Monthly Archive for March, 2009

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Lakers Reaching to Win in Detroit

Tayshaun Prince - Kobe BryantIt’s been a long time since L.A. won in Detroit.

Lakers fans remember the disaster otherwise known as the 2004 NBA Finals, but the losing streak dates even further. In fact, last time L.A. won in Mo-Town, here’s what was going on:

A) Eminem came out with “The Eminem Show”
B) “Chicago” won the Oscar for “Best Picture”
C) Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to their first Super Bowl

The year was 2002 – March, to be more precise – but since then, L.A. has dropped six straight regular season games in the Palace of Auburn Hills, plus the three games in the Finals.

Perhaps that’s why the Lakers seemed particularly focused upon Wednesday’s arrival in Detroit, and even more so on Thursday afternoon subsequent to shootaround. L.A. won’t just be attempting to avenge their losing streak in Michigan, however … The Pistons managed to tag the purple and gold with their first loss of the season on Nov. 14 at STAPLES Center, a 106-95 decision that saw the Pistons shoot very well from the field and make 29-of-34 free throws.

Yet this promises to be a different group of Pistons: The Lakers won’t really know until the inactive list comes out who will be in uniform. Allen Iverson (sore back) has missed the last 14 games; Rasheed Wallace (strained left calf) has missed the last eight games; and Rip Hamilton (strained left groin) has missed the last five games. Hamilton may be the most likely to play, but all were listed as out. Even if those three former All Stars don’t play, the Pistons are tough at home and have beaten five division leaders: Cleveland, Orlando, Boston, Denver and the Lakers.

Detroit will most likely start a lineup of Rodney Stuckey, Arron Afflalo, Prince, Antonio McDyess and Kwame Brown, keying Prince and McDyess as the primary offensive options. Since it’s such a new lineup, L.A.’s coaches expect Detroit to run some basic NBA offensive sets, and know that they’ll probably see at least a little bit of a 2-3 zone on defense.

The game tips at 4:30 p.m. Pacific, and upon its conclusion, the Lakers will leave immediately for New Jersey, against whom they’ll play the second leg of a road back-to-back.

Lakers 107, Thunder 89: Postgame

Lamar OdomWell, there’s the 48-minute effort many Lakers fans and Phil Jackson had been looking for.

On the heels of a fantastic second half and fourth quarter in particular for the Lakers in Chicago on Saturday night, the purple and gold seemed eager to prove that they’d attained a new level of focus while completely dominating the youthful Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers were active and energetic on defense throughout Tuesday evening’s contest, and saw five players – including subs Luke Walton and Josh Powell – hit double figures in scoring. The Lakers led by 17 after one quarter and 24 at the half, and didn’t allow even a single crowd-bolstering run from OKC, which had the many Oklahomans heading for the exits with 5:55 to play after Walton nailed a triple that made it 101-81.

While Kobe Bryant struggled with his shooting (6-for-18), the Lakers still managed to shoot at least 50 percent from the field for the sixth straight game, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since the 1990-91 season. Leading the good shooting display were Walton (5-of-6, 11 points), Odom (7-of-10, 18 points despite fouling out early in the fourth) and Fisher (4-of-5 in 21 minutes).

On the other end, Kevin Durant, who’d gone for at least 30 in L.A.’s two previous wins, was hounded to 8-of-20 shooting for 24 points in 40 minutes of burn. No other Thunder player scored more than 12 points (Jeff Green).

A thorough, professional win indeed for the Lakers.

Some numbers:

Games coached for Phil Jackson in a Lakers uniform, just one behind Pat Riley’s franchise mark. Jackson passed the organization’s first ever head coach, John Kundla (725), for second on the all-time charts.

L.A.’s shooting percentage in a clinical first quarter, including impressive

Un-scientific my eyes measured underneath Shannon Brown’s shoes when he took off for a massive alley-oop jam.

Points in the paint for the Lakers, compared with 38 for the Thunder.

Bench points for the Lakers.

League-best road wins for the Lakers, who’ve lost just nine games outside of STAPLES Center.

