Lakers take 3-1 playoff series lead on Rockets

On Thursday, the Lakers beat the Rockets 110-100 to take a 3-1 second round playoff series lead. Things got close in the end, but lack of Rockets energy and execution through much of the game proved too much to overcome. The Lakers got their usual excellent production from stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but also got a boost from Alex Caruso, who came off the bench to score 16 points, contributing several clutch plays late in the game that helped secure the win. Here’s the Los Angeles Times with some thoughts on the game and beyond:

It’s pretty surprising to see a team be up 2-1 and unleash a drastic change, but here the Lakers were, inserting Markieff Morris, sitting JaVale McGee and trying out rookie Talen Horton-Tucker…

You can really feel when LeBron James takes over because he plays with so much force and power. Anthony Davis operates a little differently. His 29 on Thursday hit mostly with a whisper, silently being in the right spot – with a few exceptions when he loudly caught Rajon Rondo lobs…

Alex Caruso scored 16 – a playoff high, but more importantly, Vogel trusted him to play 30 minutes, his most this postseason. He’s been the Lakers’ most consistent defender on the perimeter, and he’s earning the Lakers’ trust.

The Rockets struggled from three-point range in the first half, but then woke up in the second, finishing 14 of 33 from beyond the arc. James Harden shot just 2 of 11 from the field, but got himself 20 free throw attempts to finish with 21 points and 10 assists. Russell Westbrook shot 8 of 16 for a team-high 25 points in the loss.

Yes, Playoff Rondo exists

Yes, Playoff Rondo does exist. Here’s the OC Register diving into the hot-button, room-dividing topic:

He doesn’t always arrive on time, so he’s not like Santa Claus. But he’s not so rarely glimpsed as Bigfoot.

So it’s hard to find the perfect match among mythic characters for Playoff Rondo — most importantly because he’s not mythical at all…

“It’s real: Playoff Rondo is real,” Anthony Davis said. “His intensity picks up, he wants to guard the best perimeter guy. We see he guards James and Russ sometimes, he wants to… on the floor he’s shooting the ball very well, making the right passes, so his IQ is on another level.”

Historically, Rondo has distaste when people point out the difference between his regular season persona and who he is in the playoffs. But there’s a definitive gulf: His scoring, assists and net rating all rise in his playoff career versus his regular season career. He’s tied for fourth on the postseason triple-doubles list (10), and two of the four guys ahead of him are on the Lakers sideline.

But to really appreciate Playoff Rondo, you have to examine where he really shines. Looking at his Game 3 dimes, it’s telling to see how they came: off verticality, like the two times Davis spun off of his man, and Rondo delivered a picture perfect lay-up. They also came on cuts, like a bounce pass to a driving Kyle Kuzma in the fourth quarter that was close to a clinching basket.

Rondo has played in three playoff games so for in 2020 for the Lakers, all in the current round against the Rockets, for an average of 13.0 points and 7.3 assists per outing.

NBA issues flagrant foul to Anthony Davis

Upon reviewing game footage, the NBA decided an action needed to be taken. Here’s the Los Angeles Times reporting:

The NBA determined two incidents that occurred during Game 2 of the Lakers’ series against the Rockets deserved further discipline, one was committed against Anthony Davis while the other was committed by him.

Officials determined Davis deserved a flagrant 1 foul for contact he initiated with Houston’s Jeff Green with 15 seconds left in the first half. Green doubled over after Davis drove by him, with pain in his midsection or groin area. As the quarter expired, Green lay on the ground for several minutes while medical personnel observed him.

Game 3 of this fascinating series is tonight.

Rajon Rondo back in action for Lakers, who lose Game 1 to Rockets

The Lakers lost Game 1 to the Rockets yesterday. But at least they won in getting guard Rajon Rondo back in action.

That’s a win of sorts, right? Maybe?

Here’s the OC Register reporting:

With Rajon Rondo, the story is always refracted depending on the eye of the beholder.

Some fans saw his return – an eight-point, four-assist, four-turnover debut after a month and a half on the shelf – as a rusty disappointment. But Rondo’s Laker teammates hope it’s just a starting point for him to build on after missing every bubble game with a fractured thumb followed by back spasms.

Alex Caruso said he thought Rondo’s first in-game action since March 10, in a 112-97 loss to Houston on Friday night, was about where he should be at this point.

“I thought he looked about his normal self,” Caruso said. “Maybe he missed a layup or a shot he normally makes and maybe that’s a little timing and getting used to playing the game again. But I mean, Rondo’s a guy that’s mentally locked in whenever he steps on the court, so I thought he looked pretty good conditioning-wise.”

