Monthly Archive for April, 2010

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Playoff Podcast: ESPN’s Ryen Russillo

russilloFor our latest playoff podcast on, we welcomed the national opinion of ESPN’s Ryen Russillo, who hosts the NBA Today podcast and co-hosts the Scott Van Pelt Show on the Worldwide Leader.

Russillo offered his perspective on what’s going on in the Western Conference (where seeding apparently doesn’t matter), took a look at the Lakers – Thunder matchup, gave his current Top 5 NBA players, handicapped the Eastern playoffs and debated whether or not to include 2pac among his top five MC’s.

To listen, click below:

For more, head over to our Lakers 2010 Playoff Central page, or follow Mike on Twitter on the @LakersReporter account.

4/26 Injury Update: Sasha Vujacic

Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic addressed media members for the first time since severely spraining his left ankle in the final game of the regular season, having ditched his crutches a few days ago while keeping a walking boot.

“My ankle is definitely getting better, and I’m excited to be back in a few weeks, hopefully two,” he said.

Certainly better than it looked in this picture.

Vujacic explained that he is not sure whether he will be available should the Lakers advance to the second round; obviously his goal is to return as soon as possible, but his rehabilitation program has no specific return date. Sitting out, of course, has been anything but easy.

“The worst thing that could happen to an athlete or someone that wants to win and be out there,” said the Slovenian. “I’m trying to stay positive and put it behind me.”

Since the initial injury, on April 14, Vujacic and L.A.’s training staff has focused on reducing the swelling in the ankle and getting his range of motion back. The next step will be to strengthen the ankle.

In the meantime, Vujacic said he’s taken to shooting while seated in a chair, which isn’t much of a surprise.

4/25 Injury Update: Mbenga’s Eye

The Lakers announced on Sunday that backup center DJ Mbenga suffered two new retinal holes in his left eye, which is actually nothing unique considering the initial traumatic eye injury he suffered on April 17 in practice.

According to team spokesman John Black, shifting can occur in the eye and open up other holes in the retina, which was the case in this instance.

Mbenga had surgery on Sunday to repair the holes, and will be reevaluated in 72 hours. The operation was performed by Dr. Ron Gallimore, the same doctor who operated on Mbenga on the 17th.

Mbenga will not play in Tuesday’s Game 5 against Oklahoma City.

Thunder Run Away from Lakers

60261394The Lakers didn’t lose consecutive games during their 2009 playoff run even once, counting on both their talent and adjustments to earn road victories in Utah, Houston, Denver and Orlando en route to the championship.

But in Oklahoma City, in 2010, the Lakers followed up a tough 101-96 come-from-behind loss to the Thunder on Thursday by getting blown out of the state on Saturday in a 110-89 result during which OKC seemed to be sprinting down hill from start to finish.

“That was about as good as we could play a game of basketball at both ends of the floor,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

The only good news for the Lakers: since they won the first two games of the series, they retain home court advantage and now head back to STAPLES Center for Game 5. That circumstance, in fact, happened twice in 2009, as both Houston and Denver took 2-of-4 games before the Lakers held court in Game 5.

At the heart of L.A.’s loss was yet another huge discrepancy at the free throw line, the Thunder making 42-of-48 while the Lakers managed just 17-of-28. The home team also controlled the glass, 50-43, and crushed L.A. in transition, 24-2 despite the visitors’ pregame focus on containing just that.

“There’s not much to say about this game,” said Phil Jackson. “They took it to us. Even their free throw defense was good tonight.”

Kobe Bryant, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, took just 10 shots to score 12 points, while Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol scored 13 points apiece to lead the team. Lamar Odom was active offensively off the bench, scoring 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting, but Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar combined to make just 3-of-15 shots.

Five Thunder players scored in double figures, with Kevin Durant getting 22, Russell Westbrook 18 with six assists and James Harden 15 off the bench.

Game 5 is set for Tuesday in L.A., but until then, your numbers:

10 Field goal attempts from Kobe Bryant, who took 29 in Game 3. Bryant spent the first half drawing defenders and finding wide open Lakers, and did not play in the fourth quarter.

13 Points for Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, which lead the Lakers, a new low for the team’s high scorer.

