Monthly Archive for December, 2009

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Bryant Has Stomach Ailment, But Plans to Play

What would it take for Kobe Bryant NOT to play?

More than an avulsion fracture to his finger. More than “gastroenteritis,” which is a stomach bug of sorts that’s not related to the flu.

Though he arrived late to EnergySolutions Arena and took IV fluids in the locker room, Kobe is expected to start for the Lakers.

In his pregame media session, Phil Jackson called Bryant the best he’s ever seen at playing through injuries and ailments of all kinds, and we’re about to see why yet again.

Lakers to Wear Gold in Utah

59111466By now most Lakers fans know the deal when it comes to which uniforms the team will wear night-to-night. Purple on the road, gold at home except for Sunday’s, Holiday and special occasions when they break out the white unis.

Tonight is the exception. With the Jazz opting to wear their throwback alternate green kit with yellow accents (the same ones they wore at STAPLES on Wednesday) the Lakers will don their home gold duds in hostile territory.

The game is set for a 6pm tip on KCAL/9 HD and 710ESPN.

Podcast Preview: Ross Siler on the Jazz

Ross SIlerThe Lakers know the Utah Jazz better than perhaps any other team … but not as well as Salt Lake Tribune beat writer Ross Siler, who joined us on the phone to preview Saturday evening’s rematch between the two Western squads.

A former Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Daily News, Siler offered his perspective on this year’s group of Lakers, detailed the Carlos Boozer situation and went through the 101-77 Lakers victory on Wednesday that came as L.A. held the Jazz to just six fourth quarter points.

Lakers 104, Wolves 92: Running Diary

59129587CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE LAKERS’ GAMEDAY PAGE
We took a look at the Lakers – Timberwolves contest while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as L.A. went for its 11th consecutive victory.

Inactives
Lakers: Luke Walton (though he’s active in the broadcast booth)
Wolves: Brian Cardinal, Jason Hart

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Wolves: Johnny Flynn, Corey Brewer, Ryan Gomes, Kevin Love, Al Jefferson

Phil Jackson Pregame
Jackson’s regular pregame media session was in this case a tutorial on the triangle offense, due in large part to the fact that Kurt Rambis has his Timberwolves running a variation of Phil and Tex Winter’s system. Rambis had earlier shared that the Wolves are running a similar set, the primary difference being that they use one guard (Flynn) instead of two out of the offense’s base. The Lakers, in fact, used a similar set for Jordan Farmar

59129998First Quarter
2:25 We have not one but two broadcaster switches tonight, with Hot Rod Hundley sitting in for Stu Lantz and the injured Walton subbing for Mychal Thompson. Hot Rod spoke to us before the game, while Walton immediately added some nuggets that only a teammate would know, detailing (for example) the amount of time Jordan Farmar’s spent at the gym with his personal trainer at night.

5:15 Remember when the STAPLES Center floor appeared to be fully covered in purple and gold as the Lakers swarmed the Jazz, allowing just six points in the fourth quarter? You know, on Wednesday? We didn’t see it in the opening minutes, as the Wolves managed a 14-14 tie heading into the first time out, but as Pau Gasol said, it’s literally impossible to play with that kind of intensity for a whole game. Of course, L.A. responded with a 12-2 run out of TO, keyed by … high-pressure defense.

0:01.3 According to assistant coach Brian Shaw, a major theme of L.A.’s game plan tonight was to pound the ball inside to Bynum and Gasol, taking advantage of the smaller Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, both of whom are 6-10. That’s sure what we saw in the first, as Gasol went 5-of-6 from the field for 10 points, and Bynum made 4-of-4 shots for eight of his own, including a buzzer-beating follow to close the quarter with L.A. up 33-24.

Second Quarter
7:17Shannon Brown attempted to board the Lakers’ flight to Utah a few hours early, rising as high as only he can to throw down a Bryant alley-oop. Nasty. In not-so-fun news, Bryant sprained the index finger on his shooting hand, and after returning briefly went to the locker room with about four minutes left in the half.

5:50 The Wolves charged all the way back from 11 down to tie the score at 42 as the Lakers took a collective nap on the basketball floor (not literally). It was Minnesota’s unheralded bench featuring Ramon Sessions, Sasha Pavlovic and Ryan Hollins that combined to make up the deficit with 15 combined points.

