Monthly Archive for December, 2009

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Pigeon Invades Phoenix; Kobe Unconcerned

After L.A.’s Sunday afternoon practice concluded at US Airways Center in Phoenix, Kobe Bryant emerged from the training room to address the Lakers’ beat writers, all of whom were soon to be in for an odd occurrence.

Standing at the floor level in the outer tunnel around the arena floor, Bryant spent a few minutes talking about his elbow (“It’s fine”), Steve Nash and the Suns (“I’m anxious to see how we respond to [the challenge]“) and such.

Suddenly, and out of nowhere, a lone pigeon literally flew towards the cluster before altering its flight pattern about 30 feet away (where’s Manu Ginobili when you need him!!).

As a few of the reporters jumped to the side (the natural reaction of most human beings), Bryant simply stood still … expressionless, unfazed, uninterested.

Naturally.

After all, pigeons are no threat to black mambas.

Lakers 112, Kings 103: Double OT Diary

Kobe BryantCLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE LAKERS’ GAMEDAY PAGE
We took a look at a fantastic double overtime Lakers – Kings contest in California’s capital city while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers earned their fifth straight road win.

Inactives
Lakers: Ron Artest
Kings: Kevin Martin, Francisco Garcia

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Odom*, Gasol and Bynum
Kings: Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Donte Green, Jason Thompson, Spencer Hawes
*Odom’s started in place of Ron Artest (see below)

Artest Out with Concussion
Much of the pregame discussion centered around the absence of Ron Artest, who fell down the stairs and suffered a concussion and a minor injury to his left elbow. Artest, who did not make the trip to Sacramento with the team, could join the team in Phoenix, though Phil Jackson said that more tests would be needed before his starting small forward could be cleared. Jackson said that the team would most miss Artest’s “physical presence.”

Tyreke EvansFirst Quarter
11:43 Would Gasol’s tip-in of Bynum’s early miss be a harbinger for increased low post activity tonight? Christmas Day was not a good one for L.A.’s big men, who seemed eager to redeem themselves.

3:45 The bigs were key as the Lakers matched an expectedly energetic burst out of the gates from the Kings, but an 8-0 run capped by Donte Green’s third field goal put the Kings up 23-15. Meanwhile, techno music continued to pound out of the ARCO speakers (the cast of “Jersey Shore” would be right at home).

0:00 An impressive close to the quarter got the Lakers within three (31-28) when Bryant nailed a tough fadeaway jumper at the buzzer. Moments earlier, he had channeled three-peat Kobe in slashing through traffic for a monster jam that had the considerable number of Lakers fans in the building punching each other with joy.

Second Quarter
9:32 Though Odom’s tip in of a Bryant miss brought the Lakers within a single point, it was offensive boards at the other end that were killing them. The Kings had grabbed seven, and also taken advantage of seven Lakers turnovers.

4:44 Playing well in extended time off the bench was Vujacic, who’d earlier nailed his only field goal attempt (a three), then capped a solid stretch of defense with a tough rebound in traffic.

0:00 Doing his Bryant impression, Beno Udrih nailed a buzzer-beating jumper to close a quarter. His came from three, and gave the Kings a 57-55 lead. Bryant led L.A. with 14, while Gasol added 12 on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field.

Kobe BryantThird Quarter
12:00 Odom couldn’t resist breaking out a lil’ dance under the hoop as Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” came on near the end of halftime (can’t blame him). He was pretty effective in the first half with nine points, three boards, an assist, steal and block in Artest’s absence, so we’ll give it to him.

4:56 Bryant swished his fourth straight jumper, a triple, to get to 25 points (11 in the quarter) in putting L.A. up a point. Incredible that he has so much left in his legs after playing nearly the whole game just yesterday.

0:37.9 What a third quarter from the defending Finals MVP … as the Lakers struggled to get calls at both ends, Bryant pulled up from 25 feet and nailed a three over Udoka. Then he stripped Udoka at the other end and sprinted forward for another dunk. He finished with 16 points in the quarter, tying the game at 78, but appeared to hurt his elbow near the end…

Fourth Quarter
8:33 Bryant indeed strained his right elbow, and appeared to be favoring it heavily when returning to the game after a quick trip to the locker room after the third quarter. Of course, he remained in the game.

