +28 for the night to lead all players.

The Lakers need to carry that running over to Game 3, but transition starts on the defensive end and getting stops. This leads us to….

2) The Lakers defended well. For about half the game.

If the Lakers are going to beat the Rockets and advance, it will be with their defense — L.A. need stops and turnovers to allow it to get out and run. The Lakers need those easy, high-efficiency transition buckets because Houston is a pretty good halfcourt defensive team (in the bubble, anyway), and if the Lakers slow the game down and try to pound it inside for two-point baskets they will lose the math game as the Rockets hit threes.

The Lakers got that defense… for about half the game on Sunday. They did in the first and fourth quarters. The second and third were a bit rough.

When they were on, the Lakers were sharp with their rotations and closeouts, but they were smart about all of it. They weren’t closing out on Russell Westbrook. When the Lakers doubled James Harden they anticipated the release valve pass and were in the way.

When the Lakers got in trouble is when they didn’t rotate quickly and they left shooters open (even LeBron did that a couple of times), or when they were passive with the doubles on Harden. The Beard eats soft double-teams for lunch and had 27 points on 12 shots in Game 2.

The Lakers did a respectable job on Harden; he’s still going to get his. Houston has another star to worry about.

3) The Rockets may have a Russell Westbrook problem

When the Rockets offense was clicking and they were making runs, Houston had the ball in Harden’s hands and put four shooters around him: Eric Gordon was 6-of-12 from three, P.J. Tucker 4-of-7, Robert Covington 4-of-8.

Russell Westbrook was 4-of-15 overall and 1-of-7 from three. The Rockets have him out there as a shooter at the arc, and the Lakers were treating him like Houston treated Lou Dort last round, daring him to shoot. It was a good strategy. Westbrook described himself postgame as “running around” and owned his mistakes, but they may not be ones he can easily correct.

Westbrook has to sit in critical moments because he kills their spacing. He also needs to play like a pure energy big man — drive hard for layups on offense and rebound like a beast on the other. Be a Montrezl Harrell/Dennis Rodman kind of player, just smaller. If Houston continues to deploy him as a shooter it’s a win for the Lakers.

Houston is not going to leave Game 2 thinking they are in trouble, but there is no margin for error against Los Angeles. Houston can’t have multiple cold-shooting stretches — 2-of-13 from three in the fourth, for example — against the Lakers and win. It’s a make-or-miss league and the Rockets can’t miss like that, they need to make contested threes against a long Lakers’ defense.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Leave a comment

And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA Finals will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 30, if Miami closes the Easter Conference Finals out in six games. If the series goes seven games the Finals will start on Friday, Oct. 2.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109
Game 5: Celtics 121, Heat 108 (Miami leads series 3-2)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8:30 p.n. (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106
Game 4: Lakers 114, Nuggets 108
Game 5: Lakers 117, Nuggets 107 (Lakers win series 4-1)

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

LeBon James takes over, leads Lakers to NBA Finals with win

Leave a comment

The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.

 

Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘good to go’ for Game 5 despite sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
Getty Images
Leave a comment

This was expected, but when the Lakers officially listed Anthony Davis as questionable for Game 5 with a sprained ankle, it raised a few eyebrows.

Davis will play in Game 5 Saturday night, coach Frank Vogel said pregame.

Anthony Davis sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and while he stayed in the game there were questions about how it would respond the next day.

The Lakers are up 3-1 on a Denver team they know will not be easy to close out.

To do that, Los Angeles needs Davis: When AD has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

The Lakers want to close out in five games to get some added rest. The NBA Finals are expected to start next Wednesday, Sept. 30 (unless one conference finals series goes seven games, then it is likely Friday, Oct. 2). If the Lakers lose Saturday but win Game 6 Monday it would be a short turnaround (as it would be after a Game 7).

Denver, however, has played its best basketball whenever it has faced the prospect of packing its bags and going home.

New York congressman insults Knicks, James Dolan funds opponent

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Things are changing with the Knicks. Leon Rose is in the front office, Tom Thibodeau is the coach, and together they are talking about developing players and having a plan moving forward. It’s a reason for hope…

Then there’s James Dolan.

Max Rose, a Democratic congressman from Staten Island, echoed the voice for a lot of Knicks fans when he said: “I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace.”

We have seen how Dolan reacts to fans saying he should sell the team. In the case of Rose, he is fundraising for the Republican running against him. It would be easy to say “Dolan is a big President Donald Trump supporter and donates to GOP causes all the time” and this isn’t personal, except Dolan sent out an email to help raise funds for Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and the New York Post got a hold of it.

“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform,” Dolan wrote in a personal email to friends last week that was obtained by The Post. “I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. … Please join me in helping Nicole defeat Max Rose for Congress.

“It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection.

That’s personal. Dolan isn’t just asking other people to donate.

A $50,000 check from MSG Sports was cut Tuesday to “The Governing Majority Fund,” a PAC run by former Reps. John Faso and Jeff Denham, Dolan confirmed. The PAC’s mission is to help Republicans take back the House.

Rose represents New York’s 11th District, a solid Republican district until the 2018 midterms when it became one of 30 districts nationally that flipped blue. The GOP is trying to turn a number of those back, including Rose’s district.

Whatever you think of Rose’s politics (he’s a former Army Ranger, which helped him in a more conservative district), what he said about wanting Dolan to sell the franchise is what many Knicks fans are thinking. Dolan just doesn’t like to hear it. Maybe Rose and Thibodeau can turn the Knicks around — they certainly deserve a chance — but the team has struggled since Dolan became the owner and that’s not a coincidence.

Whatever Rose and Knicks fans want, it’s also highly unlikely Dolan sells the team, there are no rumblings about that around the league (and he certainly has had chances).