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Gregg Popovich on Spurs’ struggles: ‘I’ve got to do a better job’

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The San Antonio Spurs have lost 5-of-7, been blown out by 30+ in back-to-back games, and have fallen to 14th in the West in the standings.  It’s been ugly basketball, not a phrase we associate with Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. The culprit is a defense that is worst in the NBA over that stretch, but the offense has looked out of sync and fairly average throughout the rough patch.

After a crushing loss to the Rockets on Friday night (136-105) Spurs coach Gregg Popovich took the blame, reports Michael C. Wright of ESPN.

“It’s a game where you try to continue to get better at all aspects,” Popovich said. “We’re obviously discombobulated on offense. So a lot of that has to do with me. I’ve got to do a better job there. I think defensively, we’ve obviously got to shore up our effort and our wisdom at that end of the court. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Players, of course, had Popovich’s back.

Popovich has three primary scorers — DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay — who prefer to shoot from the midrange, in the 16-18 foot range. So far this season the Spurs are taking more threes than they ever have in franchise history 24.8 per game, it’s just not keeping pace with the number of threes taken around the league. Popovich has rolled with the players he has, counting to the three-heavy trend of recent years, but the simple fact of the matter is 3>2.

Maybe this could work if the Spurs had a good defense, but when they lost Dejonte Murray for the season it was a tremendous blow, and Pau Gasol being out now is not helping. The Spurs defense is a mess and they don’t have the offensive firepower to cover it up. This isn’t about Popovich the coach — or whether or not he likes the three ball — this is about talent. That’s what wins in the NBA and the Spurs don’t have enough of it.

Veteran Patty Mills seems to have summed up the Spurs’ mood best.

“Guys feel embarrassed and deflated, and rightfully so,” guard Patty Mills said. “It’s the big picture. It’s who we represent when we put these jerseys on. It’s who we play for. It’s much bigger than that, and we need to understand that we are here just for a short time amongst this organization that will be here for a lot longer than we are. We’ve got to take pride in that.”

Three Things to Know: Boston’s offense lacks any magic in loss to Orlando

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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) Bad loss for Boston: Offense stumbles again and Celtics fall to Magic. I get it, we’re just four games into the NBA season and the Celtics are still adjusting to having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the rotation. This early the defense isn’t expected to be at its switching peak yet. Everything is a work in progress and it’s far too early to even get nervous.

But the Celtics were manhandled down the stretch by the Raptors. Then Boston almost lost to an unimpressive Knicks team.

Now comes a home loss to Orlando. That is a bad loss. Boston is simply not playing well right now.

Following an unimpressive preseason, the Celtics are 2-2 to open the season after a 93-90 loss to the punchless Magic Monday. While Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin were able to get in the paint and kick out, and Nikola Vucevic had 24 and 12, it wasn’t the Magic offense torching the Celtics defense that was the biggest problem on the night. Once again, Boston’s offense looked out of sync, as evidenced by them shooting 7-of-20 in the first quarter or going 9-of-40 from three (22.5 percent). When the long Magic defenders stopped the Celtics’ initial actions, Boston players were not making passes that started good actions elsewhere, they just looked stagnant.

Meanwhile, the Magic had their young star, Jonathan Isaac, making plays.

The Celtics’ offensive chemistry is a work in progress — they will get there, this team will be elite, but it’s going to take a lot longer than expected. Everybody thought this would be more plug-and-play, that everything would come together quickly for the Celtics with their stars back. Things seemed to come more easily last season, it’s not that way this time around. This time, Brad Stevens and crew have a lot more work to do.

It’s just four games, the Celtics have the talent and plenty of time to get it all together. But this is not the start their fans envisioned.

2) Laker defense gets them in trouble, Spurs’ Patty Mills puts the nail in the coffin. Lakers remain winless. If you want highlights, this game had plenty. There was clutch LeBron forcing overtime.

Then, capping off a dramatic comeback where the Spurs scored the final seven points of the game in the final :55 seconds, Spurs veteran Patty Mills drained his game-winning attempt.

However, he did it so fast LeBron had one more shot to win it all, he got to his spot and…

The Spurs win, 143-142 in overtime.

Get past the highlights, and LeBron’s Lakers remain winless because of the same things that have plagued them through the first two games. The Lakers do not defend well at all (the Spurs scored 125.7 points per 100 possessions, and the Lakers are bottom six in the league in defense through three games). While the Lakers’ offense is great in transition, slow them down and they are very inconsistent (and searching for consistent shooting from three). Bottom line, if the Lakers get stops and can run they are impressive, but they don’t get enough of those, and then things are a roller coaster.

It’s just three games, but for a Laker team expecting to make the playoffs in a deep West, they need to start winning sooner rather than later.

3) Bradley Beal, Markieff Morris secure Wizards win a wild overtime game in Portland. Two of the best backcourts in the NBA — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum for Portland, John Wall and Bradley Beal for Washington — faced off on Monday night, and the star was…

Markieff Morris?

Yes. Markieff Morris. He had 28 points and nine rebounds, including making key plays in a 125-124 overtime win for the Wizards. Damian Lillard was hitting clutch shots too, but with everything on the lin late Otto Porter rejected Lillard near the rim.

Rather than reading a description, just watch the highlights of the end of regulation and overtime, and enjoy.

Poor defense, Patty Mills game-winner keep LeBron James, Lakers winless

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LOS ANGELES — This loss stung. More than the first two. Because the win was in LeBron James‘ hands and…

The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season.

For much of the first 47 minutes Monday night, the Spurs out-executed the Lakers and exposed their porous defense. The Lakers ran enough, and got hot from three for a stretch, to keep themselves close, but then a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper had the Spurs up 128-120 with 1:10 left in regulation. Frustrated fans headed for the exits. The game looked over.

