Getty Images

LeBron James hears criticism from Magic Johnson, Kobe, says he is being who he is

4 Comments

First, it was Magic Johnson on SiriusXM NBA radio last week, saying the team went out and got a lot of playmakers this offseason to go around LeBron James so everything didn’t have to run through him.

“Now it is Cleveland all over again and we don’t want that… We got a lot of ball handlers so we feel we won’t overuse him in terms of his ball handling and also every play has to run through him.”

Then on Monday night at a Lakers’ All-Access event, Kobe Bryant — a player more than happy to take over games when he felt it was the best way to win, which was a lot — offered a similar criticism, although more nuanced. Via Joe Varden The Athletic.

“At the beginning of the season, you saw a collection of individual talent trying to figure out what they can do and where they can do it on the floor,” Bryant said. “What about their games? But at the same time how to figure out how to make those games blend in as a group. You can’t have one before the other, see what I’m saying? So it’s a test of Bron’s patience, and also doing what he needs to do to keep the team’s head above water. So it’s a balancing act.”

Since Rajon Rondo went down with a hand injury nine games ago, the Lakers have run everything through LeBron, his usage rate in those games is 33.7 and he has looked better. LeBron, speaking to the media, acknowledged what Magic and Kobe said, but didn’t sound like a guy about to change things. Via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“I don’t know what asking me to do too much is, to be honest… I understand the logic behind what Magic and Kobe are saying because we want to grow the young guys… But, I mean, Magic and Kobe know who I am. I know who I am They know what they’re going to get out of me. That is, you know what you’re going to get out of me every game… When it’s really, really, really money time, you know who is going to be there.”

The fact is the Lakers offense has struggled the last nine games since Rajon Rondo went down, scoring 104.5 points per 100 possessions, which is bottom five in the league. However, the Lakers are 6-3 in that stretch thanks to top-five defense (102 per 100) and some timely plays from LeBron.

More to the point, what exactly did Magic expect? His roster of “playmakers” doesn’t exactly have a lot of good playmakers outside LeBron and Lonzo Ball. Brandon Ingram can create for himself, but he’s not a facilitator. Does Magic think Lance Stephenson should get more touches? Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart have succeeded because they’re finishers and shooters, the kinds of players who have always thrived next to LeBron.

LeBron is one of the best playmakers to ever play the game. Trust him. And if you want to spread the ball around more, then go get another superstar playmaker (which is the plan). Right now, this is who the Lakers are, this is the team Magic (and GM Rob Pelinka) built. Like it or not.

Jamal Murray: Kyrie Irving ‘overreacted’, Irving: ‘I felt disrespected’

10 Comments

Kyrie Irving accepted his $25,000 fine for throwing the ball into the stands after the Celtics’ loss to the Nuggets on Sunday without complaint.

But that doesn’t mean Irving was done talking about Jamal Murray, who provoked Irving by shooting on the final possession with Denver’s win already secure in an attempt to score 50 points.

Irving, via Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

“[The fine was] well deserved,” Irving told reporters at Boston’s offday practice Tuesday in Phoenix. “There’s a sense of professionalism that you have to uphold within this league, and I failed to do so, so I take full responsibility for it.”

“From a competitive standpoint, I think [the ball] absolutely deserved to go into the stands,” said Irving. “You just don’t play basketball like that, and it’s as simple as that. You just don’t. There’s a tradition and a respect within the league as well as within any basketball game. Obviously you’ve won the game, have it sealed, had a great game – the game of your life, and then you do something like that. It’s just petty, it’s immature. But we’ll see him again though.”

“[Murray] knew. It’s not like I hold any resentment towards it, but hopefully going forward after this, he doesn’t do anything like that,” said Irving. “You’ve seen guys throughout the league, I believe there was an incident in Indiana when Lance Stephenson took a layup at the end where they were playing against Toronto, and it’s just experiences that everyone has.

“You just don’t do that in the NBA. In any game, it’s just a respect for your opponent, and I felt disrespected after the game. So your career-high ball goes in the stands.”

