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Los Angeles Lakers earn ‘best win of year’ vs. Brooklyn Nets, Dennis Schroder says

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It was a potential NBA Finals preview, albeit with superstars on both squads sidelined with injuries. Nevertheless, Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroder called L.A.’s 126-101 beatdown of the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday “the best win of the year.”

The Lakers were playing without stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis as well as Kyle Kuzma (left calf strain), Wesley Matthews (right Achilles tightness) and Marc Gasol (left hamstring tightness), but they led the Nets by as many as 28 points to win for the fifth time in their past eight games.

“Like I said all along, all season long, when we play scrappy on the defensive end, we always have a chance,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after L.A. held Brooklyn to 43.5% shooting and its lowest point total in eight games. “I’m super proud of our group.”

Not that Brooklyn was at full strength, either, with James Harden (right hamstring) out and Kevin Durant on a minutes restriction in just his second game back from an extended hamstring injury of his own. On top of that, Kyrie Irving got into it with Schroder in the third quarter, and two were ejected.

However, the Lakers had contributions across the board, with a season-high eight players reaching double-digit scoring and the team tying a season best with 19 made 3-pointers. In addition, Talen Horton-Tucker had a career-high 11 assists, Alfonzo McKinnie had a season-high nine rebounds, Markieff Morris had a season-high three steals and Ben McLemore made five 3s in just his second game with the team.

“I learned a lot from today’s game: that we have a lot of guys in this locker room that are very tough,” said Andre Drummond, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds in his strongest game since joining L.A. from the buyout market last month. “Despite who is on the other side of the court, they’re going to come out and play. No matter how many minutes guys play, they’re going to play to the best of their ability. And we have fun doing it. We had a lot of fun tonight playing and getting this win.”

Drummond sure looked like he was enjoying himself when he drove and scored on LaMarcus Aldridge midway through the third quarter. Drummond drew a foul as he bullied his way to the hoop and then dropped his hand below his knees in celebration, gesturing that Aldridge was too small to guard him.

“It was a good basket,” Drummond said with a laugh. “That’s my signature that I do when I score on people and get an and-1, so nothing towards LaMarcus intentionally. It’s just what I do. No matter who is out there, it’s happening.”

It was seemingly all happening for L.A. after the run-in between Irving and Schroder, going on an extended 57-33 run from that point until there were only a couple of minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter.

Irving, a 10-year veteran, and Schroder, an eight-year pro, came into the prime-time matchup having each played more than 500 career games without an ejection. That changed for both of them in the third quarter.

The pair of point guards exchanged words after Irving was called for a personal foul on Schroder with 9 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the third quarter and the Lakers ahead 66-62, prompting referee Zach Zarba to separate the two and issue a double technical foul — one to each player.

Irving and Schroder continued to jaw at each other after teammates intervened to step between them when Irving was called for a second technical foul by referee Tyler Ford, resulting in an automatic ejection. Schroder was issued a second technical foul of his own shortly thereafter by referee Jason Goldenberg.

“I think it was unnecessary,” Schroder said after the game. “It’s just unfortunate that I left my team out there by themselves. And I mean I didn’t really — I don’t even know what I did. But I got kicked out, and I apologized for that to my teammates.”

Zarba explained the officials’ decisions to a pool reporter afterward.

“After being assessed the first technical fouls, both players were warned against to move on,” he said. “And so when Irving couldn’t stop yelling at Schroder, he was then assessed his second technical foul and ejected. And after Irving’s ejection, if you look at the video, Schroder kind of waves goodbye to him in a taunting manner, and that’s why he was issued a second technical foul and ejected.”

Irving did not speak to reporters after the loss, leaving it to his teammates to explain what happened.

“We were in the game, but I’m not going to blame it on the ejection for why the momentum switched,” said Durant, who scored 22 points in 24 minutes but also had eight turnovers. “They got it going, so we should have got it going.”

The win brought the Lakers’ record to 2-1 on their five-game East Coast road trip.

“When you see guys out and you see a great opponent like the Nets, you can be a little bit overwhelmed and not sure if you’re going to have a chance to win it. But you want to have a go-after-these-guys mindset,” Vogel said. “And we knew coming in that if we were able to prevail short-handed against this opponent that it would feel good and it would be one of the best wins of the year.

“So, we’re happy about that.”

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Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley to miss Game 2 vs. LA Clippers

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Utah Jazz point guard Mike Conley has been ruled out of Thursday’s Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the LA Clippers due to a mild strain of his right hamstring.

Conley, who also missed Game 1, suffered the injury during the first half of Utah’s series-ending win over the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday.

Conley, 33, an All-Star for the first time this season, has missed significant time because of injuries to both hamstrings during his two seasons in Utah. He missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May due to tightness in his right hamstring.

Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists for the top-seeded Jazz in the first round.

ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.

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USA Basketball sets plan for Olympic camps in Las Vegas

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For USA Basketball, the last stop before the Tokyo Olympics will be Las Vegas.

The men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July, they announced Thursday, and they’ll be playing seven exhibitions there against other Olympics-bound national teams as well.

USA Basketball will open its men’s training camp, led by coach Gregg Popovich, in Las Vegas on July 6. The Olympic men’s teams from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina and reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain will also be spending some time in Las Vegas; Argentina will start its training camp there this month.

The U.S. women’s training camp under coach Dawn Staley will likely open around July 12; the WNBA break for the Olympics starts after the games of July 11. The Olympic women’s teams joining the U.S. in Las Vegas are Australia and Nigeria.

It’ll all take place at the MGM Resorts, which was announced as USA Basketball’s training camp home and resorts partner with the sides having now agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.

