Monthly Archive for April, 2008

FIRST ROUND RECAP

As the Lakers await the winner of the Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets series, we take a look back at the team’s impressive First Round sweep of the Denver Nuggets.

What Went Right
• The Lakers set the tone for the entire series in their 128-114 Game 1 blowout and the Nuggets were never really able to recover despite showing flashes of their potential in the second half of Game 2 and in Game 4.

• The Lakers held the Nugget’s top two scorers in check when they needed it most. Although Iverson and Carmelo Anthony averaged almost 60 points during the regular season and during the first two games of the series, L.A.’s defense held them to just 31 points in Game 3 and 43 in Game 4.

• Although most of the buzz before the series dealt with Denver’s high-scoring offense, the Lakers proved that they were no slouches, shooting 48% from the floor and averaging nearly 115 points per game.

• Although the Lakers have one of the youngest benches in the league, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Ronny Turiaf and Luke Walton answered any questions about their playoff readiness in Round 1, combining for more than 30 points in the team’s critical victories in Games 2 and 3.

• The Lakers dominated the Nuggets with their passing game in each of the series’ four games, with L.A. racking up nine more assists per game than their Denver counterparts. Furthermore, the Lakers averaged only 12 turnovers per game in the series.

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Utah or Houston?

Nothing but politically correct answers from everyone when posed with the question of who they want to play in Round two.

When asked if he preferred one over the other Phil Jackson quipped, “No. Thanks for asking though.”

Home court advantage has been a huge factor for the Jazz all season and probably the biggest difference between the two teams that could face the Lakers in round two.

“Utah doesn’t lose too many games at home, they play great basketball there. The rest is the same. Half court teams that rely on their defense,” said Lamar Odom.

A matchup with the Jazz would have extra meaning for Derek Fisher after he spent last season in Salt Lake and played a pivotal role in the Jazz’s playoff run.

“The emotions will be high considering what took place while I was there and how many things have changed and the way they’ve changed over this past year. It’ll mean a lot to play against the Jazz. But at the same time it’ll be emotional in a negative way in terms of facing my former teammates with all the stakes as high as they’ll be. I’m prepared for it, but it’ll definitely be emotional.”

Phil Jackson seems to be less emotional about a trip to SLC. When asked which city he would choose to visit he replied, “There’s no choice there but Houston right?”

Although he might prefer to visit Houston, the extended travel that would be required in a series with the Rockets is also on Jackson’s mind. “That’s a three hour flight for us and a two hour time zone change. We’ve been caught in that web before with San Antonio in a number of playoffs this decade. (You get home at) three o’clock back here in the morning and have to play the next day with just a day rest and that day is almost lost when you get back at that time in the morning after flying back after these midnight games.”

Planning for Sunday

The Lakers second round opponent is still TBD, as is their schedule for the conference semi-finals, but the staff is keeping a mindful eye on the players and preparing for a Sunday start date.

“We always value the fact that we practice one day, then have a day off, something like that. Friday’s game will obviously determine something that goes on,” said Jackson. Phil also said that he plans to run, “short, but swift and concise practices the rest of the way until Sunday.”

If the Houston/Utah series extends to a game seven there is a possibility that Jackson would give the team Saturday off and run a full practice on Sunday to be ready for a midweek series opener.

Using Off-Days, Avoiding Rust

With the Lakers advancing to the second round of the playoffs in just four games the only thing they can do now is sit back and wait to find out who their second round opponent will be.

Houston whipped the Jazz last night, edging the series back to 3-2 as they head back to Salt Lake City for game six on Friday night.

Head Coach Phil Jackson is wary about a mental letdown that off-days can create, citing the extended layoff the team had before the 2001 finals.

“There’s a certain sense of tension that comes along with playing a lot that you have to get ready for the match, the bout, the contest, and the energy that you have to summon play at it. The longer you get away from it, the more you forget about it. That one year that we were walking through the playoffs without a loss we had ten days off between the Philadelphia series where we lost the first game of that series.”

