Monthly Archive for May, 2009

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Playoff Podcast #15: Lakers.com

We sat down after Game 1 to take a closer look at the final couple minutes of the Lakers win. We also found time for this.

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

Lakers 105, Nuggets 103: Postgame 1

57488633Kanye West’s “Amazing” theme that’s featured on the NBA’s playoff preview commercials applied directly and with purpose on a crazy Tuesday evening in L.A.

Surely if the Lakers come-from-behind, down-the-stretch win over an impressive Denver Nuggets team serves as a harbinger, we’re in for quite a Western Conference Finals. Down 94-89 with 5:13 on the clock, the West’s best slugged it out in Old Western fashion, the big plays deserving a blow-by-blow breakdown:

4:17 Trevor Ariza nails a three after making 1-of-7 shots to that point – Denver 94, L.A. 92.
2:30 Pau Gasol, struggling defensively all game, swats Nene to set up a Derek Fisher three at the other end – L.A. 97, Denver 96.
2:07 Gasol draws a charge on Anthony.
1:38 Chauncey Billups drains a three after Gasol misses both free throws – Denver 99, L.A. 97.
1:14 Gasol draws a defensive foul and makes both free throws – L.A. 99, Denver 99.
0:57.3 Lamar Odom, after tying up Chris Andersen, wins the jump ball.
0:30.5 Kobe Bryant, who stuck a jumper with 3:12 left, attacked the paint, drew a foul and hit both – L.A. 101, Denver 99.
0:29.1 Ariza jumped the lofted Anthony Carter inbounds pass (Odom all over him) and eventually earned two free throws for Bryant with 10.0 remaining – L.A. 103, Denver 99.
0:06.1 Billups drops another silly triple – L.A. 103, Denver 102.
0:05.8 Bryant hits two more from the stripe, and the Lakers wrap up J.R. Smith instead of allowing a potential game-tying three.
0:03.2 Smith makes one, intentionally misses the second, and Bryant skies for the game-clinching rebound.

Lakers win.

In real time, each play was gut-wrenching and time stopping, with a sold out STAPLES Center crowd living with each positive play (Ariza steals the ball!!!) and dying with every counter (Chauncey … No!!!). That L.A. had a chance to make big plays down the stretch in the first place was a testament to Kobe Bryant, who scored 18 fourth quarter points and took turns guarding whichever Nugget was the hottest between Billups and Anthony in a fantastic performance.

“Once I sensed we didn’t have the energy, I had to take it upon myself to try and lead by example,” he said of his 40-point, 4-assist, 6-rebound, ball-hawking effort. “Just had to gut it out … We were down virtually the whole game, I had to dig deep a little bit to see if we couldn’t pull it out.”

Carmelo Anthony, who was himself spectacular with 39 points on 14-of-20 shooting, needed few words to describe his Olympic teammate and close friend.

“He’s tough,” said ‘Melo, shaking his head. “Everyone knows what Kobe can do … He’s a great player.”

57488682“It’s crazy that you start to get used to it,” added Lamar Odom, who pitched in seven points, eight boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks. “You get used to greatness. (Bryant) was amazing. He wanted the ball … And he was able to make plays over and over again … That’s why he’s the best.”

Bryant’s effort was particularly captivating as earlier that day, Lakers legend Jerry West said LeBron James had surpassed Bryant as the game’s best player, comments to which Bryant responded after the game when asked: “(Being the best player is) not my goal …My mission is to win a championship, and the debate of who is the best player, that’s not something that I concern myself with.”

Well, he was certainly the best player on this night, and he needed to be after the Nuggets raced out of the gates like Rachel Alexandra, opening a 13-point first quarter lead that L.A.’s bench managed to completely erase by halftime. But in the third quarter, with Andrew Bynum in foul trouble, Nene and Co. bullied Pau Gasol in the paint to reclaim a lead that was at most seven points early in the fourth.

But then, with Bryant all over Anthony, it was three players who’d struggled for much of the game – Gasol, Fisher and Ariza – who stepped up to the moment, and the Lakers stole a victory.

“We kind of won that game just on energy and gutting it out, finding a way to get some stops at the end and make some plays at the other … some big ones,” said Phil Jackson. “I think they outplayed us and we won the game.”

Denver coach George Karl, dejected yet proud of his team, was gracious in defeat.

“They’re a great team,” he said after looking down for a full 20 seconds. “They’re great at the end of games. They have the best closer in sports, and we didn’t do enough to win the game.”

They were both right: Denver may have deserved to win (12 missed free throws didn’t help), but L.A. was great when it mattered most.

