Monthly Archive for February, 2010

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Lakers To Find Out How New-Look Dallas Looks

59629671Few have questioned L.A.’s place as the team to beat in the Western Conference, particularly since the defending champion Lakers (43-14) have built a solid 5.5-game lead on second place Denver (37-19).

But after making a trade with Washington that netted Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson for Josh Howard, James Singleton and Drew Gooden, the Dallas Mavericks (36-21) have thrust themselves into the “Who’s second best in the West?” argument along with Denver and Utah (36-20).

Howard – who sadly tore his ACL on Monday night – was plagued by injuries for the past two years in Dallas, most notably a bad ankle that had limited his productivity on the wing for the Mavs, and Butler’s been a significant upgrade. Haywood, stepping right into a starting role at center in the absence of Erick Dampier (dislocated middle finger), has been arguably even better.

The Mavericks lost their first game after the trade in Oklahoma City, 99-86, as Butler struggled with his shot (4-of-16) and the Thunder won for the eighth straight time. But since then, Dallas has barely been threatened in a 4-0 spurt including victories over Phoenix (107-97), at Orlando (95-85), Miami (97-91) and Indiana (91-82).

Butler has been good for 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.4 steals while working to find his rhythm on offense (37 percent from the field), while Haywood has averaged 11.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 55 percent shooting, highlighted by a 20-rebound effort against the Pacers. Stevenson has played only 28 total minutes, scoring seven points with four rebounds and two assists.

Over the All-Star break in Dallas, we actually had a chance to ask Mark Cuban if the trade was made in part to better match up with the Lakers. After all, Butler knows Kobe’s game more than most, and Haywood helps the Mavs deal with L.A.’s unmatched depth in the lane. Cuban basically declined to acknowledge the inquiry, saying that Dallas was simply trying to improve itself, but it’s hard to argue that the top team in the conference wasn’t at least in consideration when the deal was made.

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LOS ANGELES VS. DALLAS THIS SEASON
The Lakers and Mavs have already met three times in 2009-10, with both teams winning once in each other’s arenas and L.A. winning the extra game in Los Angeles.

The first matchup came on the season’s second game (Oct. 30) for each team, the Lakers coming off a celebratory Ring Night win over the Clippers and Dallas losing a shocker at home to Washington. From the tip, L.A. simply didn’t match the intensity of the out-to-prove-something visitors, and the Mavs coasted to a 94-80 victory that featured 21 points and 10 boards from Dirk Nowitzki. L.A. shot just 39.5 percent in the loss.

The Lakers got revenge in a big way on January 3 back at STAPLES Center, however, crushing the visitors in a 131-96 beat down that saw the Lakers jump out to a 30-13 lead after the first quarter and never look back. With the starters resting in the fourth quarter (among them Andrew Bynum, who sat down after going a perfect 8-of-8 from the field), Jordan Farmar pushed his point total to 24 to lead all scorers, connecting on 6-of-8 three-pointers off the bench.

D070686010.jpgThen, 10 days later, the Purple and Gold went to Dallas sans Pau Gasol (hamstring), and with Kobe Bryant unsure if he was even going to play due to back spasms that kept him out of the fourth quarter in San Antonio the previous night, and still pulled out a tough 100-95 victory by scoring the game’s final five points. The difference maker was a Bryant jumper that broke a 95-all tie with 28 seconds remaining. Bryant took only 11 shots in the game, making five, and added two rebounds and two assists as he labored around the court.

L.A. outshot Dallas 48.8 percent to 42.9 percent in that game and got double-doubles from three players, collectively lifting up Bryant: Andrew Bynum (21 points, 11 rebounds); Lamar Odom (18 points, 14 rebounds) and Ron Artest (16 points, 11 rebounds). Nowitzki, generally covered (effectively) by Gasol with some Odom on the side, scored 30 points for the Mavericks.

That brings us to Wednesday’s game at American Airlines Center, where a new Mavericks’ team awaits after getting to watch from home as L.A. exerted full effort in Memphis on Tuesday night before Bryant’s dagger three swished home a win with 4.3 seconds to play in a 99-98 victory.

So at 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening, Dallas will get their chance to show L.A. just how good they can be.

