Monthly Archive for October, 2010

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Phoenix: Western Conference Podcast Preview

60597121In last year’s Western Conference Finals, a gritty Phoenix Suns team pushed the Lakers to six games before ultimately falling to a vintage Kobe Bryant performance in the clincher.

Yet coming into 2010-11, questions abound in Phoenix after the departure of All-Star Amare Stoudemire, who left the Valley of the Sun as a free agent and signed a max contract with the New York Knicks. Also gone is backup big man Louis Amundson (Golden State), though starters Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez and Jason Richardson are back.

In to help are forwards Hedo Turkoglu (from Toronto), Hakim Warrick (Chicago) and Josh Childress (Atlanta via Greece), along with returning reserves Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic and Channing Frye.

To preview the coming Suns’ season, we dialed up voice of the Suns Tom Leander:

Trey Johnson Soaking It All In

62080625Lakers training camp invitee Trey Johnson has now been a teammate of Kobe Bryant’s for 23 days, taking special care to soak up lessons throughout the three plus weeks of preseason.

And while he’s watched Bryant for years from afar, seeing No. 24 drop 19 points in Sunday’s third quarter was a wholly different experience.

“Just as good as he looked on TV, he’s better in person,” said Johnson. “I already knew he was the best player in the game, but to watch him do it in person and to see the work he’s put in is just amazing. It all makes sense.”

Johnson, who like fellow camp invitee Andrew Naymick is well aware that the Lakers aren’t likely to keep more than the 14 players signed at least through the 2010-11 season, has been taking as many notes as possible since camp opened.

“I’ve been talking to Kobe, Ron and Derek Fisher all the time,” he explained. “I see that they pay very close attention to small details, the things that seem minute, but in the sense of the game are very big. I’d come into the gym before training camp and I’d see Kobe working on defensive drills … I’ve never seen that before.”

Johnson said that Artest has been particularly helpful with defensive pointers, while Fisher’s general professionalism is something that every young player should use as a guiding light.

In five preseason games, Johnson has earned 33 total minutes from Phil Jackson, producing 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and a steal with three turnovers.

In his dream scenario, he’d be on the final roster when the regular season starts, but Johnson’s not taking anything for granted.

“To be in this situation is a blessing anyway,” he concluded. “The world champions basically invited you into their family. As long as I’m here I’m just going to try and learn, and whatever happens, happens.

“Hopefully I leave a good impression if I have to leave, and otherwise I’ll pray to be here.”

Lakers 94, Jazz 99: Preseason Diary

62092921Below is a running diary of L.A.’s preseason contest against Utah, 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
Jazz: Earl Watson*, Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson
*Watson was in for All-Star Deron Williams, out with a right calf strain.

7:05 The Lakers missed more field goal attempts than Scott Norwood to open the game (six straight, actually) before Gasol’s tip-in, Artest’s corner three and a Ron Ron layup made it 7-6 for the home team. Artest’s offense has been somewhat of a revelation in the preseason thus far, particularly his outside shooting, but perhaps signifies a high level of confidence and release of pressure coming out off a championship that L.A. hopes lasts into the regular season.

4:15 A triple from C.J. Miles capped a 12-4 Utah run that put the Jazz up 16-9, the Lakers struggling to hit anything from inside or out. Gasol missed all but one of four attempts, while Bryant bricked each of his four jumpers, the team converting only 3-of-16 shots.

1:45 Continuing his theme throughout training camp, Shannon Brown hit two uncontested jump shots instead of putting the ball on the floor, combining with a late Gasol dunk on Steve Blake’s dime to bring L.A. within two (22-20) at the first quarter break. This despite the Lakers being outshot 56.3 percent to 33.3 percent from the field. By the way, the Jazz (5-0) have yet to lose in the preseason, playing with typical Jerry Sloan aggressiveness.

8:16 L.A.’s bench wasn’t able to make any more shots than its starters had, and Utah took advantage to build an eight point lead at 32-24 before Theo Ratliff converted inside on Blake’s third assist. Were some of the Lakers interested in getting home early to watch a great Sunday night TV line up led by “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” it’d be understandable.

