Monthly Archive for October, 2010

Lakers – Warriors Postgame Numbers

62277666We highlighted L.A.’s 107-83 coast-to-coast victory over Golden State with a look at some of the outstanding numbers of the evening:

0 Free throws attempted by the Warriors in the first half. Also the number of times Golden State led in the game.

4 Undefeated teams in the NBA after nearly a week of play, including the Lakers, Trail Blazers, Hornets and Hawks (all 3-0). Golden State was 2-0 heading into Sunday’s loss.

5 More points scored by the Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom trio (43) in the first half than by Golden State’s full team (38). The three also combined for 20 first half rebounds.

8 Offensive boards for the Lakers in a dominant first quarter, five of which came from Odom. The home team used the glass to open a 34-14 lead heading into the second period, though the bench promptly allowed Golden State to get within
single digits (36-27) with an offensive drought (0-for-9) to open the second.

10 Consecutive victories by the Lakers over the Warriors. The last loss came back on March 23, 2008. “We’ve been successful against them the last couple of years,” said an understated Gasol.

13 L.A.’s advantage on the glass.

20 Turnovers for the Lakers, who got a bit sloppy after opening their double-digit lead. Also the number of points scored by Monta Ellis on 9-of-20 field goals to lead Golden State, a total the Lakers could certainly live with after Phil Jackson said pregame that Ellis had the capability of leading the league in scoring.

27 Minutes played by Bryant, in which he scored 20 points with seven rebounds. It’s always a luxury for Phil Jackson to be able to leave Bryant on the bench in the fourth quarter, thus saving his legs for the long stretch, though Bryant did look good physically. After the game, Bryant said he was “100 percent,” suggesting in a somewhat facetious manner that he didn’t want to hear further questions about his health. Phil Jackson, however, said that while he thought Bryant looked close to being fully healthy offensively, there was still progress to be made on defense.

30 Combined points (13), rebounds (10), assists (four), steals (two) and blocks (one) for Odom in an all-around terrific first half. He held his counterpart David Lee without a point and just two rebounds, and was on triple-double watch before sitting out the fourth quarter. Incidentally, the first triple-double of Odom’s career came against the Warriors on 4/11/06, when he scored 15 points with 13 boards and 10 assists.

“I thought (Odom) played really well,” said Jackson. “We were concerned, David Lee was on the All-Star team last year, and basically Lamar was very effective against him on both ends of the floor. He’s a guy that we rely on to rebound the ball … he wills himself to the ball and that’s great.”

33 Gasol’s team-high plus/minus number after an individually dominant performance: 26 points on 10-of-19 field goals, 12 rebounds and four assists.

Lakers 107, Warriors 83: Running Diary

62277228Below is a running diary of L.A.’s first Sunday home game, meaning the debut of their white uniforms, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Warriors: Monta Ellis, Reggie Williams*, Dorrell Wright, David Lee, Andris Biedrins
*Williams started in place of Stephen Curry, who aggravated a sprained ankle suffered against the Lakers in Golden State’s final preseason game in the Warriors Friday win over Houston.

7:49 To say that it was all Lakers early doesn’t do the home team’s 14-2 push to start the game justice, as L.A. seemingly picked from where it wanted to score, and held the Warriors to 1-of-7 shooting at the other end. In their home white jerseys (for Sundays and holidays), the Lakers boasted a matchup advantage at nearly every position.

2:13 Among those matchup edges: Ellis guarding Bryant, Lee on Odom and Biedrins on Gasol. Odom opened with five points, four boards and four assists, while Bryant had eight in a 26-12 lead. L.A.’s bigs were dominating the offensive boards to impressive effect as well, grabbing seven for a 15-8 edge on the glass.

0:00 It was a nearly flawless quarter for the twice defending champs, who rode Odom’s 11 points, seven boards and four assists plus ten point and four rebounds from Bryant to a 34-14 lead. L.A.’s 45 percent from the field wasn’t particularly outstanding, but the eight offensive boards (five from Odom) made that null and void.

8:57 Golden State did find a bit of life to start the second, scoring the first eight points of the period to cut just a bit into L.A.’s lead. The Lakers had yet to score a point in the first three plus minutes of the quarter, as the second unit of Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes, Devin Ebanks and Theo Ratliff weren’t getting much going in the half court (0-for-9). Blake even committed his first turnover of the season, getting stripped in transition. Perhaps too much pregame Halloween candy for the subs?

