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Dennis Schroder shoulders blame for Los Angeles Lakers’ mounting turnovers

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Fresh off a 111-96 loss to the New York Knicks in which the Los Angeles Lakers committed a season-high 25 turnovers, point guard Dennis Schroder was asked about his team’s mounting miscues.

“Thank you,” Schroder said sarcastically when a reporter mentioned L.A. ranking dead last in the league in turnovers per game. “Thank you. Thank you.”

It’s understandable if the line of questioning touched a nerve. It’s been a recurring problem for the defending champions this season — Monday was their ninth game with 20-plus turnovers this season, most in the NBA.

Schroder was responsible for a team-high five turnovers as the Knicks made L.A. look like a completely different team than the group that shocked the Brooklyn Nets with a 25-point win just a couple days prior.

“It starts with me and I take the blame for it and we just got to do better,” said Schroder.

The eight-year veteran who shut down contract extension talks with the Lakers last month, preferring to wait until the offseason, now ranks 37th in assists-to-turnover ratio among the 57 guards in the league averaging 30 minutes or more, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

He was hardly the only one culpable, however. Newly-acquired center Andre Drummond had more turnovers (four) than points (three) against the Knicks, and the Lakers’ other three starters — Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris — had three turnovers apiece.

“Really poor passing, some bad decisions, and some of it, you have to credit the defense. But as good as we were offensively two nights ago, we were just as bad tonight — and it’s disappointing,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “We had 25 turnovers, and we got our shot blocked nine times, OK? Which we view as turnovers as well. So, definitely not good enough on the offensive end tonight.”

The Lakers coughed up seven of those turnovers in the third quarter, when the Knicks outscored them 26-16 to break the game open. They weren’t just errant passes, either. Knicks defenders stripped the ball right out of the Lakers’ hands on several occasions.

“They’re a great strip team,” Caldwell-Pope said. “[Nerlens] Noel with great hands, Julius [Randle]. Lot of guys that have great hands on that team. So we wanted to make the simple pass tonight which we didn’t. We tried to force a lot of things in the paint.

“I mean it’s very frustrating, just turning the ball over … Put a shot up, at least,” he continued. “That gets frustrating. That starts to drop the energy that we have for the game. Starts to bring people down.”

The loss halted the momentum that the Lakers had seemingly started to build with Anthony Davis and LeBron James still sidelined, as they came into Monday winners of three of their last five.

“We just got to, all of us as a collective group have to be better at taking care of the ball,” said Morris. Obviously we don’t have Bron, who led the league in assists last year, to make plays for us. So that’s going to be more magnified. And I think if we change that, we can definitely be a lot better right now.”

The Lakers finish their five-game East Coast road trip against the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.

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Michael Malone says Nuggets need to be ‘the more physical team,’ laments ‘soft mentality’ in Game 1 loss to Suns

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Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone felt a bad kind of déjà vu as he watched his team fade during the second half of Monday night’s 122-105 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series.

After seeing his team get blown out by the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, Malone lamented what he felt was his team’s “soft mentality” while watching the Nuggets — who led 58-57 at halftime — get outscored 65-47 in the final 24 minutes.

“This game to me was eerily similar to Game 1 against Portland,” Malone said after Monday night’s game. “I think we had way too many breakdowns tonight from a coverage standpoint. I think seven of their 13 3s tonight were from the corners and a lot of that was missed assignments, not communicating. We gave up eight and-1s tonight, I think [we] had a soft mentality. You can’t give up eight and-1s in a playoff game. If you’re going to foul somebody, foul them, and not let them get the and-1.”

It was an assessment that several of his players agreed with.

“Soft, that’s a good way to put it,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “Scared, that’s another way to play it. You could choose between them two words, either ‘soft’ or ‘scared,’ that’s what it felt like we were playing like. And then we was just breaking down. We were breaking down defensively, offensively we weren’t getting into what we needed to get into. We were letting them dictate our offense a little too much. Really just a lot of breakdowns.”

While Nuggets forward JaMychal Green also used the “soft” label, MVP favorite Nikola Jokic pushed back on the notion, believing that his team just needs to do a better job of dealing with Phoenix’s runs heading into Game 2 on Wednesday night.

“I don’t think so [that] we played soft,” Jokic said. “We have to do a better job, of course, handling the runs. I think in one moment they were on a 16-0 run … when things aren’t going our way we just need to be more decisive, I think. We need to know what we are doing as a group.”

Malone softened his initial assessment later in his postgame news conference with reporters, saying many in his group were “playing hard” and “competing,” but it was more of a frustration in the mentality the Nuggets had in allowing the Suns to impose their will on the game in a variety of areas.