20 Free throw discrepancy for Oklahoma City, who made 42-of-48 while the Lakers made just 17-of-28. The previous night, the Thunder attempted 34 free throws to 12 for the Lakers.

24 Fastbreak points for OKC, to just two for the Lakers.

43 Bench points for the Thunder, led by 15 from rookie James Harden, who followed up his 18-point performance in Game 3 after scoring not a single point in limited minutes in L.A.

Lakers 89, Thunder 110: Game 4 Running Diary

60261417Lakers – Thunder Gameday Page
The Lakers looked to rebound from a narrow Game 3 loss at Oklahoma City in Game 4 of their First Round series. We were there to make sure you didn’t miss a thing:

Lakers: Sasha Vujacic (ankle)
Thunder: Kyle Weaver, Mustafa Shakur

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Thunder: Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green, Krstic

Game 4 Video Preview
One thing that the Lakers did better than any other team during their 2009 championship run was make adjustments following losses and then execute during next game. Assistant coach Jim Cleamons joined us to detail the team’s plan for Game 4 in OKC. CLICK HERE to watch.

60260420First Quarter
5:15 L.A.’s offense was very patient in the opening minutes, which is precisely what the coaching staff had asked for. Good ball movement had produced open shots, of which the Lakers 6-of-12, including a combined 5-of-9 from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Their back-to-back buckets in the paint cut OKC’s early lead to 13-12, while Kobe Bryant had yet to attempt a shot.

1:15 Then came a poor stretch for L.A., which managed just two points in a 5-minute span to allow OKC to open a 27-14 lead thanks to a 12-0 run. While the Lakers were getting good shots, they had been unable to keep the Thunder from scoring, as they finished a 10-0 run with a Serge Ibaka put back and two Kevin Durant free throws.

1:00 Derek Fisher’s 3-pointer was L.A.’s only bucket in the final five minutes of the quarter, and Russell Westbrook’s pull-up in the lane with 1.6 seconds to go made it 29-17 Thunder after one. The cold spell on offense for the Lakers – 36.4 percent shooting – was uncharacteristic of the first quarter in the series, which they’d lead in all three of the previous games.

Second Quarter
9:06 Bryant’s first shot of the game was a deep, open 3-pointer, which he swished to cut OKC’s lead to 36-24. After four misses, Odom had also begun to find something, connecting on consecutive layups off drives to the rim.

7:05 Bryant continued to effectively find open teammates after drawing attention, getting Fisher and Odom consecutive open triples, but both missed. Bynum did grab the second miss and stuck it back, and then dunked Kobe’s lob pass on the next possession. That was Kobe’s fourth assist (though had shots gone in he could have had many more) while he’d taken just two shots (both 3′s).

2:26 The discrepancy at the free throw line was killing L.A. for the second straight game, as Durant went to the stripe to make the Thunder 18-of-18, while the Lakers had made just 1-of-6 attempts. In related news, OKC led 50-35. L.A. would pull just two points back before the half when Bryant and Artest joined the rest of their teammates in missing at least 1-of-2 free throws (3-of-10 total), while Durant missed OKC’s first in 20 attempts to make it a 55-42 lead at the break.

60261239Third Quarter
10:28 Though Thabo Sefolosha drew a shooting foul on Kobe while attempting a three (Kobe protested that he used the Reggie Miller leg kick), Fisher hit a three thanks to Artest’s penetration (had been working all game, as Phil Jackson had asked for). Fisher, however, then became the sixth Laker to miss a free throw when he had a chance to cut the lead to 10 (0-for-2).

5:16 Things began to get out of hand for the Lakers, OKC opening a 21-point lead after another stretch in which the Lakers couldn’t contain the Thunder in transition or on offense, and couldn’t get shots to fall at the other end. More simply, the Thunder were riding downhill on a sled, the Lakers trying to climb a mountain.

2:18 The Purple and Gold tried to find some life as Odom cut to the hoop for consecutive buckets to reach 10 points, but the Thunder matched with Green free throws and Durant’s 3-pointer. OKC ended up winning a quarter L.A. needed to dominate 31-22 to take a commanding 86-64 lead into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter
9:56 Shannon Brown’s reverse layup was the first make for he and Jordan Farmar, both of whom started 0-for-4. Nothing going right for the Lakers.

