Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers got off way too easy on that tampering charge

The Lakers got off way too easy on that tampering charge

There are a couple of things that really bothered me about that $500,000 fine the Lakers got for tampering with Paul George, who was then under contract to the Indiana Pacers.

First, it was not enough of a penalty for a team that was previously warned about tampering with George. By now, you've probably seen this clip from the Jimmy Kimmel Show that features Laker President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson joking about tampering with George. After that show aired, the league specifically sent a warning to the Lakers.

But the Lakers later defied that order when General Manager Rob Pelinka spoke to George's agent. To me, that takes the tampering to an entirely different level. I was shocked the league didn't either take a draft choice away from Los Angeles or, better yet, bar them from signing George a year from now when he becomes a free agent.

The Lakers were caught with their hand in the cookie jar and instead of pulling the hand away, they just dug deeper. That tells you something about the respect that franchise has for the league office.

Does $500,000 sound severe to you? Well, certainly not as tough as when the league took $3.5 million and five draft picks away from Minnesota for an illegal agreement with Joe Smith. That deal also led to front-office suspensions and the Timberwolves being prohibited from signing Smith. On the surface, making an illegal deal seems much worse than whet the Lakers did but really, making illegal contact with the agent of a player a year away from free agency is very serious, too. Particularly when you've been warned not to do it.

I think back to the Trail Blazers being fined $250,000 in 1984 for illegal contact with Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon. It was a huge sum at the time and all the Trail Blazers did was agree to explain the salary cap to the players prior to the draft. At that time, a quarter of a million was a whole lot of money. And at a time when the league wasn't nearly as prosperous as the NBA is now.

Of course, those fines were levied by then-commissioner David Stern. I believe the current administration led by Adam Silver is much softer -- on players and ownership. It's a go-along, get-along kind of league now. Everything is cool. Silver just keeps smiling.

Fining the Lakers a half million in today's NBA is a joke. The Lakers -- a company worth billions -- probably spend that much on post-game spreads in the family room. Sure, there is all sorts of tampering going on now -- but what a perfect time to make an example of a team breaking the rules. Certainly a $500,000 fine isn't going to deter a team from illegal contact.

I mean, why bother with those tampering rules if you aren't going to enforce them?

And does anybody think the Pacers would have gotten the same treatment had they tampered with a Laker player? I don't think so. It's no secret the NBA wants the Lakers strong again and wasn't anxious to do anything that would impede their growth.

It's too bad.

 

Trail Blazer summer-league team represented the franchise well

Trail Blazer summer-league team represented the franchise well

LAS VEGAS – Before the start of the annual Las Vegas Summer League tournament, I made the offhand remark that when it was finished, every team but one would tell you the truth -- that winning a summer-league championship is about as big a deal as a single melting ice cube on a typical 113-degree day here.

The other team – the one that won the tournament – would tell you, though, how meaningful and important it was. That it is a sign of good things to come.

But I didn't expect the Los Angeles Lakers to take it to the extreme, with Magic Johnson telling the assembled crowd and a national television audience, “The Lakers are back.”

Sorry, I don’t buy that. Especially with the Lakers, They have a long way to go to be “back” – that is, at the point when they were “Showtime” and the most popular team in the NBA.

Johnson knows better than anyone that summer league stuff is mostly meaningless and no guarantee of future success (or failure).

Portland’s summer-league experience was a little different than most teams here. The Trail Blazers were not loaded with a crop of youngsters who will someday be wearing a Portland uniform.

Sure, you’you'll be seeing more of Jake Layman, Caleb Swanigan, Zach Collins and (maybe) Pat Connaughton. But the Trail Blazers’ march to the championship game was fueled by some very tough and experienced free agents here playing for a job.

It would be nice to say that a few of those guys will be in training camp this fall trying to win a roster spot with Portland, but barring a trade that frees a couple of roster spots, that isn't’t likely to happen.

The free agents wearing Portland uniforms likely played well enough to earn invites to teams that offer a much better chance of them earning a spot. The Trail Blazer roster is, for right now at least, on lockdown.

So what does this fun run to the last night of the tournament mean for the Portland franchise? I’m glad you asked.

