24 Jan

The four paths Rob Pelinka could take ahead of playoff push

One year ago, on January 23, 2023, the Los Angeles Lakers were an underperforming team with 22 wins. Today, the Lakers are an underperforming team with 22 wins. But last year’s team didn’t fold. Rob Pelinka overhauled the roster. LeBron James and Anthony Davis led a group of newcomers in Rui Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell and Jarred Vanderbilt to within eight wins of the championship.

That run is probably informing the way the Lakers are looking at the 2024 trade deadline. The Lakers have been linked to just about every big name on the market. Their 2029 first-round pick—at the moment, their only tradable one—is seemingly up for grabs. So are pick swaps, second-rounders, role players, potentially almost anything the Lakers can muster to recreate last spring. Perhaps credibly, perhaps not, the Lakers seem to believe that merely having James and Davis, healthy and performing as superstars, gives them a chance.

It’s a risky proposition to bet your future on for a number of reasons. The simplest is that last year’s team had a lot more promise than this year’s. James missed 10 of the first 44 Laker games last season. Davis missed 19. They’ve combined to miss only six games so far this season, yet last year’s group had a better net rating at this point in the season (-0.6 vs. -0.9). There’s no Russell Westbrook around this time to soak up blame. The Lakers either signed, re-signed or drafted every player on this season’s roster within the past 19 months except for James and Davis. This is the group they chose, and it’s not working.

In fairness, the Lakers have set an impossibly high standard in that regard. They literally broke up a championship team in the winter of 2020. James joined the team in 2018. This is at least the fifth iteration of the Lakers’ roster he’s been a part of. There’s an argument to be made that the Lakers need to let this group play through the bumps to develop the continuity it’s never had. Rob Pelinka seemed interested in that approach over the summer.

Of course, while he stood still, the rest of the conference got better. Denver led the Western Conference with a .646 winning percentage last season. Four Western Conference teams are beating that mark so far this year, to say nothing of the sleeping giant Suns who have now won six straight since getting healthy. The Lakers couldn’t handle one championship-caliber team last postseason. They might need to beat three to reach the Finals this time around. You could argue the entire top five out West has three All-Star-caliber players. The Lakers might not have a third player capable of starting for the Timberwolves, Thunder or Nuggets.

So what’s the approach with a bit more than two weeks left before the trade deadline? Are the Lakers worth trying to save? Or is this team a lost cause? Should they go fishing for a few minnows, or a whale? Let’s take a look at the four feasible game-plans the Lakers could employ leading up to the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Who might their targets be? What would they cost? And what would the overarching plan look like?

Path 1: Big-game hunting
Despite the frequency with which they’ve made win-now trades over the past several years, the Lakers really haven’t sacrificed that much of their future yet. They owe one unprotected pick to the Pelicans that could convey as soon as June or as late as 2025. With James and Davis in their current state, neither of those picks figure to haunt the Lakers too much. After that, the last pick they owe is in 2027, and it’s top-four protected. Otherwise, the Lakers control their drafts. For the time being, the option to rebuild naturally whenever they choose still very much exists for the Lakers. Trade any more unprotected picks or swaps and that option fades away.

What is that optionality worth? A fair bit, honestly. It’s not 2018 anymore. The last All-NBA player to move through free agency was DeMar DeRozan in 2020. Eventually the Lakers are going to need to replace or supplement James and Davis as the faces of their franchise, and to do that, they’ll either need picks to draft with or picks to trade with. That doesn’t necessarily mean that trading meaningful draft capital now needs to bring back a star. It just means that sacrificing the chance to get one later sets a pretty high bar for whatever player does come back. More options might emerge later on, but for now, the Lakers appear to be eyeing two players in this price range: Dejounte Murray and Bruce Brown.

Both provide similar theoretical strengths, but with an emphasis on “theoretical.” Brown is a strong defender who can guard above his size, but most defensive metrics rate him below his reputation. Murray’s reputation is only now catching up with his actual play. He was an elite defensive point guard in San Antonio, but has slipped tremendously in Atlanta. Could he return to form? There’s no reason to think he couldn’t. He’s still only 27. Point-of-attack defense has been a problem for the Lakers since they let Alex Caruso slip away. A trade like this works only if Brown or Murray help the Lakers improve meaningfully in that regard.

They’d both bring needed offensive traits as well. Murray’s playmaking and mid-range game would fit in nicely on an offense that just needs shots created however possible. Brown can bring a bit of ball-handling too, but slides a bit more comfortably into the old connector role Caruso vacated. He’s an excellent cutter and screener that makes good decisions in tight quarters. The question for both is 3-point shooting. Brown is fairly good from the corners at roughly 38% for his career, but bad everywhere else.

Murray is having a career shooting season. The sample isn’t remotely big enough to prove genuine improvement beyond acceptability. His shot diet is much harder than Brown’s. Ironically, it’s the tightly guarded shots Murray is thriving on this season (41.4% on 77 attempts) and the wide-open ones where he’s struggling (30.4% on 46 attempts). I have no easy explanation for that. Murray was better on the wide-open looks last season, but he’s never been great on them. Those are the shots you’d hope he gets playing next to James.