4:24 The Jazz opened its biggest lead at 40-26 before two Gasol free throws and respective threes from Brown and Artest made it a 42-34 ball game.

1:30 Ron Bryant … err, Ron Artest kept it up, shooting his way up to 17 first half points. Keep in mind that his regular season high last year was 22. Moments later, Odom nailed a pull-up three to bring the Lakers within five points at the half despite trailing by double-digits for much of the second quarter.

7:06 It’s been a day-by-day progression towards health for Kobe Bryant, and his five-minute stretch to start the second half was by far his most impressive thus far. First came a drop-in dunk, then a baseline fadeaway, and subsequently three straight swishes from three-point territory (one called back for traveling) to give him 10 straight points, and the Lakers a 58-56 lead. Is it time to stop wondering whether or not he’ll be fully healthy for the regular season?

3:33 Apparently so, as Bryant added two more buckets amidst an 11-0 Lakers run that put the home team up 69-58. The final points of the burst came courtesy of a beautiful Spanish-National-soccer-team-looking passing play in transition that went from Odom to Fisher to Artest and finally Gasol for an and-1 layup. Preseason or not, L.A.’s third quarter seemed to remind the team of how well they can play basketball.

0:00 Kobe’s outstanding quarter produced 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting, though the Jazz did manage the period’s final two buckets to pull within one at 74-73. L.A.’s lead could have been larger had Blake managed to convert one of the two open threes Bryant earned him in the corner, but a visibly frustrated Blake missed both to fall to 0-for-7 on the game.

8:46 With Bryant back on the bench, L.A.’s offense returned to its poor first half form, stalling while the Jazz continued to convert, opening a 81-78 lead. Leading the way for Utah was lottery pick Gordon Hayward out of Butler, who’d used 6-of-7 field goal makes to reach 17 points.

2:00 While Bryant (20 minutes), Fisher (18 minutes) and Artest (30 minutes) stayed on the bench, bigs Odom (39 minutes at that point) and Gasol (35 minutes) joined Ebanks, Brown and Trey Johnson to try and mount a comeback, down six. Both Johnson and Gasol missed 1-of-2 free throws, allowing Utah to stay up 93-90 instead of making it a one-point game.

25.0 Needing a stop after two Gasol free throws, Ebanks instead fouled Hayward far away from the rim, then got T’d up to boot. Hayward’s resulting three free throws gave him 26 points and the Jazz a six-point lead. Gasol managed a bucket plus the foul, but missed the free throw, and Utah held on to win 99-94.

12 Free throws made by Pau Gasol in 14 attempts en route to the Spaniard’s 28 points in 37 minutes, plus nine boards and four assists in the loss.

15 Boards for Lamar Odom to lead all players, boosting his preseason total to 44, an average of 10.8 per game to rank fourth in the NBA.

19 Points dropped by Kobe Bryant in a Kobe-Bryant-like third quarter scoring explosion that included three consecutive three-point swishes, though the second was called back for traveling. He made 7-of-8 field goals after missing all four of his shots in the first quarter to help L.A. turn a five-point halftime deficit into a one-point lead heading into the fourth.

26 Points off the bench for Jazz lottery pick Gordon Hayward, who impressed with 8-of-10 field goal makes and 10-of-11 from the foul line.

37.5 L.A.’s shooting percentage in a poorly executed first half on the offensive end, allowing Utah to open a 14-point lead that the Lakers still managed to trim to five at the break.

Lakers 102, Nuggets 95: Preseason Diary

62078872Below is a running diary of L.A.’s preseason contest against Denver, 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
Nuggets: Chauncey Billups, Arron Afflalo, J.R. Smith*, Melvin Ely and Nene
*Smith started for Carmelo Anthony, sitting out the game just to rest.