I think it was important. First, the franchise showed it could make some shrewd moves in bringing in experienced free agents who could help its roster players in important ways – like getting them the ball where they needed it, on time, and were unselfish enough to defer to those players when necessary. The group followed orders and played hard.

Of course the summer also showcased the Portland coaching staff, which I’m more impressed with every season. Jim Moran was the head coach and looked very comfortable in that position.

But all the assistants have input in the summer and they did a terrific job of instituting the Portland system and getting the most out of the players they had.

This Portland team played to its strengths, which meant pounding the ball inside with Swanigan and Jarnell Stokes. And this was a physical group that did that very well.

I think the showing of this team was good for the franchise, reflecting favorably on its organizational abilities and system. And it was especially good for Swanigan and Layman, who showed they could handle the responsibility of being important players. Both improved with each game.

I believe Swanigan will earn rotation minutes with sheer effort and versatility. He is a willing banger and a very good passer who chases every rebound.

Of course doing those things against veteran NBA players is a lot different than doing it in summer league.

And come on, Magic, you know that as well as anyone. I love the guy but for now, the only thing "back" with the Lakers is Johnson himself.

Lakers bury Blazers' title hopes under an avalanche of threes

Lakers bury Blazers' title hopes under an avalanche of threes

LAS VEGAS -- The hope of a summer-league championship died hard for the Trail Blazers Monday night. But it died just the same.

The Los Angeles Lakers knocked down 14 of its 24 three-point field goals and shot 61.5 percent from the field overall to beat Portland in the title game 110-98.

Portland let through most of the first half and by as many as eight points, but only by one, 59-58, at halftime. Caleb Swanigan, earlier named to the Summer-League all-star first team, owned the first half. He had 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists in 17:44. Jarnell Stokes led the Blazers in the first half with 14.

It was a hot-shooting opening half. Portland fired at a 51.1 percent clip but the Lakers were better at 59 percent, including 8 of their 12 three-point attempts.

Kyle Kuzma -- probably the best shooter in the summer league -- hit a howitzer from well beyond the arc at the third-quarter buzzer to give Los Angeles an 84-79 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Blazres fell behind quickly in the fourth, as the Lakers rattled off the first eight points of the period to capture a 92-79 lead.

Kuzma was unstoppable, as he has been for much of this tournament. He hit 11 of his first 14 shots, six of eight from long range, and had 30 points in the first three quarters. Portland fought back, as it has done throughout this tournament, but the lead was too much to overcome.

Swanigan led Portland with 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

History tells us Rockets' margin of victory means nothing

History tells us Rockets' margin of victory means nothing

Not many people picked the Houston Rockets to defeat the San Antonio Spurs in their second-round playoff matchup that began last night in San Antonio. But I did. So you would think I'd be feeling pretty good about the Rockets after their 126-99 thrashing of the Spurs Monday night.

And even though San Antonio appeared to be way overmatched in Game 1 of the series, I feel worse about my prediction than you might think. That's because I was in the old Boston Garden on May 27, 1985 for the first game of that season's Finals when the Celtics ran the Los Angeles Lakers out of the gym with a humiliating 148-114 defeat. They called it the Memorial Day Massacre.

I was one of many people after that game to write about how washed up the Lakers -- and 38-year-old center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- looked in that game. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 12 points and three rebounds and just didn't look as if he could keep up with Boston's talented front line. I thought the series was over right then and there.

And I was very wrong. The Lakers won four of the next five games and closed out the Celts in Boston in Game 6 -- behind Abdul-Jabbar, who won the MVP award for the series. It was the only time the Celtics ever lost an NBA championship in that arena.

So that whipping Houston put on San Antonio didn't make me feel all that much better about its chances. It was just one game and next one doesn't start with the Rockets holding a 27-point lead.

I'd say the series hinges on the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored just four points Monday night. When Aldridge left Portland for the Spurs, I'm sure he was satisfied with the salary he'd be making and the winning tradition of his new team. But I'm wondering now if he understood the sort of responsibility he'd be having to shoulder as the Spurs moved through the playoffs. Tim Duncan isn't going to be walking through that locker room door during this series.

There were times in Portland when I thought Aldridge wanted very much to be a superstar but didn't always respond like one. He had the talent... but did he have the heart?

He better find his way in a hurry for the Spurs because Kawhi Leonard can't be expected to carry that team by himself.

