LeBron drops 30, Westbrook 24, Lakers handle Celtics to earn season split

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LOS ANGELES — Unlike most of his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, Russell Westbrook grew up a Lakers fan who personally understood the yearly importance of their rivalry series with the Boston Celtics.

Leading a dominant victory over the Celtics while wearing the Lakers’ gold jersey for the first time clearly made for a special night for the veteran guard.

“As a player like myself, you want to make sure you approach all games the same while also understanding the significance of this particular game,” Westbrook said. “That makes it a good win for us.”

LeBron James scored 30 points, Westbrook added 24 points and 11 assists, and the Lakers beat the Celtics 117-102 on Tuesday night in the latest chapter of the NBA’s most storied rivalry.

Anthony Davis had 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Lakers, who produced one of their best recent performances in their fourth victory in six games overall. With James and Westbrook playing dominant floor games, Los Angeles made 56.5% of its shots in the first three quarters and throttled Jayson Tatum‘s supporting cast defensively.

“I just like the way we competed tonight on both sides of the floor,” James said. “We had a lot of intensity, a lot of ball movement. Guys were attacking the rim. I think defensively, besides the first 14-point avalanche on Tatum’s part, we locked in from that point forward.”

Tatum scored 14 of his 34 points in an incredible early first-quarter blitz for the Celtics, who dropped to 1-2 on their four-game West Coast trip. Jaylen Brown sat out his third straight game with a strained right hamstring, and nobody else managed more than Robert Williams III’s 13 points for Boston.

“I feel like our energy was great, especially starting off the game,” Williams said. “We just weren’t ready for the punch in the second half, so we’ve got to clean it up. … We tend to lay back and get comfortable when the game is going our way, and it’s something we need to break.”

The Lakers got a much-needed comfortable victory in the 296th edition of the matchup between venerable franchises with a record 17 championships apiece and a record 12 NBA Finals meetings. Boston and Los Angeles split their season series 1-1 for the fifth straight campaign after the Celtics beat the Lakers last month behind Tatum’s 37 points.

Westbrook staked the Lakers to a 19-point lead in the third by scoring 15 points in the quarter with a series of dominant drives against whatever Boston guard had the bad luck to be matched up with him. After a tentative start with his hometown team, Westbrook is averaging 23.5 points, 8.9 assists and 6.9 rebounds in the Lakers’ last eight games.

“I think at the beginning of the year, Russ was a little bit passive,” Davis said. “He was trying to get guys involved, pass the ball. … We told him, `The more you’re aggressive, the more it will open up for everyone else.’ The last seven to 10 games, he’s been very, very aggressive, and when he does that, it opens up the floor for everyone else as far as shooting. He’s just been in attack mode. That’s why we brought him here, to be Russell Westbrook and not anybody else but that.”

The Lakers have lost seven games this season in which they held a double-digit lead, but Boston never applied fourth-quarter pressure in this one.

“We’re disappointed as far as we were outhustled, out-toughed a little bit,” Boston coach Ime Udoka said. “It hasn’t happened in a long time. They would put their head down, get to the basket and get whatever they wanted. We’re better than that defensively, but a lack of effort and a lack of toughness showed tonight.”

Tatum scored Boston’s first 14 points in the first 3:49, hitting four 3-pointers among his five shots without a miss. James kept the Lakers close with 16 points in the first quarter, and his assist to Westbrook right before the buzzer put Los Angeles up 60-55 at halftime.

Dennis Schroder struggled for the Celtics, scoring 10 points on 1-for-6 shooting before sitting out in the fourth quarter. He was also booed regularly in the first half by Lakers fans still insulted by the German guard’s handling of his free agency after his sole season with Los Angeles.

Schroder turned down an $84 million, four-year contract offer from the Lakers to test the market last summer, but he was forced to settle for a $5.9 million, one-year deal with Boston after finding nothing near the Lakers’ offer. Los Angeles also lost out because it traded Danny Green and a first-round pick to get Schroder, only to see him walk for nothing.

NBA Media Day roundup: Zion looking fit, Ayton sounding reserved, more

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Most of the NBA conducted media day on Monday — some moments turned our head.

Here’s what you need to know from media day around the league — just the highlights. This does not include anything on the Nets — there’s a separate story on them — or the Lakers (there will be a story Tuesday morning out of Lakers’ media day).

• The reports of Zion Williamson being in the best shape of his career appear to be true. HoodieBev has the recipts.

We’ll see if this translates to the court — there’s a lot of pressure on him — but Zion looks like he’s put in the work.

• Speaking of players who looked in better shape, James Harden looked slimmed down. He joked he lost 100 pounds, but he also talked about his diet and exercise regimen.

Deandre Ayton got a four-year, $132.9 million contract extension this summer, but not because the Suns were handing it out. Ayton had to get the Pacers to make the offer (which is why he doesn’t have a five-year deal) and then the Suns matched it. Ayton is a guy with a usually upbeat personality, but when asked about his new contract, it was a short answer and a low-key tone.

Coach Monty Williams and All-Star Devin Booker both talked about how they expect Ayton to use the contract as motivation and come out with a monster season. We’ll be watching.

• The Suns’ players and coach had to all answer the “what did you think of the Robert Sarver investigation report?” question, and the answers were unanimous — they were disgusted, saddened, and felt for those (especially the women) who had to deal with his behavior. They also to a man said they had no idea (which, at least before the original ESPN report, may have been true; how he acted around players and those on the business side appears to be different).

• All the Celtics were asked about their former coach Ime Udoka’s season-long suspension, and Marcus Smart summed up the sentiments well — “it’s been hell.” They were caught off guard like much of the NBA was. That said, to a man, they backed interim coach Joe Mazzulla.

• With P.J. Tucker out in Miami there has been a lot of talk about Jimmy Butler playing the four, especially to close games. Butler himself shot that down, saying he is not a four.

The Heat continue to look for a trade for a four, but may not have one to start the season.

• At his end-of-season media session last May, Pat Riley said Kyle Lowry needed to show up in better shape this season. It appears Lowry did, but did it motivate him? “It’s whatever… everyone has their opinion.”

• It’s not media day unless Kawhi Leonard is laughing.

As for Leonard and load management this season, coach Tyronne Lue said he would play it by ear. But also, expect some.

 

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.