Kobe Bryant is looking forward to a couple days of to recuperate, but isn’t worried about the team having a let down because of their competitive spirit in practice, “Obviously there’s nothing like the game, but we’re a team that gets in here and works hard.”

In the meantime the Lakers will use these next couple of days to rest players with nagging injuries and get back to basics.

“I think you can do some things with players—things that have slipped off, the fundamentals, the skills that you can’t get done, the rest and the treatment that they need. Some of our players got two days off today,” said Jackson.

Guard Derek Fisher stressed the importance that these couple of down days can have to a team after an 82-game season. “The ability to get rest is one that over time really can be an advantage for you. Having the opportunity to heal up and be fresh right away at the start of the next series, but also be in a position to be able to sustain it no matter how long the series goes.”

The Hornets and Spurs wrapped up their series last night and will meet each other starting Saturday in New Orleans.

Game 4: Lakers vs. Nuggets Post-Game

Kobe Bryant (31 points) and Pau Gasol (21 points) teamed up to bring the Lakers their first playoff series victory in four years, defeating the Nuggets 107-101 to sweep their best of seven first round matchup 4-0. The game was close throughout with the Nuggets finally displaying some of the resiliency they showed in battling for a playoff birth, entering the fourth quarter only trailing by two points.

“My wish would be that we could have had four games like we had tonight,” said a defeated George Karl after the game. “This would make everyone happy. The Lakers are a very good team. There a lot of guys in that locker room that want to win a playoff series.”

After another game that the Lakers controlled for almost the entire 48 minutes, Denver guard Allen Iverson said that his teammates were outclassed in the series by a superior ball club.

“I have never been swept in my career and it’s a bad feeling, but I don’t feel bad about my teammates or my coaching staff,” said Iverson. “I feel like they gave everything they had, they put everything on the line. We just got beat by a better team.”

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Game 4: Lakers at Nuggets In-Game

As mentioned last time, I’m in Denver… and there’s no way I’m pulling off a full In-Game blog like at the home games, so you’ll be getting some random notes during the game. Check back for the latest.

4th Quarter

  • LAKERS ADVANCE TO THE SECOND ROUND
  • Now it’s Nene hitting the bench with his sixth. Kobe makes both free throws. JR Smith throws up an airball. Six point lead with 12 seconds left and people are exiting en mass.
  • Kobe goes sailing into the Lakers huddle after slicing through the paint to give the Lakers another five point lead with just 40 seconds remaining.
  • Melo’s hitting the showers with 1:19 left after picking up his 6th foul. The Nuggets are left with a lineup of Camby, Nene, Kleiza, Smith, & Iverson as they try to fight back from the 101-96 disadvantage.
  • Kenyon out at the 2:25 mark with his 6th foul. This is the second time Martin has fouled out this series. It’s not easy guarding #24.
  • Luke with a HUGE three right in front of the Nuggets bench (with Anthony Carter yelling in his ear no less) forces George Karl to call a TO with 2:37 left and the Lakers leading 100-96. Denver decided to quickly double Bryant which caused Melo to switch to Gasol and left Walton all by himself in the corner.
  • JR Smith was one more ticky tack foul from losing his mind. Now he’s the catalyst keeping the Nuggets in this game.
  • 7 straight Lakers points for Kobe as we get down to the four minute mark with the Lakers up by five. He wants the ball everytime down and so far he’s getting it.
  • Lamar has finished consecutive possessions on the floor after taking it to the rack and not getting any help from the officials. There were times in the past where a sequence like that would take Odom out of the game mentally, but Kobe is quick to pop off the bench and console #7 as we head to a timeout.
  • Kleiza’s hyper-extended right elbow is obviously limiting him, he’s had a terrible shooting night and has even shied away from a couple open looks.

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  • Game 4: Lakers at Nuggets Pre-Game

    “At this level of play, with this kind of intensity, you just want to limit the amount of times you have to go out there on the court. You put yourself in harms way in every one of these games.” — Phil Jackson before Game 4

    And that’s the gist of why the Lakers need to finish this series here in Denver tonight instead of dragging everyone out to STAPLES Center Wednesday night. Save energy, stay healthy.

