(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
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(Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)
Jackson said that Gasol has gone “five days with no soreness,” including days spent running on the treadmill and the Spaniard’s Sunday morning participation in a small amount of on-court work with the team.
“A little shootaround basketball,” said the Head Coach. “Just a limited amount before he did more with his strength and his rehab stuff. But he did get out on the court.”
After shootaround, Gasol told us that he was feeling well, but could not yet put a date on his possible return.
Cleamons explained how Houston runs its offense in the absence of Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, explained why L.A. was able to keep point guards Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry out of the paint in Texas and detailed what the Lakers expect from Andrew Bynum, who is averaging nearly 21 points and 12 rebounds per game.
In his pregame press conference, Phil Jackson said that the Lakers will again look to hold down Aaron Brooks, keep the Rockets off the offensive glass and find ways to get the ball inside to Andrew Bynum, Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest. He added that the Rockets are a very good “hustle” team that can win games by outworking teams.
Finally, Jackson repeated some of the same Trevor Ariza answers he offered in Houston (essentially, that Ariza demonstrated scoring ability last season but the explanation for his 19.4 points per game was more about opportunity to take more shots) and that he expected the STAPLES Center crowd to react “very favorably” when Ariza was presented with his championship ring.
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We took a look at the Lakers – Nuggets showdown while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter. Here’s your running diary:
Lakers: Pau Gasol
Nuggets: Johan Petro
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Bynum
Nuggets: Billups, Arron Afflalo, Carmelo Anthony, Martin and Nene
9:00 All Lakers to start. Bryant nailed two free throws before Artest and Odom sunk back-to-back threes to put the Lakers up 8-0. Denver responded with five quick points, before consecutive Bynum and Artest hoops put L.A. up 12-5. The Lakers didn’t seem distracted by a pregame South Park themed video that saw Cartman throw a basketball in the face of cartoon Jack Nicholson. This is Denver, after all, home of South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, but it’s never smart to mess with Jack, is it?
5:00 The next offensive salvo went to Denver, who got consecutive buckets from Nene and jumpers from Martin and Billups to cap a 12-4 run that put them up a point. Some of the vitriol that L.A. earned by beating Denver in this building last season to advance to the NBA Finals (and the year before in a first-round sweep) came out in the form of a few aggressive “boooo!’s” when I walked around downtown wearing a Lakers warm up earlier. Fortunately I’m non-descript in a suit at press row right now.
1:00 After a 1-for-4 start, Bryant nailed consecutive jumpers to get to 10 points and give L.A. a two-point cushion heading into the second quarter. In related news, he’s good, and leads the NBA in scoring (33 per night). He’s taken his usual 2009-10 spot on the block, spending more time there than Bynum does looking at potential new cars online.
10:09 Did you know that Bynum is averaging the fourth-most minutes per game in the NBA at 40 per night? It’s true. Looks like we’ll see that again tonight, as his first breather came just now when D.J. Mbenga checked in. ‘Drew had eight points and seven boards in another good effort, though he seemed a bit winded (remember the altitude doesn’t help). Think about sprinting with your mouth closed, only using your nostrils to breath. Does that work? Never tried it. The Lakers held a four-point lead when he went out.
5:40 Perhaps the best way to tell that L.A. was tired (other than remembering that the team arrived at their Denver hotel at 4 a.m. the previous night) was watching them take long jumpers. The Nuggets weren’t able to take too much of an advantage, leading by only three (44-41) into a TV timeout, but the style of play was bound to catch up with the Lakers in the second half.
0:37.2 Did I mention the Lakers looked tired? The final minutes of the half revolved around more perimeter jumpers from Bryant and Artest, though both managed to nail late-shot-clock threes to keep L.A. in the game. Another Artest three just rimmed out heading into the half, the purple and gold somehow trailing by just two after a weary half.
9:04 Halftime didn’t seem to help L.A. much in terms of energy, as they missed four shots and turned the ball over twice while allowing five Denver field goals (including three straight layups from Anthony) as the lead grew to 12, the home team’s biggest to that point. Last altitude comment, I swear … At the break I climbed to the top of the upper deck to visit some old high school friends, and was legitimately a bit winded from the lack of oxygen. But perhaps more than the altitude, L.A. was having trouble matching Denver’s energy in general, as they seemingly couldn’t help but try to avenge the playoff loss (not that it can be done in the regular season, but think of L.A.’s effort vs. Boston last Christmas).
5:33 With a few inches on Nene, Bynum didn’t have much of a problem getting shots off over him, and connected on his fifth in seven attempts. The Lakers, however, were having trouble getting him the ball, continuing to take jumpers as if they were Phoenix from the previous evening. On a brighter note, the Denver media room had Mountain Dew among its fountain choices.
0:55.2 Odom’s two missed free throws with just under a minute remaining underscored a horrid third quarter for L.A., during which they managed to score only eight points as their basket may as well have had small pieces of the Rocky Mountain covering its entry point. Denver had no such problem scoring, going for 29 points to take a commanding 87-64 lead into the fourth.