“USA Basketball is proud to expand its partnership with MGM Resorts,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We’re excited to bring our national teams to their properties as we prepare for the challenging competition that lies ahead this summer.”

The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women their seventh in a row. Both will enter the Olympics ranked No. 1 by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body — though it remains unknown who the Americans will have on their rosters for the rescheduled Tokyo Games.

Those rosters could be set by the end of June. Some top NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have expressed some interest in being part of the Olympic team; others, such as LeBron James and Anthony DavisLos Angeles Lakers teammates who were dealing with injuries when their season ended last week — are not planning to join the team.

All teams in Las Vegas will be taking part in what USA Basketball described as “comprehensive health and safety protocols … including mandatory and regular COVID-19 PCR testing, administered to athletes, coaches, officials and staff in accordance with FIBA and USA Basketball recommendations and CDC guidelines.”

Those concerns are why the international teams opted to spend time in Las Vegas. Argentina’s men’s team is conducting the entirety of its three-week camp there before flying to Tokyo, simply because it believes a controlled environment and less traveling between different countries will minimize virus-related risks before the Olympics.

“We were lucky and, at the same time, we deserved it to get an organization like USA Basketball to extend this invitation to us,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “In such a complicated context it doesn’t get better than this.”

The games are set up as part of five doubleheaders, and fans will be able to attend the matchups at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets go on sale next week.

GAME SCHEDULE

July 10 — U.S. men vs. Nigeria, Argentina vs. Australia

July 12 — Argentina vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 13 — U.S. men vs. Argentina, Australia vs. Nigeria

July 16 — U.S. women vs. Australia, U.S. men vs. Australia

July 18 — U.S. women vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Spain

PREQUELS

The Nigeria-U.S. women’s game will be a prequel to the teams’ Olympic meeting on July 27 in Tokyo, the first game there for both of those teams. Nigeria and the U.S. are both in Group B at the Olympics, along with Japan and France.

The Australia-Nigeria men’s game is also the warmup for an Olympics-opening matchup. They’ll play in a Group B game on July 25.

The men’s teams from Spain and Argentina — the teams that played in the World Cup final at Beijing in 2019 — are both in Group C for the Olympics. They’ll both spend some time in Las Vegas but are not scheduled to face off there before flying to Japan.

FIBA RANKINGS

Las Vegas will see the top four men’s teams in the FIBA rankings there for the exhibitions: The U.S. is No. 1, Spain No. 2, Australia No. 3 and Argentina No. 4. Nigeria is ranked No. 22.

The U.S. women also hold the No. 1 FIBA ranking, and their July 16 opponent Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world. Nigeria’s women are ranked No. 17.

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Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul ‘makes it look normal’ after notching 15 assists, zero turnovers in win vs. Denver Nuggets

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It had been seven years since a player had a game in the postseason with 15 assists and no turnovers, but Chris Paul accomplished the feat on Wednesday as the Phoenix Suns routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.

The last player to post a 15-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a playoff game? Paul, in 2014, with the LA Clippers.

“Guys are open. I got the easy part. All I got to do is find them,” said Paul, who had 17 points. “They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff to tell you the truth. Things we’ve drilled all season long, it’s nice to see it come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul had the 10th playoff game with 15 assists and zero turnovers since assists were tracked in 1977-78. And Paul has accounted for three of those games himself.

“Obviously 15 assists, zero turnovers is unheard of,” Devin Booker said, “but for Chris Paul, it’s a thing that he does, and makes it look normal.”

In the two games in the series, Paul has 26 assists to just one turnover. Going back to his last three playoff games, that ratio gets even more ridiculous, sitting at 38-2. He’s the first player with 10 or more assists and one or fewer assists in three straight playoff games since Maurice Cheeks in 1989.

The Suns showcased their impressive balance with six players in double-figures, including all five starters. But even with 123 points, no player scored more than 18 (Booker). It was a clinic in distribution, particularly in a raucous second half, as Paul carved the Nuggets, finding efficient possessions nearly every trip down the floor. In Game 2, the Suns shot 15-of-24 off Paul passes. Of the 15 makes, 11 were uncontested looks.

“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been on a team quite like this where everybody can shoot it the way that they do,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy.”

Like in Game 1, Paul found his spots to assert himself offensively, too, hitting a flurry of shots early in the fourth quarter as the Suns put the game away. It’s one of Paul’s many rare talents, an ability to sense moments and pick his spots to attack the game himself, or get teammates involved.

When Paul joined the surging young Suns in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about his role as a mentor, as a leader, as a culture cultivator. At age 36 and plenty of tread on his tires, Paul’s cerebral presence was thought to be something that could boost the Suns just as much as his play. But as he’s shown this postseason, there’s still plenty left in the tank.

“I would never doubt Chris,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “His ability to manage the team, his track record, has success all over it and everywhere he’s been he’s been successful. He works his tail off and yeah, he’s 36 years old but he’s doing a lot of stuff off the floor so he can be effective on the floor.”

The series now turns to Denver, where the Nuggets are desperate for a response. Paul has been using his experience as a motivator, recounting the 2007-08 second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs where the New Orleans Pelicans took a 2-0 series lead, winning the opening two games by a combined 37 points.

“We’re cool. We’re cool. We’ve got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment. A guy like Jae Crowder, who’s been to the Finals,” Paul said. “I’ve played a lot too. I’m always talking about 2007-08, we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans and we won the first two games, beat the brakes off of ’em. I remember looking over there at Tim [Duncan] and all them and they weren’t fazed. It was just one game. That’s what we talk about as a team too. It’s just one game.”

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