Monthly Archive for March, 2010

Page 5 of 7

Lakers In Valley of the Sun

D070428014.jpgOn Friday evening in Phoenix, the Lakers and Suns are set to face off for the fourth and final time of the 2009-10 regular season, with L.A. holding a 2-1 lead thus far after two home wins and a road loss.

The details: back on November 12 in Los Angeles, the Lakers demolished the Suns 121-102. Less than a month later, the result wasn’t too different, the Purple and Gold running away with a 108-88 victory for a cumulative + 39 on Phoenix.

But on Dec. 28, Phoenix turned the tables in their own building to the tune of a 118-103 victory. So we’re at +24.

Heading into that matchup, the Suns had struggled, losing 9-of-13 games during their worst stretch of the season (L.A. tends to bring out the best in its opponents, after all).

Yet with Friday’s game at US Airways Center on the horizon, the Suns are hot, winning 8-of-10 games to settle into sixth place in the Western Conference with a 40-25 record, 2.5 games back of Utah (who accounted for one of the two recent Suns losses).

D069980033.jpgWith 17 games left on the schedule, climbing into the top four seems a reasonable, if difficult, goal for Phoenix. The Suns have nine games at home and eight on the road, highlighted by home-and-away contests against current No. 4 Utah (included a season finale at Utah on April 14) that could well decide each team’s playoff slot.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have gone just 9-11 in their last 20 road games, a stretch that began with that Dec. 28 road loss to Phoenix, and have seen their lead over Dallas diminish to 2.5 games. L.A. will be looking to go 3-1 against Phoenix for the third straight season, coming after three straight seasons (2004-07) that saw the Suns win the regular season matchup. Phil Jackson’ squad is 3-7 in its last 10 games in Arizona, though Jackson has a 25-14 record against the Suns overall while coaching the Lakers.

A few other Lakers – Suns connections: Phoenix forward Jared Dudley was a teammate of Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown in Charlotte; Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright won three championships as a center for Jackson’s Bulls (1990-92); and Luke Walton and Suns center Channing Frye were college teammates at Arizona for two seasons (2001-02, 2002-03).

Frye, who has made a team-high 139 triples (43.4 percent) and effectively spaced the floor for Phoenix, will not play against L.A. due to a one-game suspension for getting into a skirmish with Indiana’s Danny Granger on March 6 (Phoenix’s last game, an improbably long break in the schedule). That hurts, as Frye’s shooting helps pull one of L.A.’s bigs out of the paint, but Phoenix does get Leandro Barbosa back from a 21-game absence during which the Suns went 15-6.

The game tips off at 6 p.m. and can be seen on KCAL or listened to on 710 ESPN radio, and as always.

Phil Jackson Pregame Notes
A summary of Lakers Coach Phil Jackson’s responses to pregame questions from assembled media:
- Jackson said he was not surprised that Amare Stoudemire wasn’t dealt prior to the NBA’s trade deadline in February, noting that on one hand he’s a very difficult player to replace from a talent standpoint, and that deals involving such high level players are very complicated.

- The Suns, to Jackson, are a different team with Robin Lopez playing at center as opposed to Channing Frye, who started 41 games (including all three against L.A.) before giving way to Lopez 24 games ago. “He can get down there and wrestle with big guys,” said Phil, something Phoenix hasn’t had since Shaquille O’Neal left.

- Jackson cited Jordan Farmar’s injured finger as a reason for his recent shooting struggles (Farmar is 2-for-11 in his last two games). He added that Sasha Vujacic continues to deal with his shoulder, but is hoping he’s able to resume running around screens and hitting shots.

Gasol Partners with Children’s Hospital L.A.

blog_1003paugasol_hospitalPress Release Attached Below
Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star Pau Gasol announced his partnership with Childrens Hospital Los Angeles at a private event on March 10th with Jack Pettker, chairman of the Board of Trustees at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, and Robert Kay, MD, vice chair of the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery at Childrens Hospital.

Gasol will initially be involved in community outreach initiatives on behalf of the hospital, and will participate in hospital radiothons, as well as interact with Orthopaedic patients. Some patients will have an opportunity to attend Lakers’ games as Gasol’s guest.

