Monthly Archive for February, 2011

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Steve Kerr: The Difficulty of Three-Peating

It’s certainly no secret that Phil Jackson has led three separate groups of players to three consecutive NBA championships, albeit with crucial holdovers from his first Chicago Bulls stint to his second:

One common theme amongst Jackson’s two Bulls’ teams was that the third championship (1993 and 1998) was by far the toughest to come by, particularly in the long regular season.

The 1992-93 Bulls went 57-25 a season after going 67-15, and the 1997-98 Bulls went 62-20 after a 69-13 mark the previous campaign (and an NBA record 72-10 in 1996-97). The 2001-02 Lakers managed to win two more games (58) than the 2000-01 squad, but barely survived the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings (Robert Horry’s three) where as the 2000-01 squad went an NBA record 15-1 en route to a title.

TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr was last year known as the GM of the Phoenix Suns, and perhaps best known for his clutch shooting on the second of Jackson’s three-peating teams, hitting big shots from the passes of Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. His career shooting percentage from three-point territory is remarkable: 45.4 percent, the best in league history until Nets guard Anthony Morrow surpassed the mark this season, currently above Kerr by the closest of margins at 44.5 percent.

Over All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, we caught up with Kerr — who has been TNT’s color analyst in four games this season — to talk about the difficulty of three-peating and how it applies to Jackson and this year’s Lakers.

On the most difficult element of three-peating:
Kerr: The thing about trying to three-peat, and remember, the Lakers were in the Finals in 2008, so this is their fourth attempt at reaching the Finals, is that fatigue is a major factor. Both physical and emotional fatigue, and Phil understands that better than anybody.

On what he recalls from the 1998 Bulls three-peat:
Kerr: I know in Chicago in 1998 we ended up winning 62 games, but there were moments of that season where we were fractured, and we had bad losses, and people around us and in the media were panicking a little bit. That’s the way it goes in the NBA. You just keep fighting and getting off the mat, and you have to play your best in the spring. That’s what Phil knows, and what he tries to get out of his teams.

On if anything he saw from the Lakers prior to the All-Star break concerned him, or if it fell under the aforementioned “fatigue” factor:
Kerr: I watched them beat Boston, in Boston, 10 days ago. You can say, ‘Oh my gosh, (L.A. lost to) Cleveland,’ but Cleveland had been playing everybody tough for about two weeks prior to that and just beaten the Clippers. They were a little angry (from the 55-point loss in L.A.), it was the last game before the All-Star break, and sometimes guys check out mentally whether they know it or not before the break. I don’t put that much stock into it. To me, it’s always, in this league, about how you pick yourself up after situations like this, and I would expect the Lakers to bounce back and play well out of the All-Star break and into the playoffs.

On if he’d pick the Lakers to make it to a fourth straight Finals:
Kerr: Yes.

Kobe Ties Record With 4th All-Star MVP

Could Kobe Bryant’s 12th All-Star game, in which he locked up his fourth MVP award to match Bob Pettit’s all-time record, have been his finest?

His first came way back in 1998, when at 19, he was the youngest All-Star in NBA history. On Sunday afternoon at STAPLES Center it was 13 years later, but his legs looked explosive like they had in the late 90′s.

No. 24 looked more like No. 8 as he rose for an array of dunks from various angles, including a baseline reverse early in the first that may have been the best dunk of a game in which he tallied a personal career high of 37 points.

“He’s one hell of a player,” said Western Coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s Kobe. He does things like that, we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Five dunks, an array of jumpers and drives, two three-pointers and seven free throws helped him along the way to the 37 that were just five points shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time All-Star record of 42 points, set back in 1963.

“Let’s he honest, Kobe had it going, to say the least,” said East Coach Doc Rivers.

Thirty-two of Bryant’s points had already come by the 6:14 mark of the third quarter, enough to surpass his previous personal high of 31 that he scored in both 2002 and 2007. He had little left in the legs after that, but his sustained burst had given the lead a 17-point lead.

“Just being around so many young players gave me so much energy,” said Bryant of his effort. “But in the fourth quarter, I had nothing left. I exceeded my dunk quota for the game.

It wasn’t just the scoring on this day from Bryant, however, as he grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds to go with three assists and three steals. His previous high in boards in an All-Star game was seven, which he grabbed in both 2003 and 2006.

Bryant’s Lakers teammate Pau Gasol chipped in with 17 points and seven rebounds, most critically a tip-in of Bryant’s missed jumper with 53 seconds left, pushing what had been just a two-point lead back to four and eventually locking up a game the West had mostly dominated.

Bryant’s MVP trophy will now go up in what’s already a ridiculous trophy case, but as he explained after the game, it’s now time to focus on getting a different kind of trophy for the third straight season.

“We’re looking forward to it, we’re up for the challenge,” he concluded. “We all can’t wait to get started.”

All-Star 2011 Running Diary

We kept a running log of the All-Star game at STAPLES Center on Sunday afternoon, keeping our eyes specifically trained on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

10:07 After three missed jumpers for the West, Bryant hit the first bucket for his squad on a baseline fadeaway.

8:51 Wait, are we back in 1997? Bryant pulled out one of his old dunk contest moves

6:31 Almost as fun for the crowd at STAPLES as Kobe’s swished three moments earlier was an air-balled three-pointer from Ray Allen, who along with fellow Celtics Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo got plenty of boos in pregame intros.

5:38 Bryant had worked up quite a sweat already after seven and a half minutes, posting nine points on 3-of-5 field goals, an assist on Gasol’s first bucket moments after the Spaniard entered for Tim Duncan, two rebounds and two steals. Prior to the game, I figured that if Bryant got going early, he may very well go after his fourth career All-Star MVP award, and that’s what looked to be happening. We’ll keep you posted. By the way … Bob Pettit is the only player in NBA history to win four All-Star MVP awards, with Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe next with three apiece.