Murray, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“That’s just makes me laugh,” Murray said here Wednesday of Irving’s comments. “I think everybody understood I was trying to go for 50. Everybody understood I was trying to break a record, make history. Not just here but Canadian history as well. I think it was more of an understandable shot. I think he’s a competitor, so obviously he’s going to take it a different way. I think he overreacted. But I’m not gonna sit here and go into a little debate. I’m just going to play basketball and we’re on to the next game.”

“I think somebody caught it and gave it to a little kid wearing my jersey, so I think that was a great moment,” Murray said from shootaround ahead of Wednesday’s game at Memphis. “That’s a lucky kid. He got a ball that’s worth 48 points.”

The fan wants Murray’s signature on the ball – something Murray said he’d be open to even if it means he doesn’t get to keep it.

“I’ll do that for sure. What goes around comes back around. That’ll be fun to interact with a fan. Get to see the ball again, sign it for him… I’m not really stressing (about the ball). I think I can repeat that day one game. If the kid’s willing to give it up, I’ll trade him some shoes or something for it. So that wouldn’t be too bad, either.”

Irving sounds mighty sensitive. And that’s OK. He can feel disrespected.

But also keep in mind: Murray clearly didn’t shoot with intent to disrespect. He wanted 50 points, and that’s it. That doesn’t absolve him if he were incidentally disrespectful. Murray seemed to know how Boston would take his shot, as he appeared conflicted about whether to hoist before he did. But this really wasn’t about the Celtics.

Of course, the Celtics are making it about themselves – and not looking good in the process. In the Lance Stephenson example Irving cited, the Raptors came off as hypocrites. At least Irving is consistent, though.

Murray is handling this much better, not even fretting about losing the ball.

It’s a ball. It was a shot. These are not things to get so worked up about.

Unless you’re trying to motivate yourself for the rematch in March, which is the only endearing potential explanation for Irving carrying on.

Tyson Chandler clears waivers, signs with Lakers

Getty Images
2 Comments

When JaVale McGee is on the court, the Lakers are 6.3 points per 100 possessions better on defense. Or, look at it this way: When he is on the court the Lakers have allowed 105.3 points per 100 possessions, which would be fifth in the NBA.

But then he has to sit. The Lakers’ most used non-McGee lineup — Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, LeBron James, Lance Stephenson, Kyle Kuzma – gets outscored by 24.6 points per 100. When McGee is out, the Lakers are a bottom 10 defense.

Which is why the gamble on Tyson Chandler makes sense for them. Chandler may not have much left in the tank, we shall see, but the Lakers need to do something.

Chandler cleared waivers, as first reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Then, as expected, he signed with the Lakers.

His contract with the Lakers is for the veteran minimum of $2.1 million — which not-so-coincidentally is how much of a discount he gave Phoenix off the $13.5 million they owed him this season.

Chandler is a big body, a guy who can call out coverages, gets rebounds, and on a veteran team may be able to stake out a role as a backup big off the bench who helps the interior defense. Or maybe not — the past two seasons the Suns’ defense was not appreciably better when Chandler was in the game. Once a very active and mobile defender, at age 36 he is not that anymore, and the players going against him can either pop out off a pick or force a switch, either way he struggles to defend in space anymore. He certainly is not going to be able to run the floor like the Lakers prefer.

Maybe Chandler works out well for the role the Lakers need him. If not, this is a low-risk gamble and the Lakers can just move one. Come the buyout season next February there likely will be some quality big men (Robin Lopez‘s name comes to mind) who could be on the market.

Three Things to Know: LeBron James’ triple-double earns Lakers first significant win

Getty Images
7 Comments

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) LeBron James’ triple-double earns Lakers’ first significant win. The Lakers picked up their first win of the season in Phoenix on Wednesday, but that felt more like a “we better beat this struggling young team” relief than a giant step forward.

Thursday night against Denver was more like the way the Lakers are going to win games this season: LeBron James was brilliant as both a facilitator and aggressive scorer when needed; the ball movement found capable finishers such as Kyle Kuzma (22 points); and while the Lakers are not a great defensive team they have players who can make defensive plays at times (Lonzo Ball on Jamal Murray at times, for example). It was enough. Los Angeles came back from eight points down midway through the fourth and got its first significant win of the season while handing Denver its first loss, 121-114.

