Kyle Anderson

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LeBron James scores 30 as Lakers hold off Ja Morant, Grizzlies 109-108

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers knew they would be tired playing their second game in as many nights.

Experience made the difference against the young and rested Memphis Grizzlies.

James scored on a driving layup with 1:30 left to put Los Angeles ahead to stay as the Lakers held off the Grizzlies 109-108 on Saturday night for their seventh straight victory.

“We just kept our composure,” James said. “That’s what we do. We are a very resilient team.”

The Grizzlies had a final chance with the ball and 1.3 seconds left. Jaren Jackson Jr. went sprawling trying to corral Kyle Anderson‘s inbounds pass.

“I was going to catch it and see if I had time to get a shot off or hit Ja (Morant), who would’ve probably been running full speed right next to me,” Jackson said. “Obviously, we didn’t get to do all that.”

James finished with 30 points. Anthony Davis added 22, Rajon Rondo had 14, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 12 and Dwight Howard had 10.

Morant led Memphis with 26 points. Jae Crowder added 21, Jackson finished with 20, Dillon Brooks had 12 and Anderson scored 10, making rookie coach Taylor Jenkins very proud.

“If we can play like that every night, we have ourselves a chance,” Jenkins said.

The Lakers showed the effects of winning in Oklahoma City on Friday night. James made clear on social media he had trouble getting a nap with their hotel across the street from the FedExForum, where No. 16 Memphis beat Mississippi 87-86 earlier Saturday.

“We’re lucky to get out of here with a win. Credit to the Grizzlies for coming out strong,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel, who used earplugs to help him rest. “There young guys really came after us, in the first quarter in particular. Morant and Jackson are special talents and they put us in a hole.”

LA never led in the first half and trailed by as much as 15 in the second quarter. The Lakers got going in the third and opened the fourth by jumping out to their biggest lead at 94-87.

The Grizzlies led 105-100 on a tip-in by Brandon Clarke with 3:24 to go. The Lakers scored the next nine with James hitting his layup for the go-ahead bucket, and Davis followed by tipping in James’ miss for a 109-105 lead with 53.5 seconds left.

Morant’s layup with 28 seconds left pulled Memphis within a point. James missed a jumper with the Grizzlies grabbing the rebound to set up the final try.

The Grizzlies lost their third straight on a night they wore their Vancouver teal uniforms for the first time to celebrate their 25th NBA season along with a throwback court.

Memphis led 35-25 after the first quarter and 63-55 at halftime.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Marcus Smart headline All-Defensive teams

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NBA teams scored more points per possession this season than ever.

But a few players stood out for slowing the offensive onslaught.

The All-Defensive teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, voting points in parentheses):

First team

Guard: Marcus Smart, BOS (63-19-145)

Guard: Eric Bledsoe, MIL (36-28-100)

Forward: Paul George, OKC (96-3-195)

Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (94-5-193)

Center: Rudy Gobert, UTA (97-2-196)

Second team

Guard: Jrue Holiday, MIN (31-28-90)

Guard: Klay Thompson, GSW (23-36-82)

Forward: Draymond Green, GSW (2-57-61)

Forward: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (5-29-39)

Center: Joel Embiid, PHI (4-72-80)

Also receiving votes: Danny Green, TOR (19-28-66); Patrick Beverley, LAC (14-20-48); Myles Turner, IND (1-37-39); P.J. Tucker, HOU (1-36-38); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-24-24); Derrick White, SAS (4-7-15); Russell Westbrook, OKC (2-5-9); Jimmy Butler, PHI (2-5-9); Chris Paul, HOU (1-5-7); Robert Covington, MIN (1-3-5); Paul Millsap, DEN (0-5-5); James Harden, HOU (2-0-4); Al Horford, BOS (0-4-4); Kevin Durant, GSW (0-4-4); Malcolm Brogdon, MIL (1-1-3); Josh Richardson, MIA (0-3-3); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-3-3)
Stephen Curry, GSW (1-0-2); Thaddeus Young, IND (0-2-2); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-2-2); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-2-2); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-2-2); Derrick Favors, UTA (0-2-2); Joe Ingles, UTA (0-2-2); Jaylen Brown, BOS (0-1-1); Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-1-1); Ed Davis, BRK (0-1-1); Gary Harris, DEN (0-1-1); Nikola Jokic, DEN (0-1-1); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-1); Andre Iguodala, GSW (0-1-1); Jordan Bell, GSW (0-1-1); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (0-1-1); Mike Conley, MEM (0-1-1); Kyle Anderson, MEM (0-1-1); Bam Adebayo, MIA (0-1-1); Khris Middleton, MIL (0-1-1); Brook Lopez, MIL (0-1-1); Terrance Ferguson, OKC (0-1-1); Damian Lillard, POR (0-1-1); De’Aaron Fox, SAC (0-1-1); Ricky Rubio, UTA (0-1-1); Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-1)