Trail Blazers beat Lakers, assume 'driver's seat' in playoff race

Trail Blazers beat Lakers, assume 'driver's seat' in playoff race

LOS ANGELES – It took 51 days, but the Trail Blazers have finally regained possession of a playoff position.

Behind 22 points from Damian Lillard and some hot shooting from Allen Crabbe, the Blazers beat the Lakers 97-81 on Sunday at the Staples Center to move into a tie with Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with nine games remaining.

Denver, which lost 115-90 to New Orleans earlier in the day, plays at Portland on Tuesday at the Moda Center (7 p.m., CSN). Portland leads the season series 2-1, but can clinch the tie-breaker over Denver even if it loses Tuesday by virtue of winning one of its remaining four division games or having Denver lose one of its three remaining division games.

Seven of the Blazers’ final nine games are at home while seven of the Nuggets final nine games are on the road.

“We know if we can string a few games together at this point, we can be in the driver’s seat,’’ Lillard said before the game. “That’s a great position to be in.’’

Denver has held the eighth spot since Feb. 3, when Portland lost at home to Dallas to fall to 22-29 and Denver beat Milwaukee to improve to 22-27.

The Blazers have caught fire in March, improving to 11-3 in the month, with much of the surge being sparked by center Jusuf Nurkic, who was acquired in a February 12 trade with Denver for Mason Plumlee.

On Sunday, Portland struggled early against the last-place Lakers, but a third-quarter surge, led by Lillard’s 14 points, pushed a 51-46 lead to 77-56 entering the fourth quarter.

It was the Blazers’ 12th consecutive victory over the Lakers, a franchise record.

While Portland was misfiring early, Crabbe rescued them. He made six of his first 10 shots, including three three-pointers. He finished with 18 points and six rebounds, keeping the Blazers afloat long enough for Lillard to heat up and take them home

Noah Vonleh set a career high with 14 rebounds and Al-Farouq Aminu had nine points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

D’Angelo Russell led the Lakers (21-52) with 22 points while leading scorer Jordan Clarkson had an off night, making only 4-of-16 shots for 10 points.

Next up: Denver at Blazers, 7 p.m. Tuesday (CSN).

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Trail Blazers use late push to overcome Lakers

Trail Blazers use late push to overcome Lakers

The Trail Blazers’ winning streak against the Lakers has reached 11 after Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum led the offense during a 105-98 win on Wednesday at the Moda Center.

The Lakers (16-33) led 94-91 with 5:41 left in the game, but finished the game missing 11 of their final 13 shots as the Blazers extended the longest winning streak against the Lakers in franchise history.

Lillard and McCollum each had 24 points and Mason Plumlee added 19 points and 13 rebounds to help Portland (20-27) move within a half-game of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Lakers made a run early in the fourth behind Williams, who scored 11 straight points -- three consecutive three-pointers and two free throws – and Nick Young, who made back-to-back three-pointers to push the Lakers ahead.

Williams, the Lakers’ leading scorer despite coming off the bench, led all scorers with 31 points in 28 minutes. Jordan Clarkson added 22 points to help overcome the loss of DeAngelo Russell, who didn’t play because of injury.

The Blazers led 59-58 after a back-and-forth first half that featured six ties and seven lead changes. The Lakers were able to hang around thanks to 11 offensive rebounds, which led to 10 second-chance points.

Lillard (11 points) and McCollum (12 points) were hot in the first quarter, but the Lakers held a 31-30 lead at the end of the quarter thanks to a late 10-0 run that began shortly after super-sub Lou Williams entered the game. Williams scored nine points in 3:43.

Portland, which began a five-game homestand, played without Ed Davis (left wrist sprain) and Maurice Harkless (left calf strain).

Next up: Memphis at Blazers, 7 p.m. Friday (CSN)

Damian Lillard gets hot, so do the Trail Blazers in second-half blowout of Lakers

Damian Lillard gets hot, so do the Trail Blazers in second-half blowout of Lakers

Editor's Note: For the latest on the travel update situation for the team and tonight's Blazers/Cavs game jump to the bottom of this story.

LOS ANGELES -- D'Angelo Russell and the Los Angeles Lakers learned a valuable lesson about the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night at Staples Center: Don't poke the bear.

