This game is all about jockeying for playoff position. In the homestretch, the Spurs have two goals: To stay healthy and to catch Oklahoma City and gain home court advantage throughout the Western Conference post-season tournament.
The Lakers are intent on keeping the Clippers in the rear-view mirror by securing the third seed. And in doing so, the Lakers would face Dallas in the first round, a team they’ve swept in the regular season (4-0). Also, with Kobe Bryant‘s injured shin most likely to keep him on the bench, the Lakers have another chance to develop the offensive chops of his teammates — something that would undoubtedly make L.A. even tougher to beat in the playoffs.
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
We’re near the end of a crazy, compacted season. Give us a player who has been heavily leaned-on during this breakneck schedule who may be in danger of flaming out in the playoffs.
Steve Aschburner: The easy answer would be Kobe Bryant, given his minutes, his advanced years and his usage rate for the Lakers. Baron Davis might experience a shock to his system, taking on the stretch-drive load that the Knicks need now with Jeremy Lin sidelined. But neither of those is my final answer. I’m going with Chicago forward Luol Deng, who is trying to make it through most of the season, whatever playoff push the Bulls enjoy and the 2012 London Olympics playing with a torn ligament in his left wrist. Surgery would have wiped out most or all of that for Deng, the most used (39.0 mpg) and versatile tool in Tom Thibodeau‘s belt. But just because Kobe played through something similar once doesn’t mean most mortals can do that. Deng feels it every time he falls or takes a whack on that wrist, and it has affected some of his moves on the court.
Fran Blinebury: If Kobe has a few more 3-for-20 shooting nights and the Lakers lose in the playoffs, is he the “flame-out” you’re looking for? Can Lamar Odom qualify as a “flame-out” if he’s been just a soggy pack of matches all season? If you’re looking for someone who needs to stop playing games, get his head screwed on straight and deliver in the playoffs, well, there’s that infamous 3-point shooter Mr. Bynum. He could be the difference in the Lakers making a real run at The Finals or crashing and burning early.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Bad trend for Jameer Nelson: He has shot worse than 38 percent in two of the last three playoffs. Bad trend for the Magic.
Shaun Powell: I wonder about Chris Paul, never accused of being the sturdiest player in his career, continuing to play at a high level without Chauncey Billups. He does have Randy Foye and Mo Williams for relief, but neither can run the team or involve teammates quite like Paul; the Clippers suffer when he isn’t on the floor. He has led this late charge (six straight wins) that rescued Vinny Del Negro and the club from flirting with disaster; will he feel the effects in May? Possibly. (more…)
In the wake of their recent trouncing of Miami, the Thunder are convinced that they are destined to be champs. Their occasional lapses in focus, however, still need to be remedied. Here is a chance for OKC to restore their A-game and discourage the reconstituted Lakers from thinking that they are now the best in the West.
After previously being a good-to-middling team, the Lakers believe that the addition of Ramon Sessions does indeed make them a legitimate championship contender. Even as Sessions’ shakedown cruise continues, L.A. seeks to prove that they now have the size and the speed to quell the Thunder.
HOW THE THUNDER CAN WIN
• Kevin Durant has to escape the defensive clutches of Metta World Peace to score at least 30 efficient points. To accomplish this, KD must move without the ball, drop beacoup treys, and also knife his way to the rim. In so doing, he must be prepared to be physically assaulted. Moreover, when Durant moves into the low post, his passing options have to be expanded by his teammates executing more dive-cuts and fades than are generally included in OKC’s game plan.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Everyone seems to be moving on quite nicely.
Derek Fisher is in Oklahoma City and is already embracing his role there as elder statesmen and veteran leader. Ramon Sessions is quickly earning his stripes as the Lakers’ newest point guard addition, even earning the early Kobe Bryant Seal of Approval after his work in the Lakers’ win over the Mavericks last night.
