Lakers – Raptors Running Diary

Quick preview
Saturday night at STAPLES Center, the Lakers destroyed Regal F.C. Barcelona down low, amassing an absurd 74 points in the paint thanks to a huge size mismatch featuring Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Chris Mihm and even D.J. Mbenga (not to mention some terrific transition offense). The four posts combined for 42 points and 16 boards while ceding just 28 points in the paint to visitors from Spain.

Operating on the block won’t be so easy on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Los Angeles, as the visiting Toronto Raptors boast one of the NBA’s few four-five combos – in Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal – that can challenge that of the defending Western Conference Champs.

Pregame
I promise that I did a seven-minute pregame interview with Jordan Farmar and Brandon Heath to detail how different players prepare on game day, but the new mic we hooked up to the recorder is still in the … well let’s call it the testing stage. So that’s blown. Instead of trying to paraphrase, I’ll save it for another game. Sorry. No fun.

First Quarter
What is fun is a watching the Lakers play at STAPLES on consecutive evenings. Here are your starting matchups for tonight:

C: Andrew Bynum – Jermaine O’Neal
PF: Pau Gasol – Chris Bosh
SF: Vladimir Radmanovic – Joey Graham
SG: Kobe Bryant – Brother of Candace Parker
PG: Derek Fisher – Jose Calderon

By the way, that’s no insult to Anthony Parker, because his sister can seriously hoop (even though I prefer Candice Wiggins). However, if he took it as an insult, he scored Toronto’s first five points as an answer. L.A. got on the board promptly as Gasol and Bynum made four straight free throws and Fish canned a three. Kobe, who swiped six balls last night, took only three minutes to make his first robbery tonight, and streaked up floor to a baseline fadeaway to make it 9-7 Lakers. Kobe’s going to have the authorities after him if this blatant, unapologetic thievery continues.

It’s been a relative track meet thus far, with L.A. needing just six minutes to score 17 points, a pace that would result in 144 points for the evening. The signature play of the stretch for Lakers fans should have been the gorgeous look inside from Gasol to a somewhat-unsuspecting Bynum, who nonetheless corralled the pass before getting blasted by Graham. Great look.

As Kobe scored his seventh point on a dunk after another steal to put L.A. up 23-11, I noticed something nearly as important … For anyone who watches “The Office,” I think I see Steve Merchant – one of the original creators of the BBC version staring co-creator Ricky Gervais – sitting next to trainer Gary Vitti by the Laker bench. He is categorically, 100-percent hilarious, and if I get a chance I’ll head down to interview him at halftime.

Back-to-back great Laker plays on each side of the ball: first came a tough alley-oop pass from Vlad-Rad and a fabulous catch and dunk from Bynum; second a newly checked in Lamar Odom swat of O’Neal in the lane. I’m discussing with Ty how good the Lakers look on both sides of the floor. Defensively, it’s because of length and activity, and on offense, there’s been terrific ball movement. These can certainly be taken as good signs, even in the preseason, and collectively we saw a 29-20 first quarter edge as a result.

Bryant continued his hot shooting from last night by hitting 3-of-4 from the field and free throw line, while Bynum was good for seven points and three boards, not to mention five from Fish and four from Trevor Ariza. Toronto got seven from Parker and four each from O’Neal and Bosh, plus four assists from Calderon, last season’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio and Spanish teammate of Gasol.

Want to know a cool name? How about Roko Ukic? Am I wrong? Ukic is a 23-year-old Croatian who played for Spanish champion TAU Ceramica with Calderon a few years back and Lottomatica Roma last season; Toronto inked him to a three-year deal in the offseason.

This makes Ty and me think of some other elite NBA names: God Shammgod (one year in the league with Washington in 1997-98); Jamario Moon; Mickael Gelabale; Rudy Gay; Marcin Gortat (he’s a real person, a post for the Magic); Richard Hendrix (just for the unnecessary x); Serge Ibaka (dangerous sounding, no?); Zydrunas Ilgauskas (OK, some of these are just different foreign names); Kosta Koufos; David Lee (just kidding); Josh McRoberts; Nene; Zaza Pachulia (captain of this team); Ime Udoka.