Either way, both coaches seemed to agree that their teams were in for quite a series that continues in L.A. on Thursday.

Until then, some numbers:
Continue reading ‘Lakers 105, Nuggets 103: Postgame 1′

Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary 1

57487534Read about the Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 1 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.

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

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Gasol and Bynum
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Dahntay Jones, Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin, Nene

Matchups the Key
In the NBA playoffs, it’s often a matchup game … Who’s got more advantages? We took a look at each of the position-by-position contests that will play out on the floor in our complete Western Conference Finals preview, but here’s a hint: Denver, like most teams, will have trouble with the Bynum – Gasol combination.

Pregame Video Scouting Report
Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen sat down with us to preview Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, explaining why Denver’s improved defensively, talking about George Karl’s 30-30-30 formula and the importance of Chauncey Billups. To watch the video, CLICK HERE.

Layoff Warning
It’s been six days since the Nuggets last played (Wed., May 13), the same number of days L.A. had off before the Houston series. The Lakers struggled to get it going early in that Game 1 loss to Houston … Will Denver be ready to play?

57487501First Quarter
12:00 STAPLES off to a strong start with a Dick Van Dyke National Anthem and an Elgin Baylor ball delivery.

11:45 Billups opened the game with a jumper off a screen, which preceded a Jones’ FT and ‘Melo layup off Ariza’s bad pass to start 5-0.

10:20 L.A.’s first bucket came in a fortunate way, with Ariza’s rainbow baseline J swishing through after spending a good three seconds in the air. I’ll say this … The 6 p.m. local start is a bit deflating for L.A. since many fans have yet to arrive (not that it’s anyone’s fault for having to stay at work, get stuck in traffic and deal with the American Idol craziness).

8:06 Bryant’s put-back layup followed back-to-back jumpers from Anthony, one a top-of-the-key three, that had L.A. down 10-4.

7:08 An open dunk from Nene countered Bynum’s hoop in the paint, and the Lakers trailed by eight heading into the first time out. I’d questioned if the long layoff would affect Denver’s early energy, and boy was that off base. Even if the Lakers missed some wide open looks and Denver made 6-of-8, the Nuggets certainly controlled the tempo. Also, Gasol barely touched the ball on offense.

6:33 Everything going Denver’s way as Martin made his second straight line drive from 15 feet.

4:03 Bynum scored on the baseline for his second hoop, but the bigger story was the ease with which Denver was getting open looks and scoring, as proven by another easy layup from Nene. Many, including myself, thought the Lakers would come out with the same defensive intensity that stifled the Rockets to 12 first quarter points in Sunday’s Game 7, but we’d certainly yet to see that in the opening minutes.

3:18 Down 20-12, Jackson inserted Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton. In related news, CLICK HERE for a pregame story on Odom’s back. Some interesting matchups: Bryant on Billups; Walton on Anthony and Vujacic on also-checked in J.R. Smith.

2:32 Martin ran uncontested through the lane for Denver’s third dunk.

1:50 Anthony nailed a three for his 14th point, looking completely locked in. Almost shocking how easily the Nuggets were scoring, though Gasol mercifully answered with an and-1 to make it a 27-17 game.

0:40.0 Two big momentum plays from Vujacic, who hustled to poke a defensive board out of Billups’ reach, then nailed a corner three at the other end. Denver continued to make everything (Martin on the baseline), but Shannon Brown hit L.A.’s second three in 25 seconds to cut the lead to eight.

0:02.2 Billups missed two free throws that allowed L.A. to stay within eight at 31-23, which really didn’t reflect Denver’s domination of the first quarter.

Leading the way? Carmelo Anthony, who averaged 14.5 points against the Lakers in the regular season, but in the first quarter went for 16 on 7-of-8 shooting.
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Nuggets Running Diary 1′

Odom’s Back Still Sore, But Improving

An hour prior to L.A.’s Game 1 tip against Denver, Lamar Odom answered a few questions in the locker room about his sore lower back, which he will not allow to limit him against Denver.

“It’s not the time for that, right?” he said. “No excuses at this time of the year. ”

But make no mistake … It’s sore.

“There’s a little patch of fluid that just kind of lays on the spine, and it’s not going to go anywhere until I finish playing,” explained Odom.

He did acknowledge, however, that his back is feeling better on a daily basis; Odom got a nice boost on Tuesday by lifting weights for the first time since his Game 4 fall in Houston. That, to Odom, was as good a sign as any that he’s progressing.

“(Lifting) helped me get my blood flowing and helped me get some energy,” he explained. “I need the weight room, it helps me stay strong.”

