Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Lakers 92, Hawks 109: Running Diary

98174367_10Lakers – Hawks Gameday Page
We took a look at the Lakers – Hawks contest in Atlanta while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers looked to close their 5-game road trip with win No. 3.

Inactives
Lakers: Andrew Bynum (Achilles) Luke Walton (back)
Hawks: Randolph Morris

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Hawks: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

Hawks – Lakers: By The Numbers
81.1 – Atlanta’s winning percentage at home. They’ve lost just seven games while winning 30 times, behind only Cleveland, the Lakers and Denver and tied with Orlando.
41 – Points scored by Kobe Bryant in L.A.’s 118-110 Nov. 1 victory at STAPLES Center. Andrew Bynum added 21 points with Pau Gasol out of the game (hamstring), but this time Gasol’s in and Bynum out (strained Achilles).
For the rest of the numbers, CLICK HERE.

98173680_101First Quarter
9:22 Though his numbers are nearly all career lows, Hawks point guard has been starting games very well lately, and did it again by nailing three jump shots to put Atlanta up 7-4 to start the game. Strangely, but expectedly, nearly a quarter of the fans in the building were cheering for the Lakers. Atlanta struggles with this in general at home, particularly during L.A.’s lone trip.

4:49 After Artest tied the game up at 13, the biggest cheer of the night came not from something on the court, but when rapper T.I. was shown on the jumbotron. In related news, T.I. just got out of jail a lil’ bit ago. This reminds me of my favorite celeb moment from last season, when T.I. rose from his courtside seats during a time out, walked down the length of the court while waving and posing for pictures. Obviously, no one told him to get off the floor. Solid.

0:03.8 “Don’t foul a jump shooter” didn’t work for the Lakers as Shannon Brown hit sixth man Jamal Crawford’s wrist. “The Difference” (Crawford’s nickname this season, sounding like a Jersey Shore name) hit both free throws to get to five points in the period and give Atlanta a 29-25 lead after one.

Second Quarter
6:38 L.A.’s offense was intermittently effective and poor, but one thing that was consistent was Kobe Bryant’s jumper. No. 24 seemed to get to his favorite spots pretty easily, and nailed 7-of-10 shots to start, getting to 15 points with the Lakers trailing 41-36. Moments later, Kobe would hit again, and Fisher converted two foul shots to cut the lead to three.

1:12 The Lakers controlled the middle portion of the quarter, twice cutting the lead to three, but they couldn’t find a way over the hump, missing 7-of-9 shots while Bibby nailed a three and Smith a deuce at the other end to open a 10-point lead at the break. The game had quickly turned from a back-and-forth contest to one that Atlanta seemed well in control of.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 92, Hawks 109: Running Diary’

Phil Jackson Pre-Atlanta

The highlights of a lively pre-Atlanta Phil Jackson, featuring details about an informal practice on Tuesday, the matchup with the Hawks, Pau Gasol being “very tough” but not “very, very tough” and more.

On how he and the team is feeling heading into the team’s fifth game in eight days:
Jackson: One of the things we talk about is that you pack your bags but don’t get yourself home before the game’s even started.

On not having a full practice* on Tuesday, an off day in Atlanta.
*Jackson later explained that certain players did in fact practice, it just wasn’t a full team workout.
Jackson: There’s a lot that goes into it … I’d like to discuss it with you, but I won’t. It’s not top secret, but it’s among us.

On putting Ron Artest on Joe Johnson, since Artest had success against him in November when L.A. beat the Hawks at home.
Jackson: (Artest) wants to (start on Johnson). I let (Kobe Bryant and Artest) work it out because it depends on who is guarding whom. If they put Joe on Kobe, he’s going to be matched up with him a lot of times. But otherwise, if it’s a cross match, it will work out fine.

On if he agrees with Gasol’s statement to a reporter that Gasol is “very, very tough.”
Jackson: I think two very’s is too many. He’s very tough. Not two very’s.