Would either thrive in that setting? Murray has played far better when he hasn’t had to share the ball with Trae Young in Atlanta. Could he coexist in a timeshare with James, and likely Austin Reaves? Brown’s best basketball has come on teams with endless spacing and heavy motion offenses. This isn’t Denver. He won’t get rewarded for cutting in the same way he did playing with Nikola Jokic. Brown’s value decreases significantly if he’s playing stationary offense. Shooting is this team’s biggest need. Is it worth sacrificing your best trade chips for players that may not fix it? Especially when the matching salary in such a deal—D’Angelo Russell—is among your best shooters?

It’s hard to say. Murray is the higher upside play, something closer to the “third star” the Lakers have spent years looking for. Brown is closer to the role players they won the 2020 title with, but that team was far-better equipped to absorb a high-end role player. You could argue that the Lakers need both. They’re only getting one, though Atlanta’s interest in Reaves opens some doors to bigger deals (Bogdan Bogdanovic would go a long way toward solving the shooting problems).

Are the Lakers prepared to bet that the majority of their current roster would make more sense with one high-end addition? Would players like Rui Hachimura and Taurean Prince get better looks with one player above them in the pecking order on both sides? The theoretical hope here is that a player like Murray or Brown could snap the rest of the roster into place, making their lives easier and allowing them to play the smaller roles they’re better-suited for. But again, this is all theoretical. Neither Murray nor Brown is a slam dunk. How much certainty will the Lakers need to trade away their future? Only Pelinka knows the answer.

Path 2: Fixing the fringes
The Lakers have looked into cheaper guards. Collin Sexton is playing his way off of the trade market. Tyus Jones seems like a near-certainty to get moved somewhere as an impending free agent who plays for the Wizards. There are teams he’s worth a first-round pick to. The Lakers probably aren’t one of them. The pure point guard archetype is less of a priority to the Lakers than defense and shooting. If he can be had for second-rounders or some of the lesser prospects here? He’s enough of a talent upgrade to add.

The Raptors have multiple viable additions. The Lakers have coveted Gary Trent Jr. in the past. They’ve employed Dennis Schroder twice. Both appear to be trade candidates as the Raptors embark on a mini-rebuild. If the Lakers want to keep their payroll down, a run at Quentin Grimes, who is still on a rookie-scale deal through next season, might be worthwhile, though he can probably net a first-rounder at this stage. Malcolm Brogdon probably does as well, but he’s certainly worth a phone call. The backup center market is bustling. Nick Richards and Daniel Gafford would both be upgrades on the current options. Buddy Hield has never made it through a trade deadline without falling into the rumor mill.

The real avenue to watch on this front, or really any, is the buyout market. The new CBA created an extremely favorable climate for the Lakers here. Any team above the first apron cannot add buyout players whose previous salary was above the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. That knocks the Warriors, Clippers, Suns, Bucks, Celtics, Heat and Nuggets out of the running. The 76ers might be out as well depending on how much salary they add at the deadline. The Lakers won’t be the best team on the buyout market, but they might be the most desirable. They can offer theoretical winning and actual minutes in a great market.

Who’s going to be available here? It’s hard to say, but we’re typically looking for players on either bad teams or that could be traded off of good teams that have hefty expiring salaries. The dream target here is Gordon Hayward, though no reporting has yet suggested that he could seek a buyout despite the Hornets’ pitiful 10-31 record. Kyle Lowry was just shipped to Charlotte, too, but Gabe Vincent has shown the Lakers the dangers of investing in players the Heat are willing to lose. Evan Fournier has barely played in two years. Maybe he could give the Lakers a bit of cheap shooting if the Knicks use his salary elsewhere.

The goal here would be to fill a few specific roster weaknesses with the hope that doing so might spark a return to form for some of the players that have yet to replicate last season’s form. Would doing so lead to genuine championship contention? Probably not. But it’s a way to prove to the key stakeholders here that the team is looking to improve. That would be an important element of our next possibility.

Path 3: Wait-and-see
Making a big trade becomes a lot easier for the Lakers this summer. At that point, they’ll have three tradable first-rounders—either their 2024 or 2025 pick along with their selections in 2029 and 2031—along with swap rights in three more years. They could put Reaves in a deal for the right package. The same would be true for 2023 first-round pick Jalen Hood-Schifino. With so many players signed to long-term deals last summer, they’d have the matching salary to do whatever they want.

Is that enough to trade for a real, no-questions-asked superstar? It depends on the player and the circumstance. If someone is prepared to force their way to Los Angeles like Davis did, it becomes very possible. In a bidding war situation? Probably not. The Knicks, Nets and Heat all have more to trade than the Lakers do if a player seeking a market upgrade like Donovan Mitchell comes up. If a surprising MVP candidate hits the market, the Lakers can’t compete with the Thunder, Jazz or Spurs in terms of sheer asset volume. Their best hope might be for a star with relatively low stock right now to become available in the hopes that they could rehabilitate him. Trae Young springs to mind here. According to ESPN, the Lakers have had internal discussions along these lines.

