Monthly Archive for December, 2008

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Lakers – Hornets Preview

PreviewHeading into Tuesday evening’s showdown with the New Orleans Hornets, we got in touch with Hornets.com’s Jim Eichenhofer, who follows every dribble, jumper and rebound for Chris Paul and Co. Eichenhofer took some time to fill us in on the Hornets’ recent hot streak, CP3’s hyper-competitiveness and more:

MT: As the Hornets have won 8-of-10 and four in a row, the Lakers recently lost back-to-back games for the first time this season – albeit at the buzzer – and lost their backup point guard. Is New Orleans licking their chops for revenge from the 93-86 early-season win in N.O.?
Eichenhofer: I’m sure the Hornets are motivated by several factors entering this game, with one of them being the loss you mentioned. New Orleans has won six straight at home and is 7-1 here since that night. The fact that the Lakers are now within range in the West standings is another reason why this feels like an important game.

But I don’t think anyone should be “licking their chops” to play the Lakers, despite their recent losses. A two-game losing streak might be considered a mini-crisis in L.A., but the Lakers are still 21-5, still have the best record in the West and still have Kobe Bryant. I think Hornets fans and players have the utmost respect for Kobe for several reasons: He’s consistently had big games against this team, including a 50-point outing in NOLA two seasons ago; he was obviously the reason Chris Paul did not win the MVP award last season; and he has a knack for draining huge baskets, including that killer three-pointer he made in the Nov. 12 matchup with about a minute remaining.

MT: Why don’t people realize how chippy and feisty Chris Paul is? Does being one of the darlings of the NBA help him get away with some sneakiness?
Eichenhofer: I think the best way to answer this is to quote Chris, who says, “I am two totally different people. I’m one person on the court, and (another person) off the court. On the court, I am very competitive in everything I do. You can’t be buddy-buddy or friends with the (opposing team) on the court… After the buzzer sounds and they say that we won, then I will smile. But for those 48 minutes… no.”

Sometimes people think that because Chris has such a sterling reputation off the court, that means he should act that way on the floor as well. That doesn’t make sense. When he’s playing the game, he is probably as competitive as anyone in the NBA.

Is he chippy and feisty? Of course. But you WANT your best player to set the example of being deathly serious about winning every night during the long 82-game schedule, don’t you? As Byron Scott says about Chris, “He’s got a little nastiness in him, kind of like what Isiah Thomas had when he played.”

Is this a bad thing? No way. This is just old-school basketball. Personally, I love it. Being chippy is not a bad thing. Playing soft is a bad thing.

Continue reading ‘Lakers – Hornets Preview’

Daily Trivia: Kareem’s MVPs

Play the Trivia Contest on Lakers Courtside Connection every day (Monday-Friday) for your chance to win great Lakers prizes.

Today’s question is:
How many times did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar win the NBA Most Valuable Player award in his career?
(Answer Here)

If you think you know the answer, login to Lakers Courtside Connection and see if you’re right. Then come back tomorrow to test your knowledge on Lakers history again, while making a run towards really cool prizes.

Lakers 105, Grizzlies 96: Postgame

Since acquiring Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies last February, the Lakers hadn’t lost three consecutive games even once.

The streak continues.

Behind a stifling fourth quarter defense that conceded just 16 Memphis points and a Kobe Bryant three-pointer with 34.8 seconds remaining, the Lakers emerged from Tennessee with a win after consecutive losses in Florida at the start of a four-game trip.

“Some nights are easier than others, and other nights you really have to work hard to (get a win),” said Derek Fisher, who played 40+ minutes for the second consecutive game. “Once we got a feel for how they wanted to attack us and who was going to attack us, we were able to adjust in the second half.”

That second half defense produced three crucial steals and blocks from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the final few minutes that the Lakers turned into points at the other end. Two of the steals came from Trevor Ariza, a frequent thief, and the final from Bryant, who picked a Grizzly pocket in the final seconds and flushed through the Memphis basket in Air Jordan pose as the buzzer sounded.

And with that, much of the negativity that came with Bryant’s missed game-tying J in Miami, or Sasha Vujacic’s missed three in Orlando sailed out the door as Kobe’s dunk sailed through the basket.