We’ll be watching.

Postgame Videos, Including Bryant’s Game-Winner

A quick reminder: after every Lakers game, you can head over to the Lakers Gameday page on Lakers.com to view postgame highlights, link to the game story (or running diary on the road), check out the box score, check out quotes and more.

Furthermore, you can click on our Lakers Gameday Archive Page to get all of that information on any Lakers game played in the last three seasons (I utilize this function for story research almost every day).

But because Kobe Bryant’s last-minute mastery can’t be shown too often, here’s the video from LA’s dramatic victory over Memphis on Tuesday night, featuring Bryant’s two three-pointers in the final minute.

TWITTER COVERAGE
Another way to ensure you’re getting all the in-game and postgame coverage you can handle is to follow us on Twitter. My account, @LakersReporter, features constant updates, notes and observations as the game goes on, and will often include postgame videos as well. Further information is provided on our parent account, @Lakers.

From tonight, we have Phil Jackson (parts 1 and 2) and Pau Gasol:

Lakers – Grizzlies Running Diary

59711602Click here for the Lakers Gameday Page
We took a look at the Lakers – Grizzlies contest in Memphis while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers played their first post All-Star road game.

Inactives
Lakers: Sasha Vujacic (shoulder)
Grizzlies: Ronnie Brewer (hamstring), Lester Hudson

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

Phil Jackson Pregame Session
The highlights of Phil Jackson’s seven-minute pregame session with the Lakers media in Memphis (including first minute and change is above on video): CLICK HERE.

59711323First Quarter
10:02 As mentioned extensively before the game, LA’s plan was very clearly to pound the ball inside to Bynum and Gasol right from the outset, and that’s what happened. Bynum nailed a turnaround and drew two free throws, making both, while Gasol hit a turnaround of his own to put LA up 8-2.

8:44 Welcome back, Kobe. In get-teammates-involved-and-just-fit-in mode to start, No. 24 had to take his first shot when he was given the ball with three seconds or so left on the shot clock outside the 3-point line. Instead of shooting, he up-faked Mayo, drew contact, then rose and nailed a line drive, plus the free throw. More importantly than the four-point play, Bryant appeared to be moving very well at both ends of the floor.

0:21.4 The Lakers were simply fantastic defensively in the first quarter, forcing six Grizzlies turnovers (five steals), and conceding little but deep jumpers, which LA then cleared off the boards. The Grizz shot 8-of-20 from the field (40 percent) and caused only two Lakers turnovers themselves. Bryant, who swatted Rudy Gay’s shot and fed Farmar for a quarter-ending hoop, finished with nine points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal and that block in quite the come back from five games off.

Second Quarter
5:35 Bryant’s first shot of the second came six minutes in on a slick driving finger roll off glass, putting the Lakers up 41-32. The lead was actually not reflective of LA’s dominance, since they weren’t shooting particularly well (43.5 percent in the first quarter), but still marked an impressive return from four days without games.

3:31 To their credit, the Grizzlies certainly didn’t lay down and die under LA’s defensive onslaught, settling down in their offense to convert 4-of-5 buckets to cut the Lakers lead to just three on Mayo’s corner three.

0:04.4 Speaking of credit, give some to Phil Jackson for an assist on this one: after being inserted by his coach for a final offensive play, Brown came off a curl on the perimeter and cut to the basket, receiving the inbounds pass thanks to a pick for an easy finish at the rim that put LA up 53-48 heading into the half.

59711327Third Quarter
7:07 Well, that happened fast. The Grizz capped a 15-3 run with Gay’s layup in transition, sparked by four Lakers turnovers at the other end. Memphis seemed to make the proper halftime adjustment in beginning to flood the paint defensively as the whistles went away, and got most of their offense in transition with little contention from LA, which found itself down seven points.

4:37 One area in which LA was struggling throughout the first two and a half quarters: three-point shooting. They’d made just 1-of-9 attempts … until Derek Fisher hit back-to-back triples to cut Memphis’ lead to 68-66.

