Monthly Archive for March, 2010

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Nice Kicks, Lamar

D072184023.jpgA shot of Lamar Odom’s Kobe Zoom V’s, featuring No. 7.

Lakers 109, Rockets 101: Running Diary

60027130Lakers – Rockets Gameday Page
We took a look at the Lakers – Rockets contest in Houston while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers looked to get back in the win column after the previous night’s loss in Oklahoma City.

Lakers: Andrew Bynum (Achilles) Luke Walton (back)
Rockets: Kevin Martin (shoulder) Shane Battier (knee)

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Rockets: Aaron Brooks, Jermaine Taylor, Trevor Ariza, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes

Rockets Missing Key Players
Houston enters the game without starting shooting guard Kevin Martin due to a left shoulder strain and is also without Shane Battier due to a torn MCL. Furthermore, reserve bigs Jared Jeffries and David Anderson are out as well. The Lakers continue to play without Andrew Bynum (Achilles) and Luke Walton (back) for at least a few more games.

60027139First Quarter
9:30 The good news for Rockets’ rookie Jermaine Taylor: he got his first ever NBA start in the absence of Kevin Martin. The bad news: he had to guard Kobe Bryant. Kobe first drew his foul on the baseline, then in the same possession pulled up easily for a swished jumper that made it 9-5 Lakers. The other early story was how easily L.A. was scoring in the paint, with Gasol and Odom going 3-for-3 against the smallish Rockets’ front line.

5:15 Craig Hodges … Steve Kerr … Aaron Brooks? Just about the only way Houston was going to stick around with the Lakers, who were effectively scoring in the paint, was to nail a bevy of 3-pointers like Hodges or Kerr back in their Chicago days. Among the league’s best bombers this season has been Brooks, who has no conscious when it comes to launching triples, and the diminutive guard nailed two of Houston’s three early on to put Houston up 19-16.

0:49.7 Conceding 34 points in their first quarter after a big loss (in Oklahoma City) certainly wasn’t the response L.A.’s coaches or players were looking for, but that they did as back-to-back hoops from Luis Scola put the Rockets up nine. Jordan Farmar managed a baseline J to cut the lead to 34-27 after one. On the bright side, there’s a Potbelly sandwich shop next to the team hotel in Houston. Mmmm.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 109, Rockets 101: Running Diary’

Rockets Look A Bit Different

D068472046.JPGThe Houston Rockets team against whom L.A. plays on Saturday night in Texas don’t look much like the group that started against the Lakers in the 2009 Western Conference Semis, or even like the team they faced twice back in November.

In Game 1 of the WCS, Houston started Aaron Brooks, Shane Battier, Ron Artest, Luis Scola and Yao Ming, Yao going for 28 and 10 in a 100-92 Rockets win.

Then in L.A.’s last game in Houston, on Nov. 4 earlier this season, Houston started Brooks, Battier, Trevor Ariza, Scola and Chuck Hayes in a 103-102 OT win for the Lakers thanks to 41 points from Kobe Bryant.

But on Saturday, the Rockets’ lineup will look like this: Brooks, Ariza, Scola, Hayes and … we’ll see? Kevin Martin, acquired in a trade for Carl Landry, starts at shooting guard for Houston, but he’ll miss the game with a sore left shoulder, meaning that backup guard Kyle Lowry or second round pick Chase Budinger could get the nod.

Either way, Brooks and Scola are the only remaining starters from last season’s Rockets team. Yao has been out all season after undergoing left foot surgery, Battier sprained the MCL in his left knee and Artest now starts for the Lakers. Houston’s also missing David Andersen (sore lower back), Jordan Hill (sprained left ankle) and Jared Jeffries (strained left Achilles), the latter two having come over from the Knicks in a trade featuring Tracy McGrady.

The Lakers are again without starting center Andrew Bynum (strained left Achilles) and Luke Walton (pinched nerve in back), but retain four regular starters.

Tune into KCAL or 710 ESPN for a 5:30 p.m. tip to catch the action, and as always, you can follow me on Twitter for live updates (@LakersReporter).

Lakers 75, Thunder 91: Running Diary

60017163Lakers – Thunder Gameday Page
We took a look at the Lakers – Spurs contest in San Antonio while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers looked to win for the eighth straight time and fifth straight on the road.

Lakers: Luke Walton (back)
Thunder: Byron Mullins, D.J. White

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic

Game Preview
Heading into Friday night’s contest, this season’s fourth and final regular season matchup, the Lakers were looking for their 13th consecutive victory against the franchise, a streak dating back to Seattle. This season, OKC went just 7-8 in November, but are an impressive 34-19 since then, including a 19-6 mark since Jan. 29th (.760) thanks in large part to elite athleticism and length on defense and the scoring ability of Kevin Durant. For the full preview, CLICK HERE.