Then a JaVale McGee dunk and a Kyle Kuzma three (he had 37 points on the night) set up LeBron James forcing overtime in a classic LeBron fashion.

Overtime was the reverse of regulation — it was the young Lakers’ turn to make plays and dominate. A LeBron James driving and-1 had the Lakers up by six, 142-136, with just :55 seconds left. LeBron was on the doorstep of his first win as a Laker… then Bryn Forbes hit a driving layup, and after a Kuzma miss the Lakers gave up the one thing they couldn’t — a three. To Rudy Gay. Uncontested in any meaningful way. That made it a one-point game with 12 seconds left. LeBron was fouled instantly on the inbound pass but then missed two straight free throws, setting up Patty Mills for the heroics.

LeBron had one last chance to get his first win as a Laker… and nothing.

“I got to my spot, I got the shot I wanted, it just didn’t go down,” LeBron said.

For the third game in a row another team executed better than the Lakers when it mattered most, this time it was the Spurs, who pick up a 143-142 win. LeBron and the Lakers fall to 0-3 to start the season.

It was always going to be a process for these Lakers, but it’s going to take longer than fans and most pundits expected.

The same problems from the first two games remained for the Lakers — on defense they allowed 125.7 points per 100 possessions (it’s very early, but the Lakers are bottom six in defense so far). They struggled to slow LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points on 22 shots) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points), which happens to a lot of teams, but Laker defenders lost guys on back cuts and struggled with the Spurs ball movement. Los Angeles gives up too many easy buckets and fouls too much. Offensively the Lakers were impressive in transition and got their buckets in the paint (74 points), but shot 4-of-10 between the paint and the arc, and were 9-of-32 on above-the-break threes (L.A. hit 5-of-7 from the corners, a definite improvement).

“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going it,” LeBron said. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now, but it’s such a long process. We had our chances…

“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, we’re just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”

It was a game all about pace (which ties to the Laker defense). In the first quarter Spurs put up 40 points and shot 72.7 percent, and with that made the Lakers take the ball out of the basket time after time. Los Angeles couldn’t run and trailed by as many as 16 in the quarter. In the second quarter the Spurs shots didn’t fall, and the Lakers were off and running getting 34 points. For the game, the Lakers had 41 fast break points.

It just wasn’t enough.

Lakers’ coach Luke Walton earned himself a fine after the game with his frustration with the referees, something that has been a running theme with the Lakers for a couple of games now.

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

We’ll see if Walton gets his money’s worth with that rant when we see the calls Los Angeles gets in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Another guard down: Spurs’ Derrick White out indefinitely with plantar fascia tear

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San Antonio just cannot catch a break.

This summer Tony Parker left for Charlotte, but that was okay because Dejounte Murray had taken the point guard job from him last season and made strides over the summer, he was ready to lead the team now. Then Murray tore his ACL and is out for the season. That made Derrick White the starting point guard, until…

Gregg Popovich announced Friday that White will be out with a heel injury, although it is worse than that, it’s a left plantar fascia tear (a rip of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot). This is a non-surgical injury. Popovich said that White would be out 6-8 weeks, which is when he may be able to return to the court, although it can often take up to 12 weeks to get back to pre-injury form.

This is the latest in a rash of injuries to hit the Spurs’ backcourt. From Jeff McDonald at the San Antonio Express-News.

Over the last three exhibition games, the Spurs have seen each of their past three first-round draft picks succumb to injury, all of them guards. First it was Lonnie Walker IV, who tore meniscus in his right knee in a win over Detroit on Oct. 5, then Murray and now White.

“That’s three of our youngest, most talented, fastest kids,” coach Gregg Popovich said after another short-handed shootaround Friday morning at Orlando’s Amway Center. “We’ll have to deal with it.”

Bryn Forbes will now be the starting point guard, with Patty Mills getting a lot of time off the bench.

However, this preseason the Spurs have largely run the offense through DeMar DeRozan when the starters have been out on the court, DeRozan likely will take on more of the load now.

Still, this is a more significant setback for the Spurs than some fans realize. Murray was second-team NBA All-Defense last season and the Spurs were high on the improvements to his offensive game, they thought he was ready to make a leap. White had shown a lot of promise in Summer League and was seen as more of a quality guy off the bench, but the Spurs have a way of making those guys stand out… and now he’s out. Forbes is more score first (as is Mills) and Popovich doesn’t have Manu Ginobili to fall back on to run the offense anymore.

This is a lot of setbacks for the Spurs. Is this the season the playoff streak (21 years and counting) ends?

Spurs’ Dejounte Murray tears ACL

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Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray injured his knee yesterday.

Unfortunately, it was as bad as feared.

Spurs:

Spurs guard Dejounte Murray underwent an MRI examination this morning in San Antonio that revealed he has a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. The injury occurred at the 2:47 mark of the second quarter of yesterday’s Spurs-Rockets preseason game. A timeline for his return will be determined at a later date.​

This is a gut punch in both the short and long term.

The Spurs are a fringe playoff team with little margin for error in a stacked Western Conference. Losing their starting point guard is a major blow. Derrick White and Patty Mills will probably handle more at the position. But White is a second-year player who wasn’t even in the rotation last season, and Mills is more of a scorer than distributor. This will be a big ask from both.

This also sidetracks development of the 22-year-old Murray. He’s a staunch defender and elite rebounder for his position, but he had work to do – and was making strides – as a shooter and playmaker. With rookie guard Lonnie Walker also injured, this was a strong 1-2 hit to San Antonio.

The Spurs still have LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Gregg Popovich. There’s still hope the coach can figure out something. But Popovich’s challenge has become even greater.