4:00 Golden State’s big offseason acquisition, David Lee, was oddly quiet in the first half, taking only one shot (and missing) while being outrebounded by Odom 10 to two. Lee didn’t want any part of Odom on defense, either, playing 10 feet off him to avoid being driven around and thus giving up wide-open looks on L.O.’s two three-pointers.

0:00 In six minutes, the starters managed to put the lead right back at the 20-point margin they’d built after the first quarter, though a three-pointer in the final seconds from Charlie Bell made it a 56-38 margin at the break. The three-headed monster of Gasol (16 points, five rebounds), Odom (13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) and Bryant (14 points, five rebounds) that outscored G.S. on its own (43-38).
Continue reading ‘Lakers 107, Warriors 83: Running Diary’

Steve Blake Postgame Interview

103892738AB_Rkts_LkrsLakers guard Steve Blake spent a few minutes with us following L.A.’s 114-106 road win in Phoenix, detailing what he thinks is leading to a terrific opening two contests from L.A.’s bench.

Blake struggled with his shot a game after hitting 3-of-4 threes, including the game winner, against Houston, but managed six points on 2-of-8 field goals with two assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes. Matt Barnes added 11 points — including three three-pointers, two of which came in the fourth quarter — and five rebounds with a steal in 18 minutes, while Shannon Brown contributed eight points and a swipe in 15 minutes.

Below is the transcript:

MT: Two games in, and it’s been clear how effective the bench has been. Phil Jackson mentioned after the game that he was particularly pleased with the second unit’s defense in the second half. Are you already feeling some collective confidence?
Blake: Yes, we’re feeling great out there together. We all know what we need to do is bring energy, be scrappy on defense and be ready to step up on offense if needed.

MT: Kobe Bryant has expressed his personal approval for the way that you and Barnes in particular don’t back down from anything, including him in seasons past. How would you describe your mindset?
Blake: Well, guys are going to go hard. We’re going to put it all out there, whether you like it or not. We’re going to come at you, and if you come at us, we’re not going to back down. It’s as simple as that. Kobe’s told me before that he respected that, and Matt’s the same kind of guy, and a lot of guys on this team are like that as well. At the same time, you see how approachable and close everybody is, trying to help each other on the floor and everything, so it’s a great feeling to be on the floor with guys like that.

MT: Perhaps by the end of the month, you could get Lamar Odom — arguably the league’s best player who’d come off the pine — to the second unit. What are your expectations for when Andrew Bynum returns?
Blake: Can you imagine Pau at the four? He’s so much bigger and so good that for him to be going against power forwards is going to be crazy. And I love making those passes up around the rim, so I’m looking forward to having Bynum go and get them.

MT: Finally, is there any consideration of the heavy minutes Gasol and Odom may have to play until Bynum returns? Both played 40 minutes tonight.
Blake: It’s basketball. When you step away from it, you say ‘Oh yeah,’ I’d like to have this many minutes.’ But during the game, you’re never thinking about that. You want to play the whole game. Everybody wants to play the whole game, no matter how tired or hurt you are. Guys aren’t thinking about that.

Lakers 114, Suns 106: Running Diary

62251232Below is a running diary of L.A.’s road opener in the Valley of the Sun, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Suns: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu and Robin Lopez

Ron Artest happened to have his 2010 championship ring with him in the locker room, and prior to Phil Jackson’s usual pregame presser, Matt Barnes asked Artest if he could see it. Artest happily obliged, and Barnes couldn’t believe how something that shiny also needed two little spotlights highlighting the ring, placed on a platform within the box that rotates in a cylinder. Fellow ring-less veteran Theo Ratliff came over to marvel at the ring as well, and both expressed disbelief that Derek Fisher (and Kobe Bryant) somehow had accrued five rings.

103892014BG008_Lakers_SunsFIRST QUARTER
11:00 The Lakers got off to a great start, starting with a nice play to get Bryant an open jumper at the free throw line. Next came an isolation post up of Odom on Turkoglu, and third a transition and-1 from Artest after he picked Nash’s pocket, making it a 7-1 game as Nash had converted a defensive three seconds free throw.