98077253_10First Quarter
10:31 It’s rare that Phil Jackson feels the need to call an early time out, but with the OKC crowd cheering as they might during an Oklahoma Sooners (National Championship) game, he called the Purple and Gold over for a quick tongue lashing. A basket out of the TO ensued, but the Thunder then went on a 7-0 run to claim a 13-4 lead, producing a standing ovation.

4:25 Among the reasons Oklahoma City ranks fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage against is their ability to defend the paint with solid team length, and early on the Lakers had trouble with just that, almost exclusively taking jumpers until Gasol’s left-handed hook made it 19-9 OKC. In unrelated news, the wind outside could have knocked down Gasol during his rookie year (he’s since added strength, of course).

0:58.7 Things didn’t get much better for L.A. to close the quarter, as it managed only 15 points – a season-low for the first quarter – to OKC’s 27. The Thunder got 13 from point guard Russell Westbrook alone two nights after George Hill dropped 20 in the first half for the Spurs. L.A. made only 6-of-20 shots (30 percent), and were quickly learning how difficult it is to sweep a team in the regular season (pride counts, right?).

Second Quarter
8:49 The second unit was no better than the starters, conceding nine points while managing just four in the opening minutes of the second to watch the deficit grow to 17. The pregame media meal, featuring BBQ chicken, was pretty good though.

2:36 Durant buried his first three of the evening from 25 feet, getting to 13 points on 11 shots, as the generally expected run from the Lakers still hadn’t come.

0:38.9 The Lakers would score just 34 points in the half, easily their season low (39 against Milwaukee) on 37.5 shooting, not to mention 11 turnover, eight of which came from Kobe Bryant himself. Hard to put a finger on why, but Bryant frequently lost control of the ball in his hands on several occasions and simply slipped on a few others. His broken finger, of course, could be noted for the lack of ball control, but the slips? Either way, L.A. had a lot of work to due in the face of a 53-34 deficit at the half.

98077223_10Third Quarter
6:52 The one Thunder player who hadn’t been able to find any offense was Jeff Green, who started 0-for-8 … but even he started hitting, making back-to-back jump shots to put the Thunder up 62-40. Phil Jackson often talks about how difficult it is to beat a team four times in one season, and that’s certainly been the case tonight.

2:48 Have we mentioned that L.A. couldn’t get anything, at all, to go its way? Bench players Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar, whose five collective threes against San Antonio on Wednesday were key, had yet to score despite 23 combined minutes. Meanwhile, Durant found his way to the free throw line (he’s the league leader in attempts) despite a furious Bryant at one call and entirely confused Brown on the next. The four freebies pushed OKC’s lead all the way up to 29 points at 76-47, sending Gasol and Bryant to the bench.

0:00 Not much to say here … L.A. didn’t score in the final 3:20 of the quarter, got outscored 27-13 in the third and trailed 80-47 heading into the fourth. So, yeah. The 47 points were the team’s fewest through three quarters all season.

Fourth Quarter
9:12 L.A. went on a 6-0 run to start the fourth … which is notable considering the rest of the game. Unfortunately for Phil and Co., they were still down by 27, with Bryant, Odom, Gasol, Artest and Fisher watching from the bench.

8:01 The Lakers’ run actually reached 10-0, but the deficit was still 23. Even so, Scott Brooks inserted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back into the game, a (very) minor accomplishment for L.A.’s bench.

0:32.4 If only they’d played the whole game like the bench played the fourth quarter, as witnessed by a 28-11 margin for the Lakers after Brown’s 3-pointer, the game’s last field goal. The Thunder still won by 16, outscoring L.A. 91-75, the team’s season-low in points (previously 79, at Denver, back in November).

The good news? L.A. only has one night to think about this one, since the Houston Rockets await in a back-to-back.

Until then, your numbers:

2 Blocked shots by Congo Cash (D.J. Mbenga). Sorry, had to get excited about something.

8 First half turnovers for Kobe Bryant, who had trouble holding onto the ball and keeping his footing.

30 Minutes played by Bryant, a silver lining since the Lakers go to Houston on a back-to-back tomorrow. Pau Gasol played just 28 minutes, while Lamar Odom and Ron Artest played 33 each.

39.2 L.A.’s shooting percentage for the game, which is actually far better than it had been thanks to a 28-11 fourth quarter. The Lakers made only 32.1 percent of their shots through the first three quarters.

