Live from STAPLES Center … your 2008-09 Los Angeles Lakers.
We’ll be logging each minute on the court right here on the BasketBlog … Remember that you can hit your browsers’ refresh (or reload) button to get the latest entry. Game on.
Inactives for tonight:
Lakers – DJ Mbenga, Sun Yue
Blazers – Raef LaFrentz, Shavlik Randolph, Martell Webster
Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Blazers: Steve Blake, Brandon Roy, Travis Outlaw*, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden
*Nicolas Batum was slated to start but we got word from one of those “sources close to the team” that Outlaw was taking his place.
Radio: If you’re in Cali., you can tune into AM 570 KLAC to hear Spero Dedes and Mychael Thompson’s call.
TV: The Lakers get basketball’s top broadcast booth for the second time in as many weeks as Kevin Harlan and Doug Collins handle the call for TNT, with Cheryl Miller on sideline duty. Harlan, who’s been calling professional football and hoops since graduating from the University of Kansas, is terrific not just for his deep knowledge of the game, but because he’s such a great guy that every analyst loves working with him. As such, he always seems to strike up great chemistry with whoever is sharing the mic. Then there’s Collins, who at least in my opinion is the best color guy in sports, period. With a unique bio that includes an All-Star playing career (he’s a former No. 1 overall pick), eight seasons as an NBA coach and several years in the broadcasting booth, he always seems to tell you something about the game you didn’t know. Then there’s Miller, who along with Teresa Edwards is one of the best two players in women’s basketball history, and a woman who obviously has the respect of players and coaches around the league – meaning they’ll actually say interesting things to her on camera.
Bynum won the opening tip from Oden, who committed his first career foul on Pau Gasol’s and-1 that resulted from a Radmanovic offensive rebound. LaMarcus Aldridge answered with a 17-foot jumper that was immediately countered with a Derek Fisher pull-up jumper. Gasol hit again after a Bryant rebound from Aldridge’s miss, until Travis Outlaw his a long jumper.
Then after a fantastic Oden block of Bynum – one rearing some “ohhhs” from the crowd – Gasol nailed yet another jumper for a 9-4 lead.
Now you’re not going to see this on the box score, but Vladi has been terrific defensively in the first four minutes, as have Bynum and Gasol, who have collectively contested every Blazer shot near the rim. As a result, Portland has made just 2-of-8 shots to start the game, while the Lakers have been getting much better looks in making 5-of-9 and forcing an early Nate McMillan time out with an 11-4 lead.
Oden just missed badly, his third miss (Roy’s also 0-for-3) of the quarter, and committed his second foul by knocking Fish down on the offensive half. Joel Pryzbilla, who’s more than capable as a backup center (and solid defensively) is in. Jackson put Lamar Odom into the game at the 5:50 mark for Gasol (who had nine points) while Rudy Fernandez stepped onto an NBA floor for the first time for the Blazers.
Bryant’s first bucket came at the 5:00 mark, on a nice driving cut to the tin, before his acrobatic, hanging reverse a few seconds later just rimmed out, keeping a 15-4 lead that became 17-6 after an Aldridge hoop and a Bynum putback.
Apparently Phil Jackson’s preseason focus on defense did his squad some good … just six points for Portland at a TV timeout with 2:52 to go. The Blazers are a putrid 3-of-17 from the field.
Jackson went to his deep bench out of the timeout with Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza, leaving Odom on the floor and putting Gasol back in for Bynum. If you were looking for some instant offense from Ariza, you were rewarded with a dunk on Pryzbilla followed by a corner three to make it 22-10. As Vujacic checked in for Bryant, Ty said that Jackson will almost always take Kobe out late in the first quarter and wait until between eight and six minutes left in the second to bring him back.