Seasons it’s been since L.A. had shot at least 50 percent from the field in six straight games, which happened against the Thunder to the tune of 50 percent shooting.

Player who played at least 30 minutes … You guessed it … Pau Gasol. Nonetheless, 34 is just fine, while Bryant played 29, Odom 25 and Fisher 21.

Lakers – Thunder Running Diary

FisherRead about the Lakers vs. Thunder games as it unfolds. 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.

Previous Lakers – Thunder Running Diary/Postgame
Lakers 105, Thunder 98: Postgame
Lakers – Thunder Running Diary 2-10-2009

Lakers 107, Thunder 93: Postgame
Lakers – Thunder Running Diary 2-24-2009

Lakers: Andrew Bynum, Sun Yue
Thunder: Desmond Mason, DJ White

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Odom and Gasol
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic

Stat Check
One thing about having a young team is that you’re simply going to turn the ball over a lot. For OKC, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant do just that, ranking 5th and 8th in the entire NBA with 3.4 and 3.2 TO’s per game. This shouldn’t be too surprising, however, since the two youngsters have the ball for the majority of the Thunder’s possessions and are charged with making plays.

ArizaFirst Quarter
A few other things to keep in mind tonight: A) Not only are the Thunder one of two teams in the league to conduct a pregame prayer (New Orleans), but they also play the state song of Oklahoma while a season ticket holder waves the OK flag; B) The Lakers got crushed on the glass (45-30) last time they were here and don’t plan on that happening again to the league’s top rebounding team; C) Phil Jackson’s now one game away from tying Pat Riley for the most games coached in Lakers history.

11:25 Ariza nicely picked off a Thunder pass before finishing with a two-handed dunk at the other end, backing Gasol’s open jumper to put L.A. 4-0. That the Lakers are going to be able to get good looks against OKC’s young defense is just as clear as Michael Scott’s not going to appreciate having Stringer Bell from “The Wire” as his new boss on “The Office.”

8:27 L.A.’s lead quickly became nine when focused Odom scored seven straight points, first canning a three, then sticking a driving layup and finally tipping in a Bryant miss. Lamar seemed particularly focused in the locker room before the game, and proceeded to score nine of L.A.’s first 15 points to put his team up early. Having a zoned-in Lakers starting five wasn’t helping OKC much.

6:08 While forcing OKC into perimeter jumpers, Fisher stuck two of his own and Bryant got to the rack. No one was missing as L.A. opened shooting 75 percent (9-of-12) to take a 21-10 lead.

5:12 The kid behind me yelled out “Hey Lamar!” when Odom came over under the hoop to inbound the ball. It was no surprise to me that Odom turned around, smiled and said, “What’s up man?” It’s really not possible to dislike Lamar Odom … That’d be like suggesting that peanut butter and jelly don’t go together, or that there are as many good restaurants in Oklahoma City as there are in Chicago.

3:47 Gasol’s putback put L.A. up 25-13 as Jordan Farmar checked in fairly early for Fisher, who’d made all three of his shots and notched two assists. Jackson said not to be surprised if Farmar spells Fisher more often throughout the road trip.

1:58 A rather nasty, mean-spirited alley-oop went from one superstar to another as Kobe found Pau well above the rim for a two-hander that put L.A. up 11. After another good, active defensive possession, Walton joined Farmar, Bryant, Odom and Gasol on the floor…

1:07 And immediately took advantage of a mismatch by scoring on the baseline. He did the same with Westbrook switched over on him to put L.A. up 35-20, and was on pace to score like 40 points. Good thing we did a lil’ piece on Walton and Farmar this morning.

0:01.0 Just for good measure, Bryant capped off L.A.’s extremely solid first quarter with a double-pump layup in traffic. A 17-point lead fairly told the Lakers’ story of dominance, as did their 66.7 shooting percentage, Oklahoma City’s struggle to score (20 points on 40.9 percent shooting) and five turnovers, plus 26 points in the paint for the road team. Apparently, the Lakers decided to carry the fourth quarter in Chicago right into this game.
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Thunder Running Diary’

Thunder Storm Brewing for Lakers?

