Monthly Archive for February, 2009

Page 5 of 9

Andrew Bynum Update

Before L.A. took the floor against Atlanta, Phil Jackson was asked how Andrew Bynum’s doing.

“I saw him this morning,” Jackson responded. “He was on the floor shooting toe-up shots and looked relatively active for his condition. He’s doing pretty well. It’s still been mostly rehab work, not an exercise regimen, but that will start soon.”

A reporter followed up by asking if Bynum’s expected to come back earlier than the original 8-to-12 week timetable.

“No,” Jackson said. “Until he’s on the floor sometime in March, we won’t know anything about that. Getting on the floor, doing activity drills, core strength and those types of things he has to do to get those things tied together again … The healing aspect still takes a while, but when we feel like he’s healed, then (he’ll start) the (training).”

Alas, we didn’t learn much, but it’s fair to say everything’s gone normally thus far for Bynum.

Vujacic Gets Healthy During Break

Sasha Vujacic - Daniel GibsonFor some players, the All-Star break is a welcome momentary pause for R&R, a chance to get away from the game and give the legs some rest.

For others, like Sasha Vujacic, the break is a more strategic hiatus from grueling games and practices used to rehabilitate specific injuries.

We forget that Vujacic essentially missed the entire preseason with his injured ankle, and that he’s been nursing a sprain on his other ankle since about a month ago.

Before the game, Vujacic talked about how much better he’s feeling, declaring his ankles “100 percent” in the process. Here’s what he had to say:

Lakers – Hawks Pregame Report

It’s rare in an NBA season to be seeing an opponent for the first time well into February, but with the Atlanta Hawks coming to STAPLES on Tuesday evening, that’s exactly what L.A. will see.

At 31-21, the Hawks have a relatively firm grasp on the No. 4 position in the Eastern Conference (even with newly improved Miami lurking in the five spot), but they’ll be tested firmly out of the break as they play eight of their next 10 games on the road.

The team from “The A” (Josh Powell asked that we refer to his city by that moniker) is led by All-Star Joe Johnson, who ranks 11th in the NBA in scoring at 21.6 per night, plus his team-leading 6.1 assists (18th). Atlanta is chalk full of athletes (see: Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and Al Horford) who love to get up and down the floor in hopes of creating easy baskets, often sparked by their high level of defensive pressure in denying the pass and gambling for steals.

We enlisted Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw to explain how best to deal with the Hawks; you can watch the interview by clicking above.

Kobe Bryant Post-Practice Audio

Just like Phil Jackson had moments earlier, Kobe Bryant spent the first few minutes of his post-practice interview Monday at L.A.’s facility talking about Shaquille O’Neal and the All-Star game.

A good soldier in handling Shaq questions for much of the last four days, Bryant seemed eager to talk about what he’s really focused on: his current group of teammates, who are collectively looking towards a possible championship and little else.

Bryant also touched on his favorite President (it is President’s Day, after all) and addressed his friend David Beckham’s situation with AC Milan and the L.A. Galaxy.

Phil Jackson Post-Practice Audio

The first Lakers practice following the NBA’s All-Star break lasted well over two hours on Monday, as the bottom 10 guys on the roster battled 5-on-5 while Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher put some ice on their knees.

Joining them on the sideline was Lamar Odom (his being able to rest during the final scrimmage of practice is an added bonus of the trade with Charlotte), at least until Chris Mihm and D.J. Mbenga got into enough of a battle for Lamar to check back in for the final few minutes as Mbenga cooled off on the sideline.

Afterwards, assembled media heard from Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant for the first time since last Wednesday evening’s loss in Utah.

We’ll start with Phil’s audio, followed Kobe’s in the subsequent post. Here’s the head coach:

Jackson thankfully kept his answers brief regarding the Kobe-Shaq conversation that’s predictably exploded in the national media, moving on to speak of finding more rest for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in particular, his focus for the season’s final 30 games and more.