And at the end of the day, after all of the drama that accompanied the trade that sent Fisher to Houston and ultimately to free agency and the Thunder, and the other trade that brought Sessions from Cleveland to the Los Angeles, it really is about getting Kobe’s seal of approval, isn’t it?
Sure, Sessions still has some work to do in order to get completely comfortable in his role with the Lakers. And we’re still not sure how this works — Steve Blake is the starter but Sessions is the Lakers’ point guard with the game on the line … ?
“We just let him handle the ball,” Bryant said of Sessions. “You saw me off the ball a lot, more than probably you’ve ever seen me. As a result, my night was a lot easier. I really didn’t have to work. I had, what, 30 points? I didn’t have to work for any of it because he’s doing all the penetrating and I was getting great screens.”
Sessions finished with 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench and was even more accurate than Bryant, shooting 7-for-8.
“He definitely takes pressure off of me,” Sessions said of Bryant. “He lets me do what I do: be aggressive.”
… “I’ve been extremely impressed,” Bryant said. “He takes a lot of pressure off of me. I can be a legitimate 2-guard now. Know what I mean? He can play-make for others. Before, I had to score and play-make for others, as well. I don’t have to do that. I can be on the receiving end of those plays.”
Sessions referred to Bryant as “Kob,” which is another sign that the two of them are quickly developing a rapport that could have a solid and lasting impact for the Lakers down the road, this season and beyond.
Bryant torched the Mavericks for 30 points, shooting 11-for-18 from the field. It’s his first game shooting 50 percent or better in his last 11 games. Sessions was spectacular, finishing his night with 17 points, nine assists and five rebounds in just 29 minutes.
“I’m definitely not up to speed yet,” Sessions said. “I’m not comfortable like I would like to be just because I don’t know exactly where everybody is supposed to be out on the floor. I’m starting to know more plays for myself as where I’m supposed to go.
If this is Sessions when he’s not even up to speed yet, the Lakers might very well have snagged the prize of the trade deadline!
It’s time to hit up the waiver wire during the best part of the fantasy season as the playoffs are upon us. I haven’t been with y’all for a couple weeks, so I’m doubling your pleasure with 10 names that could come to the rescue for your team.
In separate moves on deadline day, the Lakers shipped Derek Fisher to Houston and brought in Ramon Sessions from the Cavaliers to solidify the point guard position.
Ramon isn’t starting yet, but he averaged 8.5 points and 5.5 assists in 22 minutes in his first two games in Purple and Gold. Lakers coach Mike Brown recently told reporters Steve Blake may keep the starting job for the remainder of the season, but I’m not buying it. You don’t ship out Five-Ring Fisher and then not start his replacement. It may take another week or two, but when Sessions gets promoted, he’ll flirt with double-doubles on a nightly basis.
As soon as the Warriors selected this sharp-shooting two-guard with the 11th pick in the 2011 draft, the writing was on the wall regarding Monta Ellis’ future in Oakland. It was only a matter of time before Monta was dealt, which happened last Tuesday, opening the starting gig for Thompson.
In five games as a starter, Thompson is averaging 18.6 points, 3.2 assists and 2.2 3s in 36.2 minutes. The rookie is light on rebounds and steals, and he’s shooting just 40 percent since the promotion, but the points and 3s are a nice boost this late in the season. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Lakers coach Mike Brown had all the pressure in the basketball world on his shoulders the moment he decided to accept the offer to replace a living legend like Phil Jackson.
But that’s an institutional pressure any coach would have faced stepping into those gigantic footsteps.
Now comes an even more specific set of pressures for Brown, whose job it is to sort out the Lakers’ point guard situation now that Derek Fisher is gone and Ramon Sessions has been added to back up Steve Blake.
Brown has a rotation in mind: Blake as the starter and Sessions as his backup with both capable of playing off the ball late in games when Kobe Bryant is handling facilitator duties or playing together in a three-guard rotation with Bryant, if called for.