8:55 With L.A. leading 7-5 thanks to Artest’s fifth three of the preseason in nine attempts (56 percent) plus his layup off Kobe’s feed, Matt Barnes was the first off the bench in relief of Odom (two fouls). On a given night, it could be him, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown or even Theo Ratliff in first depending on which starter were in foul trouble.

5:41 Bryant’s driving and-1 and Gasol’s reverse layup gave L.A. an early 16-11 lead, though both Gasol and Odom had picked up two fouls, likely meaning a good deal of Theo Ratliff and Derrick Caracter. The first time out brought us the first Laker Girls routine, a fast version of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” performed live by Luke Walton in dress clothes*.
*Not really. Walton (hamstring) does hope to return to practice this week.

2:39 After nine minutes of action, Bryant had amassed a game-high eight points, including 4-of-5 free throws, with four rebounds and an assist. In related news, he was moving freely on his still-climbing-towards-100-percent right knee (over which he wore a gold sleeve), exemplified by his activity on the glass. Speaking of rebounding … the last two times Bryant played in STAPLES Center, he grabbed 11 and 15 rebounds, respectively, against the Celtics in the Finals.

0:04.0 A Ratliff dunk in the final seconds put L.A. up 32-28 after the first quarter of action. Artest, continuing to look comfortable on the offensive end as he has throughout the preseason, had nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, plus three boards, while Barnes was very effective in relief duty.

9:00 Gasol’s 17-foot jumper swished home to put the Lakers up 39-30 and get him to eight points, before he followed with his third board at the other end. Before the game, Jackson reiterated that he’d like Gasol to take more responsibility early in the season as Kobe gets back to being Kobe, but we may not see the Spaniard really buckle down until October 26′s season opener. It’s mostly fastballs from Gasol right now, just warming up his arm before some of the change ups, curves and screwballs come out in two weeks.

5:22 With Steve Blake manning the point, L.A.’s offense ran pretty crisply for a four-minute stretch, the Lakers capitalizing by taking a 49-39 lead with Gasol getting up to 10 points and Odom six on a combined 8-of-10 from the field. Shannon Brown added a catch-and-shoot three, which L.A.’s coaches like, but instead of taking another open look two possessions later decided to put the ball on the floor, and was whistled for a travel. Surely assistant coach Jim Cleamons will put that on film.

2:45 It was already progress to see Bryant back on the floor in the second quarter, his first such appearance in the preseason, but even better for Lakers fans to see him execute an old favorite. Bryant had Billups isolated on the wing, received Odom’s pass, turned and shot immediately … swish. That looked a lot like, well, Kobe Bryant.

0:01.0 Bryant closed the half by getting his Drew Brees on, dropping a beautiful pass onto Odom’s fingertips, with L.O. finishing a layup to put the Lakers up 63-51 at the break. The Lakers also got a nice boost from rookie Devin Ebanks, who posted seven points, three boards and a whole lot of energy off the bench. His fellow second round pick Derrick Caracter added four boards and a dunk as L.A. finished the quarter an impressive 12-of-18 from the field (67 percent).

10:00 Just after tweeting that Odom had yet to miss a shot in going 5-for-5 for 10 points with five boards and five assists, he air-balled a three, then missed a baseline jumper. We’ll take the blame for that (jinx).

6:15 In sticking with the major theme from tonight’s diary, Bryant continued to look better and better, hitting an open jumper and then quickly draining another on the subsequent possession to put L.A. up 74-62. Some were concerned that Bryant wouldn’t be himself at the start of the regular season, but the progress he made even since Wednesday’s game in Las Vegas was very palatable.

2:32 Phil Jackson spent last week’s practices focusing primarily on defense, but L.A.’s ball movement against Denver made it seem like offense was the focus, as signified by 24 assists on 30 field goals.

0:00 The quarter ended as Brown couldn’t quite chase down a loose ball at a full sprint, but somehow managed to stop himself short of running down Laker Girl Ashley, coincidentally the girl run into in the Vegas game on Wednesday. Fortunately, she was just fine both times, but is apparently wearing a magnet. Alas, L.A.’s dominance extended their 12-point halftime lead to 85-68, Bryant leading the way with 18 points and Odom helping with 14.