0:40.0 A good sign for L.A. – Sasha Vujacic came off the bench in Kobe’s absence and nailed all three of his jumpers, including a three-pointer, all three of which came in rhythm with the offense. His back-to-back jumpers in the final two minutes put L.A. up 56-52, though the Wolves got a bucket back to trail by just two at halftime.

59129597Third Quarter
9:15 Just after we learned that Bryant suffered an avulsion fracture to his index finger, No. 24 dropped a three pointer from the top of the key. Is there a tougher player in the NBA? Walton doesn’t think so, as he stated on the radio.

6:22 L.A., steadily building its lead, got a pretty reverse layup from Kobe off Gasol’s feed, and then saw Bryant hit a 22-foot jumper to make it a 10-point game once again. The man apparently does not feel pain despite the splint on his finger.

0:35.6 The Lakers got a nice lift from their two Queens, NY products Odom and Artest, who played AAU together at the tender age of 12, and keyed a dominant 12-0 run to take firm control of the game. Artest and Odom combined for nine of those points, and joined Jordan Farmar, Shannon Brown and Pau Gasol with a smothering stretch of defense to make it 86-68 heading into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter
9:52 Farmar continues to excel off the bench, nailing another perimeter jumper to get to eight points off the bench. With that hoop, he’d hit the eight-point mark in seven consecutive games.

4:44 Ron Artest continues to sink threes, making his second of the night to get to 16 points. Odom followed with a silky left-handed layup as he glided through the air to put L.A. up 99-83, producing this line from Walton: “Not many prettier things in basketball than that right there.”

1:15 The game was long over, but Gasol drove the nail in quite deeply with a put back of Fisher’s miss to put L.A. up by 15. He then grabbed three more boards for a season-high 20 glass cleans, not to mention 17 points and seven assists. In related news, the Lakers have not lost since getting Gasol back into the lineup.

POSTGAME NUMBERS
3 Left-handed shots made by Kobe Bryant, hurting a bit after an avulsion fracture of his right index finger. Bryant finished with 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting, plus five boards and five assists.

11 Straight wins for the Lakers, the most they’ve won since March and April of 2004.

13 Points from Lamar Odom, his highest scoring output since Nov. 13 in Denver when he scored 14.

17 Minnesota turnovers forced by L.A., due in part to nine Lakers steals, including three from Ron Artest and two each from Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom.

20 Rebounds from Pau Gasol, a season high both for him and for his teammates. Eight of his windex cleans came on the offensive end, matching Kevin Love’s output for his Timberwolves squad. Love finished just short of Gasol, with 19 total rebounds.

48 Points in the paint for L.A., including 22 in the first quarter when Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to make 9-of-10 shots from the field.

Walton in the Booth

59129266Normally former Lakers forward Mychal Thompson mans the seat next to Spero Dedes for the team’s radio broadcast on 710ESPN, but due to a death in the family, MT will be missing the Lakers games against Minnesota and at Utah.

Keeping the seat warm is current Lakers forward Luke Walton, who is still recovering from a back injury. Check out 710 ESPN to hear the unique perspective that only a current player can give.

Rambis Receives his Ring

59129492Before tonight’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves former Lakers player and assistant coach Kurt Rambis received his 2009 NBA Championship Ring from head coach Phil Jackson. After being presented with is ring the entire Lakers squad came over to congratulate their former assistant coach before turning their attention to his current team.

Podcast: Hot Rod Hundley, Pre-Broadcast

57304370In 1957, the Cincinnati Royals selected a star basketball player named Rod Hundley out of the University of West Virginia, and promptly traded his rights to the Minneapolis Lakers.

Hundley, who played for the Lakers in Minneapolis and Los Angeles from 1957 until 1963, averaged 8.4 points per game, recorded over 1,400 assists and played in two All Star games.

Known as “Hot Rod,” Hundley boasts a career as long as it’s been outstanding as a basketball analyst, working not only with Chick Hearn in Los Angeles but most notably serving as the voice of the Jazz (both in New Orleans and Utah) since 1974.