1:31 The turnovers continued to mount for LA when Shannon Brown simply threw the ball out of bounds while intending to find Farmar. It was TO number eight for the Lakers in the quarter, and resulted in Randolph’s bucket at the other end to give Memphis its biggest lead of the game at 81-70. As such, the Lakers really needed the 6-0 push in the final minute to chop the lead down to five, a 10-point turnaround from halftime.

Fourth Quarter
7:15 Lamar Odom had been almost silent for his first 19 minutes of burn, scoring only two points with three rebounds, but after entering for Bynum (whistled for his fifth foul), Odom’s nailed a sorely-needed three to cut the Grizz lead to six.

2:59 Oddly, Gasol and Fisher combined to miss five straight free throws, Gasol hitting 1-of-2 before both normally excellent foul shooters went 0-for-2. Had all five gone in, the game would have been tied; instead, LA trailed 95-90. Not what LA had in mind.

54.0 On the other hand … how glad are the Lakers to have their MVP back? With LA down three, Bryant coyly pulled up from well beyond the arc in the middle of the floor and swished a game-tying triple. In related news, he’s pretty good at hitting shots late in games. We should also mention that his legs appeared to be well under him, offering full lift on his jumper. Gay responded by getting a two-second roll on the rim to fall to put the Grizz up 98-96, and after Pau couldn’t get a leaner to go (he looked to have been mugged), Mayo missed two free throws to set up a final chance for LA.

0:04.3 And oh my, did Kobe take it. In a set play out of a time out after his attempt with eight seconds left was blocked out of bounds, Bryant ran around a screen, caught Odom’s pass from the top of the key and absolutely buried a deep three-pointer. Just splashed it through. Mayo had a chance to answer with a deep two, but Gasol’s help defense was key in the shot going wide. As such, the Lakers escaped with a 99-98 victory.

Kobe, Kobe, Kobe.

LA’s back in action tomorrow night in Dallas, but until then, your numbers:

POSTGAME NUMBERS
8 Turnovers in the third quarter alone for LA, helping Memphis post a 33-23 quarter to turn a 5-point halftime deficit into a 5-point lead leading into the fourth quarter.

13 Rebounds for Pau Gasol to pace the Lakers, while Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant added seven each. Gasol also contributed five assists, two blocks, two steals and 22 points.

32 Points for Kobe Bryant on an outstanding performance from the field (13-of-19). He nailed 3-of-4 three-pointers, including two in the final minute.

52 Points in the paint for LA, much improved from its 26 paint points in the team’s Feb. 1 in this building. Andrew Bynum had 15 points in only 23 minutes (foul trouble), while Gasol added 22 in 41 minutes.

1,000 Career games for the Lakers played in by Bryant, and what a way to do it.

Phil Jackson Pregame Notes

The highlights of Phil Jackson’s seven-minute pregame session with the Lakers media in Memphis (the first minute and change is above on video).

- Jackson noted that among the biggest changes with Kobe Bryant’s return is the minute deduction for Shannon Brown, who will have to adjust back to his traditional role off the bench. Brown, however – along with Adam Morrison and Josh Powell – could see a few more minutes in the absence of Sasha Vujacic (shoulder) and Luke Walton (back).

- The major theme of our preview of tonight’s contest was LA’s need to get the ball into the paint, something they didn’t do in the two-point Memphis win on Feb. 1. Jackson brought that idea up almost right away, suggesting that the “Get the ball inside!” mantra has to happen immediately. The game plan is very explicitly to attack Memphis from the inside out.

Later, he expounded on the issue:

We looked at the tape from last game, and a few guys noticeably were not making the second effort. Our big guys … Andrew missed a dunk at the basket … we turned the ball over (passing it to the post), post players turned it over when we got there … there were just a lot of things that contributed to that. We got offensive fouls. So that’s some of the reason that it happened like that, we hope to remedy that (tonight).

- Andrew Bynum said in the locker room that his hip continues to bother him, but he essentially has learned how to play through it. Jackson said that he continues, of course, to be aware of the injury, but that Bynum has looked fine to him in practice.

- On Pau Gasol’s play at his old home: “I think it really has affected him coming back and playing. Maybe it’s playing against his brother. He hears the rabble out there in the crowd and he is somewhat affected. He hasn’t played as well as he plays for us in a normal situation against Memphis.”

