Three takeaways from Lonnie Walker putting Lakers one win from eliminating Warriors


LOS ANGELES — With :15 seconds left in the game, just as Lonnie Walker IV was knocking down free throws that would give the game its final 104-101 score, Stephen Curry walked down to the other end of the court and glared at the rim he had just missed a couple of shots on, giving a disgusted shake of his head.

Curry carried the Warriors as far as he could, but it was another night he struggled from 3 on the road against the Lakers (3-of-14). Curry couldn’t carry Golden State far enough. The Warriors fell to the Lakers and now trail 3-1 with a seemingly impossible task of winning three straight against LeBron James and Anthony Davis to keep their title defense alive.

Here are three takeaways from Arena and the Lakers’ win.

1) Curry and Warriors were good but couldn’t land knockout punch

There were moments in the third and fourth quarters — especially when the Warriors’ lead climbed to a dozen in the third — where one couldn’t help but think, “We’ve seen this movie before.” This is where the Warriors get a couple of stops, drain a couple of quick 3s and suddenly the game is out of reach and all but over.

Except the Warriors couldn’t land those punches all night long.

Curry smoked layups he would often make and he missed 3-pointers all night (again, 3-of-14). He wasn’t alone, Klay Thompson was 3-of-9 from deep and as a team the Warriors were 12-of-41 (29.3%) from beyond the arc.

Golden State scored just 17 points in the fourth quarter and were 2-of-9 for 3-pointers in those final 12 minutes.

“We’re going to fire, if Steph or Klay gets an opening they’re gonna let it go and they’ve had a ton of success over the years, obviously,” Steve Kerr said. “They both had sort of looks down the stretch, but give the Lakers credit they played good defense and we couldn’t get anything to go.”

Curry still impacted the game with a triple-double of 31 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

“Steph was amazing. His effort was incredible,” Kerr said. “Just the stamina, you know with everything they were throwing at him to do what he did and attack and rebound and distribute the ball, 14 assists and two turnovers. He was amazing. We just couldn’t quite get it done.”

Amazing or not, Curry did not hit the big shots the Warriors needed down the stretch, and he had a rough night defensively.

That’s because LeBron James returned to his old favorite: Hunting Curry in pick-and-rolls. Particularly in the fourth quarter, LeBron hunted Curry and that changed the game because Curry’s man — Lonnie Walker IV — was the beneficiary.

2) Lonnie Walker IV latest Laker role player to step up

“The game ball definitely goes to him. We don’t win without him.”

That was how LeBron described Walker’s game — and he and Davis told him as much when they surrounded him and hugged him as the final buzzer sounded. Walker had played 15 minutes through three quarters and done some good things, and in one of his two very smart coaching adjustments of the night, Darvin Ham went with Walker over D'Angelo Russell in the fourth.

Walker scored all 15 of his points in the fourth. He was guarding Curry, which meant setting a lot of picks for LeBron to force the switch, and while the Warriors’ defense focused on not letting LeBron beat them, Walker did.

Walker was one of the Lakers’ significant offseason additions, they gave him their taxpayer’s mid-level exception. However, he never fully fit in and, after missing 11 games with left knee tendinitis in January, he fell out of the rotation after the Lakers reshaped their roster at the trade deadline. He racked up DNP-CDs after the All-Star break and played a limited role in the first round against the Grizzlies. But he stayed ready.

For Lakers fans, this is one of the best signs of this postseason — role players are stepping up. Rui Hachimura scoring 29 against the Grizzlies in Game 1, Austin Reaves having a couple of 23-point games against Memphis and becoming a reliable secondary shot creator (he had 21 in Game 4 against the Warriors), D’Angelo Russell goes off for 31, and now Walker.

On any team making a deep playoff or title run, there are games where an unexpected role player steps up and gets the job done. The Lakers are getting those performances, and it’s got them one win from the Western Conference Finals.

3) Warriors didn’t take advantage of Anthony Davis off defensive night, they will regret it

Steve Kerr made a brilliant adjustment to open the game, pulling JaMychal Green from the starting lineup and inserting Gary Payton II in his place. The idea was to go small and force the Lakers to put Davis on Draymond Green, then have Green set picks for Curry and the other ball handlers, forcing Davis up high to defend and getting him out of the paint.

It worked as backdoor cuts and drives had the Warriors with a layup line early — they were 15-of-18 on shots at the rim in the first half.

That led to Lakers’ coach Ham’s other smart in-game adjustment Monday, putting Davis on Andrew Wiggins in the second half, a guy the Warriors don’t use to screen much. The result worked. As former Mavericks executive (and bright NBA mind) Haralabos Voulgaris pointed out on Twitter, the Warriors ran 21 pick-and-rolls at Davis in the first half, just six in the second half. And when Davis did get switched out on Curry and others, he made the plays.

