Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ Kawhi recruiting pitch unimpressive as Raptors win in rout

1 Comment

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Lakers’ Kawhi recruiting pitch unimpressive as Raptors rout Lakers without him. Whatever Kawhi Leonard decides to do next summer, it will not be based on the outcome of one game in November.

However, this one game in November was a microcosm of why sources around league front offices believe the Lakers are an increasingly longer shot to land Leonard — way more think the Clippers are a likely destination — and the Raptors have a chance to keep him. One of the teams playing in Staples Center Sunday night was complete and ready to compete for a ring now. And it’s not the one from the land of palm trees.

Leonard sat out Sunday night in Los Angeles after jamming his toe at the end of Friday night’s win in Phoenix — Laker fans did not get to make their “we love you, come here” pitch during the game. Even without him, Toronto raced out to a 41-10 lead in the first quarter, Serge Ibaka made his first 14 shots scoring 20 in the opening frame (and a career-high 34 points for the game), and the Raptors routed the Lakers 121-107 (and it wasn’t that close).

There were two keys to this blowout. One, the 9-1 Raptors are very good. Ibaka couldn’t miss, but Kyle Lowry is what makes the Raptors’ offense work — he had 21 points and 15 assists, continuing his red-hot start to the season. Lowry is averaging a league-best 11.6 assists per game, which is way up from his previous career high of 7.4. With the shift in the Raptors offense — new coach in Nick Nurse, no DeMar DeRozan — Lowry has thrived as a playmaker, one who had nine assists in the first quarter Sunday.

The Raptors raced out to that big first quarter exploiting two things: Brandon Ingram could not keep up with Danny Green as he came off multiple picks, and the Raptors would run a pick-and-pop with JaVale McGee’s man setting the pick because he could/would not come out and contest.

Which brings us to the second part of this blowout: The Lakers’ defense is terrible.

The Lakers have the 23rd ranked defense in the league, allowing 111.6 points per 100 possessions, but when you combine that with their fast pace (106.2 possessions per game, third in the league, via NBA.com) you end up in a situation where the Lakers have given up at least 110 points in every game. (Jack in the Box is safe — they give out two free tacos to Lakers fans if L.A. wins and holds the other team under 100 points, that’s not happening this season.) The Lakers were going to be a work in progress this season, a team that would have to learn to win, but the defense has been the slow part of that process.

Los Angeles’ wins this season have come in shootouts, and while their point differential is better than their record early (the Lakers should be a .500 team by that metric), Los Angeles has a long way to go to reach the NBA’s elite. Luke Walton had a young, scrappy Lakers team playing solid defense last season (12th in the league) but right now, despite athleticism and some length on the roster, the communication, recognition, and flat-out effort are not there.

Unless those things start to show up, the playoffs will not be there for the Lakers, either.

2) Greek on Greek crime: Giannis Antetokounmpo with a dunk of the year candidate. This is just filthy, the Greek Freak dunking on countryman Kosta Kufos.

Antetokounmpo was almost apologetic afterward. Almost.

3) Suns Devin Booker owns the fourth quarter, drains game-winner against Grizzlies. Devin Booker played the entire fourth quarter Sunday with five fouls, but they needed him on the court to spark a 21-7 fourth-quarter run to make it a game again. Booker had 14 points in the final frame.

And they needed him to hit clutch jumpers down the stretch, including a 17 footer with 1.7 seconds left to secure the 102-100 Phoenix win against Memphis.

Booker has bounced back this season. He missed all of the preseason due to a broken hand, then missed the start of the season with a  left hamstring injury. Still, he has found his form averaging 25.7 points per game with an impressive True Shooting Percentage of 60.5. It’s impressive. The Suns and Booker really want him to be an All-Star guard this season, and if he were in the East I’d say “done deal,” but in the West — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell — it’s tough to crack the club.

 

Kawhi Leonard hears MVP chants, plays like it with 31 points, leads Raptors past Celtics 113-101

7 Comments

TORONTO — Kawhi Leonard had 31 points and 10 rebounds, Serge Ibaka added 21 points and the Toronto Raptors beat the Boston Celtics 113-101 on Friday night in an early matchup between Eastern Conference contenders.