He certainly prefers lifting to the shot that he received prior to Game 5 in the Houston series, which helped limit the inflamation in his back for that game but bothered him in the morning.

“The shot, to me, kind of tricked my body into feeling like it wasn’t hurt,” he said. “But the next day, I was feeling kind of sore. So I’d rather not do it. El natural. That’s what they call me.”

Sasha Post-Shootaround Video

Sasha Vujacic joined us after shootaround to explain why he let Pau Gasol win their regular 3-point shooting contest, share his thoughts on the Denver Nuggets and talk about why he enjoys interacting with fans on Twitter.

Game 1 Video Preview: Denver

Bynum - MeloLakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen sat down with us to preview Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, explaining why Denver’s improved defensively, talking about George Karl’s 30-30-30 formula and the importance of Chauncey Billups.

Hamblen also detailed how unlike Houston and Utah, Denver doesn’t run many clearly defined offensive sets, focusing more on simple pick and rolls and isolation post ups.

To watch the video, CLICK HERE.

Lakers – Nuggets Preview

Eight down, eight to go for the purple and gold.

While the Rockets surely gave L.A. all it wanted in a tough 7-game series that concluded with Sunday’s 19-point Game 7 win, Kobe Bryant’s team may have discovered something about itself in the process: The Lakers can play some seriously suffocating defense when properly inspired.

That’s precisely what they did in Games 5 and 7 at home, and the second half of Game 6 on the road, sparked by the presence of 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on the interior and some highly-active perimeter defense led by Bryant.

“Our effort could be much better in Game 4 and Game 6, but still, Houston played extremely well,” said Bryant. “(But) in Game 6 at halftime we made a decision to get more aggressive – to get up in passing lanes – and we just turned it up another notch. After that game we understood that there was another level still that we could go to defensively.”

Playing that way defensively will be necessary against a Nuggets’ team that boasts a good deal of offensive firepower, led by Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and sub J.R. Smith. Though Denver lacks a classic low post scorer, it has played much better defensively than at any other point of Anthony’s career. The question is how the Rocky Mountain dwellers will fare against a Lakers team that’s far more talented than a beat up New Orleans squad (4-1 Denver) or a Dallas team with an injured Josh Howard that still battled quite well (remember the Game 3 non call?). Surely the Lakers are at another level.

TO READ THE FULL PREVIEW, CLICK HERE.

Lakers 89, Rockets 70: Postgame

LakersWhy did the Lakers ultimately lose last season’s NBA title to the Boston Celtics?

Defense.

Similarly, why did the heavily favored Lakers find themselves in a winner-take-all Game 7 against a gritty Houston Rockets squad?

Defense.

And why did the Lakers easily and methodically ground those Rockets for good on Sunday at STAPLES Center?

Defense … Swarming defense.

While the Lakers played individually and collectively well at the most important end of the floor, one player can be easily singled out for his impact. It’s a player who also happened to be absent in last season’s playoffs, most notably in the Finals: Andrew Bynum.

Nothing made that more clear than the extended roar Bynum heard from his home crowd when checking out of the game with 1:58 left in the third quarter, the win all but secured with his team up 67-48 thanks in no small part to the young center’s personal clogging of the lane. He finished with six boards, two blocks, and a steal, not to mention 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes.

“It’s big,” said Kobe Bryant, who needed to score just 14 points alongside his seven boards, five assists, three steals and two blocks. “From a defensive standpoint, (Bynum’s) extremely critical.”

Deserving just as much credit for putting on his hard hat and going to work is Pau Gasol, who was omnipresent in proving the fact that the Lakers are nearly unbeatable when their two seven footers beat the effort drum. Like Bynum, the Spaniard was privy to a triumphant standing ovation upon checking out of the game with 3:34 to play, his Lakers up 29 thanks in no small part to 21 points and 18 rebounds (six offensive).

“I was just proud of the way (Gasol) played,” said Bryant, seated next to Gasol at the postgame podium. “He played like one of the best players in the world. I was excited for him.”

Gasol and Bynum combined with Lamar Odom off the bench to block six shots, grab 55 boards to Houston’s 33 and limit the Rockets to only 30 points in the paint.

“(We) stopped penetration,” said Odom, who battled a sore back to score six points with seven boards and three assists. “We were able to stop (Aaron) Brooks from getting to the hole and we made them take jump shots, and they never got on track.”

