Three Things to Know: Can inconsistent Lakers find winning equation?

0 Comments

Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Can inconsistent Lakers find winning equation?

“Our biggest battle, our biggest problem this year is consistency. Once we take one step forward, we fall back and have a disappointing performance.”

Frank Vogel is right. He nailed his concern after his team’s latest embarrassing loss Thursday night. These Lakers seem to view the regular season with disdain, as if it was beneath them, and with that they are both inconsistent and not building the good habits that need to be instinct by the playoffs. Whether Vogel can rally his players to fix it — or whether he will be around long enough to get the chance — remains to be seen.

Tuesday night in Boston, the Lakers played downhill and had their best win of the season, handling the Celtics. Los Angeles took over half its shots at the rim that night (51%) and made a ridiculous 73.8% of them, leading to a 121.7 offensive rating. Those numbers are not sustainable, but they are the blueprint for what these Lakers need to do to win — they have to attack.

Two nights later in Memphis, it didn’t even look like the same team. Going against a Grizzlies team without Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, the Laker couldn’t manage a point per possession on offense and lost 108-95. Against the Grizzlies (with Stephen Adams in the paint), the Lakers took 40% of their shots at the rim (still a very high number) but hit just 57.1% of them. The Laker defense never left the hotel room.

Give the Grizzlies credit: They are young and they fight. They were not rolling over just because LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook are coming to town.

It was arguably the Lakers’ worst loss of the season, although there are plenty of candidates for that title. The Lakers look entitled; they don’t bring the fight every night. This was the kind of loss a coach on the hot seat can’t afford.

There are signs of improvement. As it has been all season, the Lakers are okay when LeBron is on the court — he was +2 in this game. They were -15 in the 11 minutes he was on the bench. Also, Los Angeles has a top-10 defense over the last eight games, and when they get stops and run they are a force.

But the stops are not consistent — this is not a roster built for elite defense, GM Rob Pelinka shifted toward an offense-first squad — and with it the transition game comes and goes. Nothing with these Lakers is consistent.

Is that because this entitled LeBron-led team isn’t interested in December basketball?

Is it because the players have tuned out Frank Vogel?

Is it because we are seeing this roster for what it really is?

The correct answer may well be “all of the above.”

Whatever the reasons, the preseason title favorites are 13-13 and look a long, long way from threatening Golden State or Phoenix in a seven-game series.

2) After Jazz handle 76ers, Rudy Gobert responds to Beverley, ANT

The Utah Jazz are 18-7, have the second-best net rating in the NBA this season — and the best over the last 10 games — plus boast the No. 1 offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense. Yet they don’t get mentioned with Golden State and Phoenix as contenders in the West, because there remains a “sure, but we saw them melt in the playoffs last season” attitude about this squad. I can argue that last year’s Jazz were not healthy (no Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell playing on one leg) and they have adjusted and fixed their issues, but the truth is this team will not be judged on its regular season.

That said, they are killing it this regular season.

The latest victims were the Philadelphia 76ers. The Jazz had eight players score in double figures — led by Mitchell with 22, 17 of those in the first half when he was a force — and they hit 15-of-40 from 3 as a team. The 76ers could not keep up.

More interestingly, after the game in his walk-off interview, Rudy Gobert was asked about comments from Patrick Beverley and Anthony Edwards calling out his defense the night before.

“When you’re the best in the world at something, people become insecure.”

Well played, Rudy.

3) Raptors president Masai Ujiri Pacers coach Rick Carlisle latest to test positive for coronavirus

After Thanksgiving, the NBA increased its COVID testing of players and, not surprisingly, with that more players and staff have gone into the league’s health and safety protocols. Being vaccinated — as 97% of players are — is not a shield from getting the disease, it just makes it far less likely a person gets severely ill or passes it along to another.

Two big staff names tested positive in recent days.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has tested positive and said in a statement it likely comes from the Giants of Africa event he attended Sunday, which ended up having guests who tested positive (despite being in compliance with public health guidelines, according to Ujiri). He said he is self-isolating at home and is monitoring his symptoms.

“We don’t want to live in fear of this virus, but COVID is a persistent enemy,” Ujiri said in a statement. “Together, we’ll defeat it.”

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle also tested positive and will not be on the bench Friday when Indiana faces Dallas (Carlisle’s former team). He could be out longer, depending upon testing.

Both the Raptors and Pacers canceled practice on Thursday, with both citing “an abundance of caution.”

Highlight of the Night: Joel Embiid goes coast-to-coast

How many big men in the history of the game could do this: Grab the rebound, push the ball up the court themselves in transition, blow by their man and dunk before the defense is set? Hassan Whiteside is helpless to stop Embiid here.

Last night’s scores:

Utah 118, Philadelphia 96
Memphis 108, Lakers 95
San Antonio 123, Denver 111

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

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
0 Comments

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
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

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
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
0 Comments

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
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

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.