“It is extremely rewarding for me to help draw public awareness to the amazing work being done at the Orthopaedic Surgery Center at CHLA,” said Gasol. “The doctors and staff work tirelessly to give young kids the ability to lead normal active lives.”

“Pau has a vision for creating more opportunities for the children of Los Angeles and around the globe to realize their dreams of being able to walk, to run, and stand taller,” said Pettker. “We are thrilled to call him a partner.”

Derek Fisher Weighs In

D071725007.jpgWhat’s the best way to figure out the general mood of the Lakers locker room?

That’s easy.

Have a chat with Derek Fisher.

What follows is a conversation we had after Monday’s practice, and below that selected postgame comments from Fish after L.A.’s Tuesday evening win against Toronto:

MT: The three-game losing streak was, of course, not exactly what you had in mind. But it doesn’t seem to have affected the team’s confidence in the larger picture…
Fisher: No, (that’s right), but right now I don’t think it’s about confidence. It’s about doing things out on the floor. In some respects, because we still carry so much confidence, we’re still maybe not pressing (the pedal) to the mat in terms of the sense of urgency that we’ve shown in some games. We haven’t been able to stretch that out over two, three weeks, and that’s tough to do in the NBA season. That’s tough to do after experiencing what we have. We lost in the Finals in 2008, won in 2009 and we’re on a quest to win another title. That’s a lot of basketball, it’s a long three-year process, so you’re going to have some ups and downs. But if we can stay healthy and continue to get healthier, we feel OK in terms of where we’ll to be. We still want to have home court advantage in the West, and having (it) overall would be the best of both worlds.

59783005MT: It seems that in many games – especially of late – you’ve been getting the respective best shots other teams have to offer. How would you describe it?
Fisher: I think that’s true in some cases, and I think some teams have gotten better from last season. But also in particular on the road, where it has impacted us to be honest is the fact that some teams have been hit by lower attendance numbers, but when we show up the building is sold out, everybody in the city is talking about the game the whole week. So the pride, the competitive nature and intensity of the team we’re playing that night is also going to go up. So then they go from being a good and competitive team to maybe playing great that night. And since we’re not playing the best that we can play at this point – not that we won’t be playing our best basketball – we haven’t been able to really counter act that. We still like where we are considering everything that we’ve been through, but we just want to get things going back in a more positive direction.

MT: How do you put the rigors of the regular season in perspective, and balance internal and external expectations?
Fisher: It’s a combination of two things. We aren’t necessarily satisfied or OK with how we’re playing or with the results in particular with the last month and a half, close to two months. We just haven’t played good, consistent basketball. I think that’s one piece of it, in terms of our own expectations. And the other piece is, when you are the champions there is a certain level of expectation externally that comes with it. So when you’re going good, everybody’s rolling with you. When you’re not, everybody has things to say. It’s a part of the process, and when you’re here long enough, you figure it out.

Fisher’s postgame comments from Tuesday night’s win over Toronto:

When the giant appears vulnerable or there’s a chink in the armor or there is an open wound, people have a tendency to go at that. Thus far we haven’t come across as invincible or unbeatable, so of course teams are going to believe that they can win … How we play, with efficiency, focus, concentration, that’s what teams need to feel … We’re not playing at the level that we’re capable of playing. I don’t know exactly why – I think you could point to a number of different things – but I think we’re all confident and optimistic that we can figure it out, and we’re going to stay the course.

Podcast: ESPN’s Matthew Berry

berryA friend of ours who also happens to be a Lakers season ticket holder and ESPN’s main fantasy sports expert, Matthew Berry, joined us via telephone to discuss the current state of the Lakers, his worries about the team’s recent play and what to expect going forward.

And, of course, we mixed in some unrelated chatter comparing fantasy football and baseball players to the Lakers, exchanged opinions on the new “Melrose Place” with “90210″ and just generally tried to make Berry feel better about his favorite squad.

Click below to listen:

Happy Couple: Kobe and Game Winners

If you missed Tuesday night’s game-winning fadeaway jumper from Kobe Bryant, you can head over to our Gameday page as always, or just watch below:

As for the other six game winners he’s nailed*, against Miami, Milwaukee, Sacramento, Dallas, Boston and Memphis? Head HERE, or just watch below:
*ESPN’s Ryen Rusillo reported on his NBA Today podcast that Bryant’s six field goal makes in the final 10 seconds of a game are the most in the NBA in the last 10 seasons (Carmelo Anthony had five in 2005-06).