4:23 Brown continued a fantastic individual game by nailing a three-pointer to give L.A. a one-point lead, then nailing a 13-foot jumper in the lane, and finally converting a tough and-1 layup after a fullcourt, left-handed pass from Kobe for a five-point lead. That gave Brown eight in the quarter and 14 in the game (three off his season high), to go along with seven rebounds off the bench, a career high in boards.

0:51.7 Did I mention that Bryant couldn’t use his right arm, but remained in the game, not shooting and passing only with his left hand? Unfortunately for L.A., SAC took advantage in stripping him, then blocking his left-handed attempt from the baseline when Gasol dropped the ball off to him late in the shot clock. Udrih then missed a jumper at the other end, and Gasol drew a foul … but missed both free throws. Very surprising from a guy who shoots nearly 90 percent.

0:02.0 Having scored the last six points of the fourth, the Kings cleared out for Evans with plenty of time to try and win the game, but Bryant stripped him (crazy) to force overtime.

Kobe Bryant - Tyreke EvansFirst Overtime
2:39 Udrih’s jumper was the seventh straight point in overtime and 13th overall for the Kings. Bryant had attempted two jumpers after not even trying in the fourth quarter, but missed both.

1:27 Just when the Lakers looked dead, they went on a 5-0 run capped by Bryant’s steal and dropped-in dunk at the other end to cut Sacramento’s lead to two.

00.4 Amazingly, Gasol tipped in Fisher’s buzzer-beating attempt that had rimmed out, getting his right hand on the ball with literally no time to spare. Bryant had gone for the win with a three at 5.9 seconds remaining, and Fish had grabbed the long rebound.

Double Overtime
2:37 What would you say if I told you that Bryant nailed not one, but two deep three-pointers to put the Lakers up six? Would you believe me? Of course you would, and it happened.

0:40.5 After three straight Kings misses from the perimeter, Fisher drew the foul and hit both free throws, the game all but over as the Kings fans looked on in shock. L.A.’s bench players were still marveling at Bryant’s back-to-back triples. Smiles, laughter, impersonations, etc… The game ended moments later, an 11-2 margin in the second OT sealing the deal in style. What a game.

Pau Gasol, Josh PowellPOSTGAME NUMBERS
0 Points for the Lakers from the 3:35 mark of the fourth quarter until Gasol finally hit a free throw at the 2:27 mark of overtime after missing the first of two.

7 Rebounds off the bench for Shannon Brown, a career high. Brown also contributed eight big fourth quarter points, and was joined by Sasha Vujacic in the “good-game-off-the-pine” group.

11 Blocks from L.A.’s superb at-rim defense, including a season-high-tying six from Pau Gasol, plus two each from Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

26 Combined rebounds from Lamar Odom (15) and Pau Gasol (11).

30 Points through three quarters for Kobe Bryant, before his strained right elbow kept him scoring until the OT was nearly over. His back-to-back threes in double OT got him to 38 points on 16-of-30 shooting.

UPDATE: Artest Suffers Injury At Home

From LA’s PR staff:

****UPDATE
2:38 p.m., Saturday Dec. 26:
Ron Artest was examined today in Los Angeles by a neurologist. Diagnosis from his examination showed that Artest did suffer a concussion in last night’s fall. Artest’s condition has improved since last night; however, he will continue to see a neurologist on a daily basis until he is cleared to return. He is definitely out for tonight’s game against the Kings at Sacramento and his status beyond that will be considered day-to-day.

———————–
10:15 a.m., Saturday Dec. 26:
Lakers Forward Ron Artest was injured last night at his home when he tripped over a box and fell down a flight of stairs, suffering an injury to his head and left elbow.

Artest received treatment at the emergency room at UCLA Medical Center, where he was released after undergoing a series of tests, including a CT scan. He received stitches to the back of his head and to his elbow.

Artest did not accompany the team to Sacramento this morning and is not expected to play in tonight’s game against the Kings. Artest will be examined today in Los Angeles by a neurologist and after that examination, an update will be given with an estimate as to when Artest will be able to rejoin the team.

Lakers & Cavs & Christmas: From A-to-Z

59194858The Lakers looked little like the defending champs that began this season with the league’s best record in a 102-87 blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday at STAPLES Center, putting a bit of a damper on L.A.’s Christmas.

The home team seemed somewhat surprised Cleveland’s effort in the early goings, falling behind by as many as 20 in the first half as the toll of playing some of the league’s weaker teams during the past two weeks took its toll.