8:00 The Nuggets scored 16 points in the first four minutes of the 4th to cut L.A.’s 17-point lead to just five before an and-1, and then a put-back from Ebanks restored the lead temporarily to double digits. Here was evidence (12 points, four boards in 17 minutes) as to why Phil Jackson’s been touting the West Virginia product’s preseason play.

2:46 Sign it’s only preseason: with L.A. up six, an offensive possession ran through training camp signee Trey Johnson and draftee Caracter, resulting in a turnover. The ice was on Kobe’s knees, though Odom and Brown remained on the floor along with Ebanks to try and hold on for the win.

0:00 And that they would, thanks in part to a corner jumper from Ebanks that got him to 14 points and seven boards in an impressive STAPLES debut.

Your final: Lakers 102, Nuggets 95, the major takeaway for L.A. being not the win, but how good Kobe looked.

17 L.A.’s biggest lead, coming midway through the third quarter. The Nuggets managed to lead by only a point in the first.

18 Points for Kobe Bryant in 25 minutes to lead the Lakers, behind 5-of-13 field goals and 8-of-11 free throws, along with eight boards (also a team-high) and five assists. Bryant moved very well on his knee throughout, looking much closer to regular season form than at any previous point in the preseason, a very positive sign for L.A.

22 Turnovers for the Lakers. It is the preseason, after all.

28 Assists for the Lakers on 36 field goals, showcasing pretty good ball movement especially for the preseason. Lamar Odom led the way with six helpers, while Ron Artest and Bryant added five each.

66.7 L.A.’s shooting percentage in the second quarter, allowing for a 12-point cushion at halftime. The Lakers actually hit nine of their first 11 attempts in the period (82 percent), and finished the game at 50 percent.

Lakers Shootout 2010

Staples CenterAfter preseason games in London, Barcelona and Las Vegas, the Lakers return to the friendly confines of STAPLES Center this Saturday and Sunday for their first games in downtown Los Angeles since winning the team’s 16th NBA title.

The Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers will join the Lakers for the two day shootout event.

The Clippers and Jazz kick off the action at 4:30pm on Saturday with the Lakers hosting the Nuggets at 7:30pm (FS West/710ESPN).

Sunday’s slate features winners playing winners and losers playing losers with the Lakers locked into the 7:30pm start time against either the Clippers or Jazz.

Your ticket for each day is good for both games on the corresponding day.

If you don’t have tickets yet, visit Ticketmaster. SATURDAY | SUNDAY

Dallas: Western Conference Podcast Preview

59220137Is Dallas the next-best team after the Lakers in the Western Conference, or just one of a few in the mix?

Sure, several of the Mavericks’ key players are getting up there in age, like Dirk Nowitzki (32), Jason Kidd (37), Jason Terry (33) and Shawn Marion (32). But they also have three players acquired either late last season or in the offseason, plus an exciting youngster that make Dallas more dangerous.

Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood came over in a trade with the Washington Wizards, while Tyson Chandler became a Maverick this past summer, giving Dallas what it hopes is a better answer to L.A.’s length. Meanwhile, second year guard Rodrigue Beaubois could end up making a major impact in the backcourt … at least once he gets healthy.

For a closer look at the Mavs, we dialed up TV play-by-play voice Mark Followill. You can listen to our conversation by clicking below:

Vujacic Suffers Concussion

UCLA Health SystemLakers guard Sasha Vujacic suffered a concussion after being inadvertently struck in the face, just below the left eye, by an errant elbow from Lamar Odom in Thursday’s practice.

Vujacic will be monitored closely and re-evaluated on Friday, but for now is considered out indefinitely from basketball activity.