Pryzbilla was able to get free for a dunk near the quarter’s close and a Vujacic three – after some terrific ball movement from Farmar and Ariza – just rimmed out as the buzzer sounded, giving L.A. a 24-14 lead after one. Don’t worry, the play-by-play will slow down here, just wanted to get you the full view early on. In short, L.A. played solid defense, and put up 24 points even though it wasn’t able to get into much of an offensive flow. Good start.
Great start would apply to Gasol, who canned 4-of-5 shots plus a free throw, showing quite clearly that he’s much further along with his game than most NBA players at this point in the season … just like we’ve been hearing all preseason. Not so much for Bynum, who missed 3-of-4 shots he took. The kid’ll be back in a bit though…
Guess who’s guarding the 7-1, 245 pound Pryzbilla? Lamar Odom, and he’s not giving an inch. He’s also quickly scored the quarter’s first four points, then started a fastbreak resulting in a two-handed Gasol dunk to make it 30-14 Lakers and force another Blazer timeout. The dunk came courtesy of a terrific feed from Farmar, and Pau’s in double-digits.
Here are a few quick stats from the first quarter:
The Spaniard Rudy Fernandez has been pretty slick, as advertised, making 3-of-5 shots (including Portland’s first three) for seven early points. Meanwhile, Sasha Vujacic has yet to get it going, missing his first three shots. But you have to love Sasha, because after two-straight misses … He just jacked it up again, this time nailing a corner three-pointer to make it 33-17. “He doesn’t care,” said Ty. Kobe checked back in for him near the eight-minute mark.
Quick celeb check: Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Adam Levine from Maroon Five and David Beckham are all sitting courtside. I think it’d be fun to watch Beckham do soccer tricks with a basketball during one of the timeouts. Tell me the crowd wouldn’t love that…
Among the most impressive facts of a 38-24 lead at the 5:10 mark of the second as the starters check back in is that Kobe Bryant’s taken only three shots, but has amassed six boards and three assists in that facilitator role we’ve watched for a few years now. Let me just write this in bold: L.A.’s starters are playing extremely well defensively. Bryant, Fisher and Vladi flying all over the place double-teaming and creating turnovers, knowing that they have the two seven footers inside, and if Portland gets off a clean look, it’s been from pretty far outside the lane. Not only that, but the Lakers are getting back in transition with regularity. How about 49-29 with two minutes and change?
If you read our Gameday article earlier today, you know that I was pretty skeptical about how a Blazers’ team that finished last season 23-28 and added three rookies that will see minutes was going to handle the Lakers. Well … yeah … I’m not saying they have no chance of coming back, but with the way L.A.’s flying around defensively and the ease with which the home team’s getting good looks, it’s hard to believe that Portland’s going to erase a 22-point deficit. Not that saying that’s going out on a limb or anything, but perhaps these Blazers got a bit too much respect by Las Vegas. A seven-point line? That’s it???
Portland did pull seven quick points back to close the lead to 49-34 at the break, but we’ve basically seen on the court many of the positive elements of a solid preseason, even with Bynum scoring only two points. We’ll be back with first half numbers in a bit.
Also: The Blazers shot 31 percent from the floor; L.A. shot only four free throws; L.A. totaled five steals and three blocks.
The third started well for Portland, who got lucky when Bynum’s swat of Blake landed in Travis Outlaw’s hands for a wide-open three, making it a 12-point game. Outlaw then hit a jumper after a Bynum miss to cut the lead to 10. By the way, Nate McMillan replaced Oden with Pryzbilla in Portland’s starting group. Aldridge then hit a J to make it 49-41. Not a good start from L.A (juuuuust as Bryant nails a three, I type that) but the flavored candy corn from the media room is top shelf … Perhaps even above the Grey Goose and Petron.
The first “MVP” chant of the night came, predictably, when Bryant went to the line after a picturesque up and under and-1 finish at the rim. He missed the FT, but quickly canceled Portland’s run single-handedly. It’s telling that in the first moment of the game where Portland started to make things somewhat interesting, Bryant went off for nine points. Laker fans are used to that.