- Jackson credited Ron Artest’s addition to LA’s improved overall defense (second in the NBA) at this point in the season. He rightly pointed out that Trevor Ariza really didn’t emerge until late in the season, as Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Walton started for much of the year at small forward. The head coach also explained that Ariza wasn’t a 35-minute a night guy, as Artest is, which certainly affects the overall defensive production.

- That Cleveland lost three straight wasn’t a huge deal to Jackson, who said things will get interesting more in the last two weeks of the season than now. He did acknowledge that Cleveland has the easier schedule going forward, obviously because they’re in the weaker Eastern Conference.

- The Grizzlies didn’t have rookie swing man Sam Young available last game, but got a surprising career-high 13 points from unknown Lester Hudson, who received DNPCD’s in the last two Memphis games.

Lakers – Grizzlies Preview

Pau Gasol - Zach RandolphThe last time the Lakers were in Memphis, things were just a bit off.

The details:

- LA was on the last game of an 8-game road trip, and needed a last-minute jumper from Kobe Bryant to beat Boston on the previous night.
- Memphis had won 11 straight games at home before dropping an uninspired contest to New Orleans, minus Chris Paul, in the classic we-can-relax-because-their-star-is-out trap game.
- The Lakers were tired (er, loopy) enough in the pregame locker room to spend 10 minutes giggling about a FIFA 2010 soccer match on XBOX in which Jordan Farmar and Lamar Odom upset Luke Walton and Adam Morrison.
- Bryant was well within range of surpassing Jerry West’s all-time Lakers scoring record.
- D.J. Mbenga played in the first quarter as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum tried to find their legs on the bench.

Bryant, who’d surpass West with a third quarter dunk, went into attack mode when he seemed to sense the collective lack of energy, and finished with 44 points. He got 18 points of help from Ron Artest, but with LA down two in the final seconds after Mike Conley missed two free throws, Artest rimmed out a potential game-winning three as time expired after Bryant found him on the wing. Gasol and Bynum, meanwhile, combined for only 15 points in 56 minutes, the Lakers scoring a paltry 26 points in the paint all night.

In short, a tired group of Lakers didn’t play like themselves and seemed to hope that Bryant could steal a win late, but it wasn’t to be as Memphis snapped a five-game losing streak to the purple and gold.

However, things are quite different heading into Tuesday’s game.

First of all, Bryant hasn’t played in five games due to a left ankle injury, but is expected to start. Second, the Lakers are extremely well-rested, to the point of potential rust since a schedule quirk has kept them off since Thursday’s one-point loss to Boston. Yet and still, they’d played terrific basketball without Bryant, winning four straight before the Celtics loss and seemingly finding a nice rhythm, to which they now add Kobe.

“He practiced like he was going to go through it and play,” said Phil Jackson after Monday’s practice. “I thought his movement was good.”

Bryant called himself “good to go” and said that he feels like a gazelle.

Memphis, meanwhile, is struggling.

After that win against the Lakers, the Grizzlies dropped five straight games before beating Toronto in overtime, losing to Miami and defeating New Jersey to put them at 28-27 on the season, 2.5 games back of Portland for the eighth seed in the West. Memphis has lost four straight games at home, but at least part of its struggles can be attributed to a tough stretch in the schedule: LA will be the 15th of the Grizzlies’ last 18 opponents with a winning record.

They’re led by the front court duo of Zach Randolph, one of three players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points and 20 rebounds (Chris Bosh, David Lee), and Pau’s brother Marc Gasol, 15.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.58 blocks on 58 percent shooting.

While O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay have been at times terrific for Memphis on the wings, LA will likely focus its efforts on the interior with Randolph and Gasol, who outscored Pau Gasol and Bynum 33-15 and grabbed 30-of-49 team rebounds, nine fewer than LA’s total (39).

We’ll get a chance to see it at 5 p.m. on KCAL, or listen on 710 ESPN.

Vujacic Out With Shoulder Sprain

In Thursday’s narrow loss to Boston, Sasha Vujacic suffered a grade one sprain of the right shoulder and is expected to miss a few games.