A late second quarter run chopped the Cavs’ lead down to nine heading into halftime, but it was to no avail as the Lakers strangely failed to develop any kind of rhythm at either end of the floor.

“They played harder than we did,” summarized Kobe Bryant. “It’s as simple as that.”

Of course, that didn’t mean it was boring … you had Kobe, LeBron, Shaq, Santa, a bevy of technical fouls and more. As such, we called upon the alphabet to help us break down the matchup:

59194868A – Attack: It was Cleveland who took the action to L.A. throughout the afternoon, attacking the basket on offense and swarming any Lakers player attempting to reach the rim on defense (see above Kobe quote).

B – Buckets Getting buckets has never been a problem for Bryant or LeBron James, who came into the league second (29.3) and third (28.8) in scoring, respectively. Today, Kobe led all scorers with 35*, but needed 32 attempts (making 11) to get there. LeBron settled for 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
In the process, he snuck up on Oscar Robertson’s 377 Christmas points with 304 all-time, good for 2nd.

C – Christmas Effect: You’re just as likely to see the Lakers on Christmas as Santa, Rudolph and candy canes, with this the 11th straight appearance for L.A. While several Lakers said it was great to be able to spend the holiday with their families, that also provides an (if positive) off-court distraction that a visiting team likely doesn’t have at the team hotel. After the game, however, assistant coach Brian Shaw rejected that excuse.

D – Dunks: The jams came early and often in this one, with Shaquille O’Neal starting the trend by hammering home three thunder dunks in the first quarter (how does the basket stay up, by the way?). Slams continued throughout the evening, including skywalks from Kobe, LeBron, Pau Gasol and Jamario Moon, who hammered home two particularly nasty alley-oops.

E – Entertainers: L.A. often runs a segment called “Hollywood Night’s” on the jumbotron, when Hollywood celebs are shown during the Bob Segar song. Checklist tonight: Adam Levine, Alex Trebek, George Lopez, Sly Stallone. No Jack, however, which may have been the problem*.
That was definitely the problem.

F – Free Throws: Two of the NBA’s best free throwers coming into the game were Pau Gasol (5th in NBA at .889) and Mo Williams (6th at .884). While Gasol missed 1-of-2 early, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum combined to miss five at inopportune times while Williams made 9-of-10. LeBron missed five free throws himself in Cleveland’s 19-for-30 (63.3 percent), while L.A. went 20-for-27 (74.1).

59194860G – Grandchildren: What’s Phil Jackson’s favorite part about Christmas? Watching his grandkids enjoy the day, as he revealed in his pregame presser. Jackson, always looking for teaching points, allowed his team to play through their first half struggles without a time out.

H – Halftime Deficits: Last year in Cleveland, the Cavs opened a 10-point halftime lead after a hot-shooting first half before L.A. rallied to win 101-91 thanks to a terrific second half. Today, the HT deficit was nine, but no such second half rally occurred.

I – Ice The one Laker without ice on his hand, Ron Artest, was the first to awake from the team’s collective first half slumber, leading the late second quarter charge that got L.A. back into the game. He finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds, and did a fine job holding James to 26 points on 19 shots, plus seven turnovers.

J – Jumpers: Unfortunately for L.A., “jumpers” was a good way to describe most of the team’s field goal attempts. They managed just 38 points in the paint.

K – Kobe: Though his numbers were as impressive as always – 35 points, nine rebounds, eight assists – they masked Bryant’s struggles. He made just 11-of-32 shots, often growing frustrated after not getting calls through traffic in the paint, and played nearly the whole game (45 minutes).

L – LOST: ABC’s hit show is set to return for its final season in February, but on this day, the word applied to L.A.’s bench. The pine unit combined for just two points on 1-of-9 shooting in limited action through three quarters. Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom scored the first five points of the fourth and Sasha Vujacic hit two jumpers in the final seconds, but L.A.’s second unit was still outscored 31-17.

M – Momentum: NBA games are always marked by big runs, of which there were several on this (holi)day. It was all Cleveland early, with three separate runs, though L.A. closed the half in strong fashion. The Lakers opened the third with a 6-0 run to cut the Cavs’ lead to six, though Cleveland answered with a 9-0 run of its own to regain control of the game.