6:20 Bynum stayed on for the first half of the fourth, building his double-double to 19 and 15 on 8-of-13 shooting … But things didn’t get any better from the Lakers, who trailed 100-71 at that point. Denver finally took out its starters as well, Anthony sitting with 25 points to lead al scorers.
4:45 Jordan Farmar hit back-to-back threes to make the score look a bit better … yet it was still a 23-point game.
1:34 Adding a bit of mental pain to L.A.’s loss, rookie point guard Ty Lawson came out of nowhere to dunk in traffic, plus the harm, as the Lakers were wondering how quickly the bus could get to the airport.
Bottom line: L.A. didn’t have energy, and Denver had a lot of it.
They’ll get a chance to get things going the right way again on Sunday at STAPLES Center against the Rockets.
Until then, some numbers:
66.8 Combined scoring average of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, the league’s two top guns, heading into the game.
44 Combined points for Bryant (19 in three quarters) and Anthony (25, 18 in the second half) in this one.
28 Lakers points in the paint, emblematic of the team’s reliance on perimeter jumpers, and 50 less points down low than they managed against Phoenix the night before.
25 Denver’s rank on the defensive glass heading into the contest, which the Lakers did take advantage of in the form of 15 offensive boards as they actually won the rebounding battle 48-47.
22.7 L.A.’s second half shooting percentage (10-of-44).
8 Points scored by the Lakers in a tough third quarter, enabling Denver to stretch a two-point halftime lead to a 23-point edge heading into the fourth.
3 Fouls in five minutes whistled on Ron Artest to open the third quarter, giving him five for the game and earning him a seat on the bench.
Phil Jackson’s thoughts on the possibility that the NBA would retire Michael Jordan’s jersey:
I think it’s a great thing that hockey did for (Wayne) Gretzky. Here’s a guy that went through the game and really changed a lot of the way the game was played, broke a lot of records and won championships up in Edmonton that nobody every expected would happen and they honored him with that.
We haven’t seen this happen in basketball so it’s kind of unique … It’d be maybe a little step on the toes for guys like Magic (Johnson) and (Larry) Bird who made this era a bigger era that Michael could come in and have the dominance that he had and also the commercial appeal that went with it, but he certainly is a standard that we all admire. But that’s up to other people, not to me to make that decision.
Other than Kobe Bryant, no one’s gotten off to a better – or easier – scoring start to the season than Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, who is not only averaging 30.2 points per game this season but opened the Western Conference Finals last year by scoring 39 and 34 points in Los Angeles
Oddly, he cooled off at home, managing just 21 and 15 points in Games 3 and 4 before closing out with 31 and 25 point games.
While L.A. used Trevor Ariza’s quickness, Kobe Bryant’s tenacity and Luke Walton’s size to give ‘Melo different looks, assistant coach Frank Hamblen said that ultimately it was a team approach they took with the former Syracuse National Champ.
“He’s really developed offensively,” said Hamblen. “He’s more disciplined, he tries to get to the free throw line – I think he’s getting there 11 times a game* right now – so everybody has to be aware. ‘I have my man and part of yours,’ that’s the way you have to do it against him.”
*Anthony has been to the line an average of 11.6 times per game, hitting 89-of-105 free throws (84.8 percent).
L.A. does get a prospective boost in dealing with Anthony with the presence of Ron Artest, as Phil Jackson explained.
“We don’t have to commit as many defenders to plugging the lane and doing that stuff,” said Jackson. “Hopefully Ron can kind of hold him in check. I don’t think anyone is going to hold him out (completely), but he’s going to be physical with him and he can take the physical punishment that Carmelo dishes out and he’ll give some back on his own. That’s a big part of it, Carmelo has outweighed our guy in that position by 30 or 40 pounds.”
Hamblen said that Anthony still has a height advantage over Artest, but like Jackson expects Artest to be able to physically stand up to Anthony.
“We’ll see if Ron’s our guy,” he concluded.
Beating Phoenix by 19 points at home was impressive.
The Suns had come into the game leading the league in field goal percentage and points, yet managed just 36.5 percent against an L.A. team that dominated the paint despite not having its second-best player, Pau Gasol, for the eighth straight game.
“They are great, they are the world champs and there is a reason why they are the world champs,” said Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “Like I said I don’t know where their weakness is really. They are going to be a handful for whoever plays them.”
That, of course, shouldn’t be a surprise. The Lakers did win the title last season. But on Friday night in Denver, things shouldn’t come quite as easily as they did at STAPLES Center on Thursday. The Nuggets, after all, have a few things going for ‘em:
1) Revenge, especially since L.A. won Game 6 in their house to end Denver’s season while the Lakers went on to the title.
2) Size, in the form of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen that shouldn’t allow the 78 points in the paint conceded by Phoenix.
3) Carmelo Anthony, second only to Kobe Bryant in scoring thus far (30.2 ppg to Bryant’s 33.0), playing at an extremely high level.
4) The altitude, as Phil Jackson explained: “Well, the first run I think is the one that takes it out of players. They get exhausted right away with that high altitude, light-headed lung burn. After that you can kind of settle in the second time out. You really move in better shape. The game has to be at level of tempo like we want to play at.”
5) The Lakers got to the team hotel at 3:34 a.m. local time.