Hundley retired after last season, but is happy to be filling in for Stu Lantz for the next six Lakers games, starting Friday night against Minnesota.

We spoke to Hundley a few hours prior to the game to discuss his time with Hearn, his present-day pairing with Joel Meyers, some memories of his favorite city (L.A., of course) and his thoughts about Kobe Bryant, who to him is without question the NBA’s best player.

Video: Lakers – Timberwolves Pregame

Since the return of 2008 lottery pick Kevin Love, the Minnesota Timberwolves (3-19) have been playing much better basketball to beat Denver in Colorado and Utah at home before narrowly losing to New Orleans and Toronto.

Coached, of course, by former Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis – who will receive his championship ring in a pregame ceremony – the Wolves are steadily improving at running the triangle offense. As such, the Lakers (17-3) will be fairly familiar with what Minnesota is trying to accomplish, but as assistant coach Brian Shaw described (video above), they don’t know the Wolves as well as Rambis knows the Lakers.

L.A. is shooting for its 11th straight win, which would match the team’s longest streak since 2003-04, when the team didn’t lose from March 13 to April 2.

Sasha Checks in on Slovenia & The World Cup

Sasha Vujacic - Darren CollisonWe’ve mentioned before that the current band of Lakers happens to have a more-than-usual amount of serious soccer fans for an NBA locker room, from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar, Adam Morrison and others.

So when the World Cup Draw was announced last week, there were more than a few excited Lakers in the locker room. Team USA had what many would consider a favorable draw, with England, Algeria and yes, Sasha’s Slovenia making up its group.

So on June 18 in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Americans will face the Slovenians, with trash talking rights on the line. We spent a few minutes talking to Vujacic about the matchup:

MT: I worry that the U.S. might underestimate Slovenia or Algeria, nations without big soccer names yet full of solid international talent. Slovenia’s ranked 33rd in FIFA, Algeria 28th and the US 14th. Can Slovenia take advantage?
Vujacic: When Spain played America (in the Confederation’s Cup), they said, ‘Those little Americans with no soccer tradition,’ they kind of underestimated their opponent and they lost. I think you have to be smart before you draw any conclusions. It’s an interesting draw, but it’s going to be hard for any team. England is definitely the favorite, and the other three teams will do their best.

MT: What’s the story on your countrymen? How good are they?
Vujacic: They’re better than they’re ranked. They play against really good teams in Europe, and all the guys play on very respected European soccer teams. They have good soccer IQ and I think they have a great chance to advance.

MT: There are only about two million people in Slovenia, as after the former Yugoslavia split up, much of the talent dispersed as well. Does that make it more special for Slovenia to qualify on its own, just as Serbia did?
Vujacic: It does, of course. Yugoslavia used to have a great soccer team, but then the country split and every (new) country fought for itself. When Slovenia qualified, they were celebrating not for days but for weeks. It’s a source of great pride. Slovenia was not known for soccer, but I’m going to be cheering for Serbia as well. It is both fortunate and unfortunate that the talent had to split, with everyone now representing their own country.

MT: In basketball, the better team almost always seems to win, but in soccer, nothing is ever guaranteed. You can run into a hot goalie, hit the post a few times or get a tough break on a penalty kick at your own end. Just look at Greece winning Euro 2004…
Vujacic: Right, when they beat Portugal, Greece scored only one goal and then played defense. If you were to tell me that Greece would have won the European Championships, I never would have believed it in 100 years. But that’s how it goes sometimes.

MT: That said, do you think Americans realize that being a favorite in the rankings doesn’t necessarily translate into wins?
Vujacic: I respect the US team, and I think especially since David (Beckham) came to the States, the level went up. But still, we know that in Europe they play the best soccer. So it’s hard to predict, and there are still six months before the games … Hopefully Slovenia understands how important it is and that anybody can win it.

Bryant Leads All Vote Getters At 1st All-Star Ballot

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From the NBA:

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets top the Western Conference, while Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers lead the Eastern Conference after the first returns of 2010 NBA All-Star Balloting presented by T-Mobile. Bryant, who shared All-Star MVP honors with Shaquille O’Neal last season, is the overall leader with 692,518 votes.