We’ll check in with Vujacic, if possible, after Monday’s practice to see if there’s an update as to his status.

Lakers, Gasol Honored at LA Sports Awards

The Lakers were honored at the LA Sports Awards with the top sports moment of 2009 for the team’s defeat of the Orlando Magic, while Pau Gasol was named “Sportsman of the Year” for his terrific individual year including the Lakers title and his MVP performance in leading Spain to the European title.

Furthermore, Lakers owner Jerry Buss was recognized as “Sports Executive of the Year” as the franchise was thoroughly represented.

The Awards took place on Friday night at L.A. Live’s JW Marriott in a celebration of the city’s greatest athletic achievements of the year.

Lakers Among League Leaders

59660853With LA’s unusual four-day break from games, we took a look at how some Lakers rank individually amongst the league leaders.

4th
Kobe Bryant’s rank in scoring, with 28.0 points per game.

6th
Andrew Bynum’s rank in field goal percentage with his solid 56.8 percent average.

7th
Pau Gasol’s rank in rebounding with 11.1 per game, though he has yet to qualify for the official leader board due to his 17 missed games.

10th
Bryant’s rank in minutes per game with a 38.6 average that he thinks will go down a bit leading into the playoffs (citing the 17 games missed by Gasol as increasing his early-season average).

Also, Gasol’s rank in blocked shots with his 1.82 per game, up from just 1.0 last season.

11th
Bryant’s rank in steals with his 1.67 per game.

12th
Lamar Odom’s rank on the glass with his 10.1 corralled per game.

17th
Bynum’s rank in blocked shots with his 1.47 swats per game.

19th
Gasol’s rank in field goal percentage with his 52.0 percent average, more impressive considering the amount of outside shots he takes in addition to his low post moves.

25th
Bryant’s league rank in assists, as his 4.6 dimes per game lead the Lakers, Gasol and Odom tied for second with 3.5 per game.

26th
Bynum’s rank in rebounding with 8.2 per game, an impressive number still considering the boards snatched away by Gasol and Odom.

29th
Artest’s rank in three-point shooting with his 39.2% from distance, tops on the team.

Lakers vs. Celtics: Game, Position Breakdown

59660780First, a rhetorical question: will we see the Lakers and Celtics meet in the 2010 Finals?

For many, that was a popular pick heading into the season, with Boston getting a (hopefully) healthy Kevin Garnett back after he missed the 2009 playoffs alongside Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, the much-improved Rajon Rondo and the acquired Rasheed Wallace. The Lakers, meanwhile, likely improved a team that beat Orlando 4-1 in the Finals by acquiring Ron Artest.

By Christmas, Lakers – Celtics still looked to be a good bet, with the NBA’s last two champions featuring largely the same players posting respective 23-5 records while looking at times like Shaun White on the half pipe, destined to settle the most current in a history of feuds.

Yet since X-Mas, Boston hadn’t held up its end of the bargain, assembling a paltry 10-13 mark to L.A.’s 19-8, pitting them a full 8.5 games behind Eastern Conference leading Cleveland (and that was before the Cavs added Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline).

At the center of Boston’s recent struggles has been Father Time, most notably as pertaining to Garnett, the league’s best defensive player and an extremely efficient and heady offensive force during Boston’s title run, who’d missed 10 games while dealing with a sore knee.

With this in mind, we kept a close eye (position-by-position) on how Boston looked against the Lakers on Thursday night in Los Angeles, albeit with the not-at-all-insignificant absence of Kobe Bryant, who missed his fifth straight game with a strained peroneal tendon.

SUMMARY
Trailing 76-69 heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers posted a superlative 13-0 run to momentarily take an 84-80 lead with 7:14 to play, but managed just two points for the rest of the game as Boston eked out an 87-86 victory. Derek Fisher had a chance to win the game with a last second shot, but was well off on a deep jumper with Ray Allen draped to his chest (Fisher later said he thought Allen was going to take Boston’s foul-to-give).

There was some contention before the play, as Lamar Odom had cleared a defensive rebound off a Pierce miss on the previous possession and Pau Gasol had signaled a time out with around six seconds remaining, but LA was awarded just 2.2 seconds with which to work when the whistle finally blew.