Sidenote: Add Leonardo Dicaprio, Kevin Connolly, Tobey Maguire and the Governator to the celeb list sitting courtside. Whom do you think is the best at basketball? Connolly seems like he’d be really scrappy, maybe even to the point of calling phantom fouls when his shots didn’t go in. Maguire is Spiderman and all, but doesn’t seem as athletic as Leo. Arnold even five years ago would have dominated, but no longer. So almost by default, let’s take Leo. So … Top five Leo movie list (with some help my Minnesota Correspondent): “Titanic,” “Gangs of New York,” “The Departed,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “The Aviator.”
Sorry, make that 11 points in seven minutes for Kobe, and a 60-43 lead, after a tough baseline jumper contested by Roy. Then toss in a bomb from Vladi, and L.A.’s back up 20. Moments later, Kobe’s next move was ridiculous, and might have made Travis Outlaw cry. First Bryant faked a long J, then began to back down … then he picked up his dribble, up-faked, slid under Outlaw and finished at the rim. Wow. He nice. P.S. where’s Oden?
That timeout produced the first Celeb Watch on the Jumbotron, and showed all of the aforementioned stars … the funny thing was it ended with Beckham, not Jack. I was going to say that you know you’ve really arrived when you’ve made the Jumbotron at Lakers games … before realizing that those celebs pretty much arrived a long time ago.
Brandon Roy didn’t hit a shot until the 1:23 mark of the third quarter (ouch) when he finally connected on a three after missing his previous nine shots. Bryant checked out at the 1:17 mark as Odom hit two foul shots to maintain the 20-point lead Kobe had keyed. Meanwhile, Jerryd Bayless finally made his debut, not seeing action in the first half since Sergio Rodriguez won the backup PG job. Of course, Bayless isn’t really a point guard, but more of a “chucker” as Ty put it. He’s explosive and determined, but his game isn’t going to work as well against teams with good interior defending like the Lakers. After three, it’s L.A. by 19, 72-53.
With the game pretty well in hand, let’s take a look to see if just-checked-back-in Bynum can improve on what’s been a tough 19 minutes offensively, even as his defense has been solid. On cue, Bynum made a nice defensive play in picking Bayless’ pocket in the lane, before Ariza racked up a technical foul after he and Farmar missed layups because he gave Channing Frye – who went ahead of Bynum in the 2005 draft – some extra action after the rebound.
Obvious fact of the quarter: Sasha Vujacic defines the position “shooting” guard.
Bynum delivered his first alley-oop dunk of the year at the 9:38 mark on a great Farmar feed a play after changing the options for Bayless in the lane and forcing another Blazer miss. Bynum hit again near the hoop for his sixth point, then blocked another shot in the lane, and minutes later connected from the baseline to make it 85-69, even as Fernandez reeled off six quick points to avoid the total blowout.
OK, Ty just checked online to find out that Greg Oden left the game before the half with a hurt foot, and is getting an x-ray. Wow, Blazer fans must be freaking out…
Back on the floor, Bryant put a lil’ emphasis on his second half by exploding to the rim for a two-handed flush plus a foul on Frye that wasn’t called, making it 89-70 with 3:40 left. If the game hadn’t already been well over after Bryant’s third-quarter explosion, that slam would have been a dagger.
It wasn’t until the 2:43 mark that Luke Walton, Chris Mihm and Josh Powell checked in, reminding us that L.A. really has 12 players that deserve playing time. Particularly with Odom coming off the bench and either Gasol or Bynum staying in at center, there isn’t much room in the frontcourt especially. Mihm and Farmar both made nice plays in the final two minutes to put the Lakers back up 20 and close out the Blazers with a 96-76 win. Very impressive all-around from the yellow and purple; stay tuned for full reaction on lakers.com.
After the game, we made the locker-room rounds and will have some videos posted later tonight, just for people on the East coast that stay up until 4 a.m.