Lakers 98, Kings 95: Vegas Running Diary

62042289We were courtside at L.A.’s first stateside preseason game, which took place on Wednesday evening at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. Below is a running diary of the contest, comments drawn in large part from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, with a brief summary at the bottom in case you missed anything:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Kings: Tyreke Evans, Antoine Wright, Donte Greene, Carl Landry and DeMarcus Cousins

11:45 Phil Jackson often either calls Fisher’s number to start the game or lets Fisher call his own number … worked here, elbow J good. On the next possession, rookie DeMarcus Cousins got isolated on Pau Gasol, and had to foul after a nice move across the lane, making it 3-0 L.A. early in front of a 90 percent Lakers crowd.

8:00 I almost got trucked by 6-10 Donte Greene when a loose ball came straight at me off a deflection, but he managed to stop just short of the press table under the hoop. He then looked up at me, pointed to my lap top, and said “I woulda jumped over, but didn’t want to hit your lap top man.” Thanks, Donte. Respect. Meanwhile, a 10-2 Kings run put SAC up 10-5, with Kobe missing his first three shots.

620422655:41 That run seemed to wake the Lakers up a bit, as Ron Artest nailed back-to-back 3′s and Gasol scored twice under the rim to cap a 10-0 Lakers run, putting the purple and gold up 15-10 and forcing a Kings time out.

3:11 Remember how Artest was on fire for the first week in training camp before cooling off in Europe? Fire’s back: 3-for-3 from 3 for Ron Ron, who in unrelated news received the Key to the City of Las Vegas last night thanks to his great work with kids to the tune of encouraging mental health and support. Bryant followed up Artest’s make with his first hit in five attempts to put L.A. up 21-14.

0:00 Barnes fed Caracter instead of attempting a buzzer beater, & time ran out. Team building pass? Either way, 23-20 L.A. after one quarter.

11:00 Nice open to the second from the bench, featuring a slick driving leaner from Barnes and a pretty pull-up in transition from Brown, off glass. Bryant, seated a few feet away from Brown, was pleased to see one of his moves (pivot after an up-fake, off glass) utilized. Meanwhile, Odom & Gasol were having a big laugh together on the bench, Gasol even tilting head back w/arm around L.O. #chemistry

7:20 We got a nice lil’ taste of Devin Ebanks on the wing, as the rookie filled the right lane nicely to finish a fast break at the rim off Shannon Brown’s dish. On the next possession, Ebanks made a pull up jumper from the elbow to put L.A. up 36-28, a solid period for the second unit continuing.

1:15 The Kings took their first lead since the early first quarter with a Darnell Jackson jumper, then went up 45-42 with two Luther Head free throws as L.A. struggled to score. In related news, Kobe didn’t play in the second quarter.

0:00 Vujacic’s basline jumper put the Lakers back up top momentarily, but Carl Landry’s layup made it 47-46 Kings at the half. It was a solid quarter for Ebanks, who made only two of seven shots while struggling to finish, but gave Sacramento problems with his length and energy.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 98, Kings 95: Vegas Running Diary’

Denver: Western Conference Podcast Preview

60109900Before the regular season begins, we’re going to take a close look at select Western Conference teams that could potentially trip up L.A.’s quest for a fourth straight trip to the Finals, utilizing beat writers and broadcasters in several NBA cities. First up, Denver.

Prior to last season, the Nuggets appeared to be L.A.’s biggest obstacle towards returning to the NBA Finals, particularly after an impressive performance in the 2009 Western Finals when Denver forced L.A. to six games.

But after a disappointing 2009-10 campaign in which the Nuggets endured head coach George Karl’s battle with cancer and ultimately a first round loss to Utah, things don’t appear so rosy heading into this season. Question marks abound in the Mile High City primarily due to the unsure nature of star Carmelo Anthony’s future with the Nuggets.

To offer some perspective on Anthony’ situation, discuss how it might affect a still-talented team and detail what else is going on with the Nuggets, the Denver Post’s Benjamin Hochman joined us for a podcast.

Click below to listen:

Lakers To Face Kings in Vegas

61942623It’s been nearly 18 days since training camp opened for the Lakers on Sept. 25, and finally the team will go through a routine game day experience, albeit in Las Vegas for a Wednesday evening matchup with the Kings.