Bryant Hits 7th Winning Shot, L.A. Beats Toronto

blog_100309kobegamewinnerLosing three straight games just wasn’t something L.A. had done in a while. Not once, in fact, since acquiring Pau Gasol from Memphis in February of 2008, at least until a three-game road trip through Miami, Charlotte and Orlando ended that streak.

“We don’t like losing” was Gasol’s impression of Captain Obvious after Monday’s practice.

But losing four straight? Unheard of, especially with Phil Jackson on the bench. In his 19 seasons as an NBA head coach, Jackson’s teams had lost four straight only 10 times total, and never during any one of his 10 championship seasons.

As such, there was no way the defending champs were letting that happen on Tuesday at STAPLES Center against Toronto, a near-average (32-29) team battling for 5th place in the Eastern Conference. Right?

Right … but just barely.

Kobe Bryant, of course, had the answer himself, nailing a game-winning baseline jumper with 1.9 seconds on the clock, leaving the Raptors only a full court desperation heave that fell 30 feet short.

59866155Toronto did hang tough throughout the game, even tying things up at 107 on a Chris Bosh three-pointer with nine seconds remaining. But then Bryant rose for his seventh game-winning shot* of the season (no typo).
*Click there to watch the first six.

The play developed as Ron Artest inbounded the ball to Pau Gasol, who waited until Bryant freed himself of primary defender Antoine Wright, then evaded the double-team of Andrea Bargnani.

“I was surveying the floor, figured they were going to double me early so I went into a position where I could see my cutters,” Bryant explained. “(The double) didn’t come early, (and) that gave me an opportunity to skate baseline once they did come, and I knocked down the shot.”

“That’s one of his shots,” said Lamar Odom while smiling his own comment, realizing Bryant has seemingly hundreds of shots in his repertoire. “He could see the double-team coming, so he can just go baseline until the space runs out and fade away. It looked good … it went straight through.”

The Raptors had managed to make things pretty interesting down the stretch first by opening a 58-50 lead at the half behind 7-of-10 shooting from three. The Purple and Gold cut that lead down to three points after the third quarter (84-81), reclaimed the lead with 9:50 to play in the fourth on Odom’s left-handed layup and ultimately needed Bryant’s jumper to end the losing streak.

“I’ve worked long hours at that shot,” he added. “It’s my job to kind of bail us out (at times). That’s why baseball has closers.”

This season in particular, Kobe has certainly been Mariano Rivera.

59866197To give Kobe a chance to shut the door, L.A. used a solid low post game keyed by Andrew Bynum that kept him in the game throughout most of the fourth quarter. The big center had little problem scoring around smallish bigs Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh, making 5-of-7 field goals for 11 points in the third and finishing with 22 points, six boards and two blocks.

“He was playing well,” said Phil Jackson. “If you’re a coach and he’s playing well, you better have him in the game. Andrew played well.”

Meanwhile, Gasol pitched in 17 points and nine boards, while Odom added 10 points, six boards and four assists in the second half alone as each Laker big did some work.

“It doesn’t really matter (which big man) you guard,” said Raptors forward Reggie Evans. “With L.A., pick your poison. All of them are good.”

The Raptors quickly responded to Odom’s lead-changing layup with a 6-0 run to reclaim the lead briefly, but Bryant would rattle off 14 points in the final 8:19 and finish with a game-high 32 points, plus six dimes and six rebounds.

So, the three-game losing streak was over, and it didn’t reach four (which again, never happened during any of Jackson’s 10 championship seasons). But the Lakers know they need to play better to win it again.

Derek Fisher, whom Bynum recognized publicly for motivating the team at halftime, explained that everybody wants a shot at the champs, particularly if the champs aren’t playing exactly like champs (still with us?).

“When the giant appears vulnerable or there’s a chink in the armor or an open wound, people have a tendency to go at that,” said Bryant’s co-captain. “Thus far we haven’t come across as invincible or unbeatable, so of course teams are going to believe that they can win. How we play, with efficiency, concentration, focus, that’s what teams need to feel.”