Kobe, Shaq Share All-Star MVP Honors

kobe shaqThe last time Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal shared a court as teammates was the 2004 NBA Finals, which their Lakers squad lost to Detroit to set up Shaq’s Miami departure amidst just a wee bit of made-for-Hollywood drama.

Only a small bite of pretext there, right? Fast-forward to Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009 in Phoenix, as Kobe and Shaq were front and center in a Western Conference re-union at the NBA’s 2009 All-Star Game, with who else but Phil Jackson manning the bench.

Forty-eight minutes later, after 44 combined points, seven assists and nine rebounds in a 146-119 West win, Kobe and Shaq found themselves together at mid-court holding up the game’s MVP trophy.

Funny how that worked out.

“It felt like old times,” said Shaq, who had 17 points and five boards despite playing only 11 minutes. “I miss those times. He was really looking for me, especially when we went to a pick-and-roll.

“Kobe is the best player in the league. He has been the best player in the league … He even let me take the trophy home today for my boys, so I appreciate him for that.”

Kobe, who finished with a game-high 27 points with four boards, steals and assists, liked Shaq’s pregame dance moves as much as his on-court performance.

“That size moving and all that … it was an A-plus. On the court he obviously played extremely well, running the floor.”

Perhaps predictably, Kobe opted against waxing nostalgic on the issue, but Phil didn’t mind…

“I think it is a great life lesson for people,” he said. “This is something that the people work together, people find a way to get through situations, find harmony in their life, find co-habitation. I hope this speaks volumes not just for our community in basketball but our world community too.”

Life lessons or not, Bryant and O’Neal became the third and fourth players in the game’s history to win at least three All-Star game MVPs, joining Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan, both of whom were decent at hoops. It’ll take one more for either to tie the clubhouse leader, Bob Pettit, who won four between 1956 and 1962.

For now, the lasting image of this All-Star weekend will surely be that of Kobe and Shaq, together again … With another trophy.

———————-
In related news…

Voting Breakdown
There is some intrigue behind how the vote was awarded and why Kobe and Shaq split the honor. The media accounts for 75 percent of the total vote, which in this case was nine out of 12 votes. The final three votes came as a result of fan voting, with the top vote-getter earning two points and the runner-up getting a point. Alas, Shaq won the media vote 5-4 over Kobe, while Bryant claimed the fan vote as O’Neal finished second (2-1 Kobe). That gave both players six votes in an almost comical twist of fate.

Kobe, Shaq Climb up All-Star Scoring List
With his 27 points, Bryant moved into seventh place on the All-Star career scoring list with 207 points. Coming in just behind him is Shaq, who now has 202 points. The all-time leader? You guessed it: Michael Jordan (262). Bryant also crept closer to Jordan on the steals chart, snatching four to get to 30 total, seven behind Jordan’s record.

2009 All-Star Game: Running Diary

2009 Western Conference All-StarsHere’s what we’re covering in today’s All-Star game:

1) Interesting moments for Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol
2) Noticeable nuggets involving Phil Jackson and his Lakers assistant coaches
3) The MVP race, particularly my and Ty’s MVP Draft.

That’ll just about do it. Here are the starters:

Lakers: Oops. Habit. Western Conference: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Amare Stoudemire, Tim Duncan and Yao Ming
Eastern Conference: Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard

Kobe BryantFirst Quarter
12:00 Intros: Kobe was the last player announced among the All-Stars, which drew primarily cheers with a few boos from Suns fans (Spurs Duncan and Tony Parker were booed as well). Equally solid: Since I missed “Oh Canada” when we were in Toronto, I was pretty happy to hear Grant Hill’s wife belt it out like Celine Dion (with a special French/English mix). Impressive. Is it unpatriotic to like Canada’s version more than the U.S. National Anthem? Jordin Sparks (American Idol winner from Arizona) was pretty solid, to be fair.