It all started with LeBron, who did anything and everything asked of him on the night with 28 points (on 17 shots), 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It’s his first triple-double as a Laker.

There was more to it than that for Los Angeles. Lance Stephenson was a fourth-quarter spark off the bench with a couple of threes and a key look-ahead pass to LeBron for a dunk (Stephenson has played surprisingly well for L.A. this season). The Lakers once again forced the pace — 105 possessions in this game, and 24 percent of Lakers possessions started in transition (they scored at an impressive 112 points per 100 possession pace on those, via Cleaning the Glass). The Lakers may have found their best five-man lineup is Ball, Josh Hart, LeBron, Kuzma, and JaVale McGee (+11.6 per 100 possessions so far this season).

This was not peak Nuggets. Their offense was not the incredibly efficient machine it is typically, and they do miss Will Barton. Nikola Jokic had good bottom-line stats — 24 points and 11 rebounds — but in a sign of how the Nuggets’ offense didn’t flow he had three assists to six turnovers. Jamal Murray went right at Lonzo Ball early (this is one of the NBA’s more fun beefs, and will be for a decade), but Lonzo was the one getting five steals and making some key plays late. And, Denver struggled to find an answer for LeBron.

The Lakers are counting on a lot more teams struggling to do that as they move through the schedule.

2) Did Boston find its offense in a second-half comeback? It’s become a topic of conversation around the NBA: What happened to the Boston Celtics’ offense? Not that it was a force of nature last season (18th in the NBA, basically middle of the pack) but it was timely behind Kyrie Irving (until he had to sit due to injury), it involved good player and ball movement, and combined with an elite defense it got the Celtics the two seed and then to the conference finals.

This season, the Celtics were the second-worst offense in the NBA coming into Thursday night’s game (just ahead of the team they were playing, the Thunder). The problems were everywhere, but they started with the fact the Celtics just could not knock down shots — they were generating a lot of open looks but hitting them at the lowest rate in the NBA. Boston was not driving the lane or getting to the rim and drawing fouls (and Irving was a big part of that problem). Gordon Hayward has not been his vintage self and players are still adjusting to new roles. We could go on and on, but you get the idea — the Celtics offense was broken and without flow.

That continued in the first half Thursday in Oklahoma City, where they put up just 34 points and went 0-of-11 from three.

Then came the second half.

Boston put up a 40-point third quarter, sparked by Al Horford knocking down three shots from beyond the arc in only 41 seconds.

Suddenly the Celtics seemed like they could not miss — Marcus Morris had 19 second-half points on six shots. The Celtics exploded for a 142 offensive rating in the second half, erased a 16-point deficit, and picked up the 101-95 win. Irving explained the transformation this way to NBC Sports Boston.

“Stop overthinking about how we’re supposed to be playing,… It’s a hard thing to hold onto of being a certain way for a certain amount of time in your career and then when you come into a situation like this where you’re playing with a lot of good players sometimes you can dim down how special you are or over think how you’re supposed to be playing. So I think for us we just all wanted to come out and just really have fun.”

Will this carry over to the Celtics’ next game Saturday versus the Pistons? By the way, about Detroit…

3) Detroit is the season’s surprise team, improving to 4-0. The Pistons have had a soft schedule to start the season — Brooklyn, Chicago, and on Thursday night Cleveland (Philadelphia is the one impressive win) — but they have executed well, Blake Griffin has been a 33.8 points a game beast, Reggie Jackson is knocking down threes (40 percent so far this season), Andre Drummond is dunking and grabbing rebounds (17.5 a game) and the Pistons just keep winning behind a top-10 offense.

Thursday night Drummond became the latest center to thrive against the Cavaliers, scoring 26 points and grabbing 22 boards, his second 20-20 game of the season. Griffin had 26 and 10. That said, this win may have been less about “damn the Pistons look good” and more “wow, the Cavaliers are terrible.” For example, nice spin move here by Griffin but look at the Cavs’ defense.