6:36 James Harden, meanwhile, had his second straight terrific effort off the bench, capped by a corner three that put OKC up 99-72, likely ensuring that Kobe, Pau and Fisher stayed on the bench (Odom and Bynum were still in the game). Harden, the third pick in the draft, was up to 15 points with five boards and four assists. He’d scored 18 points in Game 3 after failing to score a single point in L.A.

5:27 That would be all. The Lakers waved the white flag in emptying the bench with the Thunder up 104-76. Five minutes later, the game ended with a final of 110-89, L.A.’s pine managing to close on a 13-6 run in nearly the only good stretch of the game.

Up next is a Tuesday evening Game 5 in Los Angeles, where the Lakers also found themselves at 2-2 last season against both Houston and Denver.

Video Preview: Game 4 in OKC

One thing that the Lakers did better than any other team during their 2009 championship run was make adjustments following losses and then execute during next game, which helped produce wins from Game 4 in Utah in the First Round to Games 4 and 5 in the Finals in Orlando.

After dissecting the film from Game 3′s 101-96 loss to Oklahoma City in the 2010 First Round, the Lakers’ coaching staff inputted their adjustments at Saturday morning’s shootaround, which assistant Jim Cleamons detailed for us on LakersTV.

Among the topics: ball movement and patience leading to better shots; transition defense; continued help on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and more attention paid to James Harden off the bench.

Kobe Surpasses Jerry West in Playoff Points

60242742Earlier this season, Kobe Bryant surpassed Jerry West to become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.

During Thursday evening’s loss to the Thunder, Bryant also passed West’s playoff scoring record of 4,457 points when he sank a 16-foot jump shot early in the third quarter.

Bryant became the fifth leading scorer in the history of the playoffs in the process. This after he passed Larry Bird (3,897) for 6th, John Havlicek (3,776) for 7th, Hakeem Olajuwon (3,755) for 8th and Magic Johnson (3,701) for 9th the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list last season. Next up for Kobe is Karl Malone (4th/4,761).

One other note: Among all players with 2,500+ postseason points, only Michael Jordan (33.4), Jerry West (29.1), Elgin Baylor (27.0), Hakeem Olajuwon (25.9) and Shaquille O’Neal (25.2) have a higher postseason scoring average than Bryant (25.1).

Lakers Lose Control Late, Drop Game 3

60242050En route to winning the 2009 NBA title, the Lakers won at least one road game in every playoff series, including two straight in the Finals to beat Orlando.

On Thursday night in Oklahoma City, the Purple and Gold looked every bit the part in controlling the contest … at least until the end of the third quarter, when everything turned the other way as an impressive rally from the Thunder enabled a surprising come-from-behind victory in the first ever playoff game at the Ford Center.

The Lakers had opened the game on a 10-0 run, using a wild-and-crazy home crowd against the Thunder, and left the first half with seven-point lead that remained at eight with 1:59 to go in the third. But then came a quick 8-1 OKC run to close the quarter, cutting L.A.’s lead to just one heading into the fourth quarter.

60241429In the final period, Kobe Bryant went suddenly and unexpectedly cold, missing all but two of his 10 shots as the Thunder rode the wave of momentum created in the third all the way through, winning the fourth 27-21 to win 101-96.

After L.A. had effectively quieted a terrific crowd, the seal was broken for good.

“It was phenominal, man,” said Kevin Durant, who finished with 29 points and 19 rebounds despite struggling with his shooting (8-of-24 FG’s). “I couldn’t hear myself at one point. They kept us in the game.”

The Lakers didn’t make it easy, however, rallying back from a 90-82 deficit behind Derek Fisher’s fourth three, Lamar Odom’s first three and two Ron Artest deep twos to get within two with 1:03 remaining when Pau Gasol hit two free throws. But then Durant drew an off-ball foul on Artest to get to the line, the place Phil Jackson said was the biggest reason the Thunder won the game.

“The key factor was the free throws,” said L.A.’s head coach in describing the Thunder’s 34-12 advantage in attempts. “That has to do with their aggressiveness.”