N – No call? Repeated forays into the paint proved unproductive for Bryant in particular in this one. “We attacked the rim, just didn’t get the benefit of the doubt today … it goes that way sometimes.” L.A. was whistled for only three fouls in the first half, but seemed to get frustrated in receiving 18 personal fouls in the second half.

O – Ornate: Jordan Farmar’s Adidas shoes, all red and greened out for the holiday.

P – Personal Foul: A phrase Kobe was hoping to hear after repeated forays into the lane, but it just wasn’t happening. L.A.’s frustration boiled over to the point of three technical fouls (one on Fisher, two on Odom), and 18 personal fouls in the second half.

Q – Quotes: Look for a pattern here.
Kobe: “It’s a good wake-up call for us.”
Pau: “We didn’t come out right and weren’t ready to play.”
Odom: “We just didn’t compete as hard as they did … We are a lot tougher than that, mentally and physically.”

R – Rest Or lack there of, in L.A.’s case. The team has 22 sets of back-to-back action this season (its most since 1999-2000), including this one (L.A. flies to Sacramento for a Saturday game. With the loss, the Lakers are now 6-1 on the front end, and 4-2 in the second.

59194906S – Situation: MTV’s new hit show “Jersey Shore,” the king of unintentional comedy, boasts “The Situation”, which refers to a cast member named Mike’s abdominal region (and him in general). Admittedly, there’s no reason to mention him in this context.

T – Three-pointers: Cleveland came into the contest with the two best three-point shooters in the league, including Anthony Parker (.505) and Daniel Gibson (.494), not to mention 13th ranked Mo Williams (.439), while the Lakers have not a player in the top 40. It was Williams who made 3-of-3 to pace Cleveland’s 7-of-18 (38.9 percent), while five different Lakers made one three in a 5-of-18 (27.8 percent) effort.

U – Unusual: The performance of Pau Gasol, who managed only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, six rebounds and a lone assist in nearly 39 minutes. Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum didn’t contribute much either, combining for 10 points and 11 rebounds.

V – Votes: What Kobe and LeBron get for the All-Star game. Bryant leads all players thus far with 1,380,383, and LeBron’s next with 1,351,292.

W – WWF: Ron Artest and LeBron may as well have been Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior (Artest’s favorite grappler) for the way they were wrestling particularly when James was trying to get open.

X: Can we just go with the Roman numeral for 10 with the X? Please? There’s just no good X word for basketball. Is there? At least X was on the hat given to Phil Jackson by his kids after his 10th coaching championship.

Y – Yikes That’s one way to describe L.A.’s shooting woes. Whether in the paint or on the perimeter, the Lakers couldn’t buy a bucket, as Christmas Elves (or reindeer) appeared to be lying across L.A.’s rim throughout the afternoon. The Lakers opened the game shooting 10-of-30 (33.3 percent), and finished with only 31 makes in 85 attempts (36.5 percent). Cleveland had no such problem, making 54.3 percent for the game.

Z – Zydrunas: Cleveland’s seven-foot center, Ilgauskas, had been forced to the Cavs’ bench with the addition of Shaq, finding different ways to contribute (like three overtime threes vs. Sacramento on Wednesday). In this one, Z was key for the Cavs, earning the starting nod in the second half after he better matched up with Gasol than starter J.J. Hickson. He finished with nine rebounds, two assists but just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, and helped limit to Gasol.

Kobe on Christmas Day

Kobe Bryant ChristmasOver the last 13 years, you’ve been almost as likely to see Kobe Bryant on Christmas Day as Santa, Rudolph, candy canes, and ornament-laden trees.

We might as well just give him a red robe.

Since entering the NBA in 1996, Bryant has appeared in 11 Christmas games, save only the 1997-98 and 98-99 seasons, including the last nine.

After L.A. won three of its first four X-Mas games with Kobe, they lost five straight before beating Phoenix in 2007 and Boston last season.

This year, the Cleveland Cavs come to town, but until we get there, here’s a quick look at Kobe’s Christmas performances.

1996: Lakers 108, Suns 87.
In just five minutes of playing time for the 18-year-old, Kobe went scoreless in taking only two shots.

1999: Lakers 99, Spurs 93.
Two seasons later, Bryant’s minutes bumped to 35 minutes, which he used to score 18 points with five boards and five assists as the Lakers took down the defending champion Spurs.

2000: Portland 109, Lakers 104.
Bryant managed 29 point sand six assists againt a tough Blazers team, but it wasn’t enough for the win.