“When we beat Portland in four games, we were the aggressor,” Malone said. “We were the more physical team, and that has to be the case. We’re undermanned. There’s a reason no one’s giving us a chance to win this series. We have to bring our best version of ourselves — tonight we didn’t get that from a lot and we’ll need it come Wednesday night.”

One of the reasons Malone still feels confident is because young forward Michael Porter Jr. is expected to play in Game 2, despite being limited in the second half because of a back issue suffered at the end of the first half.

Malone said he limited Porter’s minutes in the second half because he could tell the back issue was bothering Porter, and wanted to try and keep him fresh for what he hopes will be a long series. Even what appears to be a small setback is something to keep an eye on given Porter’s history of back issues.

“I’m always concerned when I see a guy obviously having a wrap on his back,” Malone said. “I didn’t think in that second half Michael was moving the way that I’m used to seeing him move. But I just spoke to him, I think he just tweaked it a little bit. He’ll get some treatment tonight, all day [Tuesday], and I fully expect Michael to be ready to go come Wednesday.”

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Aided by improving shoulder, Chris Paul takes over in 4th quarter to close out Phoenix Suns’ Game 1 win over Denver Nuggets

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There are many things Chris Paul is good at, but one of his most crucial skills is sensing a moment. It’s never about how he starts; it’s how he finishes.

And in Game 1 of Phoenix’s Western Conference semifinal series against the Denver Nuggets, Paul began slowly, hitting just two of his eight shots through three quarters. But as the Suns grabbed hold of Game 1, so did Paul, going 6-6 in the fourth quarter as Phoenix cruised to a 122-105 win over Denver.

“It’s in his hands, man,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said. “He’s made us comfortable … just knowing that he’s got it.”

Paul’s command of the game was on full display, with him methodically asserting himself early in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 consecutive points for the Suns as they widened their lead. He finished with 21 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds in 36 minutes, and while his grip on the fourth separated Phoenix, the team showcased its impressive balance and depth throughout.

All five starters finished in double figures, scoring at least 14 points. The Suns are the first team since the 2013 Golden State Warriors (Game 2 in round one) with four 20-point scorers on 55% shooting from the floor in a playoff game.

“That’s what I’ve said all season long: We have a team,” Paul said. “If you try to take one of us out or whatnot, we make the right play. Who you gonna leave open? Mikal [Bridges] is cash. Jae [Crowder] is cash. Cam [Johnson], I could keep going on and on and that’s the benefits of having a team.”

For Paul, better health was part of his fourth-quarter output, as he is now two weeks past his initial shoulder injury sustained in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s something he’s still dealing with, but as if Paul doesn’t already get better the longer the game goes on, his shoulder also does.

“It definitely loosens up,” Paul said. “One thing about it is you don’t get no practice time. The only way you get a chance to see how it is is during the game. It was good. It was fun to get out there and be involved. That last series was, that was tough. I’m glad to be back helping the team.”

Paul scored or assisted on 20 of the Suns’ final 34 points. It’s his ninth career playoff game with 20 points, 10 assists and one or fewer turnovers, passing LeBron James for the most in the league with that line since turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78.

“He just made plays,” Devin Booker said. “Not only his scoring ability but getting everybody else involved. That’s been the story of the season for us, following him in that regard.”

The Suns don’t necessarily have a template to lean on Paul late in games the way the Oklahoma City Thunder did when Paul led the league in clutch-time scoring a season ago. They have the scoring of Booker and the well-rounded depth sprinkled throughout. But Paul is assertive when he needs to be, playing a cerebral game and picking his moments to take over.

“His ability to read the game, clock management, shot-making. He’s done it for a long time,” coach Monty Williams said. “Right now he’s probably critiquing himself and picking at some things he could do a lot better. He makes a lot of our stuff look better because he’s been in these situations before and understands the moment.”

At 36 years old, Paul is the oldest player in NBA history with 20 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds in a playoff game. Only four other players have put up that statline at age 35 or older: James (six times), Elgin Baylor, John Stockton and Dennis Johnson.

“Man, it’s a different game for him these days from when I was watching him play,” Nuggets forward Aaron Gordon said. “He was a lot more explosive back in the day, getting to the cup. He’s always been really smart and he just keeps getting smarter. He’s a maestro out there orchestrating them. He really has uplifted that whole Phoenix team. Just how he talks, how he communicates with them out on the floor, you can tell that he just gives the entire team confidence.”

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NBA playoffs 2021 – Brooklyn Nets are putting Milwaukee Bucks in uncomfortable spot

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When Steve Nash was hired to coach the Brooklyn Nets super-team entry last year, it was both shocking and controversial.