Saturday night the Pistons face the (possibly) rejuvenated Celtics. That should be a better test. The Pistons, however, have beaten the teams in front of them on the schedule, and plenty of good teams stumble in these kinds of stretches. That the Pistons are winning speaks to them looking like a playoff team early in this season.

Three Things to Know: Stephen Curry explodes for 51 points. In three quarters.

Getty Images
3 Comments

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) Stephen Curry explodes for 51 points in three quarters. Sorry Wizards. There are nights there is nothing anyone can do. Bradley Beal suggested you could “probably foul the s—- out of him” but that just might make him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

Stephen Curry drained 11 threes on his way to 51 points Wednesday — and he rested the entire fourth quarter. Curry had 23 points in the first quarter, and was 15-of-24 shooting overall.

It was the kind of night where even a blown lob to Kevin Durant became a Curry three.

By the way, Kevin Durant had a “quiet” 30 points on the night. If you think Curry and the Warriors are ruining the game, well, he has a Jordan shrug for you.

View this post on Instagram

No idea what to say. #RuinTheGame

A post shared by Wardell Curry (@stephencurry30) on

Curry is red hot to start the season, hitting 33-of-63 from three through five games. We’re just five games into the season, it is far, far too early to be talking MVP race, but Curry is playing like a guy who wants to be in the middle of that conversation again.

2) Lakers earn first win of the LeBron James era, knock off Suns. All season long, for LeBron James it has been more about setting up teammates and getting the offense in a flow in Los Angles rather than just taking over and winning games by himself. That was the case Wednesday night again in Phoenix, when LeBron had 19 points and 10 assists — JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson each scored more than he did — and the Lakers picked up their first win of the season, 131-113 over the Suns.

The Lakers needed that win after three straight losses where playoff teams of a year ago out-executed Los Angeles when it mattered.

Luke Walton started the night with something fans (and smart watchers) have been calling for: Josh Hart in the starting lineup and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming off the bench (KCP has had a slow start to the season, Hart has been a ball of energy and threes). Actually, Walton did more than that — he unloaded on the team’s poor defense in the morning shootaround to try to get their focus back. It seemed to work in the sense the Lakers had their best defensive outing of the season, holding the Suns to a 108.7 net rating (close to the league average, which is way better than any other Laker game where opponents had a rating of 114 or higher).

Still without Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, the Lakers pulled away in a second quarter where Stephenson was hot early (he finished with 23 points, plus 8 assists and rebounds each), and Hart and Lonzo Ball were knocking down shots. The Lakers coasted through the second half to get the kind of comfortable win and confidence boost they needed after three tough losses.

It doesn’t get easier for L.A. — the Lakers return home for a back-to-back against red-hot Denver on Thursday night. At least the blowout win helped get LeBron and others get some rest in the fourth.

3) David Stern takes a swing at Pelicans GM in interview. Pelicans push back. Former NBA Commissioner — officially currently “commissioner emeritus” — doesn’t like the narrative that he blocked Chris Paul from going to the Lakers because it was right after the lockout and a bunch of small market owners called him yelling “we just locked out to stop things like this.” Stern believes as the acting owner (George Shin had sold the team back to the league at the time) he did the right thing for the franchise — “basketball reasons” — getting the then-Hornets/now Pelicans a better deal.

Stern told SI the reason it didn’t work out was that Dell Demps — the GM who orchestrated that trade and who is still the GM in the Big Easy — sucks at his job.

“But Dell Demps is a lousy general manager and none of those players are currently with the team anymore, and he may lose Anthony Davis.”

Ouch. Plenty of Pelicans fans were quick to say “he’s right” but that’s still a heck of a thing for a league official to say about a sitting GM. The Pelicans fired back.

Stern is the outspoken, bombastic (especially behind closed doors) counter to Adam Silver’s modern, consensus-building style. Stern played a huge role in where the NBA is today, and he is still a great interview, but you can see why there were plenty of people who thought it was time to move on.