On if Gasol is so smart that he can be harder to reach with a message from Jackson:
Jackson: Well yesterday in our little discussion we had, I did say that he took the bait. The other night I told him how he can’t get good post up positions on (New Orleans center Emeka) Okafor, and (Okafor’s) always had good games against him, and (Gasol) scores the first 12 points in the quarter. Of those times, he looked at the bench five of the six times. So obviously he (listens). I did tell him, ‘You don’t have to look over to the bench, you should know by now what motivation is and you should be able to do that for yourself.

On if Kobe and Pau suffered from a lack of help in New Orleans:
Jackson: One of the reasons that we went over to practice yesterday with just a few players – it was not an official practice, obviously we didn’t have the full team – was to digest a little bit of what happened when we came back in the game in the third quarter, how we played. The starters got us back in the game after being down a significant amount in the first half. When you have to come back like that, you have to really kind of reign it in, and we’ve had to do that numbers of times this year. We came down and a couple of times took 3-point shots, those shots turned into non-successful attempts, as a result put ourselves back into a whole again. We wanted to talk a little bit about not being desperate; you have the dominance, just keep weighing in on a team and keep pounding them down until they crumble, instead of making it look like we’re settling for home run shots or hero shots.

On if the bench being outscored in a big way in New Orleans bothers him:
Jackson: It makes me want to throw up sometimes. It just doesn’t make any sense. They played three guys off the bench, they had success. We have kind of sculpted out what the bench does, and they fulfilled our prophecy, our worst fears. It’s an area where we really have been emphasizing coming out and playing a little better.

On the importance of tonight’s game:
Jackson: I told them they can redeem the trip by winning this game.

On Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum:
Jackson: Luke wants to play in this Sunday’s game, wants to go through a practice (first) and play; we haven’t gotten a definitive time for Andrew yet. We’re hoping that next week is kind of a break through and he’s capable of playing by week’s end. It’s been 10 days and could be another 10.

Lakers – Hawks Pregame: By the Numbers

Post-Game HeaderWe used numbers to take a look at L.A.’s Wednesday evening contest in Atlanta, the last stop on the team’s 5-game road trip:

81.1 Atlanta’s winning percentage at home. They’ve lost just seven games while winning 30 times, behind only Cleveland, the Lakers and Denver and tied with Orlando.

47 Wins for the Hawks, to 26 losses. L.A. has a seven game edge in the win column at 54-20.

41 Points scored by Kobe Bryant in L.A.’s 118-110 Nov. 1 victory at STAPLES Center. Andrew Bynum added 21 points with Pau Gasol out of the game (hamstring), but this time Gasol’s in and Bynum out (strained Achilles).

40 Consecutive games played by Atlanta without a 3-game losing streak, a record formerly held by the Lakers until the early-March 3-game streak.

39.0 Mike Bibby’s 3-point percentage, which leads the Hawks. Bibby has made 113 triples on the year, while sixth man Jamal Crawford has converted 142-of-376 (37.8 percent) and Joe Johnson 115-of-318 (36.2 percent).

5708160821.3 Points per game averaged by leading scorer Johnson, who also leads the Hawks with 4.8 assists. Johnson had 27 points and nine rebounds against L.A. in the season’s third game.

17.7 Points off the bench averaged by Crawford, putting him solidly in the race for Sixth Man of the Year to lead the league for players who haven’t made a start. The Lakers have gotten inconsistent bench scoring of late particularly since Lamar Odom replaced the injured Bynum in the starting lineup.

11 Active players who have appeared in 1,000 games, including L.A.’s Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher and Atlanta’s Joe Smith.

10.5 Games back of Cleveland for first place in the Eastern Conference for Atlanta, tied with Boston for the third seed.

9.7 Rebounds per game grabbed by Al Horford, who plays slightly out of position at center for the Hawks. Atlanta brings true center Zaza Pachulia off the bench and starts Josh Smith at power forward, who provides a real shot blocking presence off the ball.

7 Three-point field goals taken by Smith this season after 87 attempts last season, when he shot only 29.9 percent. His increased discipline has been a solid development for Atlanta.