The Lakers have a lot of work to do. The Rockets’ Game 1 win was convincing. They’re an unusual team, playing super-smallball. Teams going against them have to make some adjustments, but not too many, or else they’d pull themselves out of their own gameplan. It’ll be fascinating to see what, if anything, the Lakers do differently in Game 2. And of course, Rondo’s role going forward.

In Game 1, Rockets looked like a complicated playoff opponent for Lakers

The Rockets looked great Friday as they took a 1-0 series lead against the Lakers in the second round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. Known for their very effective “smallball” offense, the Rockets’ defense has been outstanding in Disney NBA bubble play. Here’s the Los Angeles Times on the series:

As they prepare for Game 2 on Sunday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla., maybe the Lakers need to deal with the fact that they don’t have the overwhelming advantages they possessed after losing their first-round playoff opener to Portland.

The Rockets are more blazers than the Blazers. The Rockets are quicker, deeper and far more dangerous. They can make the Lakers look stagnant and stilted and confused. The Lakers have suddenly found themselves in a duel that could test their very being.

“There’s got to be a complete turnaround going into Game 2,” said James…

Maybe they’re a big team that isn’t flexible enough to overcome the Rockets’ small ball. Playoffs are all about matchups, and so far this season the Rockets have won both games against the Lakers with the disparate lineups…

“I think it’s the speed … they play with a lot of speed both offensively and defensively,” James said. “You can see it on film … but until you’re out there, you get a feel for it … that’s what we did tonight, we got a feel for their speed, and we’re fully aware of that going into Game 2.”

Blazers guard Damian Lillard out for Game 5 vs Lakers

The Trail Blazers are in trouble. They looked badly overmatched against the Lakers yesterday in Game 4, even before star guard Damian Lillard had to exit the game early due to a knee issue. Now they’ll be without Dame in tomorrow’s Game 5. Here’s NBC Sports Northwest reporting:

With Damian Lillard out for Wednesday’s game due to a right knee sprain, the Trail Blazers are still determined to come together and work to right the ship in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Down 1-3 in their first round series to the Lakers is difficult enough to handle, but now the Blazers are going to be down a superstar in Damian Lillard.

Portland got out worked and outshot to start Monday’s Game 4. After falling behind 15-0 and then 30-10, the Blazers were working uphill all night against the No. 1 seeded team in the West.

LeBron James was as good as ever yesterday in Game 4, and at one point even pulled up for a deep three-pointer not far from the halfcourt league logo. “Logo LeBron” anyone?

It’ll be a tall task for Portland tomorrow.

Clippers partner with CAA Sports to sell naming rights for Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center

The LA Clippers today announced that it has formed a global partnership with CAA Sports, a division of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to bring to market the naming rights for the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center, the future home of the franchise.

According to the Clippers, “the privately-financed IBEC project will include a world-class 18,000-seat facility, uniquely designed to prioritize fan comfort and ease, player experience, home court advantage, and community. The campus in Inglewood will serve as a hub to bringing the organization together, with the new team practice facility and corporate offices. The project, expected to break ground in summer of 2021, will open for the start of the 2024-25 NBA season. The Clippers one-of-a-kind basketball arena reflects the team’s commitment to being environmentally-friendly and energy efficient, while providing the City of Inglewood with the largest community benefits package ever connected to a sports venue.”

“We are proud to work alongside the visionary ownership and management team of the LA Clippers, to bring to market the naming rights for their new arena in the city of Inglewood,” said Paul Danforth, CAA Board Member and President, CAA Sports. “Steve’s vision for ‘the best home in all of sports,’ combined with the dynamic Clippers franchise and explosive growth of the NBA worldwide, makes this a singular opportunity for a marketer to plant its flag in the sand in the vibrant capital of sports, media, and entertainment.”

“We are thrilled to partner with CAA on this endeavor, as we work together to identify a corporate partner who shares our values and embraces our vision for what this campus will mean to the Clippers community,” said Gillian Zucker, Clippers President of Business Operations. “We have set an ambitious goal to provide disproportionate value to a naming rights partner by having them in-place before a shovel hits the ground in Inglewood. This aggressive timing will provide a unique opportunity to incorporate our partner’s brand into the design of the construction and deliver their own personal touch to this amazing facility.”

Jazz show life but fall to Lakers, 116-108

Monday night on national TV, the Jazz faced the Lakers, and hung around, but Anthony Davis’ dominance was too much to handle. Here’s the Deseret News reporting:

For exactly 30 minutes on Monday night against the Los Angeles Lakers at Disney World, the Utah Jazz looked like a completely different team from the one that was altogether befuddled in a 16-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last Saturday.