In Bryant’s absence, Fisher and Shannon Brown combined to make just 3-of-18 shots as LA’s starting back court, while Pau Gasol scored 22 points, Ron Artest 15, Andrew Bynum 14 and Lamar Odom 13. Odom added 14 rebounds off the bench and Gasol three blocks as the Lakers out-rebounded the Celtics 50-43 but shot only 40.2 percent from the field.

Boston was led by Ray Allen’s 24 points, all of which came in the first three quarters on 10-of-12 shooting, while Kendrick Perkins added a 13-point, 14-rebound double-double. Rajon Rondo led the way with 11 assists, but made only 6-of-17 field goals including 2-of-10 in the second half. Like LA, Boston failed to score in the final 2:24 of action, but Rondo’s eight-foot runner high off the glass was the ultimate difference in the game.

59660829Point Guard
When the Lakers beat Boston on Kobe Bryant’s last-minute shot on Jan. 31st, their greatest struggle in the ball game was containing Rajon Rondo in the second quarter. Boston outscored the Lakers 33-17 in that period, thanks to Rondo’s nine points, eight assists and two steals, many of which came with Shannon Brown defending him. Bryant had defended him quite well for the rest of the game, but on Thursday it was Brown who got the start on Rondo in Bryant’s absence, with Derek Fisher checking Ray Allen.

Rondo found his own offense early, scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, though Brown made progress as the first quarter by blocking Rondo’s final attempt at the rim. From that point on, however, Rondo began to settle for jumpers – missing all but two of 10 in the second half. By the end of the third quarter, he’d already amassed 10 assists, many of which came on catch-and-shoot swishes from Allen, but his missed wide-open jumpers played a key role in LA’s big fourth quarter run (13-0). Ultimately, Rondo notched 14 points and 11 assists on 6-of-17 shooting.

(Sidenote: The Celtics don’t have a backup point guard; Rondo plays a team high 37 minutes per game, though Boston did acquire Nate Robinson (who’s more of a shooting guard) in a trade with New York for Eddie House (Phil Jackson actually said he thought House was the better fit in Boston, as his “quick strike” threes can really change a game).

Fisher struggled with his shooting throughout the evening, making just 1-of-9 shots (0 of 3 from three) including the potential game winner: “They had a foul to give,” said Phil Jackson afterwards. “Fish broke off his cut. He was supposed to open the floor up and we were supposed to have an option there. It didn’t work.”

59660836Shooting Guard
Perhaps the league’s best shooter, Ray Allen was anything but when LA won the first matchup, missing all six of his three-point attempts including a potential game-winner after Kobe’s free throw line jumper. In that game, he made just 2-of-10 shots, but on Thursday it was an entirely different story. It was just the opposite in Los Angeles, as Allen was on fire in the first three quarters. He made 10 of his first 11 shots, including all four three-pointers, to pace Boston with 24 points, before missing his final four shots of the game.

Allen will always end up a tough matchup for the Lakers, since Bryant will usually guard Rondo, forcing Derek Fisher to give up at least five inches to Allen, who needs little room to get his shot off anyway … Sasha Vujacic, on the other hand, is actually two inches taller than Allen, and did an excellent job chasing him around screens in the fourth. That defensive stretch coincided with LA’s 13-0 run at the other end of the floor.

Offensively at the two guard, Shannon Brown started for LA, and struggled throughout with his shooting. He made just 2-of-9 shots, among the misses a pull-up jumper with 1:15 left that would have put L.A. up one. After scoring a career-high 27 points on Tuesday, Brown finished with eight on Thursday. Of course, it’s not Brown’s fault he had to play 39 minutes against a tough defense in Kobe’s absence, and something that wouldn’t happen with No. 24 on the floor.
Continue reading ‘Lakers vs. Celtics: Game, Position Breakdown’

Lakers – Celtics Video Preview

Earlier today, we took a look at some of the numbers that define this Lakers – Celtics matchup.

To take a closer look at the X’s and O’s, we enlisted assistant coach Frank Hamblen to talk about playing without Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo’s rise and the best way to attack Boston’s tough defense.