Monthly Archive for May, 2009

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Playoff Podcast #18: Mike Breen

ESPN’s Mike Breen, who’s handling play-by-play duties for the Lakers – Nuggets series, joined us prior to Game 4 to talk about calling the Western Conference Finals.

As always, listen below or check out Playoff Central for everything else you need to know about this series.

Game 5 Video Preview

Melo - ArizaIf you want to focus on one thing in particular that could determine who wins Wednesday’s Game 5 between L.A. and Denver, check the boards.

Assistant coach Frank Hamblen joined us to talk about the importance of cleaning the glass (Denver won that battle 58-40 in Game 2), getting the ball into the post, containing the Nuggets’ bench and more.

CLICK HERE to get to the Gameday Page and scroll down for the video.

Late-Series Success at STAPLES…?

Kobe and LamarAfter appearing at times sluggish in the first two games of each of their first two 2009 playoff series, the Lakers pulled things together quite impressively in their two Game 5′s and a Game 7 against Utah and Houston, respectively. In fact, all three games ended up being blowouts after the Jazz and Rockets had taken 1-of-2 from L.A. at home in Games 3 or 4.

Here’s a quick review of the late-series first and second round games in Los Angeles:

Game 5 vs. Utah – Lakers 107, Jazz 96: The Lakers led by as many as 22 points early in the fourth quarter before Utah’s subs closed the gap late. Lamar Odom was terrific with 26 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

Game 5 vs. Houston – Lakers 118, Rockets 78: After the first quarter, the home team led by 11 points. After the second, the gap was 25. One more quarter, and it was 40, the margin that would stick through the final score.

Game 7 vs. Houston – Lakers 89, Rockets 70: The Lakers absolutely smothered the Rockets defensively, opening an early lead that swelled to as many as 31 points to finally dismiss a pesky Houston squad.

Now, the question is, will the Lakers be able to continue this pattern against a Denver team that’s proven to be playing better basketball than either of L.A.’s previous opponents, and with Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza both nursing injuries? In other words, just because L.A. played very well in its building in the first two rounds doesn’t mean they’ll be able to repeat the effort against Denver, even if the evidence doesn’t hurt. In this case, to repeat their STAPLES success, the purple and gold will not only need more from Odom and Ariza – injured or not – but from the rest of the bench, who’ll be looked at to display the kind of energy shown by the Nuggets’ pine in Game 4.

For more on L.A.’s upcoming Game 5, set to tip at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, check the post practice video by CLICKING HERE.

Bynum Flagrant Rescinded, Jones Awarded

The NBA has lowered the Flagrant Type 1 foul given to Andrew Bynum with 6:11 left in the the fourth quarter of L.A.’s Game 4 loss in Denver to a regular foul, according to Lakers spokesman John Black.

Bynum committed the foul when Denver’s Chris Andersen grabbed an offensive rebound and went up for the put back, appearing to get a whole lot of ball in addition to Andersen’s arm.

This marked the second Flagrant Type 1 foul called on a Lakers player that was rescinded this postseason; Kobe Bryant’s in Game 6 against Utah was similarly downgraded.

Meanwhile, Denver guard Dahntay Jones was assessed a retroactive Flagrant Type 1 foul for his trip of Kobe Bryant that occurred late in the third quarter after Bryant beat Jones on a back cut to the hoop. It’s the third flagrant foul given to Jones in the playoffs, meaning he’s one short of a mandatory one-game suspension.

Lakers 101, Nuggets 120: Postgame 4

Pau and KobeL.A. knew the recipe for success heading into Game 4 in Denver: try to sustain the home team’s inevitable early energy, stay close on the scoreboard and out-execute the Nuggets in the fourth to try and steal a second-straight road win.

Yet what the Lakers had no answer for, even if assistant coach Frank Hamblen warned of it before the game, was a terrific bench effort from Denver, who got 42 points from its pine to overwhelm the Lakers and even the series at two heading back to Los Angeles.