By the end of the game, Raptors fans were chanting “M-V-P” for Leonard.

Kyle Lowry scored 15 points, Danny Green had 14, and Fred VanVleet 11 to help the Raptors win for the 10th time in 11 home meetings with the Celtics.

Kyrie Irving scored 21 points for Boston, and Al Horford had 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jayson Tatum scored 16 points, and Jaylen Brown had 13.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward scored 14 points in 24 minutes, connecting on six of 13 field goal attempts.

Leonard made 10 of 25 attempts, including 2 of 5 from 3-point range, and went 9 for 9 at the free throw line.

Brown made a 3-pointer to give the Celtics an 87-86 lead with 9:03 remaining. VanVleet answered with a reverse layup, the first basket in a 6-0 spurt that gave Toronto the led for good.

Green and Lowry each made 3-pointers around an offensive foul by Tatum with just over two minutes remaining, giving the Raptors a 107-99 edge. Green went 4 for 7 from long range, while Lowry made 3 of 5.

 

 

Spurs on precipice after losing Kawhi Leonard

AP Photo/Darren Abate
6 Comments

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Magic Johnson won NBA Finals MVP in his age-22 season, and the Lakers contended for championships for the next decade.

Tim Duncan won NBA Finals MVP in his age-22 season, and the Spurs contended for championships for the next decade and a half.

Kawhi Leonard won NBA Finals MVP in his age-22 season, and… only four years later, San Antonio is just trying to sneak into the playoffs with an old roster.

Leonard did his part, until last season at least. He grew into a perennial MVP candidate, the NBA’s best defender and an elite offensive player.

But that all came crashing down over the last year. Leonard got hurt, and a distrust between him and San Antonio grew. It’d be difficult to determine how much blame to assign each side even if we knew everything, and we certainly don’t know everything.

What’s clear: The Spurs are bearing the brunt of the breakdown.

Their trade of Leonard to the Raptors – for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 first-rounder – was a devastating sell-low. That probably wasn’t the Spurs’ best offer in a vacuum, but they were reportedly limited by their own parameters – preferring to send Leonard to the East and valuing immediate contributors.

That’s the effect of a 69-year-old coach running the front office.

Gregg Popovich is an all-time great coach, and if he wants to avoid rebuilding until retirement, he has more than earned the right. Embracing youth and accepting losing probably doesn’t appeal to him at this point.

Popovich has proven masterful at getting players to understand their responsibilities and executing them, and that’s why his teams have been so consistently good in the regular season. He’ll need another supreme coaching performance to get this squad into the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.

The most common oversimplification of the summer is that the Spurs are basically just adding DeRozan to a team that won 47 games last season because Leonard barely played anyway. San Antonio also lost important cogs Kyle Anderson (signed unmatched offer sheet with Grizzlies), Danny Green (traded to Toronto) and Manu Ginobili (retired). Tony Parker left for the Hornets, too.

At least San Antonio got Popovich a few players familiar with his system, re-signing Rudy Gay (one year, $10,087,200), Davis Bertans (two years, $14 million) and Bryn Forbes (two years, $6 million) and signing former Spur Marco Belinelli (two years, $12 million). None of those players came cheap.

Newly signed veterans Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter could help, too.

The Spurs aren’t completely punting the future. They drafted Lonnie Walker No. 18 and Chimezie Metu No. 49. Belinelli’s and Forbes’ salaries decline in the their second seasons. Bertans’ is flat.

Teams run into trouble when they prioritize the present regardless of greater circumstance, and the Spurs did that to some degree. But they also have Popovich and LaMarcus Aldridge, both of whom will make it easier for San Antonio to win next season. Popovich doesn’t need much, and Aldridge’s interior style can prop up lesser supporting casts.

That said, I’m still not sure the Spurs have enough.

They’ve been headed for trouble for a while, as their relationship with Leonard deteriorated. That didn’t all happen this offseason, though that’s when the dam broke.

Offseason grade: D-

Kawhi Leonard reportedly clears physical in Toronto; trade official

Getty Images
2 Comments

This was expected. Every report on Kawhi Leonard‘s condition now — even those from Spurs sources — was that he was looking good and should be healthy and ready to go for training camp.