4:00 Back-to-back hoops from Bryant and Gasol gave the Lakers a 19-14 lead a bit over halfway through the period. Bryant skipped Thursday’s practice to rest and rehabilitate, and it seemed to have paid off early as he actively pursued his five rebounds in addition to three field goals.

0:02.1 Gasol’s tough baseline layup followed a Steve Blake three (starting where he left off Tuesday’s opening win) to give the Lakers a narrow 28-27 lead after one. Bryant led the way with eight points on 4-of-7 field goals, plus a game-high five boards, while each starter hit at least once from the field. In off-court news, there were (as always) a healthy amount of Lakers fans in the building, which Phil Jackson said always enraged the still-majority of Suns fanatics in the house.

7:07 Gasol checked out for the first time after an effective early stretch in which he needed only eight shots to score 12 points, his last field goal courtesy of Blake’s pretty set up. We know that Blake’s a very good passer, but he may not get enough credit for creating open shots out of nothing, which he did in that case by dribbling by his man and drawing two more in the paint before feeding the Spaniard.

3:37 Derek Fisher momentarily broke out of his offensive struggles (1-of-5 open) with a left-handed layup to give L.A. a 49-44 edge late in the second, as both teams were near 50 percent from the field in a well-executed offensive game. Odom, the team’s best rebounder, had already gathered a healthy 10 window snatches at that point.

1:35 The Suns managed a quick 5-0 run behind the ageless Hill, from the 1994 draft class, but Bryant (a three), Gasol (elbow jumper) and Fisher (another three) all nailed shots to give the Lakers a 57-50 lead at the half.

10:00 The start of the second half wasn’t much more defensive minded for either team than the first, with Hill and Gasol exchanging jumpers before a Richardson three and layup, and shortly thereafter back-to-back threes from Artest and Bryant, seeing L.A.’s seven-point lead go down to two and then right back up to eight.

6:02 The odd lack of defense from the Lakers, normally very good in the third quarter (though it’s always easier with Andrew Bynum), had Phil Jackson out of his seat at least once, lamenting how easily Phoenix was scoring. Bryant and Artest both nailed threes at the other end to hold off the Suns momentarily, at least until back-to-back easy hoops from Lopez and Richardson tied the score at 70.

2:00 Jackson called time out, the defense picked up, and Gasol and Bryant scored back-to-back to open an 82-76 lead for the road team. Meanwhile, Shannon Brown checked in to try and improve upon a 1-for-4 first half. Apparently Blake liked the switch, promptly pulling up to nail a triple that fave L.A. its biggest lead at nine.

0:05.2 Just before the quarter buzzer, Brown officially violated Phoenix air space with a violent, two-handed hammer dunk to provide an 87-79 Lakers lead after three quarters. Were it now Brown, we’d have to check the floor for an invisible trampoline.

9:48 One game, three quarters and two minutes into the season, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak’s offseason moves were sure paying early dividends, as Barnes opened the fourth with two three-pointers to push L.A.’s lead up to 13 at 95-82. Barnes had a triple in the first half as well, plus a layup to get to 11 points off the pine.

6:30 As Jackson rested Bryant, Odom and Gasol together, Phoenix put together a 6-0 run to cut L.A.’s lead to six (97-91), but Gasol beautifully found Bryant cutting to the hoop for a layup immediately upon re-entrance. The Suns managed to cut the deficit down to five on Turkoglu’s three, but L.A. came back with a 6-0 run to get things back to double digits at 105-94, three minutes to play.

1:40 Fittingly, Odom iced the contest with consecutive layups, the second a result of his 17th rebound of a terrific individual game that included 18 points.

The Lakers, now 2-0 with their 114-106 win, head home to play Golden State on Sunday. Until then, your numbers:

Throughout Sunday’s opening road victory for the Lakers in Phoenix, the Suns managed at most a one-point edge early in the first quarter, as L.A. scored with ease throughout the contest to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

Phil Jackson got a little bit from everybody, seeing all five starters reach double figures in scoring led by Kobe Bryant’s 25 points, and watching Lamar Odom attack the boards with fervor all evening to the tune of 17 glass cleans.

Below are some of the outstanding numbers from the 114-106 victory:

5 Lakers starters in double figures in a well-balanced attack, led by Kobe Bryant (25), Pau Gasol (21), Lamar Odom (18), Ron Artest (14) and Derek Fisher (11).