Observations:

  • This voting could foreshadow a tight Defensive Player of the Year race. The three finalists for that award – Rudy Gobert, Paul George and Giannis Antetokounmpo – each received a high majority of votes, but not unanimity, at their positions. Or Gobert could just cruise to another victory.
  • I have no major complaints about the selections. I would have put Danny Green (who finished fifth among guards) on the first team, bumped down Eric Bledsoe and excluded Klay Thompson. I also would have give second-team forward to P.J. Tucker (who finished fifth among forwards) over Kawhi Leonard. Here are our picks for reference.
  • P.J. Tucker came only one voting point from the second team. If he tied Kawhi Leonard, both players would have made it on an expanded six-player second team.
  • Leonard hasn’t defended with the same verve this season. He remains awesome in stretches, particular in the playoffs. But his effort in the regular season didn’t match his previous level. Defensive reputations die hard.
  • It’s a shame Thaddeus Young received only two second-team votes. My general rule is you can complain about a lack of votes for only players you picked, and I didn’t pick Young. But he came very close to P.J. Tucker for my final forward spot, Young had a stronger case than several forwards ahead of him.
  • James Harden got two first-team votes. Did someone think they were voting for All-NBA? Stephen Curry also got a first-team vote. Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard got second-team votes. Nikola Jokic got a second-team vote. Kevin Durant got a few second-team votes. There’s plenty of All-NBA/All-Defensive overlap with other frontcourt players. There could easily be an incorrectly submitted ballot.
  • But that still leaves a second Harden first-team vote with no other plausible explanation. Someone must really love steals, guaring in the post and absolutely no other aspects of defense.
  • Jordan Bell got a second-team vote at forward. He’s a decent defender, but someone who played fewer minutes than Dirk Nowitzki, Bruno Caboclo and Omari Spellman this season. Bell also primarily played center. Weird.

Spurs match record by making playoffs 22nd straight year

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Before the season, Kurt Helin and I did something ahistorical: We picked the Spurs to miss the playoffs.

Kawhi Leonard was gone. So were cogs Danny Green, Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Dejounte Murray was out for the year.

I didn’t feel great about omitting San Antonio, but the Western Conference was crowded. There were more good teams than postseason spots. Someone had to get left out.

Of course, it wasn’t the Spurs.

The NBA’s most consistent winner qualified for the playoffs yet again. San Antonio clinched its 22nd straight postseason berth with the Kings’ loss to the Rockets on Saturday. That ties the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers (1950-1971) for the longest playoff streak in NBA history.

Here are the longest postseason streaks of all-time:

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San Antonio’s success is particularly impressive considering the era. The league is bigger than ever with 30 teams. Contracts are shorter than before. It’s so easy to have an off year.

Tim Duncan ensured the Spurs remained competitive for so long. Lately, Gregg Popovich has gotten enough star production from LaMarcus Aldridge then gotten everyone else on the same page. San Antonio just avoids mistakes and keeps chugging.

Nobody else now even nears the Spurs’ playoff longevity. Their playoff streak is more than three times longer than any other current streak:

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Of course, people could again predict the Spurs to miss the playoffs next year. I even might. Weighted by playing time, they have the NBA’s second-oldest team (behind only the Rockets). The West will likely remain tough. They could easily drop.

But it will always be uneasy picking against this model of consistency.

Believe me, I know.

Three Things to Know: Activated? Laker bench veterans are disaster in ugly loss to Grizzlies

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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) Activated? Disconnect more like it. Laker bench veterans disaster in an ugly loss to Grizzlies. How much trouble are the Lakers playoff hopes in? Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Clippers and Spurs to finish with 44 wins and get the final two playoff seeds in the West. For the Lakers to get to 45 wins and be in they need to go 16-6 the rest of the way.

LeBron James said he activated playoff mode early — and Monday night he had a triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists (which moved him into fifth, past Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time triple-double list) — but the Laker bench was a disaster in a 110-105 loss to a Memphis team that traded away Marc Gasol, is without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson due to injury, and is trying to lose games so they keep their pick in the draft. Yet those Grizzlies played with more poise, cohesion, and passion.