For Leonard’s trade to Toronto to be ultimately finalized, he had to pass the standard physical (part of every pro sports trade/signing). That has happened, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

Just a reminder, this trade sent Leonard and veteran “3&D” man Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, backup center Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick in 2019 (protected 1-20). It’s done now and official.

Come the fall, the real interesting questions get to be answered:

• How healthy is Leonard? Can he return to his MVP-level form of a couple of seasons ago?

• If he is healthy, can the Raptors knock off the Celtics and make it to the finals for the first time in franchise history?

• Can the Raptors win him over and get him to at least seriously consider re-signing with them?

• Just how good are the mid-range loving Spurs with DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge?

Danny Green: Spurs don’t know how long I played with torn groin, should’ve gotten second opinion

AP Photo/Eric Gay
6 Comments

Danny Green has tried his hardest to soothe tension between Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs.

Headed to the Raptors with Leonard, Green hasn’t given up that fight – though, while he tries to show deference to both sides, his latest update doesn’t shine a favorable light on the team.

Leonard reportedly believes San Antonio misdiagnosed his injury. Green can relate.

Green discussed an injury he suffered Dec. 8 against the Celtics. He missed 10 of the next 17 games.

Green on “Inside the Green Room with Danny Green“:

I strained my groin first half, probably first or second quarter, trying to chase down and block a dunk. It was stupid, because I was nowhere near close to getting the block. But that’s the competitive nature in me. And I wanted to go back in.

But get an MRI next day. It’s a slight strain, take a couple weeks off. So, we do the rehab, do everything we’re supposed to do. And people – with a groin strain, it’s hard to tell between a groin and a sports hernia sometimes.

So, after some time, it healed. Started to try to play again. It’s kind of certain days, I’d have bad days. Some days would be good. And I’d feel it.

And they were like, “Maybe we should get it checked.” My agent: “Maybe you should get a second opinion.”

I didn’t want to, because I have full faith and belief in the Spurs’ staff. They’ve always been great to me. They’ve always done right by me. They’ve always done a hell of a job.

So, throughout the season, we’ve monitored it. But we never went back to check on it again, because so many other injuries have happened.

I should have – I could have gotten a second opinion. So, I see where Kawhi is coming from when he’s got his second opinion. Because a lot of times, you’ll get information from outside sources.

And not saying that the Spurs staff is not up to par. It’s just that everybody is a specialist in every area. So, it’s not like they’re a special in a groin area where a sports hernia may be. So, to go to a guy who may be in Philly to get a second opinion shouldn’t hurt.

At the end of the season, regardless of that being said, at the end of the season, I come to find out is it could have happened that day or that playoff series against Golden State. But we don’t know. So, at the end of the season, I had to get another MRI, because you get your physicals, the exit physicals. The strain was still there, a little tear.

Since then, I’ve been rehabbing it, basically. And now they’re passing the information on Toronto.

But we don’t know how long I’ve been playing with this strain or how long this tear has happened, because we haven’t really circled back or focused on it that much because of some of the injury were happening throughout, whether it was the Achilles, dislocated finger. I had stiches in my face. Whatever it may be.

Second opinion could have helped, but they did a great job. They did everything they could.

But I think it would have been nice to see a specialist, just to see if there’s another angle, another view. Just because Kawhi and got a second opinion, you can’t knock him for that. Everybody should get a second opinion just to get another perspective, another angle, another view.

Regardless of that, I’m working on it, trying to get healthy, because you can tell my play deteriorated toward the end of the season. It wasn’t the same. But, competitive nature, I didn’t want to leave the floor.

Green is being completely reasonable here. It is understandable San Antonio doctors missed this. They can’t be specialists in everything. That’s why Green should have gotten a second opinion – and why the Spurs probably should have encouraged him to do so.

But juxtapose Green’s comments with those of Tony Parker, who went out of his way to note how much he trusted San Antonio’s doctors and didn’t want a second opinion. I wouldn’t blame Leonard for resenting that.

Leonard must protect himself. If that required missing most of last season, so be it. For all the credit the Spurs have gotten for their handling of players’ health, there are obviously cracks in the system.

I’m also now curious about Green’s physical in Toronto. Though so much attention has been placed on Leonard’s, could Green show red flags? It’s probably too late to turn back now.