With Sunday’s effort, L.A. had outscored the Rockets by a collective 59 points in its last two home games, with neither game in doubt after respective first quarters. Surely that’s the kind of effort that the Lakers hope to bring in just two days as the Denver Nuggets stroll in for a Western Conference Finals showdown that Houston’s Shane Battier briefly handicapped:

“The Lakers are the favorites,” he offered. “I don’t think the Nuggets have been tested yet.”

They’ll certainly be tested, and then some, if L.A. brings its A game, which Bryant acknowledged simply wasn’t there in every game of the Houston series.

“Our effort could be much better in Game 4 and Game 6, but still, Houston played extremely well,” said Bryant, who could have added “We were weak in Game 1″. “(But) in Game 6 at halftime we made a decision to get more aggressive – to get up in passing lanes – and we just turned it up another notch. After that game … we understood that there was another level still that we could go to defensively.”

Whether or not they can lock that defensive energy up and stick it into a bottle, due to be released on Tuesday, remains to be seen; but the Lakers are confident that they’ll do just that.

“Hopefully we’re going to carry that (defense) into the next round and to a championship,” concluded Gasol. “That’s something we need to do consistently no matter what, no matter where we play.”

With that, some numbers:

0
Times Houston led in the game, the same number of leads L.A. held in Game 6.

8
Wins in the playoffs for the Lakers, who have their minds wrapped around getting eight more.

9
First quarter points from Trevor Ariza, including two 3-pointers, which were key as the Lakers as a team shot just 39 percent in the period. Ariza finished a productive game with 15 points, five boards and two blocks.

9
Fourth quarter points from Sasha Vujacic on 4-of-6 shooting, encouraging for L.A. as the Slovenian had struggled with his shot throughout the playoffs.

10
Blocked shots for the Lakers, to just three from Houston.

31
L.A.’s biggest lead.

36.8
Houston’s field goal percentage as the visitors struggled to get good looks at the basket throughout the afternoon. The Rockets made just 5-of-20 threes, two of which came in the final minute (Kyle Lowry) of the game with L.A. playing token defense.

55
Rebounds for the Lakers, including 13 on the offensive end, to dominate the Rockets’ 33 boards (five offensive). Pau Gasol alone had 18 boards, while Houston’s high-man (Ron Artest) had eight.

Western Conference Finals Schedule

Here’s the schedule for the Lakers’ Western Conference Finals matchup with the Denver Nuggets. We’ll have the series preview, wallpaper, etc. up on Monday.

Game 1 – Tuesday, May 19 | Nuggets at Lakers | 6:00PM | ESPN
Game 2 – Thursday, May 21 | Nuggets at Lakers | 6:00PM | ESPN
Game 3 – Saturday, May 23 | Lakers at Nuggets | 5:30PM | ABC
Game 4 – Monday, May 25 | Lakers at Nuggets | 6:00PM | ESPN
Game 5* – Wednesday, May 27 | Nuggets at Lakers | 6:00PM | ESPN
Game 6* – Friday, May 29 | Lakers at Nuggets | 6:00PM | ESPN
Game 7* – Sunday, May 31 | Nuggets at Lakers | 5:30PM | ABC
* = if necessary

Lakers – Rockets Running Diary 7

Lakers FansRead about the Lakers vs. Rockets Game 7 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 – Rockets Running Diary, May 4, 2009
Lakers 92, Rockets 100: Postgame

Game 2
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 6, 2009
Lakers 111, Rockets 98: Postgame

Game 3
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 8, 2009
Lakers 108, Rockets 94: Postgame

Game 4
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 10, 2009
Lakers 87, Rockets 99: Postgame

Game 5
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 12, 2009
Lakers 118, Rockets 78: Postgame

Game 6
Lakers – Rockets Running Diary, May 14, 2009
Lakers 80, Rockets 95: Postgame

Inactives
Lakers: Adam Morrison, Sun Yue
Rockets: Tracy McGrady, Dikembe Mutombo, Yao Ming

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Ariza, Gasol and Bynum
Rockets: Brooks, Battier, Artest, Scola, Hayes

Early Signs To Watch For
First of all, look to see how the game’s called. If the Rockets are being called for pushing and reaching in the paint, it’s a really good sign for L.A. Second, look to see how Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant try to get Andrew Bynum activated on offense. Easy looks for ‘Drew early on always benefit his total game. Finally, pay attention to Gasol’s work on the glass … If he’s active on the glass, L.A.’s in good shape, because that signifies his overall activity level. But more than anything else, Game 7 is about talent and execution, because the effort’s going to be there for both team.

Undefeated in White
L.A. has yet to lose this season when wearing the Sunday and holiday white jerseys. FYI.
Continue reading ‘Lakers – Rockets Running Diary 7′