The new week brought a new Jazz squad, as they were aggressive in getting into the lane, moving the ball and they caught some fire from distance in the second quarter after an 0-for-9 start in the first.

But then suddenly at the midway point of the third quarter, the wheels came off. Up by four at 71-67, Utah surrendered a 14-0 run in less than five minutes, and the new double-digit deficit was too much to overcome in an eventual 116-108 loss.

The defeat moved the Jazz to 42-25 overall on the season and 1-2 during the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

And the Salt Lake Tribune:

What are the Jazz playing for here, exactly?

After tonight’s loss, they’re now in fifth, half a game below the Houston Rockets for the four seed. That means they’d play the Rockets again in the playoffs in the first round, if things started today.

Normally, you’d say that they’re playing for home court positioning. But everyone’s playing in Orlando this year, and I have a hard time believing that the virtual fans are making the Jazz play better or worse. Sorry, virtual fans. The Jazz’s home-court advantage is usually one of the best — if not the best — in the NBA, but it simply won’t matter this year.

So given that, the only reason the Jazz are playing right now is to

A) avoid the seventh seed, which would mean playing the Clippers in the first round

B) figure things out so that they can play well in the playoffs while staying healthy

C) find the best matchup they can in the first round and throughout the playoffs

And the OC Register:

The Lakers (51-15) are a better team when Davis is a focal point. And while LeBron James (22 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) got in on the action, particularly in the fourth quarter, it was no coincidence that Davis’ most assertive game so far in the restart was also the Lakers’ most convincing win.

The added emphasis on getting Davis rolling early was part coaching script, part teammates feeding him, and part Davis himself, feeling unsatisfied after his 14-point effort two nights before.

“I have to play better basketball than I did to help the team win,” Davis said. “Even though I was making the right plays, I still have to be aggressive. I didn’t like the way I performed. … So it was a collective effort to come out more aggressive.”

In the win for the Lakers, Davis shot 13/28 for 42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals, while LeBron James shot 9/16 for 22 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and two steals.

In the loss, Donovan Mitchell shot 9/22 plus 11/12 free throws for 33 points, while Mike Conley hit 8/17 shots for 24 points and eight assists. But 21 turnovers and just 10 combined points from their starting forwards made it tough for Utah.

Lakers guard Rajon Rondo will miss 6-8 weeks due to thumb injury

Already without starting guard Avery Bradley, who decided to stay home and not join his team at all for the NBA restart at Disney World in Orlando, the Lakers will now also be without backup guard Rajon Rondo for the next 6-8 weeks. Here’s the Los Angeles Times:

Point guard Rajon Rondo will undergo surgery to repair a fracture in his right thumb that he suffered at practice Sunday evening in Orlando, the Lakers announced.

Rondo is expected to return to full basketball activities in six to eight weeks. The Lakers’ first game after the resumption of the NBA season will take place July 30 against the Clippers, with the playoffs beginning Aug. 17.

And here’s the O.C. Register:

He is slated to undergo surgery this week, and the team estimates he could miss six to eight weeks before returning to basketball activities, meaning he will miss at minimum all eight of the Lakers’ seeding games and likely at least one round of the playoffs. ESPN was first to report the injury.

Losing the four-time All-Star is another challenging hurdle for a team that is already without starter Avery Bradley, who elected to sit out last month. While Rondo was a bit player this season for the Lakers — averaging just 20 minutes, 7 points and 5 assists per game — he’s one of the most experienced guards on the roster and stood to gain more minutes in the restart. The Lakers already figure to slot Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in at a starting role for Bradley.

LeBron James is typically the point guard for the Lakers’ main rotation, but the team has tried to use Rondo to give James relief from ball-handling responsibilities over the last two seasons.

The team’s backcourt will be under a lot of pressure to play beyond the norm.

Lakers sign J.R. Smith as Substitute Player for NBA season restart

Once again, shooting guard J.R. Smith is back by LeBron James’ side.

The Los Angeles Lakers signed Smith today, as a Substitute Player for the NBA season restart, which is taking place in July at Disney World in Florida.

Per the Los Angeles Times, “although Smith is designated as a replacement for [Avery] Bradley, the Lakers’ rotation at the position is likely to begin with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso.”

In 971 NBA career games (395 starts) for New Orleans, Denver, New York and Cleveland, Smith, who will turn 35 years old in September, was the 2013 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. His career average is 12.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steal in 27.0 minutes per game, and 37.3 percent shooting from three-point range. He most recently appeared in 11 games (four starts) for the Cavaliers during the 2018-19 season, notching 6.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steal in 20.2 minutes per game.