11 Turnovers for the Lakers, a very good number to build on a similarly low season-opening game against Houston (12).

17 Rebounds for Odom to lead everybody, 14 of which came on the defensive end.

48.4 L.A.’s field goal percentage, a healthy improvement from a 41.7 percent against Houston in the season-opening victory.

80 Total minutes played by Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, necessitated by the absence of Andrew Bynum. Theo Ratliff offered eight minutes off the bench as the only backup big to see action, though Artest and Matt Barnes did see some time at the power forward position.

Lakers @ Suns Preview

To listen to a full podcast preview with Suns TV voice Tom Leander, click here.

D073785014.jpgIt wasn’t long ago that the Phoenix Suns were pushing the Lakers to six games in a hard-fought Western Conference Finals matchup, but one offseason move has left a major question mark in the Valley of the Sun.

For the majority of the past six seasons, All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire was on the finishing end of All-Star point guard Steve Nash’s gift-wrapped passes. Stoudemire possesses a unique combination of size, explosiveness and touch that made him a deadly offensive player despite his lack of impact on the other end. He averaged 23 points and nine boards while playing in all 82 regular season games in 2009-10, but after a similarly effective playoffs decided to bolt for New York.

“The finishes that (Stoudemire) gets at the basket … I know that Andrew (Bynum) and (Dwight) Howard were one and two probably in the league in makes at the basket and dunks, and Stoudemire is right up there,” said Jackson. “That’s a high-percentage shot (that Phoenix) will miss.

“The combination of Stoudemire and Nash has been great in the last two years so that will be a little tough, but this will still be a real good team.”

Former Suns General Manager Steve Kerr’s replacement, Lon Babby, proceeded to bring in Hedo Turkoglu (from Toronto for Leandro Barbosa), Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress to try and pick up some of Stoudemire’s slack. All three newbies, however, are perimeter-based players, and Coach Alvin Gentry will in fact start Turkoglu at the four alongside center Robin Lopez.

Joining Lopez and Turkoglu in the frontcourt is 1994-95 Co-Rookie of the Year Grant Hill, while Nash is paired with Jason Richardson in the backcourt. The Suns retained key bench players Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye, replacing Louis Amundson and Barbosa with Childress and Warrick.

One way the Lakers can match up better with Phoenix’s small line up, if necessary, is to play either Ron Artest or Matt Barnes at power forward.

“Absolutely, we’re going to be using a lot of our small forwards in that power forward position especially against teams (like Phoenix),” said Pau Gasol, holding down the center spot until Andrew Bynum returns. “It’s a reality.”

Murderous Schedule vs. L.A.’s Schedule
After losing Stoudemire in the offseason, it’s almost unfair to consider what Phoenix’s schedule looks like through the end of November:

Home: vs Lakers, San Antonio, Sacramento, Memphis, Denver, Chicago, L.A. Clippers
Road: @ Portland (92-106 loss); Utah; Atlanta; Memphis; Lakers; Miami; Orlando; Charlotte; Houston; Denver

Of the Suns’ 10 road games, only two come against teams that missed the playoffs last season (Memphis and Houston), both of whom are very solid. Of their seven home games, only Sacramento, Memphis and the Clippers sat out the postseason..

The Lakers, in contrast, have 10 games at home and eight on the road, but only seven of those opponents made the playoffs last season, one fewer than Phoenix on the road alone. In fact, 20 of L.A.’s first 28 games come against non playoff teams from a season ago.

Other Suns Notes
- The Suns are coming off the ninth Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.
- Phoenix has won the league’s scoring title in five of the last six seasons since Steve Nash returned to Arizona.
- Speaking of Nash … he’s the first player in NBA history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 from three and 90 from the free throw line in four different seasons. The only other player to do it more than once? Larry Bird.
- Jason Richardson got much better as the 2010-11 season wore on, averaging 14.5 points (pre All-Star) to 17.8 (post All-Star) and finally 19.8 in the postseason.
- Phoenix’s 41.2 three-point percentage from last season was the second-best total in NBA history (1996-97 Charlotte Hornets, 41.8 percent), and better than any individual percentage from a Lakers player.

Ron Artest Champions Mental Health

62167446Ron Artest made a big difference on the basketball court throughout L.A.’s run through the 2010 playoffs, and even hit the biggest shot in Game 7 of the Finals against Boston.