11:40 Even though it was over Kobe, I’m liking the D-Wade pull-up from three. Good start for my top MVP pick. Ty’s No. 1 selection (LeBron) followed with a layup after Kobe’s missed triple for a 5-0 East lead.

9:08 Kobe hit his first of three shots, a pull-up in the lane over KG’s outstretched hands. I guess he’s not scared to shoot today, which makes sense because the West has such a huge starting lineup. In other words, Kobe’s the only guy that creates his own shot willingly from the perimeter.

8:22 So Kobe needs a bit of time to warm up … he just missed his fourth of five shots, this time from three. No worries for Lakers fans, because it’s better he miss now than vs. Atlanta on Tuesday.

7:22 AI tried to match Corey Maggette’s record for steps taken before dribbling, but only got to five.

6:57 Huge two-handed dunk off a pretty Paul set up from Bryant.

5:44 The first timeout of the game saw the East up 21-10, which really isn’t surprising considering the frontcourt matchups: Howard’s got Yao in this kind of game, Duncan and KG cancel out, and LeBron’s not even close with Stoudemire. This should even out soon though…

… The timeout allowed Phil to put Shaq in with Kobe for the first time.

4:37 If they’re not going to cover Kobe, he’ll keep shooting – this time a completely wide-open three, which he dropped to go 4-of-9 for a game-high nine points. Meanwhile, Jackson kept Kobe on the floor with Shaq, Chauncey Billups, Brandon Roy and Dirk Nowitzki.

3:40 Kobe again. Ty says he’s hungry because he didn’t play much at all last year (finger). He’s got 11.

2:56 We’ve been talking all day about how small the East team is, which became clear when Rashard Lewis tried to guard Shaq (foul). The West has taken advantage by scoring every point of the last few minutes…

1:56 …Finally, a 19-0 West run was halted by a Rashard Lewis three, one he had in the bank from his final-round performance of the three-point shootout. It’s just odd to have a massive run here, because it’s not like the West completely locked down on D or anything.

1:21 Another of my MVP top three, Tony Parker, scored four points with a dime in his first minute. Let’s keep that going, France.

0:29.0 Checking in for Shaq, Gasol immediately dunked, grabbed a defensive rebound and missed a baby hook in the lane. Nonetheless, the Western size caught up to the East, who went up 20-8 only to be outscored 24-7 (they didn’t score from the 5:52 mark until 1:56 remained).
Continue reading ’2009 All-Star Game: Running Diary’

All-Star MVP Draft

Kobe MVPDrafts are fun.

Fantasy football, fantasy basketball, American Idol elimination, even dead pools (OK, the last one’s a stretch).

Of course, there’s a bit less pressure when you have nothing on the line but pride amongst your friends and co-workers … Which isn’t exactly the case when Mitch Kupchak (or, especially, Isiah Thomas) steps (stepped) up to the phone on NBA draft night.

I bring this up because we’re trying to figure out who’s going to win the MVP tonight.

When I say we, I mean myself and Lakers.com mastermind Ty Nowell (“overstatement, but I’ll take it,” he said). After we go back and forth (he won the first pick by winning rock, paper, scissors) in draft style, we’ll keep a close eye on the race throughout Sunday evening’s All-Star game.

We selected five players each, starting with King James:

Ty: 1) LeBron James – “He’s a freak and he just seems primed to do it tonight, even though he won last year (and two years ago) works against him. He scares me.”
Me: 2) Dwyane Wade – D-Wade’s been in “Don’t-forget-that-I’m-the-bomb” mode, his (sinewy) legs are fully healthy/explosive and the East has won 3-of-4 games.
Ty: 3) Amare Stoudemire – “I should probably take Chris Paul, but I think Stoudemire is out for blood in his own town.”
Me: 4) Chris Paul – Just because Ty said he was going to take him, though I’m slightly tentative about his groin. He should still collect 15 assists and generally control the pace for the West, which has a huge lineup compared to Dwight Howard, KG and a bunch of guards.
Ty: 5) Kobe Bryant - “He’s always dangerous in these kind of games. I feel like he might sit back and take it easy this year, but if he won and I didn’t have him I’d be upset.”
Me: 6) Tony Parker – The East doesn’t have one big off the bench – literally – and Parker’s the best penetrator and finisher in the league. He’s coming off the bench, but he’s fully healthy, and Jackson doesn’t have a lot of guards that handle the ball on the roster (Paul, Parker and Chauncey Billups).
Ty: 7) Dirk Nowitzki – “It’s not somebody I expected to pick, but I think he could go off from outside a little bit. Plus I didn’t have any Europeans on my squad. I needed one.”
Me: 8) Shaq – This is my “Lifetime Achievement” All-Star pick as his Western teammates might try to force-feed him the ball. Big Cactus is in his current city of Phoenix, he’s playing in his 15th All-Star game and the East can’t afford to foul him too much with their lack of size. Then again, he might not play any minutes, but I’m rolling the dice.
Ty: 9) Dwight Howard – “He’s the only big in the East, and he could easily pull down 30 boards. Plus he’s healthy and should play big minutes.”
Me: 10) Ray Allen – He’s absolutely locked in with his shooting right now, and he’s going to get a lot of open looks. Furthermore, Ray has the same “I’m still good” bit going as D-Wade, which pleases me.

We’ll check back in a bit after the game starts at 5 p.m. Pacific.

Team USA Re-United at All-Star Weekend

Chris Paul InterviewIf you were looking for something about which to talk with All-Stars like Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade, re-living their Team USA memories seemed a good place to start. Take a look at video of the three Olympic champs, who each spoke about their experience with Kobe Bryant.

TEAM USA RE-UNITED

Kapono Takes Shot at Hodges

Three Point Shooters 1990How about that photo?

Back in 1990 (19 years ago, really?), Lakers special assistant coach Craig Hodges, then with the Bulls (second row, far right), was taking on Reggie Miller, Jon Sundvold, Mark Price, Larry Bird, Bobby Hansen, Craig Ehlo and Michael Jordan.

For this season’s shootout, Hodges asked us to send a message to Toronto’s Jason Kapono: Try shooting against eight guys instead of six, and good luck winning if Larry Bird’s in the mix.

Hodges was (mostly) joking around, and included a hearty “Tell him good luck!” when we asked him about the Raptors shooter. The former Chicago Bulls bomb-dropper jests because Kapono is looking to join Hodges and Bird as the only three-time champions of the NBA’s Three-Point Shootout. Bird beat Hodges in 1986, ’87 and ’88 before Hodges finally broke through for his first of three titles in 1990.

Indeed, when Hodges and Bird did it, there were eight shooters (1986 to 2003) before the NBA cut two out and went with six. That makes winning it all just a bit easier these days, but the first four balls still count for a point and the final rock scores two points. Here are the rules:

Each of six shooters – Kapono, Mike Bibby, Daequan Cook, Danny Granger, Rashard Lewis and Roger Mason – will take as many of 25 possible shots as they can in a full 60-second time period. The first four balls on the rack count for one point, and the final multi-colored “money” ball counts for two. The three shooters with the highest scores advance to the final round, where scores go back to zero.

While we’re on the topic, here’s a list of the former champs:

Jason Kapono1986: Larry Bird
’87: Bird
’88: Bird
’89: Dale Ellis
’90: Craig Hodges
’91: Hodges
’92: Hodges
’93: Mark Price
’94: Price
’95: Glen Rice
’96: Tim Legler
’97: Steve Kerr
’98: Jeff Hornacek
’99: (No game)
’00: Hornacek
’01: Ray Allen
’02: Peja Stojakovic
’03: Stojakovic
’04: Voshon Lenard
’05: Quentin Richardson
’06: Dirk Nowitzki
’07: Jason Kapono
’08: Kapono
’09: We’ll see in a few hours…