47 L.A.’s point total through three quarters, getting 15, 19 and 13 points in each of the first three. They’d finish with a season-low 75 points in the contest.

Kevin Durant Pregame Interview

56695450After his pregame shooting routine and about two hours before Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder faced off against the Lakers on Friday night in OKC, we spent a few minutes with one of the NBA’s best young players, discussing his focus, his thoughts on Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and more:

MT: You seem to just enjoy coming to work every day and not getting wrapped up in a lot of the chatter about the league’s best players, the scoring title and such. True?
Durant: That’s all I want to do. Those guys – Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, Dirk – there are a lot of guys having great seasons, I’m just trying to do my part to help us win. I’m not worried about anything else. There are so many great players, and the scoring race could go from Kobe, LeBron, D-Wade, the assists could go from Chris Paul, D-Wade, LeBron, everything just flip flops. It’s a long season and I don’t worry about that, I just worry about getting better individually and getting better as a group.

MT: People like to focus on your 29.7 points per game, but it seems that you’ve put a lot of work into all the other areas of your game?
Durant: Yeah you could say that. I’ve become a better leader I think on the floor and gotten my guys to always be focused at all times. Being a better rebounder, being a better passer, playing better defense, I think I’ve grown in those areas. It’s just a matter of me continuing to watch film and watch guys on the floor such as Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest and guys on the Lakers that are great players. I watch everybody, try and take bits and pieces and incorporate them into mine.

MT: I know you admire how Kobe brings it each and every day, no matter what. Is that something you try to focus on?
Durant: Yes – practice, shootaround, games, always focused and locked down on what we’re trying to do. Just talking to guys around the league, summer time they say Kobe Bryant is a guy that’s always locked in and focused and ready to lead his team, and I’ve been around him in the USA Basketball setting. It was like that for him there, he was one of the leaders, the guys that stood out. So like I said I try to take things from him not only on the court but also his demeanor and things like that, try to bring them back here to Oklahoma City to help my team.

MT: Kobe’s always trying to add something to his game in the offseason. Anything in particular you want to add this coming summer?
Durant: I want to add stuff, but I also want to get better at everything I’ve learned so far. Shooting the basketball, ball handling, because those things can always get better. You don’t want to forget about those while adding another thing – I try to do that as well, but I want to get better at my overall game. I don’t only work on one thing.

MT: The Lakers are younger than one might think … Kobe’s 31, Artest and Odom 30, Gasol 29, Bynum 22 … do you see them as the team to beat for years to come?
Durant: Yeah I think so. Kobe doesn’t play like he’s 31, Artest doesn’t play like he’s 30, Lamar Odom doesn’t, Pau doesn’t play like he’s 29, Andrew Bynum is 22. Man. They have a great nucleus of guys that are going to be around for a while. It’s going to be a joy just to go out and compete with those guys each and every year.

Phil Jackson on Potential 2010-11 Return

Lakers CoachesPrior to L.A.’s Friday evening road game in Oklahoma City, Phil Jackson addressed reporter’s questions about a possible return to coach the Lakers next season.

Here’s a transcript from the pregame media session:

Q: On his he’s made a decision about next season, or if he’s leaning one way or the other:
Jackson: No. There’s no decision. No leaning at all. I’m leaning against the wall.

Q: On if the odds have gone up since he’s feeling better health wise:
Jackson: Well, health wise it’s fine. Odds wise, I serve at the behest of the Buss family. Jeanie I serve all the time … but (right now) I’m serving this basketball club as a coach.

Q: On revisiting the issue after the season:
Jackson: I think it’s the best way to approach it right now. Where this team is, the way it’s built, the way we’ve been going along this season, the direction the NBA is going right now. A lot of these things fit together.

Q: On how winning this year could affect his decision:
Jackson: If we win it’s almost imperative that (I) give it another shot, but that’s a lot of ‘if’s’ in there. Winning is a really big (challenge). There are four playoff (series) that you have to get through before you can say that ‘We won’ and then have a chance to do something special again, unique. So, that’s a long shot.

Q: On why winning has a lot to do with it:
Jackson: Yeah, I think how we make it through the year has a lot to do with it. Dr. Buss put some things on the line by resigning Lamar (Odom). Some of it is financial … the team has never lost money since he took over, so yeah it’s a big part of it. I pushed him to sign Lamar, and we all said (that) we have to have this guy back. We put this team in jeopardy as far as financially, but at a time when it’s tough in this league (Dr. Buss) took the step.

Q: On if health or finances were an issue for him:
Jackson: Neither one.

Q: On if he’d take a pay cut:
Jackson: A pay cut can come in all different forms … there are some ways around that. I think we can find a way to make that work.