Throughout the summer and into the 2010-11 season, Artest is trying to make an even bigger difference off the floor while shining a light on mental health issues in kids for their ultimate benefit and well-being.

Artest has managed to create quite a buzz around the topic by announcing his in-place plan to auction off his 2010 championship ring. Dressed sharply in a suit, Artest joined “Larry King Live” on Wednesday evening to discuss:

I’d rather give more people an opportunity to get it so I can get the message out, because it’s not about the money but more about the message … I’m emotionally attached and invested in trying to better the youth, mainly people who grew up how I grew up. I had a lot of mental health issues in my household … I know guys who had a chance to make it in academics or athletics but go back to the streets and go to jail, they get murdered, things like that. I’m trying to catch these kids right where the turning point (could be) to possibly affect their lives negatively.

It’s the same message Artest has been putting out throughout the preseason. In fact, we chatted about the issue back in Las Vegas on Oct. 13, where Artest was awarded the key to the city. Below is a transcript of the conversation:

MT: What did it feel like to be given the Key to Las Vegas for your work in the community?
Artest: It was really cool, definitely something that I accepted and I appreciate the gesture. Councilman Olsen presented the key to me, and (Nevada) Senator (Harry) Reid came as well. They acknowledged what I was doing in the community.

MT: For those that don’t know, can you describe what you’re doing for mental health and how it developed?
Artest: It’s about supporting and bringing awareness to mental health particularly as it applies to children. The way that I had thought about making this movement big was not the way that it happened. I envisioned going through YouTube to do it, and I had a plan. Then it happened through a Lakers championship, and definitely without being on the Lakers and some of my teammates, it wouldn’t have happened this way.

MT: I know it’s something that’s very important to you personally based in part on how you grew up in Queens…
Artest: Oh yes. Personally, it’s definitely something that I’m emotionally invested in because from family to friends (having issues) I experienced both sides of psychology and psychiatry.

MT: How did all of this come about in Vegas?
Artest: Wow, I really don’t know. But I got my own day in New York on July 15, and now I have my own day in Las Vegas, October 13. I don’t know how long it lasts, I guess forever. People say, ‘What can you do with that key,’ but it’s not a key to like, entertainment in Las Vegas or anything. It’s a key to bring focus to mental health awareness. It’s a key to open up the minds of people to what I think is important.

MT: How would you sum up your message?
Artest: It all comes back to education. I know people personally, for a fact that are in jail because they didn’t have a father or mother in their life and didn’t have (an adult figure) pushing the right values. So before the next kid doesn’t have someone positive involved in their life, let’s fix it right now, because it will just cycle again. Because then when that kid gets older, he wouldn’t be in his kid’s life.

MT: So a big part of your goal is to have adult influences available for kids that need them starting at an early age?
Artest: I think a lot of adults right now are a little immature about how they handle the world, because we’re not responsible from pollution to education. But when we’re gone, we’re leaving these kids a mess, so they have to be able to be mentally strong enough to weather that storm. How are they going to fix it? You don’t need a bunch of unstable kids without education. It’s an important challenge, and a fun challenge (for us) to start helping now.

From Queens, With Love

62208842Eighteen years ago, two 12-year-old kids from Queens, New York, met for the first time, paired on the same basketball team due to their already-advanced talents.

Back then, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest could only dream to one day, somehow, be standing side by side as NBA Champions. But that, of course, is exactly what happened on Tuesday evening at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.

Among the most poignant moments during a pregame ring ceremony in which each of the nine returning Lakers from the 2010 championship team took turns introducing one another was when Odom gave Artest his ring.

Here’s how Odom put it:

I usually get nervous when I have to talk in front of people, but tonight I feel like I’m at home. It helps, because the next person I’m about to bring out I’ve known since I was 12 years old. When we were 12 years old, he was really quiet, and now he takes his clothes off on Jimmy Kimmel and he raps. But there’s nobody like him. I can’t say enough about him. We come from the same family tree in New York City of basketball, and I just want him to know that his family is proud of him. The one and only, Ron Artest.

Lakers Rally In Second Half For Ring Night Win

62211080The last time L.A. took the STAPLES Center floor in a game that counted, they came back from a 13-point second half deficit to beat the Boston Celtics and secure the franchise’s 16th NBA title.