LeBron keeps blaming guys not focused on the game — is basketball the most important thing in your life? After this loss it was, “If you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, this is the wrong franchise to be a part of.”

It feels like that is a shot at the young Lakers.

It shouldn’t be. It’s the veterans — the guys Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed last summer who have been the problem. It was that way Monday night — the Laker bench of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, the traded for Mike Muscala, and Josh Hart went 3-of-14 shooting for 7 total points in 70 minutes of game action. It’s not just this one game, either.

Rather than put shooters around LeBron, Magic said the Lakers wanted to go their own way, bring in the veteran playmakers, but only the ones they could get on one-year deals. This is the result. The Lakers get pushed around inside, they lack a game-managing point guard (Rondo isn’t that guy anymore, and it is not Lonzo Ball’s strength, plus Ball is out with a bone bruise in his ankle anyway) and they have stopped caring on defense. And if LeBron wants to complain about defensive effort, well…

Brandon Ingram had 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting against Memphis and was aggressive again — he had another strong game. Although, Avery Bradley broke Ingram’s ankles at one point.

Kyle Kuzma had 22 points in his one. He continues to play consistently well.

Which is to say the guys at the heart of all those Anthony Davis trade talks were just fine, maybe the trade talks did not destroy the psyche of this team. It’s the veterans that are the issue.

Going 16-6 seems like a longshot at best after this loss. The way the Lakers are defending right now, they might as well start ending their team huddles with “1-2-3 Cancun.”

2) James Harden’s 30+ points per game streak comes to an end in Rockets win over Hawks. It had to end eventually. And when James Harden’s streak of 30+ point games did end it was not going to be because some team just locked him down, it was going to be a game where he didn’t need to take over to get the win.

That’s what happened in Atlanta.

Harden wasn’t sharp — 7-of-21 shooting to get to 28 points — but this was a night he could be off and the Rockets still got the 119-111 victory.

Harden had 28 as time ran down, but rather than go for 30 he dribbled it out — while the Hawks threw a quadruple-team at him just in case.

Harden’s streak reached 32 games, second longest 30+ points streak ever behind Wilt Chamberlain’s ridiculous 65 games. Harden admitted he didn’t expect to reach that number. So he settles for the second-longest streak ever, and in doing so got his team back in the playoff picture and himself back in the MVP race.

For the Hawks, Trae Young knocked down eight three-pointers and scored 36 on the night.

3) Classy move by Doc Rivers in tribute to Dirk Nowitzki. And by the way, the Clippers look like a playoff team. With 9.4 seconds remaining in a decided game (the Clippers won 121-112), Doc Rivers called a timeout. He then walked over to the scorer’s table, picked up a microphone, and got the crowd at Staples Center to give Dirk Nowitzki one last standing ovation.

Classy move by Rivers.

This was a big win for Los Angeles, which is now in sole possession of seventh place in the West. On a night where the Lakers/Kings/Spurs all lost the idea of the Clippers in the postseason seems more secure, much to the delight of owner Steve Ballmer. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Clippers with a 75 percent chance of making the postseason.

Which is incredible for a team that two trade deadlines in a row has sent away its best player (Blake Griffin last year, Tobias Harris this year). The Clippers were shrewd with those moves, staying competitive while setting themselves up to be bigtime players in free agency.

This season the Clippers have leaned on Lou Williams to score, watched Montrezl Harrell develop into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in his own right, and had solid seasons from veterans such as Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari (who has stayed healthy this year), plus the move of trading up in the draft to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems. The Clippers rebuilt on the fly — all while freeing up cap space to chase two max free agents next summer.

The Clippers have been a model “how to rebuild on the fly” example, and this summer may land Kawhi Leonard or another free agent, they are in the mix for the big names. Do that, and this will be one of the great rebuilds of all time in the league.

Grizzlies Dillon Brooks ruptures ligament in big toe, to have surgery, done for season

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Things just keep getting worse in Memphis. The team has lost six in a row and 11-of-13, and now their lack-of-depth will be exposed even further.

Second-year “3&D” wing Dillon Brooks is done for the season with a toe injury that requires surgery, the team announced Wednesday.

While they don’t provide a timeline, Brooks is expected to be done for the season but able to get back to workouts this summer in preparation for next season.

Brooks — who averaged 7.5 points a game off the bench in 18 minutes a night this season — was in the wing rotation with Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson and the just acquired Justin Holiday. Expect to see a little more Omri Casspi now.

Memphis likes Brooks and how he fits into their grinding style of play, which is why he was never available in the weird failed Trevor Ariza trade.