4 Smith’s league-wide rank in blocked shots (2.03) from his power forward position, trailing only centers Dwight Howard (2.74), Andrew Bogut (2.52) and Brendan Haywood (2.13).

1 Player in the NBA averaging at least 15.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists: Josh Smith.

Race For Second Place

59329474With L.A.’s loss in New Orleans on Monday night, the task of catching Cleveland for the NBA’s best regular season record grew increasingly difficult, if even possible.

The Cavs hold a four-game lead over the Lakers with eight to play for each, putting the magic number for Cleveland (a combination of Lakers losses and Cavs wins) at four. Meanwhile, L.A.’s lead over Orlando for the second-best overall record is at two games, the Lakers also holding a five-game edge over Dallas out West:

League Standings
1) Cleveland (58-16), 0.0 Games back
2) L.A. Lakers (54-20), 4.0
3) Orlando (52-22), 6.0
4) Dallas (49-25), 9.0

Last season, the Cavs edged out the Lakers for home court advantage throughout the playoffs by one game (66 wins to 65), while L.A. had a 6-game edge on Orlando. That ended up being the key, since the Magic handled Cleveland 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, even without point guard Jameer Nelson. This season, Orlando added Vince Carter, Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes, while Cleveland acquired Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison.

While the Lakers have certainly proven an ability to win in Orlando after the 4-1 Finals series that saw two straight road wins clinch the franchise’s 15th title, holding home court is of course preferable. Here are the remaining eight games for both teams:

L.A. Lakers Final 8: @ Atlanta, Utah, San Antonio, @ Denver, @ Minnesota, Portland, Sacramento, @ L.A. Clippers

Orlando Magic Final 8: @ Dallas, @ San Antonio, Memphis, Washington, New York, @ Cleveland, @ Indiana, Philadelphia

Phil Jackson Postgame Reaction

Since the Lakers aren’t practicing on Tuesday in Atlanta, lets revisit Phil Jackson’s postgame comments from New Orleans Arena after L.A.’s 108-100 loss to the Hornets:

On the game: “I told the guys I didn’t like the first half, obviously, the bench couldn’t get things going in the second quarter and they got a distant lead. We came back right after the start of the third quarter but we couldn’t sustain. They picked it up a little bit, got some blocked shots and created some turnovers and got a little advantage there after we got back in the ballgame. They just stepped up to a level that we didn’t reach.”

On Kobe Bryant: “He was getting double and triple-teamed, and he was getting the ball out to guys for shots and we just didn’t shoot the two-point shot well at all. We had a couple here and a couple there. We weren’t consistent at all.”

On the trouble with three-pointers: “It’s all well and good to get the ball swung, but if you are not making the three you have to go back inside and you have to penetrate off the dribble. That was the message. And there are nights you are not going to shoot the three-ball well so that was it.”

If you’d prefer the video, click below:

Post Hornets Part I

Post Hornets Part II

Lakers 100, Hornets 108: Running Diary

60045322Lakers – Hornets Gameday Page
We took a look at the Lakers – Hornets contest in New Orleans while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers looked for their second straight road win.

Inactives
Lakers: Andrew Bynum (Achilles) Luke Walton (back)
Hornets: Peja Stojakovic

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Hornets: Chris Paul, Marcus Thornton, Morris Peterson, David West, Emeka Okafor

Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton Injury Update
Prior to the game, we learned that Luke Walton could return to practice on Thursday when the team gets back to Los Angeles, while Andrew Bynum looks forward to meeting with his doctors to reevaluate his strained Achilles. For more, click HERE FOR BYNUM and HERE FOR WALTON.

60045327First Quarter
5:30 If you were a Laker from any country other than Spain, you didn’t score in the first six minutes for L.A. … fortunately for the road team, its Spaniard was in a scoring mood, making 5-of-8 shots for all 12 of his team’s points to match the Hornets’ output by himself.

4:00 Ron Artest decided not to let Gasol have all the fun, earning himself an open layup in transition after picking David West’s pocket, then hitting a baseline jumper off Pau’s post feed that put L.A. up 16-15. More importantly, we had a chance to try a local Po’ Boy sandwich, several beignets and some gumbo while in New Orleans over the past two days.