Judgement on the hire is still a ways off, but Nash’s first postseason on the sideline has been impressive. Nash has run circles early around two-time NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer in what was supposed to be a highly competitive playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Brooklyn is ahead 2-0 after a 125-86 spanking in Monday’s Game 2.

The first two games have been at home and Nash has talent on his side — Kevin Durant‘s 32 points on 18 shots would make any coach look good. But Nash is managing and motivating his team expertly, especially in the wake of losing James Harden indefinitely with a hamstring injury, an advantage the Bucks wasted.

Even when he had Harden in the mix, Nash explained how important shot numbers were against the Bucks. In the three regular-season meetings between the teams, Milwaukee got up 37 more shots. Even with an offense as impressive as the Nets have, that’s not a survivable margin.

That shot disparity existed because the Nets turned the ball over 19 more times than the Bucks and allowed Milwaukee to have 10 more offensive rebounds in those games. So coming into this series, Nash emphasized ball security and awareness on the defensive glass.

Two games in, it’s the Nets who have taken seven more shots and committed 14 fewer turnovers. After the Bucks clobbered Brooklyn 20-4 in second-chance points in Game 1, the Nets flipped that vital number in Game 2, 15-11.

Brooklyn also executed the textbook defensive plan on Giannis Antetokounmpo, backing off to entice him to take outside shots and baiting him into charges when he came into the lane. The Nets aren’t getting the charges, but the contact seems to be making Antetokounmpo more cautious — he’s just 2-of-10 at the foul line in the series.

As a result, Antetokounmpo attempted just 15 shots and scored just 18 points in Game 2, a major win for the Nets.

But perhaps more important than any strategy, Nash had his team focused and ready to play in Game 2 without Harden, just as he did after Harden exited in the first minute of Game 1, when Nash implored the players not to feel sorry for themselves. Brooklyn overwhelmed Milwaukee in a lopsided first quarter Monday night.

Several Nets players, including Durant, mentioned the level of detail in the game plan after the victory.

“Our guys were prepared and hungry,” Nash said. “Guys are just locked in and aware of the game plan and can take care of details.”

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Blake Griffin gets the pass and elevates on the baseline to hammer down a dunk in the face of Giannis Antetokounmpo with authority.

The same has not been the case for Milwaukee. Budenholzer has been scrutinized for the Bucks’ struggles to get out of the second round the past two years and more criticism is surely coming if there isn’t a rally.

Throughout the season, Budenholzer employed some varied defensive strategies aimed at preparing for the playoffs, something he hadn’t done in the past. One of them was switching on pick-and-rolls, which he typically doesn’t favor.

Budenholzer avoided it in his scheme in Game 2. Worried about how the Nets might attack big man Brook Lopez in screen-roll actions, Budenholzer had the Bucks play zone in the first quarter. The Nets handled that with Durant, Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris nailing shots over the top of the zone.

After scoring a playoff team record 72 points in the paint against Brooklyn’s soft interior in Game 1, Milwaukee’s attack was stuck on the outside in Game 2. The Bucks, regressing to isolation basketball on the perimeter, devoid of passing and driving-and-kicking, attempted 21 fewer shots in the paint and scored 20 fewer points.

Defensively the Bucks also were lethargic. It showed in a glaring trend as they went more than 36 minutes of game time without committing a shooting foul — an indication of how non-physical their defense played in such a vital game. The Nets took their first free throws outside of the first quarter when Bucks third-stringer Mamadi Diakite committed a flagrant foul in frustration during garbage time.

“The schemes and the coverage, it matters, but they’re taking advantage of opportunities and they’re playing well,” Budenholzer said. “We’ve all seen it 1,000 times, we’ve got to protect our homecourt like they’ve protected theirs. If you’ve been in the league a long time you’ve seen this before.”

The league has actually seen it 322 times; that’s how often a team has fallen behind 2-0 in seven-game series. Only 22 times have those teams come back to win. Over the last five years, there’s been a number of 3-1 comebacks in the NBA but the truth is those comebacks are only slightly more rare (15 times in 251 series) than winning four of the next five. The Clippers just accomplished this against the Dallas Mavericks in the previous round.

And to say that the Nets “did what they’re supposed to do” is a little too simplistic.

As with every series, there are many things contributing to the rising tide. It’s not just Durant and Irving scoring and Nash hitting all the right buttons. The Nets are getting strong play from role players as well — Brooklyn’s bench is up 62-43 on Milwaukee through two games.

But Budenholzer is going to have to start winning some categories on his rookie counterpart or things could quickly get uncomfortable for him.

“In the locker room, there’s a lot of great leadership,” Budenholzer said. “The guys will respond appropriately.”

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