This would be a risky gambit on several levels that extend beyond even landing the third star. James turns 40 next season. No 40-year-old has ever averaged even 15 points per game. Any version of the Lakers that’s contending for real needs James hovering around 25. There’s no telling how healthy Davis is in a year. Could the Lakers build a supporting cast around three stars in a second-apron world? Would they even want to?

Part of the appeal of trading for someone like Murray or Brown now is that it could be seen as the first stage of a greater reset that would be completed this summer. Move the 2029 pick now, see how the new player fits and then retrofit around him with the 2031 and 2024/25 picks over the summer. At least in that scenario you’re sure you’re getting one difference-making player. Wait and you might end up with nothing. End up with nothing and … well …

Path 4: The end is near
James can become a free-agent this offseason. The Lakers probably have a better idea of what his plans are than we do, but this summer poses a major risk to the Lakers that might be out of their control. Bronny James will be draft-eligible in June. It’s no secret that the elder James wants to play with him. The Lakers may not even have their first-round pick in this upcoming draft. Plenty of appealing teams still have theirs. What if Cleveland drafts Bronny? Or Miami? What if Daryl Morey aims his max cap space at James and offers his son as the cherry on top?

James could stay with the Lakers this summer. Either way, the end of this era of Laker basketball is going to end relatively soon, and if the Lakers are ready to start preparing for it, there are steps they can take in the short term. If winning right now is no longer the main goal, for instance, the Lakers would surely love to dip back below the luxury tax line. They’re less than $2 million above it for now, and as this is their fourth-straight taxpaying season, they’re primed to pay the repeater penalty. It goes without saying that the Lakers would prefer not to pay it.

What exactly a post-James future might look like in Los Angeles is unclear. Davis signed an extension last offseason. Would he want to stick around on a team that would be presumably less competitive? Would the Lakers prefer to try to find him a running mate, or would they rather kick off a rebuild? How many current Lakers have a place on the post-James team? Definitely Reaves. Probably not too many after him.

This is the least likely plan for a number of reasons. It’s not in the Lakers’ nature to concede when there are riskier win-now options on the board. But the Lakers are .500 today, and James is set to miss Tuesday’s game against the Clippers. After Thursday’s home date with the Bulls, they go on a six-game road trip that doesn’t end until deadline day. Things don’t look great now. They might look worse in two weeks. The Lakers probably aren’t going to actively tear down their team in February, but if they sense that this team’s window to contend is closing, don’t be surprised if they hold their assets and perhaps look to save a bit of money rather than going all-in on one or two more runs.

21 Jan

2023 WWE Royal Rumble live stream, how to watch online, start time, card, matches

One male and one female superstar will punch their ticket to WrestleMania 39 by winning their respective Royal Rumble matches. The fan-favorite spectacle takes place inside the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas on Saturday night.

The Royal Rumble match traditionally features 30 superstars entering one-by-one in timed intervals. The only way to be eliminated from the match is to physically go over the top rope and have both feet touch the floor. Once 29 superstars have been eliminated, the remaining competitor is announced the winner. At stake is a shot for a world championship at WrestleMania.

Thirty men — including Cody Rhodes, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins and Drew McIntyre — will compete to challenge for the undisputed WWE universal championship currently held by Roman Reigns. The winner of the women’s Royal Rumble match, which boasts Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan as participants, will choose either the Raw women’s or SmackDown women’s title to challenge for at WrestleMania 39.

Two championship bouts have also been announced for the Royal Rumble event. Reigns puts his WWE and universal championships at stake in order to rid himself of Kevin Owens. Raw women’s champion Bianca Belair defends her crown against Alexa Bliss.

Below is how you can catch all the action on Saturday night in San Antonio.

Watch 2023 WWE Royal Rumble
Date: Jan. 28
Location: Alamadome — San Antonio, Texas
Start time: 8 p.m. ET (kickoff show starts at 7 p.m. ET)
Watch live: Peacock

2023 WWE Royal Rumble match card
Men’s Royal Rumble match
Women’s Royal Rumble match
Undisputed WWE universal championship — Roman Reigns (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Raw Women’s championship — Bianca Belair (c) vs. Alexa Bliss
Bray Wyatt vs. LA Knight (Pitch Black match)

21 Jan

Ford Field in Detroit to host first premium live event since 2007

WWE SummerSlam is set to take over Ford Field in Detroit. Long considered one of WWE’s biggest annual events, SummerSlam returns to the state of Michigan for the first time in 30 years.

WWE announced the date and location for the 2023 SummerSlam on Tuesday. SummerSlam is one of WWE’s classic big four events, alongside the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania and Survivor Series. The news marks not only Michigan’s first SummerSlam in three decades but also the company’s first visit to Ford Field since WrestleMania 23 was held in 2007.