The 2010 NBA All-Star Game, which will air live on TNT and ESPN Radio in the U.S., and reach fans in more than 200 countries and territories in more than 40 languages, will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, before an expected crowd of more than 80,000 – the largest group ever to witness a live basketball game – on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010.

In the Western Conference, Bryant, a three-time All-Star MVP, who also garnered the honor in 2002 and 2007, is followed at guard by the Houston Rockets’ Tracy McGrady (281,545). Anthony, the league’s leading scorer, paces forwards in the West (588,958) with the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki (366,300) second. The Phoenix Suns’ Amar’e Stoudemire (447,776) is the leading vote-getter among Western Conference centers, with the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum (299,484) following.

Pau Gasol (280,758) is third among Western forwards, while Ron Artest (99,209) and Lamar Odom (85,817) are ninth and 10th, respectively.

The guards in the Eastern Conference are paced by Wade, the leading vote-getter in the conference with 672,227 votes, followed by the Orlando Magic’s Vince Carter (292,002). James, a two-time All-Star MVP (2006, 2008), leads all Eastern Conference forwards with 649,327 votes, followed by the Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett (533,187), MVP of the 2003 All-Star Game. The Magic’s Dwight Howard paces all centers with 625,279 votes; the Cleveland Cavaliers’ O’Neal is second among centers in the East (206,657).

2010 All-Star Balloting, Western Conference:
Guards: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 692,518; Tracy McGrady (Hou) 281,545; Steve Nash (Pho) 272,135; Chris Paul (NO) 248,049; Jason Kidd (Dal) 207,247; Jason Terry (Dal) 131,422; Aaron Brooks (Hou) 131,167; Chauncey Billups (Den) 112,509; Brandon Roy (Por) 106,416; Deron Williams (Utah) 94,715; Manu Ginobili (SA) 75,392.

Forwards: Carmelo Anthony (Den) 588,958; Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 366,300; Pau Gasol (LAL) 280,758; Tim Duncan (SA) 271,321; Kevin Durant (OKC) 177,205; Trevor Ariza (Hou) 168,167; Shawn Marion (Dal) 161,653; Luis Scola (Hou) 134,321; Ron Artest (LAL) 99,209; Lamar Odom (LAL) 85,817; LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 70,588.

Centers: Amar’e Stoudemire (Pho) 447,776; Andrew Bynum (LAL) 299,484; Nene (Den) 90,439; Marc Gasol (Mem) 75,765; Greg Oden (Por) 73,874; Al Jefferson (Min) 48,676; Antonio McDyess (SA) 46,323; Mehmet Okur (Utah) 35,606; Marcus Camby (LAC) 35,471; Andris Biedrins (GS) 28,287; Emeka Okafor (NO) 19,827; Spencer Hawes (Sac) 10,733.

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Just for fun, here are the Eastern returns:

Forwards: LeBron James (Clev) 649,327; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 533,187; Chris Bosh (Tor) 303,550; Paul Pierce (Bos) 131,379; Josh Smith (Atl) 109,404; Danny Granger (Ind) 100,122; Andre Iguodala (Phi) 75,146; Michael Beasley (Mia) 58,461; Hedo Turkoglu (Tor) 55,416); Rashard Lewis (Orl) 46,073; Luol Deng (Chi) 37,428.

Guards: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 672,227; Vince Carter (Orl) 292,002; Gilbert Arenas (Was) 212,526; Ray Allen (Bos) 208,276 Derrick Rose (Chi) 196,059; Allen Iverson (Phi) 136,976*; Joe Johnson (Atl) 118,964; Rajon Rondo (Bos) 113,371; Jose Calderon (Tor) 68,084; Mike Bibby (Atl) 48,935.

Centers: Dwight Howard (Orl) 625,279; Shaquille O’Neal (Cle) 206,657; Andrea Bargnani (Tor) 67,310; Al Horford (Atl) 52,747; Andrew Bogut (Mil) 45,920; Brook Lopez (NJ) 39,420; Jermaine O’Neal (Mia) 38,956; Rasheed Wallace (Bos) 36,855; Kendrick Perkins (Bos) 19,408; Brad Miller (Chi) 17,188; Tyson Chandler (Cha) 14,062; Samuel Dalembert, S. (Phi) 13,969.