Your numbers:

54.1
Lakers shooting percentage for the game. The only Laker to struggle from the field was Lamar Odom (4-of-12), but to be fair, had he received foul calls on a few of his attempts, he would have been near .500 himself.

54
Points in the paint scored by the Lakers, compared to 36 from Memphis, meaning the game plan for L.A. largely worked.

40:30
Derek Fisher’s playing time, after he’d played 41 minutes against Orlando on Saturday. “When someone goes down, someone has to step up and play more minutes. I don’t think Jordan will be out too long … But if I need to do it for a 20-game or 10-game period, I’m willing to do it to help this team. I work (hard) to play the whole game (if I have to).”

36 Game-high point total from Kobe Bryant, who made 14-of-23 shots including 3-of-6 threes, though he did uncharacteristically miss three free throws.

13 Andrew Bynum’s point total in 21 minutes, thanks to an efficient 6-of-8 from the field that included three dunks. Bynum added four boards and a block, and was very effectively defensively in the fourth quarter, drawing praise from Phil Jackson after the game.

11 Second half turnovers by the Grizzlies.

6 Assists for Pau Gasol in his homecoming, in addition to 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, seven boards and two blocks.

3 Second half turnovers by the Lakers.

Lakers – Grizzlies Running Diary

As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Inactives
Lakers: Jordan Farmar, D.J. Mbenga
Grizzlies: Hamed Haddadi

A question about Andrew Bynum before we get started tonight: “What’s wrong?”

If you simply took a look at the box scores from L.A.’s losses in Miami and Orlando, here’s what you’d see … combined … from Bynum: 38 minutes; seven points; seven rebounds; four turnovers; nine personal fouls; zero blocks.

There’s no reason to even evaluate that, as the stats speak loudly. What I did want to do is talk to ‘Drew for a few minutes before the game to see what he’s been thinking, and here’s the gist:

“I need to get up and down the court faster, get position down low, and go to work.”

OK. That’s pretty simple. Anything else?

“I actually got out on the floor to do a little more work than usual before the game,” he told me. “Usually I just go out and shoot jump shots before the game, but tonight I really did a lot of low post work. I worked on moves, used my dribble, and things like that.”

OK. Finally, where’s your head at?

“My mindset needs to be aggressive,” he continued. “When I’m passive, I don’t play well, but when I’m aggressive I do. We’ve been focusing on getting me and Pau going offensively, but we have to make sure and get our defense going tonight.”

When prompted, Bynum did pause to joke around a bit about how he had Lil’ Wayne, T.I. and Jay-Z mix tapes and I didn’t. But he seemed generally focused, at least, so we’ll see if he’s able to move his feet defensively, stay out of foul trouble and get that offense going.

One other note: Don’t expect Kobe Bryant to shoot too much in the first quarter. This has “get my teammates involved early” written all over it.

Lakers Fish, Kobe, Luke, Pau and Bynum
Grizzlies Kyle Lowry, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Darko Milicic and Marc Gasol

First Quarter
9:45 Bynum commits a silly foul while jumping out on a screen, brushing Mike Conley Jr. with his body.

7:46 Off a nice Bryant feed, Gasol drove right around Milicic and finished with a flush at the other end.

7:12 Remember that note about Kobe passing the ball? He just passed up an easy jumper in the lane to try and feed Bynum. The ball was deflected and turned over to Memphis. On the next possession, however, Walton found Bynum with a slick pass out of the triangle for an easy dunk.

5:45 Rudy Gay hit his first triple for a 16-14 Grizzlies lead.

4:55 A nice video tribute to Gasol was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout of the game, to which the Memphis crowd responded warmly. There were certainly boos to be had, but the clear majority cheered the franchise’s first All-Star.

Continue reading ‘Lakers – Grizzlies Running Diary’

Lakers – Grizzlies Pregame (Phil Audio)

For the Lakers, the point of emphasis in Monday evening’s game against Memphis should be simple: get the ball down low.

After Miami successfully denied the low post pass by fronting on the block and the Kobe/Fish backcourt combo took most of L.A.’s shots against Orlando, the Lakers want to re-establish Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum down low. After all, it’s there on the block that the Lakers have an obvious advantage over most teams in the NBA, which will again be apparent as Pau’s rookie brother, Marc, and Darko Milicic try to deal with L.A.’s two seven-footers in Memphis.