Fast forward to Ring Night on Tuesday in a game that meant next to nothing in comparison yet retained some tangible energy, as the Lakers fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half before rallying to secure a 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets.

Pau Gasol led all scorers with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 27 points and seven assists, while reserves Steve Blake and Shannon Brown erupted to nail a combined 7-of-7 combined three-pointers in the second half to turn the game on its head.

62210579“We just didn’t seem to find traction until Shannon and Steve got in the ballgame and changed the texture of (it),” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “It was a great effort by those two. They gave us a big rally.”

Blake, playing in his first game as a Laker, started a game-changing 21-4 run from the final minute of the third into the fourth quarter with back-to-back threes, then caused the STAPLES Center crowd to erupt by draining a game-winning three-pointer from Bryant’s trusting feed with 18.8 seconds to play.

Blake then hounded Rockets point guard Aaron Brooks into Lamar Odom’s waiting arms with 2.4 seconds left as the Rockets, down 112-110, squandered a final chance to tie. Brown’s contribution came primarily in the first six minutes of the fourth, when he nailed four consecutive three-pointers from various spots on the floor for 12 of his 16 final period points.

“That’s what we’re supposed to do coming off the bench,” said Brown, who worked hard on his shot throughout the summer. “It’s our job to come out there and keep pushing.”

Meanwhile on defense, the Lakers held Houston to 34.9 percent shooting in the second half after a 50 percent first half produced 62 points, limiting guards Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin to just 13 of their 50 total points.

Up next is a Friday evening road tilt against Phoenix, but until then, your numbers:

3 Three-pointers sunk by Steve Blake in his first game as a Laker, all three of which were important, none more than a go-ahead bomb with 18.8 seconds remaining. Blake finished with 10 points and three assists without a turnover.

4 Three-pointers dropped by Shannon Brown … in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, a huge stretch for L.A. which turned a big deficit into an eight-point lead. Check out how prophetic Lakers assistant Jim Cleamons was in our season preview about Brown catching and shooting.

7 Combined three-pointers made by Houston’s Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin, though only one came in the second half, compared to L.A.’s second-half-seven from Blake and Brown.

9 Houston’s edge on the glass (53-44), thanks in part to early foul trouble from Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum’s being in street clothes. L.A. countered by committing only 12 turnovers to Houston’s 21, eight of which were caused by Brown and Ron Artest’s four steals apiece.

13 Points off Houston’s bench in the first three quarters for Chase Budinger, a nice lift for the Rockets as L.A. comparatively had 12 points combined off the pine through three even with Blake’s back-to-back threes to end the third.

37 Kobe Bryant’s minute total. Phil Jackson had surmised that Bryant was ready to play more than 30 minutes after slowly ramping up his playing time in the preseason, and No. 24 responded just fine while totaling 27 points on 8-of-20 shooting with 11-of-12 free throws. He added seven assists and five boards.

38.9 L.A.’s halftime shooting percentage, mirroring the generally poor shooting from the defending champs throughout the preseason, allowing the 47.9-percent shooting Rockets to claim a 62-51 lead.

Lakers 112, Rockets 110: Ring Night Running Diary

62209753Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Ring Night season opener against Houston, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest Odom and Gasol
Rockets: Aaron Brooks, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Yao Ming*
*Ming has been placed on a 24-minute limit to protect a foot injury that kept him out of the 2009-10 season.

Prior to the tip, the Lakers players went through a touching ceremony in which each of the nine players earning the 2010 ring took the liberty of introducing his next teammate. Phil Jackson opened the process after collecting his ring from NBA Commissioner David Stern, and then said a few words about Luke Walton. He then introduced Lamar Odom in a line that continued as follows: Artest-Bynum-Gasol-Vujacic-Brown-Fisher-Kobe. Odom provided one of the most poignant intros when talking about how he and Artest had been friends since the age of 12, and how special it was for two kids from

10:10 After opening easy buckets from Gasol and Odom, Artest proved that his successful offensive preseason wasn’t a fluke by nailing his first three-point attempt of the season to put L.A. up 7-2 early. Moments later, however, Odom was whistled for his second personal foul, forcing Phil Jackson to prove a pre-game worry true by having to put rookie Derrick Caracter into early duty.