Oklahoma City - Kevin DurantThere were tornado warnings flashing across the TV screen on Monday night in Oklahoma City. But will the Thunder be able to provide some serious turbulence for the Lakers on Tuesday night at the Ford Center?

One thing L.A. can count on is that Kevin Durant and Co. will bring a full load of energy, as they’ve been doing for weeks to move past the Kings, Clippers, Grizzlies and Timberwolves in the Western Conference standings.

“The crowd in Oklahoma City really gets behind the team, and they’re really playing good basketball right now,” said assistant coach Brian Shaw. “Having the best record in the West, our guys have to realize that they’re a target every time they step into a team’s arena.”

Last time L.A. was in OKC, the Lakers ended up with a 107-93 victory on Feb. 24, though the Thunder had dwindled L.A.’s double-digit lead to just one early in the fourth quarter thanks to some flat out effort. One way they were able to do it was on the glass, outrebounding the Lakers 45-30 for the game including 12 offensive boards, often an effort statistic.

Durant led the way, as he’s accustomed to doing, with 32 points (plus 10 boards and six assists), one more than his scoring output in L.A.’s 105-98 home win in early February. He makes much of his money out of the pick and roll, either as the ball handler or the screener, as he’s effective at shooting over top of the screen, driving around it or rolling out of it.

As far as the Lakers are concerned, it’d be nice to carry over the terrific bench performance from Saturday’s win in Chicago, and interesting to see if Phil Jackson again starts Lamar Odom with the second unit in the fourth quarter.

The bottom line, however, is that game two of L.A.’s seven-game, 13-day trip should test the Lakers’ focus just as much as their ability to deal with the youthful Thunder.

Friendly Success

Luke WaltonLuke Walton and Jordan Farmar have their Matt Damon – Ben Affleck thing going on, no question about it.

The question is, does that friendship translate into success onto the NBA floor?

“I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation between being good friends and playing well together on the court,” said Walton upon first consideration. “I think it more has to do with our styles of playing the game. We both understand the game pretty well and over the past two years, we’ve played a lot of 2-of-2 and 3-on-3 with each other and developed a good feel for each other’s games.”

Farmar had a different perspective.

“It definitely helps,” he countered. “If you’re friends with someone, you know their game, you know what they’re good at, you know how to put them in a position to be successful and you want them to be successful. They want the same for you, so it’s a different kind of chemistry and feeling out there when you like, know and enjoy people you’re playing with.”

So … which is it?

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Walton Feeling Zona’s Sweet 16

March MadnessA No. 12 seed into the Sweet 16, huh?

“I tried to tell everyone already,” said Luke Walton without too much prompting regarding his Arizona Wildcats. “My teammates were all getting on me for picking Arizona because I was showing favoritism to my school, but I’m a realist. I just told them what was going to happen. I have them going to the National Championship game.”

While ‘Zona still has a long ways to go to get there – they’d have to beat Louisville, the Michigan State/Kansas winner and likely either UCONN or Memphis – Walton’s already feeling pretty good. He correctly picked 38 of the 48 possible games played in rounds one and two, and was the only participant in our March Madness contest (he ranks third behind Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison) to correctly take Arizona to the Sweet 16, where they’ll face Rick Pitino’s squad.

“We have a tough matchup against Louisville, but we have two kids starting for Arizona that are from San Diego, which definitely helps,” said Walton, who coincidentally happens to be from San Diego. “We have a tough point guard in Nic Wise – you need a tough point to succeed in the tourney – and we have one of the best big men in the country in Jordan Hill. That’s the recipe for success right there.”

Now, if his teammates are talking trash, Walton’s not listening.

“The things is, my teammates aren’t even allowed to talk to me about it – except for Shannon (Brown) and Adam (Morrison), because they’ve got Michigan State and Gonzaga still going,” Walton explained. “If your team is out of it, you can’t speak to the people that have teams still playing for something. You can’t talk trash – I mean you can talk to me, just not about college basketball.”