Let’s rewind back to Orlando quickly: Bryant and Fisher played 42 and 41 minutes, respectively, combining to take 47 shots for the Lakers. Gasol attempted nine shots, and Bynum just four. Expect that ratio to change markedly tonight.

Before the game, Phil Jackson also talked about what L.A. will do without Jordan Farmar for a few weeks (he implied that adding a point guard is likely), explained that he’s not at all worried about Pau’s focus in the place he spent six and a half years, and dispelled a reporter’s suggested notion that L.A. has really struggled on the road.

Here’s the audio from Phil’s pregame chat:

In the Rankings: Week 8

Every Monday, the Lakers Basketblog checks the net to bring you the latest NBA power rankings.

NBA.com
This Week: 4 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: -2

The Lakers’ weekend could be described in three words: “In and out.” Back-to-back losses in Florida come after a narrow escape at home over the Knicks. The offense was bad in Miami and the defense was bad in the other two games. Bottom line: this does not look like a team that is ready for the Celtics on Thursday.

ESPN.com
This Week: 3 | Last Week: 3 | Diff: N/A

Getting swept on a Florida back-to-back, losing Farmar to injury and heading into the Boston showdown with Bynum in a funk adds up to their worst week of the season. So how did they stay here? See next comment.

Ball Don’t Lie – Yahoo!
This Week: 4 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: -2

Two losses in a row, both in Florida, after a close call over the Knicks at home. If you’re stockpiling canned goods and firearms, it might already be too late. Stop ruining my Christmas Day dinner, Lamar!

USAToday.com
This Week: 3 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: -1

Lakers lose two in a row after Kobe’s last-second shots don’t fall.

Average Ranking: This Week: 3.5 | Last Week: 2.25 | Diff: -1.25

Daily Trivia: Military Service

Play the Trivia Contest on Lakers Courtside Connection every day (Monday-Friday) for your chance to win great Lakers prizes.

Today’s question is:
In the ’61-’62 season, only two NBA players were called to active military duty in the wake of the Berlin crisis. One was a Laker. Which player was it?
(Answer Here)

If you think you know the answer, login to Lakers Courtside Connection and see if you’re right. Then come back tomorrow to test your knowledge on Lakers history again, while making a run towards really cool prizes.

Hey Memphis … Pau’s Back

Gasol Brothers“My family will (be there), my brother’s on the team, so it will be interesting … It will be special.”
- Pau Gasol on returning to Memphis

Indeed.

Before coming to the Lakers in a February 2008 trade that included the rights to his younger brother Marc, Pau Gasol put together an excellent career in Memphis, where L.A.’s set to play on Monday night.

Let’s take a quick look back:

Pau as a Grizzly
Gasol was the city’s best basketball player ever since he entered the league as the No. 3 overall pick in Kobe and Pau2001, when his 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.06 blocks and 2.7 assists through 82 games earned him Rookie of the Year honors – not to mention emboldened NBA GMs to take more risks on international players. He subsequently led Memphis to three playoff appearances, though the Grizzlies were never able to win a game in the postseason. In a deep Western Conference in which Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Webber and others occupied the forward slots, Gasol made just one appearance, in 2006, despite averaging around 18 points, eight boards, four dimes and a few blocks each year.

Family Matters More
But as much as Gasol’s looking forward to paying his respects to a fan base that he grew to love in his many years in Memphis, it might be even more special to face his kid brother on an NBA court for the first time … Particularly with his Memphis-dwelling parents Marisa and Agusti in the crowd.

Marisa and Agusti (who both played second-division basketball in Spain) couldn’t watch their boys* go at it too often back in Barcelona, because Pau is four years older than his little brother and the two generally opted instead for shooting drills while growing up. While the competition has picked up in the last three years, especially with the Spanish National Team, Pau didn’t make it seem like the two brothers went at each other like a young Michael Jordan and older brother Larry in the back of their North Carolina home or anything.
*Pau and Marc have another younger brother named Adria, who’s 15 and also plays hoops.

“(We’re) different kind of players, (with) different bodies,” he said. “Very skilled. (Marc)’s a bit more of a banger – he’s got a better body to do that.”