Jackson also noted L.A.’s struggle to get the ball inside after the first quarter, crediting the Thunder’s ball pressure, as the Lakers hoisted an all-time playoff-high tying 31 3-pointers.

“Too many,” said Pau Gasol, who attempted just 12 shots himself, and Andrew Bynum nine. “We tend to settle.”

For the Thunder, Russell Westbrook scored 27 points, highlighted by a big one-handed dunk that started the late third quarter run and 3-pointer with 3:02 to play (despite his 22 percent 3-point percentage), and James Harden added 18 points off the bench after failing to score in limited minutes in Los Angeles.

“I thought that was a good team win,” said Scott Brooks. “Everybody chipped in, made plays that helped us win the game.”

Gasol had a 17-point, 15-rebound double-double for the Lakers, Derek Fisher added 17 points including 4-of-5 3-pointers and Andrew Bynum scored 13 points with seven boards in the loss.

The Lakers will try and bounce back on Saturday evening, but until then, your numbers:

1 Of 10 shots made by Kobe Bryant in an uncharacteristic fourth quarter. He led the Lakers with 24 points and eight assists, but took 29 shots.

3 Blocked shots for the Thunder a game after swatting 17 shots in L.A.; OKC instead grabbed 14 offensive boards after getting just seven in Game 2.

19 Rebounds for Kevin Durant, helping to make up for a slow shooting night (4-of-17 through three quarters, 8-of-24 overall).

22 More free throws attempted by the Thunder than the Lakers (34-12), which Phil Jackson said was the biggest reason for L.A.’s loss (crediting OKC’s aggressiveness).

31 Three-pointers hoisted by the Lakers, tying an all-time playoff high. Jackson bemoaned the team’s failure to get the ball inside particularly late in the game.

Lakers 96, Thunder 101: Game 3 Running Diary

60241059Lakers – Thunder Gameday Page
The Lakers took a 2-0 advantage with two home victories before heading to Oklahoma City for the city’s first home NBA playoff game. We were there to make sure you didn’t miss a thing:

Lakers: Sasha Vujacic (ankle)
Thunder: Byron Mullins, Mustafa Shakur

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Thunder: Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Green, Krstic

Energy, Pressure or Both for OKC?
Among the more intriguing questions leading into OKC’s first home playoff game ever in the city was how that energy would affect the team. Would it simply serve as a boost? Or would it create a pressure cooker? We took a look: CLICK HERE.

60241429First Quarter
12:00 Before we type another letter, how about a big ol’ “Happy Birthday” to Jack Nicholson, the biggest of all the big Lakers fans.

9:33 The Lakers could not have possibly had a better start in what was a raucous, blue atmosphere (“Blue Out” w/t-shirts). They looked everything like the experienced champions by rolling out a 5-of-5 from the field opening to go up 10-0, causing three early turnovers on a nervous-looking Thunder group. We’d wondered if the Lakers could turn the energy in the building against the Thunder, and they did precisely that, at least to start.

5:37 Derek Fisher buried a triple, his second jumper of the quarter, to put the Lakers up 18-9 as L.A.’s solid play continued at both ends. OKC managed to get going a bit on offense, but was struggling mightily with L.A.’s offense. Each Lakers starter had scored, led by Andrew Bynum’s six points.

3:49 James Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, scored his first points of the series with a corner three to pull OKC within six at 22-16, then added another triple and a layup. Harden hadn’t gotten many minutes in L.A., but the Thunder certainly needed more from him at home, where subs generally play better. The Lakers, meanwhile, would score just two more points in the quarter (2:34 mark, Shannon Brown jumper) as OKC cut the lead to just five at 27-22, a score not particularly reflective of the early Purple and Gold dominance.

Second Quarter
9:50 What happened to L.A.’s offense? Seven consecutive missed shots allowed OKC to creep within three points before Jordan Farmar finally finished a tough two-handed drop-in layup in traffic to make it 29-24.

6:49 The one guy who’d yet to get anything going offensively was Kobe Bryant, who missed his fourth straight shot despite getting a really good look in the paint. Gasol and Odom, however, scored buckets around his miss to keep L.A. up eight.