“Right now, Steve Blake is my starting point guard, and he’s my starting point guard for the foreseeable future until there’s a time I think I need to make a change and right now I don’t see a time right now, but who knows?” Brown said.
Is that because Brown likes Blake as his starter or Sessions as a backup?
“Both,” Brown said.
“Basically, Steve Blake has taken Derek Fisher’s spot and Ramon Sessions has taken Steve Blake’s spot,” Brown added.
Presumably the rotation will change once Sessions becomes more comfortable in the Lakers’ offensive and defensive schemes and the team plays against the sort of young, fast and athletic point guards that hurt them in the past.
It’s no secret the reason the Lakers acquired Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday and traded Fisher to the Houston Rockets was to match up better with point guards like Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sessions is the Lakers’ only hope of dealing with the likes of Westbrook or any of the other big point guards in the league. Blake, as valuable as he is, does not have the size or defensive chops to match those guys. Few players in the league can.
Beating 28 other teams for an NBA championship no longer is enough for the Los Angeles Lakers. Beating their Staples Center roommates, the Los Angeles Clippers, is of utmost importance now, too, in a way that it never was prior to the Clippers’ big intra-arena triumph in the Chris Paul Sweepstakes back in December.
So every opportunity for the two franchises to joust on the same battleground provides a chance to assess winners and losers. Or in the case of Thursday’s moves and non-moves: Which L.A. team won on NBA trade deadline day?
The Clippers, as third team in on the Denver-Washington deal that swapped Nene and JaVale McGee, acquired Wizards shooting guard Nick Young. Long considered to be a conscienceless gunner whose greatest fame came earlier this month when he hoisted a layup attempt completely over the backboard, Young was dumped by Washington in its attempt to appear more serious. But he could end up starting for the Clippers and he came at a bargain price (Brian Cook and a second-round pick). Here’s a snipped of what Helene Elliott wrote for the Los Angeles Times:
“You’re not going to replace a Chauncey Billups, his experience and his leadership and what he brings to the court,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I think Nick will give us another explosive scorer out there.”
The deal wasn’t finalized until two hours before the Clippers squandered a 17-point lead over the Steve Nash-less Phoenix Suns in a 91-87 loss at Staples Center that left them 9-11 since Billups exited the lineup. Young, who averaged 16.6 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting for the woeful Wizards, isn’t expected to make his Clippers debut until Tuesday.
That delay postpones the thorny decision on how Del Negro will handle an even bigger glut of guards alongside Paul. “A good problem to have,” [GM Neil] Olshey said. For now, it looks like Young will start and Randy Foye will go back to the bench.
“Of course that’s the biggest issue, managing the personnel, managing the minutes and trying to make it all work in terms of chemistry,” Del Negro said. “And this group is just getting together. We’ll see how it all comes together. I’m not sure there’s a perfect game plan now.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, added guard Ramon Sessions, dumped veteran Derek Fisher and failed to do anything else capable of moving their needle, be it trading Pau Gasol for something flashy or taking a chance on Michael Beasley’s potential. Sessions is a young, athletic player who has been available pretty much constantly, and Fisher is a sentimental fan’s favorite for his long service and clutch shooting who is closing in on his 38th birthday.
L.A. moved Fisher to Houston with a first-round pick for backup big man Jordan Hill, and they sent out Luke Walton, Jason Kapono and a 2012 first-round pick to the Cavaliers for Sessions and guard Christian Eyenga. Not all that exciting, done as much to dump salary (Fisher is due $3.4 million next season, Walton more than $6 million) and minimize luxury-tax liabilities.
But Sessions is expected to fit well in coach Mike Brown’s pick-and-roll sets and, within a narrow range of options, can create scoring plays for himself. Hill could provide some help up front. And there’s one more thing to consider before giving the Clippers the better trade grade from Thursday.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who finally had one of his better games (11 points, nine rebounds) for a change, was sarcastic with the media after the meeting, saying they were “waiting” for the media to enter, which finally happened at 11:05 p.m. Thursday.