2001: Lakers 88, 76ers 82.
Kobe had a tough shooting night (6-of-19) to score only 12 points, but he did manage nine assists and 11 rebounds to help the Lakers overcome a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat their previous NBA Finals opponent.

2002: Sacramento 105, Lakers 99.
Speaking of teams L.A. beat in the playoffs … Bryant dropped 27 points and gathered a Christmas-Day-high 15 rebounds plus six assists in the loss.

2003: Rockets 99, Lakers 87.
Another tough shooting night it was for Kobe, who made only 9-of-26 shots to get his 23 points, with six assists and eight rebounds in a loss.

2004: Heat 104, Lakers 102.
In the much-ballyhood return of Shaq to STAPLES Center, Kobe went off for 42 points (including 13-of-13 from the line) but missed a three-pointer in overtime that would have made the difference.

2005: Heat 97, Lakers 92.
The Heat bested L.A. again despite Bryant’s 37 points, eight rebounds and six assists, as Shaq posted 18 points and 17 boards for Miami.

2006: Heat 101, Lakers 85.
Bryant had one of his worst games on X-Mas by making just 4-of-17 shots for 16 points against a solid defensive effort from Miami, who was led by 40 points from Dwyane Wade.

2007: Lakers 122, Suns 115.
Kobe amasseed his second-highest Santa Day scoring output with 38 points on 12-of-20 shooting to lead L.A. past the Suns in a shootout, adding seven assists, five boards and two steals just over a month before Pau Gasol joined the team.

2008: Lakers 92, Celtics 83
Bryant scored 27 points with nine rebounds and five assists as L.A. exacted (regular season) revenge on the 2008-title-winning squad from Boston. In the meantime, L.A. ended the impressive 19-game Celtics’ winning streak.

ESPN’s Ric Bucher: X-Mas Podcast

Ric BucherWhen ESPN’s Ric Bucher joined us last season leading into L.A.’s Christmas Day showdown with Boston, the team was in quite a different state.

We were still hearing phrases like “lack of toughness,” or as Bucher said it, “mental tenacity,” before the Lakers went on to prove their mettle with tough regular season road victories and of course, their journey to the NBA title.

This season, with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers (22-8) coming to town, Bucher told us the one area in which he thought L.A. (23-4) may be susceptible, put Kobe Bryant’s greatness into perspective, looked at the dominance of Pau Gasol and L.A.’s front line and more.

We finished with a quick preview of the Lakers – Cavs game, set to tip off at 2 p.m. tomorrow after ABC.

Bryant Still Leading on 2nd Returns

56734070CLICK HERE TO VOTE NOW, VOTE DAILY!!!

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant still leads all vote getters as the NBA released the All-Star ballot second returns on Thursday.

Teammate Pau Gasol is currently third for Western Conference forwards, trailing Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, and center Andrew Bynum is second at his position.

The 2010 All-Star Game will air live from Cowboys Stadium on Sunday February, 14th. Voting closes on January 18th. Just 24 days to vote.

Here’s more from the league:

Continue reading ‘Bryant Still Leading on 2nd Returns’

Smith Close (But No Cigar) to Kobe’s 3-record

JR Smith - Kobe BryantDuring a Wednesday evening home victory over Atlanta, Denver’s J.R. Smith sank 10 three-pointers in 17 attempts, the most by any player this season.

This begs the question … who’s made the most threes in one game, ever?

Reggie Miller? Nope.

Ray Allen? No.

Dennis Scott? Close, but no.

The answer is L.A.’s own Kobe Bryant, who made 12 three-pointers in 18 attempts on Jan. 7, 2003 against Seattle.

Joining Bryant at the top is Donyell Marshall, whose 12 bombs came on March 13, 2005. Scott converted 11 on April 18, 1996, while Smith also managed to get 11 triples to go on April 13 of last season.

1pm Press Conference

The Lakers have called a press conference for 1pm today with Mitch Kupchak and Pau Gasol being the main players.

How Good is Gasol? Kobe Knows.

59130619Pau Gasol is the NBA’s best all-around big man.

Just ask Kobe Bryant.

“I don’t think it’s close,” said Bryant, No. 1 to Gasol’s 1A on the Lakers.

In the 15 games Gasol had played this season prior to L.A.’s 111-108 Tuesday evening victory over Oklahoma City, the seven-footer had posted the kind of numbers that quickly punch a ticket to the NBA All-Star game.