1993 SummerSlam was headlined by Lex Luger vs. Yokozuna for the WWF championship. The event — held in front of a reported 23, 954 fans — also featured legends like Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and The Undertaker. WrestleMania 23 was headlined by John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWE championship, featured The Undertaker vs. Batista and infamously saw Donald Trump shave Vince McMahon bald in a match dubbed “Battle of the Billionaires.”

It’s unclear which superstars will headline this year’s event as the road to WrestleMania rolls on with the Elimination Chamber in February before heading to Hollywood for the biggest event of the year in April.

21 Jan

2023 WWE Elimination Chamber card, matches, start time, predictions, match card, rumors, location, date

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will be confined inside one of WWE’s most physically demanding structures on Saturday, Feb. 18. WWE will erect the Elimination Chamber in front of what should be a raucous Montreal crowd for their final major show before WrestleMania 39.

Two Elimination Chamber matches have been announced for the annual event. United States champion Austin Theory will defend his title against familiar foes, such as Seth Rollins, and new nemeses like Bronson Reed. The winner of the other Elimination Chamber match will determine who will challenge Raw women’s champion Bianca Belair on the grandest stage. Raquel Rodriguez, Asuka, Liv Morgan and Nikki Kross have all been confirmed as contenders.

A long-awaited undisputed WWE universal championship match between Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn is also expected to take place in Zayn’s hometown. The supremely entertaining rise of Zayn through the ranks of The Bloodline hit its dramatic fall at the Royal Rumble. Tasked with a nearly impossible decision, Zayn sided with estranged best friend Kevin Owens over Reigns and the family.

Plus, a showdown between Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley is also set for the card. The pair have faced each other twice in singles matches, splitting the meetings, though Lashley has gotten the better of several brawls as well as eliminating Lesnar from January’s Royal Rumble match.

Take a look below at the confirmed and predicted matches for the 2023 Elimination Chamber. Check back for updates and predictions.

2023 WWE Elimination Chamber matches
Undisputed WWE Universal championship — Roman Reigns (c) vs. Sami Zayn: The wheels were finally set in motion for a long-anticipated match between Reigns and Zayn when Zayn struck Reigns with a chair at Royal Rumble. The Bloodline’s adoption of “Honorary Uce” Zayn is one of the best storylines WWE has produced in a long time. At the Rumble, Reigns demanded that Zayn blast estranged best friend Owens with a chair shot to the head. Unable to deliver a career-ending blow, Zayn instead struck Reigns with the chair. Zayn made it clear he was now gunning for Reigns and his titles but received a beat-down from Reigns, who said he’d give Zayn the match in front of Zayn’s family in Montreal.

United States championship — Austin Theory (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Bronson Reed vs. Damian Priest vs. Montez Ford (Elimination Chamber match): It was announced on the Jan. 30 episode of Monday Night Raw that Theory will defend his U.S. championship inside the Elimination Chamber. Qualifier matches took place over the next few weeks, putting many familiar names in the mix. Ford is an especially interesting dark horse candidate to take the title but much of the attention will be on the standing rivalry between Theory and Rollins as the match unfolds.

Raquel Rodriguez vs. Nikki Kross vs. Liv Morgan vs. Asuka vs. Natalya vs. Carmella (Elimination Chamber match): Rhea Ripley, the women’s Royal Rumble winner, revealed that she would challenge for the SmackDown women’s championship. Authority figure Adam Pearce subsequently announced that Belair would defend the Raw women’s championship at WrestleMania 39 against the winner of a No. 1 contender’s Elimination Chamber match. The four runner-ups from the Rumble match — Rodriguez, Morgan, Asuka and Kross — were chosen as the first four participants in the Elimination Chamber. Natalya and Carmella won their way into the match via qualifiers.

Edge & Beth Phoenix vs. Finn Balor & Rhea Ripley: Ripley delivered a Con-Chair-To to Phoenix last year, forcing Edge to say “I quit” and lose a match to Balor. Payback has been long in coming but appears as though it will finally happen at Elimination Chamber. Phoenix has twice speared Ripley — who will be challenging Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown women’s title at WrestleMania — and she and Edge laid out the challenge for the match on Raw, with Balor accepting.

Brock Lesnar vs. Bobby Lashley: Lesnar and Lashley are split 1-1 in their series. Lashley won their first meeting at the 2022 Royal Rumble and Lesnar evened the score at Crown Jewel in November. An irate Lashley laid out Lesnar following their sophomore encounter. Lesnar reignited the feud in the lead-up to this year’s Rumble match and the pair have been at odds since. Lesnar attacked Lashley multiple times on Raw; meanwhile, Lashley eliminated the former UFC champion from the 2023 men’s Royal Rumble match. The two plan on concluding their trilogy at Elimination Chamber.

14 Jan

Knicks could get Mitchell Robinson back this season as NBA denies $7.8M Disabled Player Exception, per report

The New York Knicks’ application for a $7.8 million Disabled Player Exception has been denied by the NBA, according to ESPN, as there is optimism that Mitchell Robinson could return late this regular season.