L.A.’s second unit has again come in and pushed the lead built by the starters, right now at 36-23. Especially when Sasha Vujacic – who’s expected to return to practice tomorrow – comes back, this should be a luxury Lakers fans get well used to. The bench has amassed 15 points already with 7:30 left in the second.

God Shamgod update courtesy of Ty and Wikipedia: He’s playing for the Portland Chinooks of the International Basketball League after playing in China, Poland and … you guessed it … Saudi Arabia. Ty says he used to be known as “Shammgod Wells.” Ha! Yes! So, what had to happen for him to be called “God?” Who was the first person who dropped that on him? Is it a Western monotheistic “God?” A Hindu God? More likely, of course, his boys making fun of him. I’ll let you think on that…

Right now, Jackson’s giving some well-deserved run to Brandon Heath, Coby Karl and Josh Powell, all of whom have worked extremely hard in practice for the past several weeks. Toronto coach Sam Mitchell, however, has Bosh, Calderon, Graham and regular subs Andrea Bargnani (yup, the No. 1 pick) and Jason Kapono on as well. L.A.’s battling, but the Raptors closed the gap to 46-43 after two Graham free throws. Basically, the first and second Laker units had their way with Toronto … Just not the third team.

Oops. Crawford just left Kapono to double Graham on the block. That’s a no-no, as Kapono shoots threes like Dunbar chops raw meat or Robin pounds wine (apologies for you that don’t like “Real World” references). Needless to say, he made it, but Karl answered with a three, then fed Powell for a layup underneath. Toronto managed another bucket to make the score 53-49 at the break. Time to find Steven Merchant.

Third Quarter
OK, made some progress on the Merchant front … We chatted for awhile as he walked back to the VIP area, and agreed to an interview after the third quarter. So we’ll get back to that in a bit. Those of you that don’t care about this random reference need to buy the BBC version of “The Office,” “Extras” and listen to the “Ricky Gervais Show,” the top ranked podcast of all time. Trust me.

A few stats from the first half:

- L.A. again dominated the paint, scoring 24 points to 14 from the Raptors.
- The Lakers cut down on their turnovers to seven.
- Lamar Odom was 0-for-3 from the field, but blocked two shots, grabbed two boards and was solid in initiating the offense.
- Fourteen Lakers played at least five minutes for Jackson, to only eight Raptors getting that much burn.

Toronto took its first lead of the evening on a Parker three that made it 65-63 at the 6:30 mark, as L.A.’s starters looked a bit less enthusiastic defensively. Perhaps it’s time for some second-unit energy? O’Neal continued the Raptor run with an and-1 in the lane for his 12th point to make it 70-63, but Phil seems to want his starters to figure this out. Bryant ended the drought with a hoop, then tossed a great skip-pass out of a double team to find Vlad-Rad for a wide-open three, before Gasol corralled a steal at midcourt and finished his own offensive rebound to knot things at 70. That was quick.

Merchant interview = success. I’ll post it tomorrow. By the way, click here for his website.

As we had to step into the (English) tunnel for our conversation, apparently I missed a few ridiculous plays. Ty explained the best, a Farmar drive and alley-oop off the glass in traffic to a trailing Ariza. Chris Mihm also notched a huge block and the jumper that made it 98-84 good guys, but it was Farmar who from the last few minutes of the third and first five of the fourth scored nine points to spark L.A.

It’s not the first time this preseason we’ve seen Farmar and Ariza take over the game, though Josh Powell lent a helping hand in what wasn’t even a contest on this Sunday evening. Toronto trailed by just four entering the period, and lost by … wait for it … 23 points, as L.A. takes the 112-89 final for its third straight preseason win.

We’ll see you from San Diego on Tuesday night.