1:20 Though Houston does it a bit with Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry, New Orleans came in with an even quicker double point guard offense, with Paul being joined by Darren Collison, a former college teammate of Jordan Farmar (one year at UCLA). L.A. didn’t pick up Collison off a ball reversal, and he nailed an open three in the middle of a 9-0 Hornets run that produced a 25-21 lead for the Cajuns. Bryant got his first point with a late free throw, but West’s buzzer-beating leaner created a 27-22 N.O. lead.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 100, Hornets 108: Running Diary’

Injury Update: Andrew Bynum

D072184111.jpgWe caught up with Andrew Bynum, who will miss his fifth consecutive game when the Lakers play New Orleans on Monday night, in the locker room to discuss his progress from a strained left Achilles:

MT: Phil Jackson said that there’s still no firm timetable as to when you might return, but that you’re at least not experiencing pain while walking at this point? How are you feeling today?
Bynum: I can walk pretty much without pain. I still can’t turn the ankle either way and I’m taped up and stuff. That’s just kind of where it’s at; it is getting better.

MT: This is a much different type of thing you experienced the last two years with differing knee injuries, at least…
Bynum: It’s nowhere near as serious. It’s just something that needs to get all the way better so that you don’t have a chronic issue. That’s what we’re trying to avoid right now, and want to get it back to where it’s normal going into the playoffs.

MT: So in short, once it’s healed, you don’t have to worry about it like you might a knee?
Bynum: For sure.

MT: Are you worried at all about your conditioning when you get back?
Bynum: I should be able to be right back. I’m going to have to just go at it in practices. It hasn’t even been two weeks, and I should be feeling better when we get back home. Do the reevaluation with the doctors, they can tell me what’s going on, possibly take an MRI and take it from there.

Phil Jackson added some comments about Bynum before the game as well:

I haven’t put any timetable on Andrew at all. We were hoping it would be a couple of weeks, but right now we’ll just let that one go. When he’s ready to go, we’ll notify you. He just started walking without comfort about two days ago. He feels free enough to walk without the boot on.

Injury Update: Luke Walton

The Lakers could get a bench boost from within later this week, according to Coach Phil Jackson.

Luke Walton, who has played in only 24 of L.A.’s 72 games due to a pinched nerve in his lower back, may be ready to go sooner than later.

“Walton I think will start practicing next week,” said Phil Jackson. “(He) may even get on the court Thursday when we get back, get in a practice before the Utah game (Friday).”

The excellent-passing forward’s target return date has long been early April, so that he can get some game action in before L.A. begins its title defense in the playoffs.

Lakers – Hornets Preview

59578244On Saturday evening, the New Orleans Hornets (34-41) were officially eliminated from playoff contention after suffering a 112-101 home loss to Portland.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Lakers expect anything but N.O.’s best effort at New Orleans Arena on Monday night. After all, the defending champions tend to bring out the best in their opponents regardless of the situation, and this happens to be L.A.’s only appearance in the Crescent City on the season.

Furthermore, point guard Chris Paul will be starting in his fourth game since missing 25 games with a left knee injury, joining rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton in perhaps the league’s quickest, problem-causing backcourts.

Thornton, taken with the 43rd pick of the 2009 NBA Draft by Miami before being shipped to New Orleans for two future second round picks, just one pick after L.A. selected Patrick Beverly and traded him to Miami, has averaged 19.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in nine starts. Collison, meanwhile, had 31 10+ point games and 12 10+ assist games in 33 starts sans Paul, and averaged the most assists (9.0) of any rookie before returning to the bench.

Paul, however, is easing his way back into the mix, averaging just 7.7 points 6.7 assists and 1.3 rebounds in 27.7 minutes in three contests, the last two of which were losses. His return hasn’t marked a clean bill of health for the Hornets, since starting small forward Peja Stojakovic has missed 10 straight games with a lower abdominal strain. As such, Morris Peterson and Thornton line up on the wings alongside Paul, with Emeka Okafor in the middle and David West at the power forward slot. Off the bench come Collison, James Posey, Darius Songaila and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Gray and Julian Wright.