Robinson was originally projected to miss 8-to-10 weeks after ankle surgery, but later it was determined he would likely miss the rest of the season. The Knicks applied for the DPE about a week before Christmas after Robinson was originally injured on Dec. 8 against Boston.

Obviously, the Knicks would rather have Robinson back for a playoff push than whatever they might’ve been able to get with the DPE. They have looked terrific after trading for OG Anunoby. Jalen Brunson has been a superstar all season. Robinson, in addition to being an absolute monster on the glass, was on his way to an All-Defense nod.

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Isaiah Hartenstein has been terrific in Robinson’s absence, providing much of what Robinson did on the glass and serving as even more of an offensive threat. With those two together, the Knicks arguably have the best center rotation in the league.

Come playoff time, Mitchell’s second-chance creation and rim protection would take New York to another level in terms of being a conference-finals contender in what feels like a pretty open East playoff picture beneath the top-seeded Celtics.

Robinson, whom the Knicks signed to a steal of a deal last summer (four years, $60M), was leading the league with 5.3 offensive rebounds per game when he went out. He was scooping up over 17% of New York’s misses, per Cleaning the Glass, when he was on the floor — which goes a long way for a Knicks team whose collective shooting percentage still ranks in the bottom 10 league-wide.

There’s still a long way to go for the Knicks, but entering play on Thursday they have won five straight since the Anunoby trade and are 22-15 overall — tied in the loss column for a top-four seed. If they can hold down the fort for a few more months, perhaps they can look forward to getting Robinson back for a postseason push. If they do, they will be a tough matchup for anyone.

14 Jan

Clutch two-way sequence from Jayson Tatum, Jrue Holiday powers Celtics to best home start in franchise history

In a showdown of the best teams in each conference, the Boston Celtics came through with a dramatic 127-120 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, improving to a perfect 18-0 at home this season — the best start in franchise history. The Celtics trailed by nine points with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter but launched an impressive late run to force overtime.

It was toward the end of overtime when the true clutch danger of the league’s best team came to light. Even without Kristaps Porzingis, who missed the game due to a knee contusion, the Celtics executed to perfection on both ends of the court to close the game on a 9-0 run and improve to 29-8 on the season.

One sequence sums up Boston’s elite two-way ability — something that will serve them well as they attempt to overcome last postseason’s disappointment and finally break through to win the franchise’s first title in 16 years. With the game tied at 120 and just over a minute remaining, Tatum was isolated by Karl-Anthony Towns, probably Minnesota’s worst defender on the floor at the time. Through a series of crossovers and hesitations, Tatum proceeded to absolutely cook Towns, getting to the rim and finishing with a delicate lefty lay-in to take the lead.

This is exactly the kind of mismatch basketball that tends to determine postseason games, and Tatum is more than capable of scoring from all three levels against any defender. The star forward finished with 45 points, 26 of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“When you just get in that moment, you live for those moments. You want to do whatever you can to help your team win,” Tatum said after the game. “In the back of my mind, I didn’t want to lose at home yet.”

On the very next possession, Boston’s lockdown guards took center stage, as Derrick White and offseason acquisition Jrue Holiday trapped Wolves star Anthony Edwards, resulting in a steal that they made look way too easy. Then, Holiday, teaming with championship experience, calmly dribbled down the court and found a wide-open Tatum, who hit nothing but net on a dagger 3-pointer from the wing.

Put the whole sequence together, and it’s a pristine example of just how devastating the Celtics can be at both ends of the floor during crunch time.

What a sequence in Boston!

  • Tatum uses the handles to get the bucket
  • Jrue Holiday comes away with the steal
  • Tatum knocks down the 3

Celtics lead late and the Boston crowd is LOVING it ☘️

Timberwolves-Celtics | Live on the NBA App
📲 https://t.co/6QdUjMVkeg pic.twitter.com/PvCAJa0DVa

— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2024
In just over 30 seconds, the Timberwolves went from a tie game to down five and were completely demoralized as they walked to the bench with the TD Garden crowd in a frenzy.

The Celtics are 12-7 in clutch games this season (within five points with five minutes remaining), boasting a robust net rating of plus-20.5. They know how to get it done down the stretch, with Porzingis and Holiday providing options on both ends of the floor that Joe Mazzulla simply didn’t have last year, as Tatum continues to grow into the closer that Boston needs him to be.

“There was distinct moments of brilliance when we just got to our spacing, attacked the right matchup and made the right play for the team,” Mazzulla said after Wednesday’s win. “I knew if we could just get back to that … we didn’t need to try to win the game on one possession. So I thought our guys did a great job just regaining our poise.”

14 Jan

How Bucks’ glaring defensive issues show they miss Jrue Holiday more than ever

After the Milwaukee Bucks’ loss to the Houston Rockets on Jan. 6, Giannis Antetokounmpo let loose. In a lengthy rant, the two-time MVP called out himself, his teammates, the coaching staff and even the equipment manager.

“Offense is gonna be there some nights, and, some nights, it’s not going to be there,” Antetokounmpo said. “Your defensive effort, though, has got to be there.