Russell, the second-year guard for the Lakers, incited Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard with elbows that led to some nose-to-nose words in the third quarter, resulting in a stunning awakening for the All-Star guard and an about face for the Portland team that led to a rousing 108-87 victory over the Lakers. 

"He poked the bear, and you see what happened the rest of the game,'' Lillard said.

At the time of the exchange, Lillard was 1-for-11 with two points. After double-technicals were assessed to Lillard and Russell, Lillard scored 11 consecutive points and the Blazers turned a 60-59 deficit into a runaway victory, their 10th consecutive over the Lakers. 

Lillard finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists on 7-of-21 shooting and said his confrontation with Russell "absolutely" inspired him.

"Since last game he has been doing little slick elbows,'' Lillard said of Russell. "And I play the game clean.  I’m from Oakland, I don’t get with that extra stuff. Nobody can do just what they want with me.''

Lillard said the nagging elbows escalated in the third when he felt Russell took a cheap shot after blocking Lillard's shot. As Lillard returned from going out of bounds in the aftermath of the shot, he said Russell elbowed him in the back. 

"I was walking to my spot and I felt like he went out of his way to get that elbow back in there again,'' Lillard said.

That's when the two came nose-to-nose.

"I told him: 'That aint going to fly,’'' Lillard said. "I wasn’t interested in anything else that was said after that.''

Lillard, who missed his first eight shots and 10 of his first 11, hit a three-pointer with 8:20 left in the third to give the Blazers a 62-60 lead and start his string of 11 consecutive points. By the time the third quarter smoke cleared, the Blazers had outscored Los Angeles 23-12, turning a 57-55 halftime deficit into a 78-69 lead. 

Lillard's teammates just smiled and shook their head when recounting the Lillard exchange.

"Don't poke the bear,'' Maurice Harkless said.

Added CJ McCollum: "Yeah, that wasn't smart on his part. That wasn't smart.''

Russell finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists on 4-of-14 shooting. But his biggest statistic might be the elbows that poked the Blazers' bear.

"I don’t know what made him feel like that was going to be accepted or like I wouldn’t take exception,'' Lillard said. "I took it as a challenge. I was struggling shooting the ball and I was getting good looks and maybe he felt it was because of him, or whatever, but there’s levels. I got a little more aggressive and the team got more aggressive and we pulled it off.'' 

Once again, the Blazers were led by the torrid shooting of McCollum, who continued his scoring spree with 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting. It was the sixth consecutive game of scoring 25 or more points, tying McCollum with Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge for the franchise record.  Harkless added 14 points and three blocks and Al-Farouq Aminu had eight points and a season-high 15 rebounds. 

Portland (17-23) remained in a tie with Sacramento (16-22) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, while improving its road record to 7-15. The Blazers and Miami have played the most road games in the NBA. The Lakers (15-27) saw their two-game winning streak snapped.

The Lakers were dreadful in the second half. Portland outscored Los Angeles 53-30 as the Lakers shot 12-of-41 (29.3 percent). Russell went 0-for-7 from three-point range and Nick Young 2-of-9, both of the guards hoisting jumpers without a conscience. 

The Blazers were within 57-55 at half after Amiu hit a three-pointer with 32.9 seconds left, and had to feel good about their standing after the Lakers led by as many as eight and were hot from the three-point line, where they made 7-of-12. 

Next up: Cleveland at Blazers, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (KGW/ESPN)

TRAVEL UPDATE: 

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Tuesday's game in LA vs. Lakers now looms big for Blazers

Tuesday's game in LA vs. Lakers now looms big for Blazers

When the Trail Blazers visit the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night in the Staples Center, there will be added pressure on Portland. Consider:

  • Portland Coach Terry Stotts designated this game as the final one of three he felt his team had to win in order to built momentum toward a playoff push. But that's already been blown up by Sunday's double-overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons. Which makes this game even more important.
  • Resiliency has always been a hallmark of this team, going back to last season. But that will be tested after what must have been a gut-wrenching loss to Detroit. The Trail Blazers must put it behind them in a hurry and take care of business against a Laker team they beat in Moda Center last week. A loss in this one would be devastating.
  • The Trail Blazers have played better of late on defense but not quite enough to turn losses into wins. They are playing very hard, which probably makes the losses even tougher to take.
  • The battle for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference is going to be a free-for-all. The Trail Blazers have 23 losses and no team in the West has more than 26 -- which means that at this point it would be hard to eliminate any of those teams from contention for that final playoff spot. And out of the seven teams below Portland, you have to believe that at least one of them will catch fire in the second half of the season and make a push.