Fisher went on to reiterate, as Jackson had said after the game and Bryant earlier in the week at practice, the Lakers feel that they have ample time to build things up.

“We’re not playing at the level that we’re capable of playing,” Fisher concluded. “I don’t know exactly why – I think you could point to a number of different things – but I think we’re all confident and optimistic that we can figure it out, and we’re going to stay the course.”

L.A. will next head on the road, to Phoenix and Golden State, to continue the quest. Until then, your numbers:

4 Raptors who hit at least two three-pointers, including Chris Bosh, whose triple tied the game with nine seconds to play. L.A. hit only 3-of-15 from downtown, one each from Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown.

7 First half three nailed by Toronto on 10 attempts. That helped the Raptors throw 16 assists on 23 field goals, compared to just seven dimes for L.A. on 16 makes.

28 Points in the paint for the Lakers in the second half, a 12-point edge over Toronto, who won that battle 22-16 in the first half.

32 Points for Kobe Bryant on 11-of-20 shooting and 10-of-11 free throws, none bigger than his dagger jumper with 1.9 seconds to play. It was his seventh game winner, tying the total number of wins for the New Jersey Nets.

44 Free throws attempted by the Lakers, a season high that showed the home team’s aggression.

Video: Lakers – Raptors Preview

The Raptors head into Los Angeles for a Tuesday evening tilt having lost 4-of-5 and 6-of-10 games due largely to the respective ankles of Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu.

Bosh missed seven straight games before returning on Sunday when Toronto lost to Philadelphia, and Turkoglu’s minutes had been limited before he was held out of the Sixers game entirely. However, both are expected to start for the Raptors on Tuesday alongside Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani.

In late January, the Raptors stole away a 1-point victory over the Lakers when Turkoglu drew a questionable foul with one second left and sank both free throws. Toronto thus got the win despite L.A.’s relative dominance of the game featuring a near triple-double from Kobe Bryant (27-16-9) and nice games from both Pau Gasol (22 & 9) and Andrew Bynum (21 & 9).

The Raptors did get hard-working forward Reggie Evans back from injury in recent days, and are looking to get back into the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference ahead of Milwaukee, as the Bucks have won 9-of-10 to earn a half-game lead on the Raptors.

The Lakers, of course, have lost three straight games for the first time since Pau Gasol was acquired from Memphis in February of 2008, providing just a bit more motivation for the Purple and Gold.

Vujacic “Probable” For Raptors Game

Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic is available to play for the first time since spraining his right shoulder on Feb. 18 against Boston.

The 6-7 Slovenian told us after Tuesday’s shootaround – during which he lofted shot after shot at the basket – that he was feeling much better and expected to go against the Raptors. While wearing a shoulder brace, Vujacic added that he’s been painfully eager to return to the team, which went 4-4 in his 8-game absence.

Vujacic went through practice with the team on Monday, staying late to put up some additional shots with Ron Artest.

Previously, Vujacic had been unable to shoot with his right hand, instead likely setting an NBA record for most off-hand free throw attempts.

Unofficially, that is.

Lakers Return From Trip, Remain Confident

58932097Since the Lakers lost three straight games for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol in February of 2008, the players and coach Phil Jackson knew they’d have to answer a round of “What’s wrong” questions when arriving back in Los Angeles.

Yet after L.A.’s 96-94 loss in Orlando on Sunday afternoon, Kobe Bryant may have already summed things up.

“We didn’t win the game but I saw what I wanted to see,” he said of a game he was within an inch of tying with a late jumper. “If we play with this type of effort, it will be hard for a team to beat us four times in a series. Here we competed and we have to take this mindset and this attitude and push it forward to the rest of the season.”

Bryant echoed some of those same sentiments after Monday’s practice, adding that sometimes during the regular season in particular, the team’s issue is more mental than physical.

“We’re very talented and we know what we’re capable of doing,” he explained. “Sometimes you don’t believe you can lose until it actually happens. It sneaks up on you, and that’s something that we can’t allow to happen.”

Part of that sneaking up has to do with many of L.A.’s opponents, especially on the road, giving the defending champions their best shot.