“Pride. Pride. Pride. Pride. We gotta take it personal. Like, we have to take it personal. Whoever wants to play hard, plays hard. Whoever doesn’t want to play hard, it’s gotta be a decision that’s gotta be made. Even myself, too. If I don’t play hard, sit me out, sit me on the bench. There’s times I’m tired and I don’t play as hard as I can, and there’s times even when I give everything I have. But we have to have a mentality of whenever we step on the floor, we have to get stops.”

Two nights later, the Bucks gave up 11 3-pointers and 41 points in the first quarter en route to a blowout loss to the Utah Jazz, their fourth defeat in five games. Along the way, they earned boos inside Fiserv Forum for the first time that Antetokounmpo could remember. The message, apparently, had not been received.

“At the end of the day, you gotta play hard,” Antetokounmpo said after the defeat to the Jazz. “I don’t think it’s about making or missing shots. It’s about giving effort out there and when you don’t, I think people feel that. When you wear a Bucks jersey and you don’t play hard – not just Bucks jerseys, any jersey.

“I think we have great fans. But around the league, if you don’t play hard and don’t give everything for the team, there are times where you might get booed. Shit, I’d boo myself tonight too.”

Concerning, yes, but the bigger problem for the Bucks is that their lack of coaching experience and defensive talent outside of Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez has put a hard cap on the level they can get to on that side of the ball. Which, in turn, may limit what they can achieve as a team this season.

At their best, they’ve been a middle-of-the-pack unit. At their worst, they might as well not even be out there.

Since 1998, which is as far as the NBA’s stats site database goes back, only the 2023 Nuggets (15th) and 2001 Lakers (22nd) have won a title while finishing 15th or worse in defensive rating during the regular season. Both of them improved in the playoffs against elite competition. Thus far, the Bucks have not shown that they’ll be able to do the same.

Delving further into the data, here’s where the Bucks rank in some key areas. The only positive number you can point to – how opponents shoot on wide-open shots – essentially comes down to luck.

“Now, defensively, we have to have a plan,” Antetokounmpo said after the Rockets loss. “What is our strategy? Are we going to give a lot of open 3s? Are we going to let them get in the paint? When they go in the post, are we going to stay with ours and play one-on-one? What is our strategy? Right now, we are giving everything. We are giving everything. We are giving the 3s. We are giving straight-line drives. We are letting guys play in the post and get comfortable. We’re giving offensive rebounds.”

Their form since the start of the new year has been particularly concerning. Playing the high-octane Pacers twice certainly hasn’t helped, but that doesn’t explain giving up 121 points to the lowly Spurs, playing with “no pride” against the Rockets according to Antetokounmpo, nor getting blown out by the Jazz at home in the very next game despite their superstar’s tirade.

While Antetokounmpo’s comments focused on effort, the specific issues he mentioned have been on full display during this skid.

‘What is our strategy?’
Here, in the fourth quarter against the Spurs, it’s not entirely clear what the plan was as they extended the defense into the backcourt, but didn’t put any pressure on the ball. As a result, the Spurs easily break the token press and wind up with a dunk.

Against the Jazz, the problem was more about communication, or lack thereof. Andre Jackson Jr. and Brook Lopez both go with John Collins as he rolls to the basket, which leaves Jordan Clarkson wide open for a 3.

‘Are we going to give up a lot of open 3s?’

‘Are we going to let them get in the paint?’

‘When they go in the post are we going to stay with ours and play one-on-one?’

‘Right now we are giving everything… we are giving straight-line drives’

Many of the Bucks’ issues stem from the latter. Whether in one-on-one situations or in pick-and-rolls, it’s simply too easy for opposing ball handlers to get into the paint and either score themselves or collapse the defense. Even offensive rebounds are easier when the defense has rotated and guards are trying to box out big men, or the floor is unbalanced.

When the Bucks traded for Damian Lillard shortly before the start of training camp, the initial excitement focused on the offensive possibilities, and for good reason. The seven-time All-Star is one of the best shooters and scorers of his generation, and the most talented teammate that Antetokounmpo has ever played with.

Lillard is also a below-average defender, and back in September, there were more than a few dissenting voices concerned about the effect that swapping Jrue Holiday for him would have on that side of the ball. Former Bucks coach George Karl even went so far as to say that “in the playoffs, Holiday might be better than Lillard.”

We’ll have to wait until the spring to see about that bold claim, but the Bucks’ defensive problems are already obvious, and getting worse. When Holiday makes his first return to Milwaukee on Thursday, he’ll face a Bucks team that misses him more than ever.

14 Jan

‘I’m booing myself, booing our team in my head’

You have to think long and hard to remember a time when things were this bleak with the Golden State Warriors. Even the 2019-20 pandemic season, when Stephen Curry was injured for most of the year and the Warriors finished with the worst record in the league, was considered a one-off and had the hope of a shiny top draft pick attached to it.