Try this: 17.1 points on 54.6 percent shooting (14th in the NBA); 12.7 rebounds, which would rank second in the NBA if the Gasol had played enough games; 3.9 assists, good for third on the team; 1.47 blocks, second to Andrew Bynum’s 1.63; and 89.3 percent from the free throw line, which ranked fifth in the NBA and further cements a theory that Gasol must receive as many touches as possible on offense.

Well, the Spaniard was at it again against the Thunder, doing a bit of everything while posting 15 points, 11 rebounds and a season-high six blocks in helping the Lakers to their 15th win in 16 games since he returned to L.A.’s lineup after 11 games spent nursing a strained hamstring.

59189660To Bryant (who oh-by-the-way dropped another 40 points) it’s no coincidence that the Lakers have a 93.75 winning percentage with the multi-talented big man starting at power forward.

“Oh yeah,” said Bryant, nodding his head knowingly. “He’s been a blessing to me. I can’t say enough about him … he knows how much I love him and appreciate him. I think he’s probably under-appreciated, but not from me, that’s for sure.”

Coming off a crucial role in the Lakers’ latest NBA Championship and MVP honors while leading Spain to the 2009 EuroBasket title, Gasol has raised his game to a new level since L.A.’s loss in the 2008 NBA Finals.

That offseason, Gasol realized that he needed to add some strength and develop a nastier attitude in the paint, and he steadily progressed in that facet throughout the Lakers’ 2008-09 campaign until his defense and toughness had reached the point that single-covering Orlando’s Dwight Howard in the Finals was not a problem.

As it was on Tuesday against, well, whoever came into the paint.

“Pau was blocking shots,” said Ron Artest, keeping things simple for us. “He played good.”

The six swats aside, it wasn’t Pau’s best box score of the season by any means (that would be his 26 points, 22 rebounds, four blocks and four assists against Milwaukee last week). But his skill set is so extensive and varied, he always finds ways to contribute in a healthy manner just by playing his game.

Four examples:

11:19, 1st Quarter: After Andrew Bynum missed a layup, Gasol snuck in from the weak side to grab the board and stick it back in.
9:51, 1st: Gasol, while posting up, spotted Bynum under the hoop, and threw a pretty lob pass over his head that somehow wound up in a surprised Bynum’s hands.
5:36, 2nd It doesn’t show up in the box, but Gasol showed why he’s perhaps the league’s best running big by sprinting full-court after blocking a shot, drawing the attention of two Thunder players scrambling back in transition to free Derek Fisher for a wide open jumper.
0:02.9, 3rd: Gasol swatted Russell Westbrook’s layup attempt, rebounded the ball, drew a foul and sank two free throws at the other end.

D069680012.JPGIt’s no coincidence that Gasol’s best quarter, the third, was also L.A.’s best, and the period that won the game. He of Barcelona scored five points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked two shots and added an assist without a turnover or missed shot as the Lakers outscored the Thunder 34-21 to turn a seven-point deficit into a six-point lead.

OKC refused to quit, hanging around to see Bryant avoid an injury scare and Westbrook have a chance to tie the game on a final-seconds-three-pointer, but in no small thanks to Gasol, L.A. won its fifth straight.

“We stepped up our game in that third quarter,” concluded Gasol. “We really just want to continue to improve on a daily basis.”

Getting better every day? Gasol may well have been talking about himself.

During the team’s East Coast road trip last week, in the lobby of the team’s New York City hotel, an injured Luke Walton saw Gasol walk into the hotel’s entrance, and exchanged pleasantries with his power forward/center for a few minutes before Gasol continued towards the elevators. Walton spent the next several minutes gushing about what a fantastic player Pau is, how he still isn’t getting enough credit, and how impressive he is on a daily basis at both ends of the floor.

Then there are opposing coaches like the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, who even just a week or so ago* couldn’t keep from cringing when hearing Gasol’s name mentioned, still troubled by how promptly the balance of power shifted in the West when Mitch Kupchak acquired Gasol from Memphis.
*To the L.A. Times.

Then, the Lakers couldn’t have been more eager to acquire Gasol. Now, the team that has yet to lose three straight games with Gasol adorned in purple and gold is eagerly working on a contract extension that both Gasol and Phil Jackson say is nearing completion.

No need to ask Bryant how he feels about that.