5:42 While Artest added his second three plus a Yao goaltend to get eight quick points, the Rockets continued a hot shooting start of their own when Kevin Martin joined backcourt mate Aaron Brooks with two three-pointers, Houston taking a 20-16 lead.

2:59 L.A.’s coaching staff praised how well Steve Blake had fit in throughout the preseason, and we got an early example of why when he simply made two quick, ideal passes on his first offensive possession, ultimately resulting in an easy dunk for Gasol that brought L.A. within six at 26-20. After a Martin free throw, Gasol then stuck a reverse layup to get to 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

0:00 A few more preseason carryovers early: Shannon Brown listened to his coaches and shot the ball when open (swish) after checking in; and Gasol, so eager to get the preseason over with, added a bucket to lead the Lakers with 12 points. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Martin had 12 and Brooks 15 thanks to a combined 5-of-7 from three, opening a 33-26 lead for the road team at quarter’s end.

8:25 The Lakers won the 2010 championship thanks in part to terrific defense throughout the playoffs and particularly late in the Finals, and well, the first 16 minutes of 2010-11 were quite a departure. The Rockets opened up making 15-of-29 shots from the field, including 4-of-5 from sub Chase Budinger, whose reverse dunk plus the harm put the Rockets up 44-34.

5:21 While L.A. clearly missed Andrew Bynum’s defensive presence inside, we were reminded of how this team won two straight championships, as the guy who doesn’t even start when Bynum’s healthy grabbed three rebounds in one minute and converted two layups to bring L.A. within five at 48-44.

0:42.0 Perhaps more important than it should have been was Bryant’s four-point play in response to Brooks’s fourth three-pointer, which came courtesy of an and-1 layup around Martin plus Martin’s technical technical foul. The half ended in kind, with Houston riding its six three-pointers and near 50-percent shooting towards a 62-51 lead.

8:00 Bryant began to heat up a bit offensively, scoring six of L.A.’s eight points to open the quarter, but the Lakers were unable to cut into Houston’s lead (72-61) as the Rockets continued to find and knock down good shots. The typical third quarter defensive energy from the Lakers wasn’t quite there at that point…

4:18 Things picked up a bit thanks to Gasol, who got to 21 points with a quick nine that cut Houston’s lead to seven. The Spaniard, however, was then whistled for his fourth foul while in his mind cleanly blocking Brad Miller, bringing Theo Ratliff onto the floor, quite a drop off offensively for L.A. Meanwhile, Artest continued to struggle considerably on offense, missing his 11th straight shot after a 3-of-4 start.

0:26.0 L.A. had gotten exactly six points from its bench in the first three quarters … until Blake matched that total within 30 seconds, nailing back-to-back corner threes to cut Houston’s lead to five (82-77) heading into the fourth.

9:23 A nice stretch for L.A. concluded with Matt Barnes’ first yell of approval from STAPLES after he grabbed an offensive board and drew a foul on the put-back attempt, then tying the game at 86 from the stripe.

7:44 The terrific stretch of basketball from L.A.’s 3 B’s (Brown, Blake and Barnes) plus Odom and Gasol continued as Brown converted a transition layup and then an end-of-clock three before 1-of-2 Blake free throws capped a 21-4 Lakers run, suddenly turning a once 15-point deficit into a six-point lead at 92-86.

5:29 Well, that was fast. Brown, whom we talked about continually in the preseason because he simply listened to what L.A.’s coaches said over and over about taking the open shots he had instead of forcing things elsewhere, saw things pay off in a big way. He nailed four straight triples across a five-minute stretch to push the lead up to eight.

1:07 The Rockets certainly didn’t run away, however, during L.A.’s run, fighting back to cut the lead to a single point behind a Scola put-back layup and Brooks driving layup after Bryant had converted an and-1.

0:18.8 Blake couldn’t have endeared himself much better to Lakers fans after nailing a clutch three in the final seconds to put L.A. up 112-110, but Houston had a last chance to tie after Scola’s attempt in the paint went out of bounds off Odom. With Brooks getting the ball along the baseline, Blake forced him into Odom’s long arms, resulting in a game-ended block to send L.A. to victory.

We’ll be back with the postgame report soon, while the Lakers will next play at Phoenix on Friday night.

Lakers – Rockets Ring Night Preview

D070459025.JPGFor a full preview of the 2010-11 Houston Rockets, click here for a podcast we recorded with beat writer Jason Friedman.