Without question, it’s a tough task to take two consecutive home games from a good playoff team, particularly when fatigue was thought to be an issue for the purple and gold heading into the contest. That Denver had to work its collective behind off against a tired purple and gold squad in staving off a 3-1 series deficit was well-defined by its 58-40 edge on the glass, including 20 offensive rebounds that produced 23 second-chance points.

Throughout the game, the Nuggets sustained their effort to open up leads only to see the Lakers hang a few buckets at the other end to stay in the game. The Lakers trailed by three after one and seven after two, but ultimately, the visitors couldn’t keep up, and the Nuggets were able to protect an 11-point lead they’d built into the fourth.

Before the game, George Karl had this to say about L.A.’s legs and his bench: “Fatigue is a part of a playoff series if it goes for a long time … I hope that does become a factor, because I think right now our bench has a little more confidence.”

That certainly proved true, particularly from Chris Andersen – who grabbed 14 boards and blocked two shots in 24 minutes – and J.R. Smith, who put in 24 points with four assists. The Lakers, on the other hand, got little from their bench, relying instead on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to carry the day on some tired All-Star legs. Though both were terrific – Bryant scored 34 points with seven boards and five assists while Gasol put up 21 points, 10 boards, four assists and three blocks – their lack of support ultimately doomed the Lakers.

Still, there was no panic in the postgame locker room, as the Lakers knew Denver had to completely empty its tank on Monday before taking a flight to L.A. for Wednesday’s Game 5 at STAPLES Center. There, the Lakers feel like they’ll be the team with the extra skip in their step.

Until then, some numbers:

Missed shot in seven attempts for Andrew Bynum, for whom Denver didn’t have an answer in the paint. Bynum scored 14 points, grabbed five boards and blocked a shot, though he did get caught behind the play a few times en route to five personal fouls.

Fourth quarter technicals called on the Nuggets (J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin drew one each). Also the number of days it rained in Denver during L.A.’s stay.

Turnovers for the Nuggets, which helped keep the Lakers to just five fastbreak points.

Denver’s advantage in the paint, from where it outscored the Lakers 52-34.

Offensive boards from the Nuggets, to just nine from the Lakers. This stat as much as any showed Denver’s energy level.

Three-pointers attempted by the Lakers, who converted on nine (29 percent).

Bench points for the Nuggets, compared to 22 for L.A.

Free throws taken by the Nuggets, including 31 in the second half. L.A. attempted 35 from the charity stripe.

Times Denver’s Detroit-style PA announcer annoyed the band of Lakers fans who made the trip from Los Angeles. Swiping the “Chauncey Buh Buh Buh Billups” line from the Pistons probably wasn’t a California favorite.

Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary 4

57535188Read about the Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 4 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.

Game 1
Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary, May 19, 2009
Lakers 105, Nuggets 103: Postgame

Game 2
Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary, May 21, 2009
Lakers 103, Nuggets 106: Postgame

Game 3
Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary, May 23, 2009
Lakers 103, Nuggets 97: Postgame

Lakers: Adam Morrison, Sun Yue
Nuggets: Sonny Weems, Steven Hunter

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Gasol and Bynum
Nuggets: Billups, Jones, Anthony, Martin and Nene

Phil Jackson Pregame
Jackson’s primary message to his team, he said, was to come with a sense of urgency to match what the Nuggets promise to deliver with their collective back against the wall. He added that the coaching staff would have to watch the minutes of Trevor Ariza (hip, groin), but that you can’t really monitor Kobe Bryant’s minutes: “He wants to play all of them.” A reporter also mentioned that Ariza’s numbers are up across the board in the playoffs (51 percent from 3-point range, for example), which Jackson said was simply because some players step their games in the postseason, and Ariza appears to be one of them.

George Karl Pregame
Karl opened talking about L.A.’s weariness: “Fatigue is a part of a playoff series if it goes for a long time … I hope that does become a factor, because I think right now our bench has a little more confidence.” Karl added that the Nuggets did a good job on Bryant with the exception of a few fouls and a few times in which Bryant got the ball back after an initial denial. Finally, Karl said that coaches have more trouble with close losses, while players feel better about them because they knew they were right in the game.