    Everyone knows the stat that no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit and many people (Nuggets fans especially) question if their team even cares to be the team to make that kind of history (better to save that for the Suns I guess).

    Yesterday the Nuggets held a brief film session followed by a ten minute talk and then their top three stars (‘Melo, AI, & Kenyon) ducking out the side door to avoid talking to the media.

    Before today’s game Head Coach George Karl said that he hadn’t addressed the discord within the team with any of his players and talked sarcastically about his vacation plans.

    Are the Nuggets a team that wants to get on a plane and fly to LA for another game in a hostile environment? Hopefully not.

    Game 3: What Went Right/Wrong

    What Went Right:

    • The Lakers finally held the Nugget’s top two scorers in check in Game 3, with Carmelo Anthony only tallying 16 and Iverson putting up just 15–the first time he has failed to score at least 30 points in the series so far.

    • For the third consecutive game, Luke Walton came up huge for the Lakers off the bench, scoring 15 points on 6-7 shooting from the field. On the series, Walton is averaging better than 16 points a game–a number few fans or fellow players expected out of the forward after a difficult regular season.

    • Heading into the post-season, many experts across the league expressed concern over the youth of the Lakers’ bench mob. However, Walton, Farmar, Vujacic, Turiaf and Co. have answered any questions as to their preparedness, putting up another 30+ points in Game 3, compared to only 26 points from the Nuggets bench.

    • Kobe Bryant continued his strong series in Game 3, this time reverting back to Kobe the facilitator after scoring a jaw-dropping 49 points in Game 2. On Sunday, Bryant toyed with the Nuggets, scoring 22 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. #24 was also a team-high +21 when he was on the floor.

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    Game 3: Lakers at Nuggets Post-Game

    For the third consecutive game, the Lakers manhandled the Nuggets, defeating them 102-84 an opening up a 3-0 series lead against Denver. L.A. outscored the Nuggets by 11 points in the second half, led by Kobe Bryant’s 22.

    “We definitely got dominated in the second half–no question about it,” said Eduardo Najera after the game. “The frustration came in and we were not ourselves. We did not make enough shots. I thought we played better defensively in this game, but our offense was not there tonight.”

    In all, five Lakers reached double figures, with Gasol, Fisher, Odom and Walton joining Bryant. Once again, the Lakers’ bench was also a factor with Luke tallying another 15 and Farmar and Vujacic adding nine a piece.

    As a team, L.A. shot 46% from the floor compared to only 37% for Denver–an obvious source of frustration after the game for George Karl.

    “I tip my hat to the Lakers in regards to their defense–they are better than I thought they were,” said Karl after the Lakers held his team to under 100 points for the first time this series. “Only a handful of teams did to us during the season what LA did to us tonight.”

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    Game 3: Lakers at Nuggets In-Game

    I’m in Denver, but no way I’m pulling off a full In-Game blog like at the home games, so you’ll be getting some random notes during the game. Check back for the latest.

    4th Quarter

  • The worm has turned and the mass exodus is on as the Lakers carry their biggest lead of the day (23) into a timeout at 5:29. Fans behind the Nuggets bench are irate. Lakers fans in the building couldn’t be having a better time.
  • My fan of the game goes to the guy wearing his Sunday White Kobe jersey in the fourth row of section 136. His constant jersey popping and general harassment of super fans around him is something to be admired. If I knew what he was saying I’m sure I’d love him ten times more. A stellar performance, with his contribution to the whiteout being the only blemish to the stat sheet.

    3rd Quarter

  • Superior ball movement made every basket for the Lakers an easy one in the 3rd while the Nuggets had to work for every thing they got. 83-64 Lakers.
  • Kobe & Fish combined for 22 points on 9-12 shooting. Lamar Odom was the only other Laker to score and had six, four of which came from the line. The Lakers threw out another good defensive quarter and held Denver to just 18 points.

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