Q: On his health being improved over last year:
Jackson: Yeah, I’ll do a whole physical checkup at the end of the year and I’ll make a decision. It’s pretty easy. It’ll go pretty quick. Two day thing and I’ll be back, see what happens.

Lakers – Thunder Preview

59189950Heading into Friday night’s contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder, this season’s fourth and final regular season matchup, the Lakers are looking for their 13th consecutive victory against the franchise, a streak dating back to the Seattle Supersonic days.

This season, two of those victories came in November and one in December, and the Thunder are a different team since then.

They went just 7-8 in November, but are an impressive 34-19 since then, including a 19-6 mark since Jan. 29th (.760) thanks in large part to elite athleticism and length on defense and the scoring ability of Kevin Durant.

Phil Jackson described the Thunder’s D, which allows the fourth-worst field goal percentage (44.2 percent) in the NBA, after Thursday’s practice.

“They are awfully active and athletic, and their defense is predicated a lot on steals, turnovers, tough shots, blocks and they run out very well from it,” he said. “In fact, most of our practice today was concerned with our spacing, taking care of the basketball, getting the kind of shots we want to get.”

Jackson detailed that the Lakers aren’t really concerned with anything but controlling the perimeter at both ends of the court, which is easier to do with the kind of effort Ron Artest has been putting forth on defense. The first-year Laker dominated the second half of L.A.’s Wednesday evening win in San Antonio (five steals) and has now turned his gaze towards Durant and his 29.7 points per game (second to LeBron James).

Though Artest generally doesn’t like to discuss individual matchups on defense, feeling like it gives the opponent too much credit, other have spoken for him lately.

“He’s the one that created the turnovers,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He did a heck of a job for them.”

Artest did offer an explanation for his swipes, at least: “Guys kept dribbling the ball around me but I think to their credit, they‘ve been thinking for the past three year I haven‘t been the same defender. But since I‘ve gotten lighter, I think guys are now going to be reminded now to dribble so much around me.”

A recent Sports Illustrated Player’s Poll (taken for the March 22 issue from a survey of 173 NBA players) revealed some promising results for Artest’s D. The question was: “Who is the toughest defender in the NBA?” Artest grabbed 42 percent of the vote, a big majority, while Kobe Bryant came in second at 13 percent and Dwight Howard third at 12 percent.

Now for a bit more on the guy Artest will be trying to contain on Friday…

58816653Kevin Durant Can Score
In his third NBA season, Durant has put up 2,077 points through the Thunder’s first 70 games, which already puts him third in franchise history. He got to the 2,000 point threshold in just his 68th game of the season to join LeBron James as one of two NBA players to accomplish that feat at age 21 or younger. For such a high volume shooter, Durant’s percentages are impressive. He’s shooting 47.7 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from 3-point range and 89.4 percent from the line, where he’s hit 626-of-700 free throws (by comparison, Kobe Bryant has taken only 491 FT’s, making 403 for an 82.1 percent success rate). Durant also leads the NBA in most 30+ point games this season (39), and OKC is 27-12 when he goes for more than 30.

In fairness, Kobe wouldn’t have a problem averaging 30 if he needed to, but L.A. has many more alternative scoring options than do the Thunder, though Oklahoma City does have one of the better perimeter defenders in the league in the underrated Thabo Sefolosha.

The Lakers are also well aware of OKC’s second-leading scorer, Russell Westbrook (16.2 ppg) particularly in screen-roll situations, and Jeff Green’s capability as more of a stretch four player (15.0 ppg, 34% 3-pointers), not to mention the scoring and playmaking ability of rookie James Harden off the bench.

Turn your channel to KCAL at 5 p.m. or your radio dial to 710 ESPN radio to catch all the action, and as always, you can follow me on Twitter (@LakersReporter) for live updates during the game.

Thursday Practice: Phil Jackson

59957065After Thursday’s practice in Oklahoma City, Lakers Head Coach Phil Jackson answered some questions to assembled L.A. media about his squad as well as Friday night’s opponent, the Thunder.

Among his comments:

On Sasha Vujacic:
Jackson: Sasha has had a year where his shot’s been inconsistent and his playing time has been inconsistent. So we’ve asked him to just play the role that he knows how to do. He’s an efficient guard, he knows how to run the offense, he knows the actions we’re (running). Don’t worry about the shot, it will come when it comes. He was playing really well in short minutes, because Shannon (Brown) has played well and started when Kobe (Bryant) was out and Jordan (Farmar) has had a dedicated role on this team and Sasha hasn’t. But that’s doesn’t mean he can’t help us, and that’s what we’ve been saying.