Since the Nuggets rank fifth and L.A. eighth in points per game, it should be an entertaining game to watch, played at a high tempo (but not too high, says Jackson). One area to watch … the offensive glass, where L.A. ranks 5th and Denver ranks just 25th on the defensive boards.
Watch Highlights, Get Stats & Read Quotes over at the LAKERS GAMEDAY PAGE.
The closer a given shot is to the basket, the better chance it has to go in.
Simple and common knowledge, right?
That’s why it was particularly impressive that Phoenix came into Thursday evening’s game at STAPLES Center leading the league in field goal percentage, because after all, they shoot a lot of jumpers. Yet in an 8-1 start to the season that was as hot as their nickname, Phoenix nailed 50.8 percent from the field (the only team in the league over 50 percent), including 47.4 percent from three (lava?).
Of course, as Phil Jackson mentioned before the contest, that kind of shooting just doesn’t last forever (even if Steve Nash is creating better looks than Versace).
Boy, was that proven true from the opening tip against the purple and gold, when the Suns opened 4-for-18 (also known as 22 percent) and didn’t get much better, clanking and bricking to the 36.5 percent mark as L.A. dominated the game en route to a 121-102 margin for the team’s seventh win in eight tries.
There was a reason for that, as it were: L.A. scored 78 points in the paint. You know, near the hoop…
Sure enough, the Lakers barely took a shot that wasn’t within 10 feet of the hoop, scoring 20 of their first 26 points in the lane before cooling down just a little to settle for 60.9 percent shooting in the first quarter and 57.6 for the game.
No one was more responsible for that than Andrew Bynum, who was almost perfectly emblematic of L.A.’s efficient game in an impressive return from a two-game hiatus due to a strained elbow.
Using his size advantage to terrific effect, Bynum offered a variety of dunks, layups and short jumpers to punish Phoenix in the paint. No, really, punish. He made 13-of-18 shots for 26 points, and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds. He wasn’t bad on defense, either, swatting three shots and holding Amare Stoudemire to just eight points on 2-of-15 from the field.
“He played extremely well and he obviously had a matchup advantage with his length and his size. He used it extremely well,” said Kobe Bryant.
Bryant was nearly as efficient, operating out of the post once again to the tune of 13-of-21 shooting, meaning he and Bynum combined to knock down 66.7 percent of their shots. He finished with 29 points in 33 minutes, plus four assists and four boards.
“It feels very good. You have to get post position and really do your job. When the team tells you to come through, you have to come through and play hard and do the work inside,” said Bynum.
Teammates like Lamar Odom (eight points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, Josh Powell (14 point, seven boards, three assists), Jordan Farmar (eight assists) and Shannon Brown (10 points including an absurd dunk rounded out a terrific all-around effort.
There’d be little time for celebration, however, as the Lakers headed straight to the airport after postgame interviews to hop a flight to Denver, where they’ll face their Western Conference Finals opponent.
Until then, some numbers:
78 The ridiculous number of paint points for the Lakers, compared to 48 for Phoenix.
66.7 Percentage of shots made by Kobe Bryant (13-of-21) and Andrew Bynum (13-of-18).
45 Bench points for L.A., led by Josh Powell’s 14 and Shannon Brown’s 10.
42 Points for Phoenix’s starters.
38.9 The one poor area for L.A. on this night, coming from the free throw line. They made only 7-of-18 from the charity stripe for a season low percentage.
1 Public Enemy rank for Louis Amundson after his put-back layup got the Suns over 100 points in the final minute, erasing the fans’ shot at free tacos.
Watch Highlights, Get Stats & Read Quotes over at the LAKERS GAMEDAY PAGE.
“They seem to have their swag back,” said assistant coach Brian Shaw. “They’re getting the ball up court, getting into early offense and shooting the heck out of the ball, especially from the three-point line.”
Playing the lead role in Phoenix’s show is Steve Nash, whom Shaw said is back “playing at an MVP level” in topping the NBA’s assist chart with 12.6 per night, not to mention 17.6 points. With newcomer Channing Frye playing “center” on the perimeter, Amare Stoudemire on the block and wings Grant Hill and Jason Richardson operating at Nash’s will, the Suns are leading the NBA in scoring, field goal percentage, three-point percentage and are second in assists.
Of course, it’s not like the Lakers can’t score. On the contrary, they’ve managed to average the eighth most points in the league despite the absence of offensive wizard Pau Gasol, and can do a bit of running and gunning themselves. Yet Shaw stressed that L.A. can’t get too wrapped up in how Phoenix wants to play, instead focusing on using its respective advantages (Andrew Bynum or Kobe Bryant in the post, for example).
For more on that, courtesy of Shaw, just click on the above video.
For the final of our 14 Western Conference previews, we dialed up Jason Quick of the Oregonian to talk about the Portland Trail Blazers.
Quick offered insight regarding Andre Miller’s affect on the team and Brandon Roy in particular, discussed whether or not Portland can get enough scoring on the low block from LaMarcus Aldrige – who shoots a lot of jumpers – and Greg Oden, offered his best guess at the Blazers’ crunch-time lineup and more.