Jones Push of Kobe Changed to “Flagrant 1″
According to NBA VP of PR Tim Frank, the two-handed push that Dahntay Jones committed on Kobe Bryant with 7:13 left in the third quarter was changed from a personal foul to a flagrant 1. Bryant made both free throws at the time to bring L.A. within two at 60-58.

57535349First Quarter
11:46 Bryant immediately split a double team and drew a foul on Jones, who has to be approaching an NBA playoff record for most fouls-per-minute in a series.

10:40 Apparently free throw practice didn’t do a ton of good for the Lakers, who missed 3-of-4 to start the game, including both from Ariza.

10:09 Game plan: pound it in the paint, which worked as Gasol smartly found Bynum with a lob, and the young center converted on the baseline to make it 4-3 Nuggets (who’d gotten two hoops from Martin).

7:31 After Ariza missed his second straight open three, Bynum dunked courtesy of a pretty Pau pass to make it 8-5 Denver, who’d already grabbed three offensive boards. The hustle stats are going to be tough for L.A. especially in the first half.

3:58 Getting a tough runner to go off glass in the lane was one thing for Fish, but his pull-up didn’t look at good, and Martin hit 1-of-2 freebies at the other end to put Denver up seven. With that, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton checked in for Bynum and Ariza.

1:53 Surprise, surprise: Odom deflected a Martin inbounds pass out of bounds. Denver did collect, however, and get two more FT’s when Walton was whistled for another bump, this time on Martin, whose FT’s made it 20-13 Nuggets.

0:00 A tough, in-traffic, running bank shot from Kobe went down for his third straight make, which kept the Lakers within three (22-19) after one. Denver threw a great deal of effort at the Lakers, but didn’t execute very well (7-of-21, 33 percent) by missing a few layups and four free throws.
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary 4′

Game 4 Video Preview

Assistant coach Frank Hamblen joined us to preview L.A.’s second game in Denver, detailing his team’s focus on stopping the Nuggets’ penetration, controlling Denver’s bench and keeping the home team off the free throw line.

Hamblen also talked about how L.A. was able to twice steal key Denver inbound passes, and the importance of getting quality possessions on offense and matching the Nuggets’ energy.

To watch, CLICK HERE.

Playoff Podcast #17: John Ireland

081022blog_irelandFor today’s Playoff Podcast we sat down with KCAL sideline reporter and host of the Mason & Ireland show on 710ESPN, John Ireland to talk about the Lakers 2-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets in the 2009 Western Conference Finals.

As always, listen below or check out Playoff Central for everything else you need to know about this series.

Sunday Mini Mailbag

Kobe - Pau PostgameWith Lakers fans feeling like talkin’ hoops on the heels of L.A.’s dramatic 103-97 win on Saturday night in Denver, we took a few Mailbag questions to get us through the weekend leading into Game 4.

Q: How can you improve Kobe’s passing so he can win another ring.
- Jacob, Baltimore, Maryland

MT: I have to go the other way on this one, Jacob; this question is like asking how Jack can improve his practice of medicine on the “Lost” island. He does it when it’s needed and he’s good at it, but it’s not his primary role. In other words, Kobe’s passing has been entirely what L.A.’s needed (and he happens to be leading the team in postseason assists). Still, his primary role within the offense especially in tight playoff games is to score, but he’s made the right pass out of double teams very consistently all season and in the playoffs. For example, the two big threes that Derek Fisher hit to help L.A. win Game 1 came because Kobe drew a double and kicked out a perfect skip pass. Many of Trevor Ariza’s open looks come because Kobe’s being doubled on the strong side. Sure, there are a few times a game when Bryant takes a shot when a pass may be warranted, but he’s generally trying to find his range at those times since he knows he’ll have to hit shots late.