This is a big game.

Blazers ride Evan Turner and CJ McCollum late to pull away from Lakers

Blazers ride Evan Turner and CJ McCollum late to pull away from Lakers

It's not often much importance is put on NBA games in early January. 

But for the struggling Trail Blazers, who are looking for some kind of spark to their lethargic season, coach Terry Stotts said Thursday that a three-game stretch against sub-.500 teams has become more important than usual.

"We need to win all three of them,'' Stotts said Thursday, referring to two games against the Lakers and one against Detroit. 

The Blazers can check off the first game after Evan Turner and CJ McCollum got hot down the stretch and the Trail Blazers came back from as many as 14 down to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 118-109 Thursday at the Moda Center. 

The Blazers trailed 103-99 with 5:39 left, but broke open the game with a 13-1 run that was fueled by McCollum's seven consecutive points. Earlier, Turner scored 10 consecutive Blazers points to lead Portland to its ninth consecutive win over the Lakers, a franchise record. 

Turner scored 15 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and McCollum continued his recent scoring spree with 27 points. Mason Plumlee added 15 points, 7 rebounds and five assists. 

The win also marked the return of All-Star Damian Lillard, who was was sharp after being sidelined with a sprained left ankle for the past five games. He made his first four shots and 6-of-7 in the first half before finishing with 21 points and 10 assists in 36 minutes.  

Portland (16-22) came back from a nine-point hafltime deficit with a surge in the third quarter, outscoring the Lakers 31-22 to tie the game at 84 heading into the fourth. The Blazers opened the half with a 13-4 run to tie the score after trailing 62-53 at half.

The Lakers (13-26) played a dominant second quarter, which started with Los Angeles hitting its first seven shots. All told, the Lakers went on a 15-0 run at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second quarter, turning a 29-22 deficit into a 37-29 lead. The Lakers were particularly hot from three-point range, hitting 6-of-12 in the quarter from three, including three three's off the bench from Jordan Clarkson. 

The Lakers were led by De'Angelo Russell with 22 points and Clarkson added 21 points. 

Next up: Detroit at Blazers, 7 p.m. Saturday (CSN)

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If Blazers chase Whiteside, they're running with the big dogs

If Blazers chase Whiteside, they're running with the big dogs

The Trail Blazers are said to be among the teams that will be chasing Miami free-agent center Hassan Whiteside when free agency begins Friday.

But Portland better have its big-boy pants on when it walks into that competition. The other teams reportedly involved in that hunt are the Dallas Mavericks (where owner Mark Cuban's prepensity for treating his players well is legendary), the Los Angeles Lakers (good weather, Hollywood, Showtime, tradition), Golden State (a chance to play alongside some great players) and Miami (where Pat Riley says retaining Whiteside is a top priority).

That's a tough field to beat.

Whiteside is 27 and a max contract for him would be in the neighborhood of $22 million, so he'd possibly be cheaper than some other max players. And while people have a perception that another free-agent center, Dwight Howard, could be a locker-room problem, Whiteside's past isn't exactly spotless.

He came out of college with a reputation of being arrogant and over-estimating his own talent. One story, in fact, features a former NBA front office executive calling him a "jackass:"

Hassan Whiteside, for lack of a better word, was a jackass when he came out of college. He was delusional and would say things that were not commensurate with how great he was as a player.

“It turned a lot of people off. His work ethic wasn’t very good. He had to hit rock bottom and figure out that, ‘Oh my gosh, my approach in life has not gotten me where I want to go,’ and credit to him that he did that.”

Yes, credit to him. But if you're about to write a big check to a player with that reputation, wouldn't you worry about him returning to his previous self? When he gets that major deal, wouldn't you worry that his work ethic might return to its previous state?

But if the Trail Blazers and Neil Olshey could somehow figure a way to land Whiteside, it would certainly -- given the competition -- put to rest forever the idea that the Trail Blazers can't land a major free agent.