Hope of any sort is difficult to identify this season, as the Warriors were blown out for the second consecutive game on Wednesday — an embarrassing nationally televised 141-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans — to conclude a less-than-inspiring 2-5 homestand. Golden State is now 17-20 and sits in 12th place in the Western Conference, ahead of only the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers and Spurs.

While most of the Warriors’ losses this season have been close (they’ve played the most clutch games in the league), these last two to the Pelicans and Toronto Raptors haven’t been remotely competitive. That’s led the normally placid Chase Center fans to engage in various rounds of boos, an unfamiliar chorus to the winners of four titles in the past 10 seasons.

When asked how he felt about his home fans serenading his team with boos, Curry gave an honest response that provides a clear window into the state of the Warriors right now.

“We’re obviously struggling. There’s nothing to cheer about. I don’t take it any type of certain way,” Curry said of the boos from the home crowd. “Honestly, I’m booing myself, booing our team in my head because of the way we’re playing, so it is what it is. Fans are going to react the way that they want. It’s our job to give them something to cheer about and we have not done that.”

“Honestly, I’m booing myself. Booing our team in my head because of the way we’re playing.”

Steph addresses fans’ displeasure during the last two home games pic.twitter.com/vky26BWeWo

— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 11, 2024
When your legendary point guard and leader is “booing our team in my head,” you know there’s something seriously wrong. For what it’s worth, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr agreed that the fans have every reason to boo them right now.

“We deserved it, for sure. Fell behind immediately,” Kerr said after Wednesday’s loss. “I think we’re just lacking confidence right now. You get to a stage, sometimes, where you just kind of lose your belief. And it happens. And that’s what’s happened right now with our team the last few days.”

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A man of few words, Golden State sharpshooter Klay Thompson didn’t quite share the viewpoint of his longtime teammate and coach.

“I don’t care,” Thompson said of the boos. “You supposed to lose sleep over it?”

In an otherwise brilliant age-35 season, Curry has struggled recently with the weight of being the team’s only consistent offensive threat, as well as their main veteran leader with Draymond Green (return from suspension) and Chris Paul (hand surgery) on the sidelines. The Warriors are expected to be active heading into the Feb. 8 trade deadline to salvage what could be one of a handful of elite seasons left in Curry’s Hall of Fame career.

“We have a standard that’s pretty evident that if things stay the same, that’s the definition of insanity, right?” Curry said on Wednesday night when asked about potential moves. “Keep doing the same thing, expecting a different result.”

Things don’t get any easier for the Warriors, who begin a four-game road trip in Chicago on Friday.

14 Jan

2024 NBA Paris Game picks, best bets from proven model

Accor Arena hosts an NBA matchup in Paris on Thursday. The Brooklyn Nets take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the third-ever regular season game in Paris. It is a rematch of the regular season opener, which the Cavaliers won by a one-point margin. Cleveland is 21-15 overall this season, while Brooklyn is now 16-21 after six losses in the last seven games. Darius Garland (jaw), Evan Mobley (knee), and Ty Jerome (ankle) are out for Cleveland, with Ben Simmons (back), and Day’Ron Sharpe (knee) ruled out for Brooklyn.

Tip-off is at 2 p.m. ET in Paris. For this game, SportsLine consensus lists the Cavaliers as 3-point favorites, while the over/under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 224.5 in the latest Nets vs. Cavaliers odds. Before you make any Cavaliers vs. Nets picks, you need to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from SportsLine’s advanced computer simulation model.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 12 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 112-62 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning well over $4,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

Now, the model has set its sights on Nets vs. Cavaliers and just locked in its picks and NBA predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Nets vs. Cavaliers:

Nets vs. Cavaliers spread: Cavaliers -3
Nets vs. Cavaliers over/under: 224.5 points
Nets vs. Cavaliers money line: Cavaliers -153, Nets +129
BKN: The Nets are 19-17-1 against the spread this season
CLE: The Cavaliers are 17-17-2 against the spread this season
Nets vs. Cavaliers picks: See picks at SportsLine
Why the Nets can cover
Brooklyn leans heavily on the two-way ability of Mikal Bridges. The versatile wing is averaging 21.2 points per game this season, leading the Nets, and he is coming off a 42-point explosion on 15-26 shooting in the team’s last game against Portland. Bridges is also a tremendous wing defender, boosting the team on both ends. Offensively, the Nets are very strong on the glass, securing 31.4% of available rebounds and averaging 15.5 second-chance points per game. Brooklyn is also in the top eight of the NBA in turnover avoidance, committing only 12.7 giveaways per game, and the Nets are also making 13.7 3-points per contest. Cleveland is strongly below-average in free throw prevention (23.6 attempts allowed per game) and blocked shots on defense (4.5 per game), with the Cavaliers also battling impactful injuries.

On the other side, Brooklyn maintains top-eight marks in points allowed in the paint (46.2 per game), opponent 2-point percentage (52.6%, and free throw prevention (21.6 attempts per game). The Nets can also benefit from the Cavaliers ranking in the bottom five of the NBA in free throw attempts (20.7 per game) and shooting only 76.5% at the line when they get there. See which team to pick here.