Due to their personnel, the Hornets look to attack teams in transition as much as they can, then settle into a pick-and-roll heavy halfcourt game if need be, often featuring Paul and West. Defensively, New Orleans occasionally turns to a zone defense for the same personnel reasons, meaning L.A. will have to stick to Phil Jackson’s recent emphasis on taking care of the basketball and getting to the proper spots on offense, something that worked in Houston but not Oklahoma City (in related news, L.A. won in Houston but not in Oklahoma City).

The Lakers easily won both previous games against the Hornets this season at STAPLES Center, first with a 104-88 victory on Nov. 8 and then a 110-99 result on Dec. 1. L.A. also beat the Hornets three times in 2008-09 to just one loss (and six of seven times overall), putting the Purple and Gold on a four-game winning streak heading into Monday’s contest.

Lakers – Hornets Connections
- Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul were teammates on the USA Men’s Olympic team that earned a gold medal in the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, China, and remain close.
- Kobe was the 13th overall pick by the Hornets in the 1996 Draft before being shipped to L.A. for Vlade Divac (thanks, Hornets!!).
– Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison were both point guards at UCLA, their lone season together coming in 2005-06 when Farmar was a sophomore and Collison a freshman, when they reached the National Championship game.
- Pau Gasol and James Posey were teammates in Memphis from 2003-05.
- Peja Stojakovic was traded from Sacramento to Indiana in exchange for Ron Artest on Jan. 25, 2006.

Playoff Picture (March 29)

59919545As the 2009-10 regular season draws to a close, the playoff picture in the West remains nearly as difficult to predict as the NCAA Tournament has been this March (you didn’t have Butler and Michigan State in your Final Four, did you?).

Perhaps the only thing that appears a sure thing for the Lakers is that they’ve more than likely locked up the No. 1 seed thanks to a 6.0 game lead on second place Dallas and 6.5 game edge on both Denver and Utah with just nine games to play. In fact, L.A. would need to lose at least six of their nine games to join Dallas with 25 losses and give the Mavs a chance at going undefeated.

It’s just as likely that Memphis (38-25) doesn’t catch San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland, all of whom are 9.5 games back of L.A., for the final playoff spot, so these appear to be the eight teams in the mix.

Western Conference Playoff Standings (Team, Record, Percentage, Games Back)
1) L.A. Lakers (54-19, .740, 0.0)
2) Dallas (48-25, .658, 6.0)
3) Denver (48-26, .649, 6.5)
4) Utah (48-26, .649, 6.5)
5) Phoenix (48-26, .649, 7.0)
6) San Antonio (48-28, .611, 9.5)
7) Oklahoma City (44-28, .608, 9.5)
8) Portland (45-29, .649, 9.5)

As you can tell, L.A. could realistically play … well … anybody in the first round. The final three teams do (Spurs, Thunder, Blazers) appear the most likely, while OKC and S.A. have far more difficult schedules than does Portland.

Spurs: @ Nets, Houston, Orlando, @ Lakers, @ Sacramento, @ Phoenix, Memphis, @ Denver, Minnesota, @ Dallas
Note: Four really tough road games isn’t ideal for Gregg Popovich and Co., but the Spurs did just smack the Celtics around in Boston.

Thunder: @ Philly, @ Boston, @ Dallas, Minnesota, @ Utah, Denver, Phoenix, @ Golden State, @ Portland, Memphis
Note: Aside from Minny, even their home games are tough, with Denver, Phoenix and Memphis heading into OKC to face a team making its first playoff push.

Trail Blazers: NY Knicks, @ Denver, @ Sacramento, @ L.A. Clippers, Dallas, @ L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, Golden State
Note: With how tough OKC’s schedule is, that second-to-last game in Portland could be the Trail Blazer’s chance to stick the Thunder in the eight spot for good.

Stay tuned over the next two weeks as things fall into place; of course, the Lakers may not know whom they’ll see until the final day of the regular season on April 14.