Monthly Archive for February, 2008

Since We Saw Them Last: Blazers

With only one game in between, the Lakers and Blazers will tip off from the Rose Garden on Friday night with the Portland looking for revenge after L.A. toppled them 96-83.

In their meeting on Tuesday, the Blazers controlled the game for almost the entire first half, surprising a flat Lakers team en route to a 15-point lead at one point. LaMarcus Aldridge excelled on offense for Portland, scoring a team-high 24 points. He did however, have only 2 points in the 3rd quarter when the Lakers held the Blazers to 14 points. Point guard Steve Blake (17 points, seven rebounds, 5 assists) and Travis Outlaw (18 points, four rebounds) were instrumental in helping the Blazers to a seven-point halftime lead despite missing their top scorer, Brandon Roy.

Despite Portland’s balanced effort, Kobe Bryant’s 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists—including an array of clutch shots in the fourth quarter—were too much for the undermanned Blazers. Jordan Farmar also torched Portland for 21 points, matching his then career high (he got 24 points last night against Miami).

Instead of sulking over the loss, the hungry Blazers took their anger out on the Lakers’ STAPLES Center neighbors, narrowly defeating the Clippers 82-80. Portland got huge contributions from Jarrett Jack and Martell Webster, with Jack draining a pivotal jumper in the final minute for his season-high tying twenty-first point and Webster coming through with 15 points, five rebounds and three steals in place of the injured Roy.

Matchups between the Lakers and Blazers have historically led to some heated contests, with the Lakers losing the season series to them last year. With Tuesday night’s game providing the latest battle, there is no reason the Lakers should expect anything less than a tough game this Friday—with or without Roy in the lineup.

Lakers vs. Heat Post-Game

The Lakers got out to an early lead and spent the rest of the game fending off Heat runs. The Heat never got the score too close, but they did hover within striking distance for most of the second half.

The Lakers had 5 players in double figures, including a career high by Jordan Farmar with 24. More remarkably, there were 4 Lakers in double figures in rebounds. The energy spent on the boards led to a lot of one-and-done in the second half and was doubtless a part of fending off the Heat runs.

On the down side, Phil pointed out that the Heat still managed to get 11 offensive rebounds and the Lakers were unable to put the Heat away until late, even though they never got too close.

Jordan’s performance highlighted another strong effort from the bench, with Jordan, Sasha and Ronny combining for 43 points. More importantly, given the game tomorrow, their play got an easier night for Pau and Derek. Also strong tonight was the interior defense. Miami didn’t attack as much in the first half, but in the second half they were more insistent about getting to the rim. However, the Lakers stood strong and got 12 blocks as a team, with 4 from Pau and 3 from Ronny. Ronny might have had a higher total still, but for a couple of foul calls.

In all, the Lakers matched the Heat in terms of energy and were able to seize and maintain the lead. They learned from some of their mistakes against the Trailblazers by paying more attention to the boards and now get to fly to Portland to have their energy tested again, now with a 10 game winning streak on the line.

Lakers vs. Heat In-Game

In-actives:
Heat: Joel Anthony, Daequan Cook, Smush Parker
Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm

1st Quarter:
Starting for the Heat: Wade, Marion, Haslem, Blount, Williams
Starting for the Lakers: Bryant, Walton, Odom, Gasol, Fisher

10:34 Kobe feeds Pau on the pick and roll and it looks real easy. Also of note is Marion guarding Luke. That’s surprising, giving what Luke’s role is in the offense, but maybe they plan to make Marion the primary help defender.

8:39 Kobe makes the steal on Wade and avoids the kicked ball call. On his finish, Kobe thinks he is fouled and protests as such. We’ll see if Kobe’s recent streak of T’s will continue if the refs fail to show him love.

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Lakers vs. Heat Pre-Game

Tonight and tomorrow night mark the second game against an opponent after Lakers wins (Miami on 2/10 and Portland on 2/26). Against Atlanta, another team the Lakes played twice in a short period of time, the Lakers had the fire in their eyes from losing the first game, hopefully they will be similarly motivated tonight.

When the Lakers met the Heat in Miami it was shortly after the Shaq trade and in the middle of the Lakers monster road trip. Now the Lakers catch the Heat at STAPLES Center, but also a Heat team that much more familiar with the new construction of the team. That game was tight until the third quarter when the Lakers opened a 17 point lead, only to see the lead whittled down to 4. They were able to seize control after that to seal the 10 point win.

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March Schedule Breakdown

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After a brutal month of February that saw the team play nine consecutive games on the road, March should bring some slight reprieve for the Lakers.

The Lakers start the month this Sunday (3/2) when they’ll get their first look at the new-look Mavericks in a matinée match up at STAPLES Center. L.A. will be looking to exact revenge on Dallas after they beat the Lakers in Texas 112-105 in January.

Next up for the Lakers are the pesky Sacramento Kings (3/4) who have fought off injuries all season long to play near .500 basketball. After three days of rest, the Lakers will tip off against their STAPLES Center neighbors, this time on the purple and gold home floor (3/7).

Two days later, the Lakers get another shot at the Kings (3/9), this time taking the battle to Southern California. With a day of rest in between, L.A. will take on an improving Toronto Raptors team that will be looking to get back at the Lakers after Kobe and Co. toppled them in Canada on the team’s last extended road trip (3/11).

That Friday, the team begins one of its toughest four game stretches of the season, starting with the Western Conference rival New Orleans Hornets in the Big Easy (3/14). The Hornets will be looking to take it to the conference-leading Lakers after they decimated them in their last meeting in New Orleans 109-80.

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Since We Saw Them Last: Heat

After the Lakers defeated the Heat 104-94 on the road a little more than two weeks ago, the Heat have continued their season-long struggle, losing four straight games until finally breaking through against the Kings two nights ago.