The differences in Pau (7-0, 250) and Marc’s (7-1, listed at 265) games show up quite clearly on the stat sheet this season:

Pau 17.5 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.4 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.0 bpg, 55.9% FGs, 77.6% FTs, 35.2 mpg
Marc 10.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.6 spg (got him!), 1.1 bpg, 52.8 FG%, 73.3 FT%, 28.8 mpg

To be fair, even though Marc’s just getting started and has been a pleasant surprise, the numbers alone show that he’s not comparable to big brother, even when Pau was a 20-year-old Rookie of the Year.

“I think the metabolism is different,” Pau explained. “But Marc’s been solid, and he’s a really hard worker with a lot of fight.”

Pau said that his brother tries to take advantage of the opportunities he gets offensively – which are limited – but sticks mostly to hustling, boarding, blocking shots and just fitting in. What he didn’t mention is that O.J. Mayo takes 16.3 shots a game, and Rudy Gay 16.8, which is 43 percent of the entire team’s shots just between the two of them. Marc does manage to put up about seven shots per game, mostly of the put-back variety off his 57 offensive rebounds, and clearly isn’t the focal point of the team’s offense as his brother was.

“He’s helping them be a better team,” said the elder Gasol. “He was the best part of the trade … People didn’t really know, but last year he had a great year and broke all the records in Spain … He’s a great player and he’s going to continue to prove that to people.”

Surely we can’t get mad at Pau for praising his little brother, who has without question been better for Memphis than many people expected.

But let’s be honest … There’s only one great Gasol.

Lakers 103, Magic 106: Postgame

With about 10 seconds left in Saturday evening’s game, Kobe Bryant gathered the ball near midcourt as the Lakers faced a 104-103 deficit in Orlando. The then 21-6 Magic, who’d lost just three times at home, had charged from nine down in the first half to take the lead, but the game was L.A.’s to win.

The expected double-team rushed towards No. 24 as the game clock ticked down, but instead of hoisting a contested shot, Bryant swung the ball to a wide open Sasha Vujacic in the corner.

With five seconds on the clock, Vujacic released a three-pointer, got full extension on his follow through and watched the ball arch downwards towards the rim. The ball rolled around, seemingly touching the net, and then, almost in slow motion, rimmed back out into the waiting hands of Dwight Howard.

Ouch.

Thus, even though they’d come with the kind of 48-minute effort that had been lacking in recent games, the Lakers lost at the buzzer for the second-straight night in Florida, after Bryant’s game-tying attempt had rimmed out in an eerily similar way in Miami on Friday.

With Jordan Farmar on the shelf with torn meniscus in his left knee, Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant both played season highs in minutes (41:28 and 42:35, respectively) and were fantastic with season highs 27 and 41 points. However, as Bryant faced hard double-teams every time he touched the ball in the second half, he seemed to wear a bit before missing 6-of-7 shots in the final quarter. Fisher, meanwhile, hit two huge fourth quarter threes to knot the score first at 92 and then at 101, but he finally missed with the Lakers down 103-101 with 46.9 seconds remaining.

A Rashard Lewis missed free throw and two Bryant makes cut the lead to one before Vujacic’s miss, but Bryant’s desperation 30-foot three with 00.9 remaining didn’t have much of a chance, and it was over.

Your numbers:

27
Points for Jameer Nelson, who made 11-of-16 shots including 4-of-6 threes in a very impressive performance.

15
Combined points from Luke Walton (two), Andrew Bynum (three), Lamar Odom (four), Trevor Ariza (five) and Sasha Vujacic (1). Pau Gasol had just 11 and Vladimir Radmanovic nine.

11:37
Minutes played by Bynum, who lasted just two minutes before committing his second foul on Dwight Howard. Bynum managed just three points and one rebound, plus two turnovers and five fouls.

11
Free throws made on 11 attempts from Bryant. The Magic missed 15 shots from the line (61.5 percent), including five from Dwight Howard, though his two biggest attempts of the night – with 3.5 seconds left – both swished through.

4
Technical fouls, including one each on Luke Walton, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. In related news, Joe Crawford was one of the refs.

Lakers – Magic Running Diary

As always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

Inactives
Lakers: Jordan Farmar, D.J. Mbenga (meaning Sun Yue is active)
Magic: Adonal Foyle, Mike Wilks, Jeremy Richardson

At Orlando is arguably L.A.’s biggest test of the season to this point.