Q: I told my father in law during game two that the only way Denver had a chance to come back was if the Lakers stopped going inside and of course they did. They need to try this line-up and see what kind of play they can get Kobe PG, Ariza SG, Odom SF, Gasol PF, Bynum C … No way Denver or any team in the east can match up, NO WAY. They have a great center in the making with Bynum and when he asks for the ball give it to him early and often. If the Lakers play the way everybody knows they can and when I say everyone I mean everyone, the media, the fans, other teams. Position by position and talent wise there is no better team. So go BIG or go home.
- Carlos “loyal fan”, Moorpark, CA

MT: You have some good points in here Carlos. For starters, you’re absolutely right about the Lakers needing to continue to go inside. It’s clearly worked throughout the season … But other teams know this as well, and they structure their defenses to make it difficult to get low post entry passes and for L.A.’s bigs to set up deep post position. Nene and Kenyon Martin are both very good at this, but that doesn’t mean the Lakers shouldn’t keep pounding it down there. I also agree that your lineup suggestion would be interesting, but it simply wouldn’t work in a 48-minute game. L.A.’s biggest strength (other than Kobe, of course) is to keep at least two of the Bynum-Gasol-Odom combo on the floor the entire game, which allows them to match up with everybody and almost always have an advantage. If they’re all out there together (which they haven’t been all season for a reason), that couldn’t happen.

Kobe JumperQ: Where does Kobe’s 3-pointer over J.R. Smith with 1:09 left in the 4th to put L.A. up one rank among shots you’ve seen in person?
- David, Marina Del Rey, CA

MT: Honestly, it’s probably No. 1 for me, but it wouldn’t be for someone who’s covered the Lakers for more than a year. I, unfortunately in NBA terms, grew up in Minnesota, and the Timberwolves weren’t good until I went to college from 2000-04. So the best shot I saw in person heading into this season was a Sam Cassell (now an assistant coach with the Wizards, how ’bout that) baseline floater at the end of Game 6 against the Sacramento Kings in the Western Conference Semis, which preceded Minnesota’s loss to the Lakers in the next round. The last two seasons I spent with the Timberwolves (2006-08), which had a few clutch shots but nothing of importance and obviously nothing in the playoffs, so as you can see, that Kobe three tops my current dagger list. I will say this: if L.A. wins the title this season, it becomes a much bigger shot. What’s going against the shot historically is that there was still a minute left, meaning had he missed he may well have hit another on the next possession or two. Nonetheless, just an absurd dagger from a guy whose legs were holding onto the court for dear life. Amazing to watch.

Q: Today on NBA Countdown, one of the first questions to Magic Johnson was “What will it take for the Lakers to bounce back tonight”? He mentions the Lakers having the best road record 29-12, he mentioned who would have to step up tonight (Odom, Bynum &Fish has to play better)he also mentioned how we must remember how the Lakers won game #4 in Utah & game #3 in Houston, so we know they can do it. Just before the game started, Magic was asked his prediction of who he thought would win the game. Magic said; “Denver!!!! ” Not only did he throw us (Laker Fans) under the bus, but he was driving!! What is up with that????
- John, unknown

MT: Can’t agree even a little bit with you John … An analyst doesn’t have to pick his former team to win every single game to be a supporter of that team. I think Magic’s on record with the Lakers winning the series, but I don’t think anybody thought it would be a sweep. His job is to look at the game – which you explained – and point out what to expect, and then decide whether or not he thinks the team can execute that plan. I’m sure Magic, and all Lakers fans, always hope that the team will win, but I’m not sure any Lakers fan isn’t allowed to think an opponent will take a game on a given day.

Q: Did you see the last “Duel 2″ on MTV? Well, if you did, which one of those guys do you think would be the best 13th man on the Lakers, just to cheer and stuff.
- Erica, Long Beach, CA
MT: Obviously I watched the last “Duel,” Erica, don’t even worry about that. Here’s how I’d handicap the guys who’ve yet to be eliminated, in terms of who would have the most to least positive influence: Mark, Brad, Landon, Evan, Derek. The shame of it is that CT isn’t available after perhaps the greatest single-day reality TV moment in history (CT – Adam fight, it’s on YouTube). Alas, Mark’s a cool guy, everyone likes him, he’d do random/weird things in the locker room to keep everybody loose, and just generally help the team in intangible ways. Brad wouldn’t be bad, but he’d probably annoy some of the players by trying to compete with them all the time despite having inferior athletic ability. Landon’s a bit strange, Evan probably thinks he should get playing time despite not having any basketball talent and Derek would just be happy to be there and not really add anything. So congrats, Mark, welcome to the team.

