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SAD NEWS: Lakers under threat as Nuggets promise LeBron James must be injured

The world according to Jim:

• We will now see if the “pundits” – or, as I’ve described them, the hot-air merchants – are correct.

The Lakers ignored those – particularly but not limited to ESPN’s Mike Greenberg and Stephen A. Smith –who suggested they should tank in their 7-8 play-in game with New Orleans in order to avoid defending NBA champ Denver in the first round. Rightly so, too. What those folks forgot, in their desperate search for something to fill time and spark debate, is that the second play-in game carries no guarantee – and, given the Lakers’ performances against Sacramento this season, might well have been the end of the line anyway. …

• Which makes me (a) glad that I avoid those debate shows, and (b) curious who is more ridiculous: The so-called pundits on TV, or the so-called experts on social media, all of whom seem convinced they can coach the Lakers, or manage the Dodgers, or whatever, better than whoever is actually in charge.

It just reminds us that everyone, especially the uninformed, has an opinion. Consider the sources. …

• Or, as Darvin Ham said when questioned about the pundits’ theory: “Insane asylum sources say?” …

• That said, the Lakers now get the team that swept them in last spring’s Western Conference finals, and that hasn’t lost to them since December of 2022. Yes, the usual suspects are still there: two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Aaron Gordon, etc.

And yes, even as defending champs, I’m sure the Nuggets – and those who follow them – still nurse that sense of grievance that people don’t pay enough attention to them because they’re from flyover country. I’m also sure that issue will be brought up, if it hasn’t already been, by some friendly Denver TV reporter in the lrunup to Game 1. …

• What we forget: Each game in last spring’s sweep was uncomfortably close for Denver, save a Game 3 victory in L.A. in which the Nuggets used a 13-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to take control. Similarly, each of this year’s three Denver victories was decided by a late Nuggets run: 19-9 in the fourth quarter on opening night on Oct. 24, 10-0 in the final 1:56 on Feb. 8 in L.A. after a 104-104 tie; 13-2 in the final 3:49 on March 2 in L.A. to wipe out a two-point Laker lead.

Shore up the fourth quarter – and try not to depend on LeBron James to bail them out – and the Lakers have a puncher’s chance, maybe more. …

• And consider the possibilities: Should the Lakers upset Denver – yeah, it would be an upset, as a victory by a 47-win finisher over a 57-win finisher should be – and should the Clippers knock off Dallas, we could actually have that best-of-seven Hallway Series we’ve been craving all this time. And wouldn’t that be an opportunity for the Clippers as they prepare for their move to Inglewood? …

• You want angst? Talk to a Golden State Warriors fan, faced with the distinct possibility that their team’s run is over. Klay Thompson is an unrestricted free agent this summer. Steph Curry has two years left on his deal, the same amount of time that Coach Steve Kerr has on his. Draymond Green has three years left, with a player option in 2026, but how much shelf life does he have left?

The Warriors have had a great decade, and Laker fans owe them for keeping the Boston Celtics’ title total at 17 two years ago. But all dynasties fade eventually. …

• A week ago Kerr talked about how he liked the play-in even before it affected his team. Not sure he likes it so much now, but it’s hard to argue against it. Anything that makes the end of the regular season mean more in more cities is by definition a good thing.

My only complaint: The league might not consider these The Playoffs, but they’re most definitely postseason games and should be recognized as such. After all, the NCAA’s First Four games are considered part of March Madness, aren’t they? …

• And now the NBA has a “gambling scandal,” with Toronto’s Jontay Porter receiving a lifetime ban for, among other things, actually betting on games including those of his own team, giving injury information to gamblers and shortening his playing time to influence prop bets. (And why would prop bets be established on a guy who plays 14 minutes per game and bounces between the NBA and the G-League, anyway?) …

• More to the point: Hasn’t it already felt weird, at the very least, when FanDuel, BetMGM and the rest have inserted gambling information into game broadcasts? The legalization of sports gambling in so many states (excluding California) has led to close financial relationships between the legal books and the leagues. Uncomfortably close, when you consider the mixed messages being sent. …

• Then again, ignorance is no excuse because players should know the difference. Isn’t this something that every team, college as well as pro, emphasizes to its players – that gambling, or passing along gambling information, or even discussing the manipulation of a game, is strictly forbidden for those who are actually in the arena?

 

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