Before the Lakers take the STAPLES Center floor to open the 2010-11 regular season against Houston, the nine remaining players from last season’s championship-winning roster will line up one by one to receive their rings. Special to all, of course, even those exceptional two (Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher) who already have four rings apiece in their closets.

But it’s the first ring for Ron Artest, a driving force throughout his first season as a Laker after coming over from Houston as a free agent in a virtual trade for Trevor Ariza. Artest chose to stay in the locker room on Ring Night 2009 while Bryant, Lamar Odom and others claimed their championship rings last October, trying to envision himself in that role in 2010. Funny how things work out.

“I’m real happy because Ron gets to experience it this time,” said Odom. “I’ve known him for a long time, and people in our basketball family back in New York … there are a lot of proud people.”

Ironically, Artest will be auctioning off his ring in part to raise money for children’s mental health initiatives, but Derek Fisher said on Monday that he can see an additional motivation to Artest’s generous nature. In giving away the ring he worked so hard for, perhaps Artest can draw that much more motivation towards earning another one?

D064650030.jpgBut all that, according to Phil Jackson and Artest himself, should have nothing to do with how the Lakers perform on the basketball floor against the Rockets. After collecting pieces of jewelry so large from NBA Commissioner David Stern that making layups would be difficult, it’s up to the defending champs to clear the mechanism.

“It’s different than the emotions of playing the game,” Jackson explained after the team’s final preseason practice. “It’s about thinking about last year and the teammates that you had on that team, about the effort that went into winning that championship.

“You have to divorce yourself from it after that’s done. The banner is raised, the rings are in your hand and you have to go out and play, you have to bring that (separate) intensity to it.”

Jackson went on to detail why the Lakers have essentially been preparing for two different teams coached by Rick Adelman, depending on whether or not Yao Ming is on the floor. Much publicized throughout training camp has been the 24-minute limit the Rockets have placed on Yao’s services, and the Chinese center’s affect on an opponent’s game plan.

“With Yao on the floor, you know that they’re going to feed the ball to him (due to) how good a player he is and how great a target he is to catch the ball in the lane,” Jackson said. “When he’s out of the ball game, they play a very fluid, high-post game in which a lot of things happen where there is very little support defensively.”

Expected to start alongside Yao up front are Luis Scola and Shane Battier, with a backcourt made up of high-volume shooters Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks. Key potential contributors off a bench full of mid-level talents searching for playing time include Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries. Hayes missed Houston’s last two games with a sprained ankle but is ready to play, as is Lowry (back spasms).

The Lakers come in nearly as healthy, with only Andrew Bynum (knee) and Luke Walton (hamstring) out of the lineup, while Lamar Odom (thumb, nose, back) and Theo Ratliff returned to practice on Monday.

“I’m all right,” said Odom, who was banged up in L.A.’s back-to-back wins over Golden State last week. “I’m ready to play, just ready to go out there. We’ve practiced enough … we’re ready to compete.”

Odom will start alongside Pau Gasol and Ron Artest in the front court with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher at the guards. Bryant, who spent the preseason experimenting with his legs on offense (i.e. 28.2 percent from the field), told Jackson that he’s OK to play more than 30 minutes against Houston, and has put himself under no Ming-like limitations.

The defensive matchups for both teams will be interesting to watch: Fisher and backup Steve Blake will attempt to stay in front of one of the league’s quickest players in Brooks, who averaged 23 points in four games against L.A. last season (three of them losses) and took an average of nine three-pointers a contest. Artest will likely have to chase Martin around with Bryant sticking to Battier, though each could cross-match. Odom will deal with Scola’s variety of post moves, while Gasol faces one of the few players in the NBA with an actual height advantage on him.

On the other end, Artest is likely to drag Martin beneath the basket to utilize a major strength advantage, while Odom and Gasol can draw Scola and Yao out to the perimeter and utilize respective quickness advantages. Bryant savors the chance to go at defensive specialist Battier — against whom he averaged 28.3 points in four 2008-09 wins and 24.5 points in 2009-10 — but is still rounding into form, while Fisher has no problem getting his shot off against the 6-0 Brooks.

When opening tip comes at just after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, those will be the things about which Phil Jackson hopes his team is thinking, not their shiny new rings.