So if Brown or Morrison wants to have a nice lil’ NCAA conversation with Luke, it’s all good. On the other hand, an example of guys who aren’t allowed to speak to Walton about college hoops are Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar, whose UCLA Bruins lost in the second round to Villanova.

“That’s what happens when you don’t win your conference or conference tournament, you get a higher seed and have to go up against a team playing great basketball in their hometown (Philadelphia),” said Farmar. “I took the hit in my bracket with my Bruins pick to win it all, but if I’m going down it’s going to be with my boys.”

Fair enough.

In the Rankings: Week 21

Every Monday, the Lakers Basketblog checks the net to bring you the latest NBA power rankings.
This Week: 2 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: N/A

If the Cavs finish a game ahead of the Lakers and the two teams meet in the Finals, Game 1 would be in Cleveland thanks to Andre Iguodala’s game-winning three last Tuesday. L.A. began its seven-game trip with a Bench Mob-led comeback in Chicago on Saturday.
This Week: 1 | Last Week: 1 | Diff: N/A

Spotty D. Inconsistent bench. A killer instinct publicly questioned by the coach. And still no Bynum. But you know what? Nothing’s changed: Roughly 29 teams would trade for L.A.’s issues, like we said in October.
This Week: 2 | Last Week: 2 | Diff: N/A

Good news, Lakers fans: Regardless of the outcome of this postseason, Phil Jackson will be back next season. When asked recently by local reporters if he envisioned a scenario in which the Lakers win the championship and he rides off into the sunset, Jackson said, “No, I certainly don’t. I still have a year left on the contract.”
This Week: 2 | Last Week: 1 | Diff: -1

Their defense will determine title chances.

Average Ranking: This Week: 1.75 | Last Week: 1.5 | Diff: -.25

Lakers 117, Bulls 109: Postgame

Sasha VujacicWhen’s the last time L.A.’s bench completely turned a game around and produced a purple and gold victory?

Thinking …

Still thinking … ? Uhh … Last season?

Try Saturday night in Chicago.

Behind a furious fourth quarter run inspired by the Jordan Farmar – Luke Walton – Sasha Vujacic – Josh Powell with Lamar Odom combination, L.A.’s second unit turned a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead before Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol returned with about six minutes left in the game. Inspired by the subs, Bryant and Gasol pushed the lead up to 15 almost immediately, and ultimately led L.A. to a 117-109 win at the United Center.

What exactly inspired the bench? At first thought, perhaps Odom’s inclusion brought some familiarity to the unit, which had been playing often with Gasol since Andrew Bynum’s injury. Yet, that’s just a thought, because as Josh Powell explained after the game, it was more simple: “We just brought it on defense.” That defensive intensity led to guys sharing the ball and scoring at the other end, and Chicago had no answer.

“Defensively they got some turnovers, and when you do that, you can get some run outs and some easy things happen,” said Phil Jackson of the second unit. “They got loose balls, they got on the floor and they helped each other out. Guys played together … It was good to see from them.”

Leading the way for the bench was Farmar, who played his best game in weeks while scoring eight fourth quarter points and twice setting up Walton on isolation mismatches that helped get L.A. going. Vujacic added two perimeter jumpers and two dimes plus some aggressive defense, while Powell and Odom anchored some tough, active interior defense for the road team.

The 21-6 run to start the fourth came after L.A.’s starters opened the third quarter with a lil’ run of their own, outscoring the Bulls 23-8 to all but erase a 14-point halftime deficit, thanks also to some tough D.

All the more impressive as L.A. became the first team since Feb. 12 (Miami) to beat Chicago on their home floor. In fact, since acquiring John Salmons and Brad Miller from Sacramento, the Bulls had beaten Denver, Orlando, Houston Golden State, Milwaukee, New Orleans and Boston at home, and seemed to have the Lakers in a meat grinder at the break.

Yet all nine players that saw court time in the second half made a solid contribution, and L.A. had their 55th win.

Field goals made in the second half by the Bulls, after 26 makes in the first half.

Points off the bench from Jordan Farmar, eight of which came in the fourth quarter.