After losing their first two preseason games in London and Barcelona, respectively, the Lakers are set for a full team shootaround, regular pregame media and warm up sessions and at 7 p.m. see how a few days of actual practice translates onto the basketball floor.

We identified seven things to watch for in tonight’s contest, which you can view on KCAL or listen to on 710/1330 AM ESPN:

1. KOBE’S PROGRESS: Good news came out of Tuesday’s practice in the Kobe Bryant knee watch, as Phil Jackson said his MVP looked “better than he’s looked so far.” Expect Kobe to play for roughly eight minutes in the first quarter and eight more in the third. If all goes well, Jackson allowed for the possibility of seeing more Kobe in the fourth quarter.

D072890037.jpg2. COUSINS, EVANS = STAR DUO TO BE? Over the past four seasons, the Kings have won just 33, 38, 17 and 25 games. But the squad’s recent lottery picks have optimism running through the California capitol city, with 2010′s No. 5 overall pick DeMarcus Cousins joining last season’s Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans. Through four preseason games, the large yet skilled Cousins has averaged 17 points and 9.5 rebounds in 24.5 minutes, while Evans was one of only three NBA players to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists last season. Of course, Evans-Cousins isn’t quite Kobe-Pau as a perimeter-interior package just yet, but there’s certainly reason for Kings optimism.

3. BLAKE/BARNES and the TRIANGLE: From L.A.’s coaching staff to its remaining players from the past two title teams, we’ve heard little but universal praise throughout the first two weeks of camp for the additions of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes in particular. The coaches like their intensity, desire to win and eagerness to fit in, while the players have been enthralled with respective skill sets for the two veterans. What remains to be seen is how far each have come with their understanding of the triangle offense. Jackson has detailed how well Blake has picked things up, but Barnes admitted on Tuesday that he’s still struggling a bit with recognizing variations within the offense. We’ll see how they look against the Kings.

4. PHIL’S ROTATION: While Phil Jackson’s rotation is at least somewhat predictable, there are still plenty of minutes to be assigned particularly as Andrew Bynum recovers from knee surgery. The starters are plugged in – Derek Fisher, Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol – but bench burn is a work in progress. Steve Blake looks to be the leading candidate for big minutes off the pine, but Matt Barnes may not be sitting for long. Then there’s the Shannon Brown/Sasha Vujacic tandem, with PT not just as Kobe’s backup but at the two guard spot available when Bryant plays on the wing. In the meantime, how often will we see Theo Ratliff and Derrick Caracter in the post in relief of Odom/Gasol, or rookie Devin Ebanks on the wing? We’ll see.

5. DEFENSIVE INTENSITY? The Lakers spent the bulk of Monday and Tuesday’s practices in El Segundo going back to the defensive basics of Phil Jackson’s system, and he’ll surely like to see some results even in a preseason game. L.A. turned up the defensive pressure only for a few minutes in Barcelona at the start of the third quarter (producing a big run, naturally), and even fewer in London, but with the season now only 13 days away, the defensive dogs should start to increasingly bark. Sure, the playoffs are far, far away, but a steady ramp-up process starts in the preseason.

6. SACRAMENTO’S PRINCES: While Evans and Cousins will demand the most attention, there are other talented players wearing purple and black for which the Lakers will have to account. Beno Udrih, who starts in the backcourt alongside Evans and handles many of the ball-handling duties, has given the Lakers problems for the past few years; Donte Greene is a matchup problem as a 6-10 forward who loves chucking threes; Carl Landry and Jason Thompson both aggressively attack the backboards and can finish; while Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia are fiery wing players that relish the chance to battle the likes of Bryant and Artest.

7. THE SPANIARD: As Bryant continues to get himself back to full health, L.A. knows it should run things more often through Gasol, who seems to gain more respect each time his wide array of skills come into view. Phil Jackson’s more than happy to encourage his players to increase the amount of touches afforded to Gasol, as good things seem to happen whenever he gets his hands on the ball. With six games across the next nine days, we should see a great deal of Gasol, and that’s never a bad thing.