On Oklahoma City’s Defense:
Jackson: They are awfully active and athletic, and their defense is predicated a lot on steals, turnovers, tough shots, blocks and they run out very well from it. In fact, most of our practice today was concerned with our spacing, taking care of the basketball, getting the kind of shots we want to get. Not worrying about anything else but just controlling the perimeter, both offensively and defensively.

On if L.A. should handle the Thunder:
Jackson: Well, we had a last-second situation here the first meeting, and everybody said about the same thing: ‘Geez, how’s this young team taking (the Lakers) to the limit?’ But that’s the way it is on the road. You have these young teams that can play; they have an excitable crowd here and we have to keep them out of it.

On getting the type of good play off the bench from Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown as was offered against San Antonio:
Jackson: We hope so. We try to do that, and I told Jordan he may not match up with (Russell) Westbrook off the bat, but (Eric) Maynor is definitely going to be a matchup for him. So (Farmar) may not be the first guard off the bench; Westbrook wants to jump over people lots of times.

Jordan Farmar: Half-Court Maestro

If you had to guess which Laker wins something like 80 percent of half-court shooting contests between various players and (almost always) assistant coach Brian Shaw, whom would you pick?

Kobe Bryant (good at everything)? Sasha Vujacic (never stops shooting)? Derek Fisher (experience, good touch)?

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

The answer is Jordan Farmar.

It’s gotten to the point that regular competitors Adam Morrison, Luke Walton, Vujacic and Shaw almost expect Farmar to win, and in Oklahoma City, we caught the point guard’s latest victory on camera.

Ginobili’s EuroStep

60000698During L.A.’s impressive 92-83 victory in San Antonio on Wednesday night, we were reminded of something we’ve known for years: watching Manu Ginobili play basketball is fun.

The Argentinean-bred All-Star has a style that’s really unlike that of any other NBA player, and his most notable move is the “EuroStep.” Let’s try a rough description in words: an extra change of direction where one steps in one direction with one foot and the other with the opposite foot to culminate a dribble move to the basket once the ball has already been picked up (you can watch by CLICKING HERE). That work? Kind of?

Before the game, I asked Phil Jackson if the EuroStep could be taught to other players or if it was a more instinctive move, noting how good Ginobili is at executing it. Here’s what Jackson had to say:

There is a certain kind of a move that was brought by the European players to the NBA and that’s picking the dribble up and taking the extra step, and they don’t count that as a step (for a travel). A lot of European players* have really done a great job with it and Ginobili is probably the best because he can change directions on his drive with the ball off the floor in his hands. Kobe has messed around with it. We’ve had a number of guys mess around with it and try to get after it, but (Ginobili) is the best.

*Obviously, Jackson’s aware that Ginobili is from Argentina, but he played professional ball in Italy, where he was a star.

Makes sense. We also had a chance to speak with Ginobili about it before the game, after he got through a series of shooting drills, to clarify:

MT: How did your version of the EuroStep start?
Ginobili: I really don’t know when it started. But I know that nobody taught it to me. I found it naturally while trying to get to the rim. It just happened.

MT: Phil Jackson said that you were the best in the league at it, but it seems like more and more players are trying to add it to their game. Who else do you notice specifically:
Ginobili: I think Dwyane Wade has an unbelievable one because of his strength. He is able to go up after it, which is not easy. I usually go to the sides, but he can go to the side and up. The thing is, I usually don’t have to the strength to go up after (the hop).

MT: Kind of like on a triple jump, it gets harder with each step?
Ginobili: Yes, something like that. Wade is impressive because of his athletic ability. That’s the one I see.

MT: Your teammate Tony Parker has a nice Euro step too, right? Did you teach him?
Ginobili: Tony does it great. I didn’t teach him, but he developed it (in San Antonio). But he doesn’t have that extra (burst), he does it with speed.

MT: Jordan Farmar told me that he’ll sometimes get called for a travel when doing it and sometimes not. Do you ever consider it a travel?
Ginobili: I don’t know, I don’t even think about it. I’ve gotten called a few times, but it’s not something that’s going to affect the way I do it because I don’t think I travel. The times I get called, it’s not even close.

After the EuroStep convo, we snuck a question in about whether or not L.A. was to Ginobili the clear favorite in the West:

Ginobili: Yes. The most steady, the deepest. Dallas and Denver have had great seasons, but you’ll see them have (bad) losses. I think the Lakers are the best in terms of talent, size, and athleticism. But you can get one on the road and anything can happen … they can be beaten, but they’ve been the best. At this point, we’re not there yet. We’ve been so up and down.

Our next chance to see Ginobili’s EuroStep comes on April 4 at STAPLES Center.