“It’s not surprising that you’re the defending world champions, you’re the Lakers, it’s going to be higher intensity, higher pressure,” said Derek Fisher. “You’re going to have sell outs, which is (not always the case) before we get there … It’s just part of it.”

That’s not to say that the Lakers wouldn’t like to improve, especially when it comes to simple execution.

“The ball has to move more,” said Pau Gasol of L.A.’s offense. “That’s going to give us a better rhythm, better looks, easier shots.”

“We just have to execute better, knock down shots,” added Bryant. “We’re getting shots that we want, really good looks, they’re (just not) falling for us.”

The Lakers are confident that the final 18 games will provide ample opportunity to ramp things up leading into the playoffs.

“We just have to get it together on both ends of the floor,” said the Spaniard. “With this team, the players that we have here and the coaching staff, we shouldn’t lose.”

The team’s first chance to show with a result what they know in their heads they can do comes Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors at STAPLES Center.

Lakers 94, Magic 96: Running Diary

100307kobeLakers – Magic Gameday Page
We took a look at the Lakers – Magic contest in Orlando while it was happening, entering a thought or three each quarter as the Lakers looked to avoid losing three consecutive games for the first time since acquiring Pau Gasol in February of 2008.

Lakers: Sasha Vujacic (shoulder)
Magic: Adonal Foyle

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard

Pregame Notes
The most interesting pregame information regarded the fact that Kobe Bryant didn’t come on the team bus, instead taking a few more moments at the team hotel due to a stomach ailment. “He’ll be here,” said Phil Jackson. “He’s going to be all right.” For more, CLICK HERE.

59836098First Quarter
11:30 Pau Gasol came out aggressively after consecutive sub-standard individual games as the Spaniard first backed aggressively into a double-team and missed a turnaround, then tipped in Andrew Bynum’s missed tip of his first shot. The Magic got a corner three from Lewis on their first possession, but the Lakers coaches were happy to see Bynum aggressively contest on pick-and-roll action, which had been stressed in Saturday’s practice.

6:07 Kobe Bryant, appearing to feel just fine (stomach) judging from his 7-0 scoring spurt that put L.A. up 12-9, watched as Bynum picked up his second personal foul on defense. Both came while trying to contest Vince Carter and Matt Barnes respective drives, as opposed to isolation on Dwight Howard, bringing Lamar Odom into the game for the first time. When Odom picked up two fouls himself in just two minutes, Josh Powell checked into the game; this effectively made the Lakers more of a perimeter-oriented team, since Howard could guard Gasol 1-on-1 and the Lakers couldn’t exploit a mismatch at the four.

1:30 The stat of the first quarter: the Magic were at the free throw line so often they nearly had time to build a house (or at least a shed), attempting a ridiculous 18 foul shots. Carter alone got to the charity stripe 10 times (without a miss) to help Orlando take a 31-24 lead into the second. Carter finished with 15 points despite only two field goals, while Bryant put up 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting for the foul-trouble-saddled Lakers. But the bottom line: that L.A. is only down seven after being saddled with foul trouble, making only 31.8% of their shots and allowing 18 FTs wasn’t bad.

59836116Second Quarter
6:17 Continuing our personal foul watch: Both Bynum and Howard got tagged with their third fouls on iffy plays at respective ends, bringing Gasol back in for L.A. and Gortat for the Magic. L.A. had trimmed what had been a 10-point lead to just four with an 8-2 run keyed by Odom, who had six points, three rebounds and two assists in the first half of the second.

3:27 It has to be at least somewhat haunting for Magic fans to see Derek Fisher nail a three-pointer in this building after his two nasty daggers that won Game 4 of the Finals for L.A. In this case, the his first make of the game brought the Lakers within four points at 48-44.

0:05.1 The lead would stay at four heading into halftime after Artest’s fadeaway rimmed out in the final seconds. Howard and Bynum ended up playing just 11 minutes apiece in the half, nearly equaling each other statistically. The Lakers managed just 34 percent shooting from the field, but turned the ball over only four times and held Orlando to 39.5 percent shooting to hang around. Bryant did not score in the second quarter, missing his only two shots, while Odom put up six points, four boards and two assists while playing the majority of the period.
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