Kenyon Martin joked about the NCAA tournament.
What wasn’t a joke was the Clippers blowing a 17-point lead to a Suns team that didn’t play starters Steve Nash or Grant Hill because Phoenix Coach Alvin Gentry wanted to rest his stars because the team was playing the second of back-to-back-to-back games.
“It was very productive,” Blake Griffin said about the meeting. “And it wasn’t a point-the-finger-at-somebody meeting. It was good. … But it wasn’t about guys trying to get their feelings hurt, guys trying to hurt people’s feelings. It was about this is real. We’ve got a good team and we’ve got to do better.”
The glut of guards, the chemistry questions and Del Negro’s own history from his time in Chicago (he had an altercation with Bulls VP John Paxson two years ago) make it hard, then, to stamp “winners” on the Clippers. Even in the L.A. competition, even just on trade day.
The Lakers have parted way with longtime point guard Derek Fisher, according to multiple reports, trading him to the Houston Rockets just before the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline on Thursday.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports!, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle and others tweeted the news that the Lakers had traded Fisher and a 2012 Draft pick for forward-center Jordan Hill. Though official word of the trade was not imminent, the news seemed to make sense: The Lakers made a trade earlier in the day for Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Ramon Sessions.
The Los Angeles Lakers have traded veteran guard Derek Fisher to the Houston Rockets in exchange for forward Jordan Hill, league sources told Yahoo! Sports.
The Rockets also will receive the 2012 first-round pick the Lakers acquired from the Dallas Mavericks in the Lamar Odom trade.
Fisher, 37, won five championships with the Lakers. He was expendable after the Lakers acquired Cleveland Cavaliers guard Ramon Sessions for Jason Kapono and L.A.’s 2012 first-round pick. While Fisher had remained the Lakers’ starting point guard this season, many of the fourth-quarter minutes were going to Steve Blake.
The Rockets will explore buying out the remainder of Fisher’s contract – he has a $3.4 million player option for next season – Houston also could use someone to backup Kyle Lowry.
With a point guard corps that includes championship-tested veteran (and starter) Derek Fisher and his veteran backup, Steve Blake, the Lakers were looking to add a younger body in the backcourt that perhaps provides the best of both players’ skills.
L.A. may have gotten exactly that by swinging a trade with Cleveland for point guard Ramon Sessions, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. Also moving to Los Angeles in the deal is athletic swingman Christian Eyenga, who has appeared in just six games for the Cavs this season and has mostly been in the NBA D-League. Here are the gritty details:
The Los Angeles Lakers have acquired point guard Ramon Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of a multi-player deal that will bring the Cavs the Lakers’ 2012 first-round pick, according to league sources.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Welcome to the end of the trade deadline days, where every deal is imminent until it’s not, where two sides are talking until they are aren’t and where everyday is basically Groundhog Day.
That is until someone does what the Warriors and Bucks did last night, and that’s make an actual deal.
Trade deadline rumors are often the figment of someone’s imagination (owners, executives, agents, players, members of the media and fans are all guilty as charged), but the fatigue that accompanies the rumors is real.
“I think it’s a combination of everything, honestly. It used to be a time — especially when I first came in the league — that that you could kind of shut out from reading the papers or reading the internet, but now it’s everywhere. It’s on TV, it’s in the papers, fans are shouting it out to you at games, it’s on the Internet, it’s on Twitter. So it’s kind of hard to be oblivious to the whole thing. So you just try to do your best to stay professional and worry about the things you can control.”
Oh Jamal, you should know by now that no one has control during a wild time like this. Everything and everyone is in play, theoretically, until 3 p.m. ET Thursday!
Same as it is every day this time of year …
CARMELO AND THE KNICKS’ GREAT DIVIDE
You knew the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors would start at some point. We’re honestly surprised it’s taken this long to gain steam, given the awful state of affairs in Manhattan.