NBA PM: Lakers Look Like Last Year’s Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers took a gut punch on Wednesday night in a game they had won – or thought they won. Forty-six minutes of championship-level basketball can be trumped by two minutes of sloppy, disorganized play.
Naturally credit should go to the Oklahoma City Thunder who closed well in their opening series against the reigning, now former, champion Dallas Mavericks.
Blame is to be shared all around – from a pair of lazy passes, to absent transition defense on James Harden’s multiple heads of steam.
The pass in the corner to Steve Blake? A good one. It was a wide-open look. That’s a shot that Blake needs to knock down, but didn’t.
Would Derek Fisher have hit that shot? Probably.
Did Fisher save the Lakers last year in their two fourth-quarter meltdowns against the Mavericks? No he did not.
Through nine postseason games, the Lakers are now 4-5.
The point guard play of Ramon Sessions has been problematic. So far he’s averaged 9.6 points a game on 36.7% shooting, 19.0% from three and 69.6% from the line. He’s dished 3.4 assists per game against 1.3 turnovers.
With Sessions struggling, Coach Mike Brown has relied more and more on Blake who is at just 6.3 points per game on 40.0% shooting but his three-ball has been steadiest among rotation players at a solid 41.7% (15-36).
Last postseason and Fisher contributed 8.2 points per game on 43.3% shooting including 41.2% from three for the Lakers. Blake shot 30.4% from the field and just 33.3% from three and averaged 2.2 points behind Derek.
In the Game 1 collapse against the Mavericks, Fisher’s fourth-quarter stats included two personal fouls and a missed three-point shot.
Dallas came back with a huge fourth quarter in Game 3 and Derek scored two points, collected two fouls and turned the ball over.
What happened Wednesday night to the Lakers has happened before and while Fisher has a long list of legendary playoff moments, the Lakers didn’t get that magic last season against Dallas . . . and so far they haven’t gotten it from another source against the Thunder.
Blake was a major factor in three wins over the Nuggets. He just needed to hit that final shot to elevate himself into Laker lore but it didn’t happen.
Also struggling this postseason is Matt Barnes who hasn’t been himself since suffering an ankle injury.
The stats (and naked eye) suggest the Lakers have two dominant players in Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, but they’re not getting enough nightly from Pau Gasol or anyone else frankly.
Blake has had his moments. Metta World Peace is still a force defensively. Even Jordan Hill, who has given productive minutes off the bench, is shooting 42.6% from the field.
Whether it’s the offensive sets or the players not stepping into their roles, the Lakers need more from everyone.
Given that the role players are often given open looks, at some point it just becomes a matter of knocking them down. This group of players may just not be able to against a tremendous Thunder roster.
As far as judging Brown off of this postseason performance, Coach Phil Jackson was dealing with the same issues a year ago against an injury-riddled New Orleans Hornets and the surprising Mavericks.
The Lakers were swept by Dallas but they still have the means to hold home court, even if they must do so on back-to-back nights against a team that has the advantage with youth and athleticism.
Given how well the Lakers played for most of Game 2, they still have a tangible opportunity to tie the series.
They’re going to need more than just Bynum and Bryant to do so . . .
Tony Parker Hits 30
On his 30th birthday, Tony Parker has a chance to help put the San Antonio Spurs up 2-0 over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Parker now has 11 regular seasons under his belt and while the stats may not say this was his absolute-best year, Coach Gregg Popovich has said that Tony has meant the most to his team this season more than any other.
With Manu Ginobili struggling with injuries throughout the regular season and Popovich pacing veteran forward Tim Duncan, Parker took on the role of leader.
The Spurs are often accused of being old, and yes Stephen Jackson, Boris Diaw, Duncan, Ginobili and Parker aren’t “young” anymore but the Spurs are a team giving major minutes to rookie Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter (who has a little bit more in the year’s column but is still an NBA newbie).
This season Parker averaged a career-high 7.7 assists per game. San Antonio is a team that almost always seems to find the open man and Tony has been the engine driving that all year.
Through five playoff games Tony has averaged a team-high 18.2 points per game. His assists haven’t tailed off (7.4 nightly) and he’s getting to the line almost seven times a game.
The current series against the Los Angeles Clippers will be a challenge for Parker given he’s playing against one of the best in the game in Chris Paul. The Clippers geared up their defense as best as they could to slow Tony and while he scored only seven points on 1-9 shooting, Parker dished 11 assists and the Spurs ran away in the second half with a comfortable win.
Paul, who is battling through both hip and groin injuries, had a difficult game as well against Parker. Chris dished 10 assists and grabbed five steals but only scored six points on 3-13 shooting.
The Spurs can afford to let a draw play out between Paul and Parker. As important as Tony is to the Spurs attack, San Antonio has many, many weapons.
The Clippers, who got an inspired performance from Eric Bledsoe (whose defense was a big reason why Parker didn’t have a huge night), have a number of scorers as well but they’re often at their best when Paul is orchestrating the attack.
LA has shown some growth in that area, building a 10-point lead in Memphis over the Grizzlies in Game 7 with Paul on the bench. The Clippers are certainly a threat to San Antonio, but just as the Spurs will see more from Paul – so too will LA face a more affective Parker.
Where the Spurs always seem to have the advantage, over just about any team in the league, is in execution. That’s been the difference year after year, the key being health. San Antonio has been hit by the injury bug in recent seasons and this may be their best chance in years to reclaim the title.
The Clippers need to play their best basketball to complete against the Spurs tonight in San Antonio.
Parker, on his 30th birthday, has an opportunity to stifle that run and take the Spurs one step closer to what would be their fifth title of the Duncan era.
Derrick Rose Not Only Chicago Point Guard On Mend
The Chicago Bulls are looking at a lengthy recovery for star-point guard Derrick Rose who recently underwent surgery to repair his torn ACL. Rose is looking at 8-12 months of rehabilitation which may put some or all of next season into question.
His primary backup, C.J. Watson, who filled in very well through the regular season but struggled in the playoffs, recently had both feet worked on try and alleviate his plantar fasciitis symptoms.
According the ESPN Chicago and Nick Friedell, on Thursday Watson had a “high energy shockwave [treatment] that did not require an incision.”
Watson’s health status isn’t a concern for next season but technically his roster spot isn’t firmed up. None of C.J.’s $3.2 million is guaranteed for next year. The Bulls have until July 10th to cut him loose.
When the Bulls signed Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Watson, they made sure none of their contracts were fully guaranteed in case the team wanted to maximize their cap space.
Instead, the roster is full of eight-figure salaried players like Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Rose.
Korver only has $500k guaranteed of his $5 million contract. None of Brewer’s $4.4 million is guaranteed.
The Bulls are going to need to make some serious decisions this offseason given Omer Asik is eligible to become a restricted free agent and if the roster stays together as is (before Asik is potentially re-signed), Chicago has $76.8 million already on the books.
Should Chicago be a tax team while waiting for Rose to return? Can they compete at an elite level without him?
Some franchises are willing to take on a tax burden if they feel they’re on the verge of a ring.
Do the Bulls still fit in that category? It’s a shame too because their play the past two seasons, even with Rose in and out of the lineup, was a resounding “yes.”
Now? It’s difficult to say.
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