Sure, going to Denver, Dallas and New Orleans early in the season wasn’t easy, but that was before the rest of the league seemed to get wind of L.A.’s trapping defense. As Stu Lantz mentioned in our game preview, the Magic are a team that can take particular advantage of a trapping defense, with Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Keith Bogans and Jameer Nelson all having the ability to knock down the three. If L.A.’s forced to double Dwight Howard and leave shooters open early – or if the Magic are simply knocking down threes regardless of L.A.’s defense – the visitors will clearly be in trouble and battling from behind for much of the night.

On the other hand, perhaps this is a game that Andrew Bynum takes as a personal challenge, and shows more than a few flashes of brilliance in negating Dwight Howard? Perhaps guys like Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic pick up their games in Farmar’s absence and give the Lakers a spark? We’ll see in a few minutes…

Your starters:

Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Luke, Pau and Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Keith Bogans, Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard

First Quarter
0:00 For those curious, Amway Arena’s media food ranks in the bottom three in the NBA. Nothing personal.

11:32 Bynum was called for a personal foul for about the same amount of contact Howard gave him on the other end (no foul was called).

10:55 There’s No. 2 on Bynum. Pretty much the exact opposite of what we talked about in the pregame, and what L.A. needed from Bynum. Odom had to check in, and the Magic will surely now force-feed Howard down low. The only good news here for the Lakers is that Odom can match up better defensively on Lewis than anyone else.

9:22 While the Lakers had scored six points of their own, Turkoglu’s three was Orlando’s second in the first few minutes. so the two things that L.A. needed to focus on – not giving up threes and keeping Bynum out of foul trouble – went decidedly the other way.

8:14 So, if you take out Orlando’s two threes and Bynum’s two fouls, the Lakers actually looked pretty good. L.A. contested each shot near the lane, forcing four misses, and Bryant scored six of L.A.’s 10 points heading into the first timeout. L.A. made 3-of-7 shots and all four free throws with just a turnover.

7:00 Gasol definitely got hacked by Howard on the block, as the Lakers continued to go at the big center, but again didn’t get the foul (as Bynum hadn’t earlier). Clearly, the refs are letting Howard use his physicality, but don’t seem to be extending the same offer to Bynum/Gasol. At the other end, Lewis nailed a three to cap a 6-0 run out of the timeout. Unlucky break there for the Lakers.

5:58 Howard finally pushed his luck a bit. Fisher attacked the rim, and Howard came over to rake him in committing his second foul. Well, at least he got five fouls out of the two that were called… On came Marcin Gortat, the Polish center who’s averaging about 3.0 points and 3.2 boards this season.

5:23 Mikael Pietrus, who missed 11 games with a torn ulnar collateral ligament (whatever that is) in his right thumb, checked in for Orlando prior to a nice driving layup from Odom to make it 15-13 Lakers. Pietrus came over from the Warriors as a free agent signing, is from France and enjoys pastries. And Rene Descarte.

3:27 After a fierce Ariza put-back slam, Kobe contributed a slick and-1 off the glass to put L.A. up 20-16. From my baseline seat, it’s tough to make out a small section of the right side of the court, meaning I couldn’t see Ariza’s body until he was well above the rim hammering it home. I’m not saying he was like Hiro on “Heroes,” but that though popped in my mind when he appeared from nowhere. By the way, they’d best find a way to unkill Kristen Bell. Seriously, NBC.

1:36 L.A.’s been very active defensively, which is certainly a good sign for Lakers fans, and on the court helped keep Orlando to 35.3 percent shooting and 18 points. Meanwhile, Bryant connected on two free throws to give him 11 points, and Vujacic came into the backcourt with Fisher on the bench. Yet and still, both Ariza and Odom handled the ball after Fisher checked out minutes earlier, and it seems L.A. will go point guard by committee (which they can do with the triangle).

31.9 Fantastic finish at the rim for Kobe, whose 13 points more than double the nearest Magic player (Nelson had six). The Magic did manage to hit consecutive shots in their final two possessions to draw within one at quarter’s end, 24-23.

0:00 The recipe for a good first quarter? A great job of contesting threes and handling Howard after Bynum’s two fouls and Orlando’s 2-of-2 from deep start, plus a very effective, slashing Kobe Bryant, who took nary a deep jumper to get his 13. You think Kobe knew he had to take on more of a load tonight, which meant more attacking?
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Magic Running Diary’