Q: What do you see happening in Game 4?
- Brian, Inglewood
MT: I think the Lakers best shot is to keep the game close and try to steal a win, much like Game 3. That’s the recipe for road success in the playoffs, and L.A. shouldn’t veer too much in this one. Losing Game 4 in Houston after winning Game 3 might help with their focus as well, and the pressure in this one is all on Denver. How they respond will probably determine the game’s outcome more so than what L.A. is or isn’t able to do.

Lakers 103, Nuggets 97: Postgame 3

Kobe About 5,280 feet above sea level on Saturday night in Denver, yet another Kobe Bryant performance for the ages culminated in a come-from-behind win that reclaimed home court advantage for the Lakers in what’s turning out to be quite the Western Conference Finals.

Bryant matched his brilliant effort in L.A.’s 105-103 Game 1 victory when he put up 40 points, four assists and six boards with 41 points, five assists, six boards and two steals in Colorado. His 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining and L.A. down two over J.R. Smith was by far the biggest shot of the series, and preceded five of his six final quarter free throws that clinched the game.

What was different is that Bryant had a whole lot of second half help from Pau Gasol and Trevor Ariza. Gasol nailed back-to-back turnaround jumpers over the outstretched hands of Nene and grabbed four fourth quarter rebounds en route to 20 and 11 for the game, while Ariza not only made two three-pointers and the game-clinching steal (eerily similar to his steal that clinched Game 1), but he helped hold Carmelo Anthony to only seven points after the first quarter, and no field goals in the second half. The steal of the inbound pass again came with Lamar Odom flailing his long limbs at Kenyon Martin this time and Ariza stepping in front of Anthony.

“The effort tonight by Kobe and Trevor and Gasol chipped in with solid basketball game,” said Phil Jackson. “We had a little momentum there down the stretch and outscored them in the fourth quarter.”

That they did, by 14 points actually (32-18), to salvage the game and with it, ensure they’d be at worst dead even heading back to Los Angeles after Monday’s Game 4.

“We worked really hard,” said a winded Pau Gasol, who played nearly 43 minutes while Bryant went for 41. “I’m really proud of our guys. They really competed. That was the big difference the way we finished off the game.”

Bryant’s 5-of-6 free throws came as Denver missed three different attempts at 3-pointers while trailing by at least four in the final minute, though it was an 11-2 run to start the quarter – keyed by Odom, Gasol and Ariza – that set L.A. on its way.

Andrew Bynum chipped in seven points, four boards and three blocks in 20 minutes that allowed Gasol to save a bit of his legs in the first half, while Lamar Odom scored eight points with seven rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. Anthony finished with 21 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter, to lead Denver, while Chris Andersen added 15 points – 13 in the first half – off the bench.

The Lakers will attempt to regenerate some energy on Sunday, and take the Denver floor once again looking to win for the eighth straight time in a postseason road game against the Nuggets.

If Game 4′s anything like the first three, make sure you’re watching.

Until then, some numbers:

Second half points for Carmelo Anthony, all on free throws, as he went 0-for-4 from the field.

Field goals made by the Nuggets in the fourth quarter on 22 attempts (22.7 percent). Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith combined to go just 3-for-11, while Anthony was 0-for-2.

Straight road playoff wins for the Lakers in Denver.

Free throws missed by the Lakers. All seven players who attempted a free throw missed at least once for the Lakers, though the team made 11-of-14 in the fourth quarter.

Free throws made by Kobe Bryant in 17 attempts, who took – and gave – all kinds of contact throughout the game.

Second half points for Bryant en route to his 41.

Shooting percentage for the game by the Nuggets.

Field goal percentage by the Lakers in the fourth quarter on 9-of-15 shots, highlighted by two threes from Trevor Ariza and the big dagger from Bryant.