Davis still had a big game with 23 points and 15 rebounds, but he wasn’t the same defensive force he had been earlier in the series.

The Warriors couldn’t take advantage of that and get the win. That may be something they regret all summer.

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.

Watch Victor Wembanyama highlights from French league playoffs


Give Victor Wembanyama and his handlers credit — they have got him out there playing. The management teams for a lot of future No. 1 picks would have their guy in bubble wrap by now, not doing anything but solo workouts in a gym, not wanting to risk any injury or risking his draft status.

Wembanyama — the 7’4″ prodigy on both ends of the floor — is on the court in the semi-finals of the French LNB league (the highest level of play in France). His team, Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92, is one win away from the LNB Finals. While they lost on Friday to Lyon-Villeurbanne (the best-of-five series is now 2-1 Boulogne-Levallois), Wembanyama put up some highlights worth watching.

The San Antonio Spurs will select Wembanyama with the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft (June 22). San Antonio — and possibly Wembanyama — will make their Summer League debut at the California Classic Summer League in Sacramento in early July, before heading on to Las Vegas for the larger, official Summer League. While Wembanyama is playing for his French team in the playoffs, how much the Spurs will play him in the summer leagues — if at all — remains to be seen (top players have been on the court less and less at Summer League in recent years).

Spoestra’s biggest Heat adjustment for Game 2? Play with more ‘toughness and resolve’


DENVER — The days between NBA Finals are filled with talk of adjustments. After an ugly Game 1, much of that falls on the Heat — what can Erik Spoelstra draw up to get Jimmy Butler better lanes to attack? How must the Heat adjust their defense on Nikola Jokick?

Spoelstra sees it a little differently.

“Scheme is not going to save us,” he said.

His point is straightforward, the team’s best adjustment is simply to play better. More effort, more resolve. The trio of Max Strus, Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson must do better than 2-of-23 from 3. The Heat can’t settle for jumpers like they did in Game 1, they have to attack the rim and draw some fouls, getting to the line (the Heat had just two free throws in Game 1). Their halfcourt defensive decisions have to be sharper. Those are not scheme-related things.

The Heat saw some of that in the second half, but Spoelstra made it clear the better last 24 minutes (particularly the last 12) was more about effort than the adjustments they made (such as playing more Haywood Highsmith and putting him on Jokić for a while).

“I never point to the scheme. Scheme is not going to save us,” Spoelstra said. “It’s going to be the toughness and resolve, collective resolve. That’s us at our finest, when we rally around each other and commit to doing incredibly tough things. That’s what our group loves to do more than anything, to compete, to get out there and do things that people think can’t be done.

“The efforts made that work in the second half, but we’re proving that we can do that with our man defense, too.”

Among the things many people don’t think can be done is the Heat coming back in this series. But Spoelstra is right, proving people wrong is what the Heat have done all playoffs.


Phoenix Suns reportedly to hire Frank Vogel as new head coach


Frank Vogel won a title coaching two stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davis — in Los Angeles.

Now he will get the chance to coach two more stars with title aspirations, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix. The Suns are finalizing a deal to make Vogel their new head coach, according to multiple reports. This is reportedly a five-year, $31 million deal.

New Suns owner Mat Ishbia — who took over in early February and immediately pushed for the Durant trade — reportedly has been the man at the helm of basketball operations since his arrival, making this primarily his choice. Doc Rivers and Suns assistant Kevin Young also were in the mix for the job.

Vogel may not be the sexiest hire on the board — and it’s fair to ask how much of an upgrade he is over Monty Williams — but it is a solid one. The Suns can win with.

Vogel is a defense-first coach who has had success in both Indiana — where he led the Paul George Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals twice — as well as with LeBron’s Lakers (Vogel struggled in Orlando, but that was more about the roster than coaching).

Vogel is a good coach for superstars because he is relatively egoless, low-key, and a strong communicator — this is not a big personality with a hard-line attitude. Instead, he works to get buy-in from his guys and gives his stars plenty of freedom on the offensive end. Durant and Booker will have their say in what the offense looks like, but Vogel will demand defensive accountability.

There is a “good chance” Kevin Young — the top assistant under Monty Williams who had the endorsement of Devin Booker for the head coaching job — will stay on as Vogel’s lead assistant, reports John Gambadoro, the well-connected host on 98.7 FM radio in Phoenix. If true, that be a coup for the Suns, who would keep a player favorite coach to be more of an offensive coordinator. It is also possible that Young and other assistant coaches (such as Jarrett Jack) will follow Williams to Detroit, where he was just hired (on a massive deal).