However, there have certainly been signs of encouragement for Miami of late as they lost to Denver by only a point and stayed with a surging Houston Rockets team in one of their other losses.

Shawn Marion has adapted well to Miami’s offense, even if the team hasn’t experienced any more success than they had when Shaquille O’Neal on the roster. Heading into tonight’s matchup, Marion is averaging almost 18 points, 11 rebounds and three steals for the Heat—slight increases on his averages when he was with the Suns.

Perhaps even more important for the Heat, Dwyane Wade appears rejuvenated following the blockbuster trade, averaging 28 points and over eight assists in his last five games, including back-to-back 33-point performances against Philadelphia and Houston last week.

As a team, the Heat have seen a dramatic increase in points scored, averaging over 100 points a game in the six games Marion has played. Prior to that run, Miami had one of the worst scoring clips in the league at barely 93 points. Unfortunately, their defense has not experienced similar improvement as the Heat are giving up almost 103 points a night over the same stretch—three over their season average.

In their last matchup, the Lakers outscored the Heat by no more than five points in any quarter as Miami stayed within striking distance until a late run by the Lakers finally put them away. While the Heat were no doubt riding a wave of momentum in that game due to Marion’s first appearance in a Miami uniform, their close losses to Denver and Houston should put the Lakers on alert as they go for their tenth win in a row.

Practice News: 2/27/08

Before practice today, Kobe said that the Lakers’ bench is one of the best groups of reserves he’s ever played with and probably the strongest bench in the NBA right now. Coach Jackson echoed Bryant’s sentiment, noting that the key to a good bench is having players who could be starters accept reserve roles.

According to Jackson, the Lakers bench is filled with such players, referencing Jordan Farmar as a key role player who comes off of the bench for L.A. Jackson said that Farmar, Sasha, Ronny and Co. make up one of the NBA’s deepest benches, also praising the reserves in San Antonio, Utah and New Orleans.

Bryant also spoke about the team’s current nine-game winning streak–the longest since the 2003-04 season when the team last won a title. Kobe said that the team is playing with a strong purpose right now, fueled by a loss to the Atlanta Hawks at the beginning of the month that left a “bad taste” in the teams’ mouth according to #24.

Lakers vs. Blazers Post-Game

The Lakers rallied from seven points down at halftime to topple the Blazers 96-83. Kobe Bryant scored 30 points to go along with nine rebounds and seven assists in leading the Lakers to their season high ninth straight victory.

“It took us a while to get going in the ball game,” said Coach Jackson. “They took the game up another level as far as physicality and I thought we weren’t ready to match that.”

Jordan Farmar also matched his career high in points tonight with 21, energizing the Lakers on both ends of the floor.

“He was a factor tonight,” said Jackson. “Sasha didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, Jordan got us back in the ball game with some plays and helped us win that game tonight.”

“I think it just shows our depth and versatility,” said Farmar. “That’s what comes into play when the stars aren’t playing well or certain guys aren’t, it’s not their night, other guys can come and step up into place, and that’s just a great team.”

The Lakers needed every bit of juice provided by Farmar as Pau Gasol was unable to assert himself on offense, despite scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

“…Pau struggled tonight; he didn’t get as much activity, penetration, lay-up type of things that he got before,” said Jackson. “Kobe and Lamar were in foul trouble for the most part tonight so I had to limit his game, so we had to have other people help us tonight.”

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Lakers vs. Blazers In-Game

Inactives for Tonight’s Game:
Blazers: James Jones, Darius Miles, Greg Oden
Lakers: Chris Mihm, Trevor Ariza, Andrew Bynum

1st Quarter:
11:14 Luke Walton makes the first shot of the game for the Lakers, showing nice touch from outside. L.A. needs Walton to continue shoot with confidence as it looks like the Lakers will be without Vladimir Radmanovic for at least a few games.

9:10 Lamar Odom just postarized LaMarcus Aldridge on the Lakers’ end, continuing his string of aggressive play around the hoop following the acquisition of Pau Gasol. The short-handed Blazers are still up 9-8 early on though.

5:39 The Lakers have started out the game a little flat as the Blazers lead 15-10 with Aldridge about to head to the line for a pair. Kobe leads the Lakers with four points, but his team is getting outrebounded 6-3 with a little less than half of the opening quarter remaining.

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Lakers vs. Blazers Pre-Game

Before tonight’s game against the Blazers, Coach Jackson said that the team was still unsure when injured forward Vladimir Radmanovic would return from injury. “Given his history, he hasn’t returned quickly from injuries,” said Jackson. “But, we hope that he’s back within five games.”

Jackson spoke at length about the heated race taking place in the Western Conference as teams enter the final quarter of the season. “Out of these teams, it’s probably going to be an injury that is the deciding factor for who will make the playoffs,” Jackson said. One major injury that could shake up the standings has already occurred with today’s announcement that Houston Rockets center Yau Ming will miss the rest of the season to a broken foot.

With twenty-five games remaining in the season after tonight, Jackson said that there are several viable recipients for the MVP award, noting that the Lakers’ own Kobe Bryant is one of the strongest candidates. “I think LeBron is another candidate. Kevin Garnett is obviously another candidate,” said Jackson. “Definitely, Kobe is having an MVP season. “The real value of a super player is that he makes other players better,” said Jackson, in regards to Bryant’s improved team play this season.

Jackson also addressed the increased role that Luke Walton will have to play in wake of Radmanovic’s injury. The Lakers coach said that despite Luke’s likely increase in playing time, there was no guarantee that it would continue after Vlade and Ariza return. According to Jackson, Walton is not a player that can be expected to contribute 30 plus minutes on the court due to his injury history.