Straight points reeled off by the Lakers early in the fourth quarter as the second unit took control of the game. In the third, L.A. had used a 12-0 run to get back into the mix.

Bench points in the second half for the Lakers after just seven in the first half.

Fastbreak points in the game for the Bulls, which tells a clear story since only seven of them came in the second half.

Three-point percentage from the Lakers, including 2-of-2 from Trevor Ariza, 2-of-3 from Lamar Odom, 2-of-3 from Sasha Vujacic and 3-of-6 from Jordan Farmar.

Chicago’s shooting percentage in the first half, producing 62 points to just 48 from the Lakers.

Lakers – Bulls Running Diary

Kobe BryantRead about the Lakers vs. Bulls games as it unfolds. 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.

Previous Lakers – Bulls Running Diary/Postgame
Lakers – Bulls Running Diary 11-18-2008
Lakers 116, Bulls 109

Lakers: Sun Yue, Andrew Bynum
Bulls: Luol Deng, Jerome James

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Odom, Gasol
Bulls: Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, John Salmons, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah

Phil Jackson Pregame
Jackson dismissed the notion that there were anything but good memories of his time in Chicago, talked about playing conservatively on the road in a tough arena (Chicago had won seven straight home games), said that “the kids don’t read much these days” but that he still gives out books occasionally and touched on the MVP race (Kobe’s his favorite).

First Quarter
12:00 It’s still cool to hear the Bulls intro music that was stamped into the minds of any basketball fans who grew up watching Michael Jordan and Co. Of course, the coolest part of those intros was when the crowd noise grew so loud after the: “From Nooorth Carrolinaa … At guard … 6-6 …” that you couldn’t actually hear the PA guy say “Michael Jordan!!!” Here’s a clip that doesn’t fully encapsulate it, but gets the idea.

11:29 Good start for the purple and gold, who stole the ball on back-to-back possessions to net an Ariza layup and 1-of-2 Pau free throws.

9:32 Another Lakers steal produced a break-out layup from Ariza to put L.A. up 9-4. Since Ariza began starting last week, the Lakers are 4-1, blemished only by Andre Iguodala’s game-winning three-pointer for Philly. He’s averaged 14.6 points, 4.6 boards and 2.8 steals in those contests.

8:23 Bryant made his second jumper to put L.A. up 13-4 early as the run continued. The Lakers were scoring mostly off their defense, which forced the Bulls to take contested jumpers…

… At least until the 6:45 mark, when Gordon got all the way to the cup for a layup that capped an 8-0 run on the heels of two straight made jumpers.

6:12 The run grew to 10 when Rose got to the rim a bit too easily, though Odom answered with a three-pointer out of a timeout to put L.A. back up, 16-14.

2:32 John Salmons is a big reason why Chicago’s won seven straight at home, as he proved after picking Bryant’s pocket and then finishing in transition at the other end. His hoop preceded a Thomas swat of Odom and a Gordon three in transition to put Chicago up 30-22. Quick math shows that Chicago was on a 26-7 run after L.A.’s fast start.

0:00 Two more Bulls’ buckets doubled Gasol’s fourth field goal and sent Chicago into the second quarter with a 10-point lead. L.A. had a tough time with Chicago’s athleticism in transition, and started missing some easy shots, not a good recipe for success.
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Bulls Running Diary’

Screaming for Shannon Brown

Maywood, Illinois is only about five minutes away from the United Center.

It’s the town that produced Lakers guard Shannon Brown, so as you might suspect, he won’t be lacking for support on Saturday evening.

His mom and dad are coming. His three brothers are coming. His grandma, his aunties, his cousins, his uncle and a group of his closest friends. All in all, that’s 32 people.

“It’s just the people that I’m really, really close to, the people that have supported me all these years,” said Brown. “This is the first and last time that I’m buying 32 tickets, but I’m happy to do it because I love the support and am grateful for it.”

Brown collaborated with his mom and dad to make the list of 32, and said he’s expecting to hear his section go crazy if he gets into the game.

Maybe they’ll hear the roar in Maywood?