Why the Cavaliers can cover
Cleveland projects to have the most dynamic offensive player on the court in this matchup with Donovan Mitchell. The veteran guard is averaging 27.2 points, 5.7 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game this season, scoring at least 20 points in 25 of his 27 games. Mitchell also headlines an offense that is firmly in the top 10 of the league in 2-point shooting (56.0%), and Cleveland attacks the offensive glass with top-10 marks in offensive rebound rate (30.1%) and second-chance points (15.8 per game). The Cavaliers are also facing a very conservative Nets defense that is dead-last in turnovers created (11.8 per game) and second-worst in steals (6.5 per game) this season.

On the other side of the floor, the Cavaliers are giving up fewer than 1.13 points per possession, ranking in the top quartile of the league. Cleveland is also in the top 10 of the league in steals, points allowed in the paint, opponent 3-point percentage, opponent 2-point percentage, opponent field goal percentage, and assists allowed. See which team to pick here.

How to make Nets vs. Cavaliers picks
SportsLine’s model is leaning Over on the point total, with eight players projected to score at least 13 points. The model also says one side of the spread hits in well over 60% of simulations. You can only see the model’s pick at SportsLine.

14 Jan

2024 NBA picks, January 11 predictions from proven model

We’ve got another exciting Northwest Division matchup on Thursday’s NBA schedule as the Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Portland Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City is 25-11 overall and 14-5 at home, while Portland is 10-26 overall and 5-15 on the road. OKC has won nine straight games versus Portland, including a 43-point victory earlier this season. The Thunder are 24-11-1 against the spread in the 2023-24 NBA season, while the Trail Blazers are 16-20 versus the line.

Tip-off is at 8 p.m. ET at the Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. The Thunder are favored by 13 points in the latest Trail Blazers vs. Thunder odds, per SportsLine consensus, and the over/under is 235.5 points. Before entering any Thunder vs. Trail Blazers picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions from the model at SportsLine.

The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past five-plus seasons. The model enters Week 12 of the 2023-24 NBA season on a sizzling 112-62 roll on all top-rated NBA picks dating back to last season, returning well over $4,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.

The model has set its sights on Portland vs. Oklahoma City. You can head to SportsLine to see its picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for Trail Blazers vs. Thunder

Thunder vs. Trail Blazers spread: Thunder -13
Thunder vs. Trail Blazers over/under: 235.5 points
Thunder vs. Trail Blazers money line: Thunder: -949, Trail Blazers: +625
Thunder vs. Trail Blazers picks: See picks at SportsLine
What to know about the Thunder
Even though the Thunder have not done well against the Miami Heat recently (they were 2-8 in their previous 10 matchups), they didn’t let the past get in their way on Wednesday. Oklahoma City came out on top against Miami by a score of 128-120. Multiple players turned in solid performances to lead the Thunder to victory, but perhaps none more so than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who scored 28 points to go along with eight assists. Jalen Williams was another key contributor, almost dropping a triple-double on 19 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.

OKC is the best shooting team in the league, leading the NBA in 3-point percentage while ranking second in both field goal percentage and free throw percentage. It also takes care of business on the other end of the court as well, as Oklahoma City leads the NBA in blocks per game and ranks fifth in steals per game. The Thunder have covered in four straight home games and in seven of their last eight in Oklahoma City. See which team to pick here.

What to know about the Trail Blazers
Meanwhile, after soaring to 134 points the game before, the Trail Blazers faltered in their game on Tuesday. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for them as they lost 112-84 to the New York Knicks. The result shouldn’t come as a shock considering that’s the fewest points the Trail Blazers have scored all season as Jerami Grant (21 points) and Anfernee Simons (12 points) were the only players in double-figures.

Putting points on the scoreboard has been an issue all year for the young Blazers, who rank second-worst in both offensive rating and points per game. They also rank last in field goal percentage, and No. 3 overall pick, Scoot Henderson, has especially struggled from the field. He’s shooting just 37.1% from the floor and 30.8% from beyond the arc. Portland, who is already without Robert Williams III (knee) for the rest of the season, could also be without starting center Deandre Ayton, who is doubtful with knee tendinitis. See which team to pick here.

Key Betting Info
The Thunder will be relying on another big game from Gilgeous-Alexander to pull off a victory. For the season, Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 31.4 points, 2.4 steals, and 6.4 assists.

The Thunder have dominated as the favorite so far this season and are currently 17-5 when expecting a win. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers have really struggled as the underdog this season and are currently 9-23 in that position.

Some of the betting trends to consider are:

The Thunder are 11-3 ATS in their last 14 games when favored at home.
The Thunder are 14-5 ATS in their last 19 games when at home.
The Trail Blazers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games when the spread was between +11.5 to +14.5.
How to make Thunder vs. Trail Blazers picks
The model has simulated Trail Blazers vs. Thunder 10,000 times and the results are in. We can tell you that the model is leaning Under, and it’s also generated a point-spread pick that hits in well over 60% of simulations. You can only see the pick at SportsLine.