3:34 With the Thunder beginning to settle in, the crowd rising at every opportunity, Kobe kept shutting them down by burying three consecutive deep 3-pointers. Quick turnaround from No. 24.

0:36.4 The half’s final bucket came in transition from Westbrook, giving him 10 points on 10 shots, though L.A. had controlled the final few minutes to take a 50-43 lead into halftime. L.A. had won the second quarter for the first time in the series, having done most damage in first quarters (+21 in series). Lakers shot 45.5 percent, but attempted 19 threes, waaaaay above average. Kobe had 14, Fish 11, Bynum eight while Gasol and Odom struggled (combined 3-for-10).

60241431Third Quarter
10:00 The crowd was certainly less involved to start the third than they were the game (in part due to concessions, of course), but OKC actually looked a bit more calm in scoring four straight to start the half. Gasol did answer with a jumper to keep the lead at five, as L.A. certainly was hoping for a better second half than first for the Spaniard (on offense).

6:20 Consecutive solid plays from Bynum, first a defensive contest of Sefolosha’s drive and second a put-back of Kobe’s miss, put the Lakers back up by 10. Moments later, Gasol continued a great start to the quarter with a ridiculous floater that swished through the rim after reaching nearly the height of the shot clock.

0:53.6 Finally, the Thunder got things going … in a big way. First a huge Westbrook dunk on Odom, then back-to-back transition threes from Harden (18 points) and Durant (17 on 4-of-17 shooting with eight FT’s) to cap an 8-0 run that tied the game at 74. Gasol managed 1-of-2 FT’s to keep the Lakers in the lead heading into the final quarter, but a very quiet arena had suddenly turned the volume all the way back up.

Fourth Quarter
11:01 Odom just couldn’t get it going, getting called for an offensive foul in the middle of two Serge Ibaka baskets that finally gave OKC its first lead of the game before Bynum’s and-1 slam on Nick Collison in transition tied the game at 80.

5:10 Bryant improbably went cold at the wrong time, missing all but one of six attempts in the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter as the Thunder capitalized to go up by six when Westbrook and Durant hit back-to-back shots. The momentum had fully swung with that late third quarter run, and the Lakers hadn’t been able to seize it back.

2:43 Fisher’s 3-pointer (17 points for him) finally stopped the bleeding that had occurred as the Thunder continued to bury shots in taking an 8-point lead, finally quieting a going-completely-nuts crowd … but Westbrook answered with a three of his own, a surprise given he shot just 22 percent in the regular season. Artest then hit a deep two to cut the lead to 93-87.

1:03 Nearly as impressive as OKC’s run was L.A.’s response, as another Artest J and then Gasol’s two free throws cut the lead to two points. But with 58 seconds to go, Artest was called for a foul off the ball on Durant, who made both free throws.

0:12.8 And it was there at the free throw line where the Thunder would seal its improbable comeback victory. After Westbrook’s miss and Kobe’s made layup in transition, L.A. had to foul Durant, whose two free throws again put the Thunder up four. Farmar and Artest missed three pointers, and Green made 1-of-2 FT’s with 1.5 seconds to go to make it a 101-96 final.

Kobe Bryant made just 1-of-10 shots in the fourth after going for 20 points on 8-of-19 through three quarters with five assists, and the Lakers just couldn’t hold off an uber-aggressive push from the Thunder down the stretch.

The series then stood at 2-1 Lakers with Game 4 coming on Saturday.

Phil Jackson Pre-Game 3 Thoughts

A quick summary of Phil Jackson’s pregame media session heading into Thursday evening’s Game 3:

- Jackson said he’s “not so much worried about the noise” as he is about the Thunder’s play.

- On Andrew Bynum: “Game 1, I thought he had an impact. Tuesday he really didn’t have the kind of game he wanted, was very disappointed with his own play … I think he’ll start to sustain an effort as we go along … His length is a real big plus for us.”

- When asked what he said to Lamar Odom, about whom Jackson said he expected much more after Wednesday’s practice, Phil answered that he told Odom he was “M.I.A.” in Games 1 and 2. Not exactly in that terminology, but the point went through. Jackson said Odom just smiled.

- Jackson was not surprised that he did not receive a vote for Coach of the Year: “I think we underachiever and most people recognized that.”