4:13 Gasol’s second dunk came this time from Deron Williams, after Blake Griffin replaced the only starter left on the court, Bryant. East Coach Doc Rivers, meanwhile, had all four of his Celtics on the floor … we’d have to see whether that helped out the East’s defense, facing a 10-point hole (not that 10 points in an All-Star game is in any way daunting).

11:34 Gasol was subbed out for (Kevin Love) after making all three of his shots for six points, plus a board. Nice and easy stuff inside from the Spaniard, who didn’t have to break much of a sweat.

6:46 Bryant returned to the action with the West lead cut to six at 49-43, LeBron James probably leading his East squad in the MVP race with a balanced effort of six points, four dimes and three boards. We should take away a few points from LBJ, however, for randomly jumping on the scorer’s table for the second time.

4:39 Gasol added and assist to his four field goals by finding Kevin Durant for a corner three, allowing the West to re-open a 13-point lead at 58-45. Moments later, Gasol finished off his sixth field goal in as many attempts after some beautiful passing between he and Ginobili, both of whom have their doctorates in basketball.

1:14 Bryant may as well have brought out his No. 8 jersey, rising again this time for a reverse slam to get him to a game-high 17 points. Consider his MVP candidacy in full effect, particularly with the West leading 70-58. He added two more buckets before the half ended, reaching 21 points, good enough to pass Elgin Baylor (218), Julius Erving (221) and Pettit (224) for fourth on the all-time All-Star scoring list. Up next? The Big O, who had 246, Kareem (251) and Jordan (262).

8:57 Bryant’s two free throws pushed his total to 25 points, though the game itself had yet to pick up much of a rhythm, even as the West saw its lead trimmed to four.

6:17 So back came Kobe, first with a transition dunk ahead of going-for-chase-down-block-but-failing LeBron, then a triple to reach 30 points. He’d add another bucket with a stop-and-go move to the hoop, then watch Deron Williams stick a three-pointer to put the West back up by double digits at 95-83.

5:00 One more dunk from Kobe, this time a fierce one-hander, made it a 100-86 lead for the West, and got him nine points away from passing Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time record of 42, established in 1962.

0:00 Gasol got back in the scoring column with a hook shot and 1-of-2 free throws, reaching 15 points and five rebounds, the most he’d scored in an All-Star game with a quarter yet to play. After a slow start, the West rallied to outscore the East 41-36 in the period, building their lead to 117-100. Bryant was still in the driver’s seat for MVP honors.
Continue reading ‘All-Star 2011 Running Diary’

Gasol, L.A. Fall in Shooting Stars Contest

Despite the best efforts of Pau Gasol, Rick Fox and WNBA star Tina Thompson, Team Los Angeles fell short in the Haier Shooting Stars contest, finishing third out of four teams in an event ultimately won by Team Atlanta.

Perhaps the loss didn’t hurt Gasol quite as much as the Lakers’ 2008 Finals loss to Boston, but Fox still joked that he’d have to console the Spaniard in advance of Sunday’s All-Star game.

Gasol went along with the joke for a bit, feigning severe disappointment, but wouldn’t go so far as to promise more practice time spent on his half-court shot.

It was Fox who eventually hit Team L.A.’s half-court heave after 55.8 seconds had expired, which took nine collective attempts. Gasol made his 15 footer and needed only two attempts to hit a top-of-the-key three-pointer, but missed all three of his half-court attempts.

TNT’s Kenny Smith, on the other hand, canned his first half-court attempt for Team Texas before he, Dirk Nowitzki and Roneeka Hodges failed to hit from half court in the final against Al Horford, Steve Smith and Coco Miller of Team Atlanta, who won it on Horford’s hit with 1:10 counted off the clock.

Gasol said he’d do his best to get re-focused heading into tomorrow’s All-Star game, the fourth in his career, but it’s certainly going to be tough.

Kobe the All-Star, From 1998 to 2011

In 1998, 19-year-old Kobe Bryant made his first appearance in the NBA All-Star game as the youngest All-Star in the history of the game.

Thirteen years later, he’s still going strong, starting in the Western Conference back court alongside Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets. It will be the 12th game in which Bryant has played: he was not selected as a 17-year-old rookie; there was no game in 1999; and a left ankle sprain kept him from playing in last season’s contest in Dallas.

To put Bryant’s All-Star run into perspective, several of his Western teammates were wide-eyed little kids when he made his debut.

Blake Griffin was eight years old.

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love were nine.

“I remember Kobe’s first (All-Star game), when he was squared up against (Michael) Jordan and had the 360 (dunk) and even won the dunk competition the (year before),” said Love after Saturday morning’s practice session. “I was talking to (Kobe and Tim Duncan) in the locker room before hand that this is my first one and they’ve been here 13, 14 times. It’s unbelievable.”

“I remember (Kevin Garnett) throwing him a lob in one of those games,” recalled Durant. “He’s had a long, long, great career. He’s far from over I think, and as a player you can only dream of having a career like that.

“It’s a dream come true playing with one of the best players to ever play the game, have him on the All-Star team, and just going about everything with him. I’m excited.”

Bryant, never one to get crazy with nostalgia, spoke about the extremely high level of talent on his current All-Star team, though not without mentioning the greatness of his 1998 squad. Bryant actually led the West in scoring with 19 points in a 135-114 loss to Jordan’s East team, but fondly recalls looking around the locker room at players like David Robinson, Karl Malone and John Stockton.

The rest of the team: Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Vin Baker, Eddie Jones, Mitch Richmond and Nick Van Exel.

How would that squad do against Kobe and teammates like Pau Gasol, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Paul and Dirk Nowitzki? How would 1998, 19-year-old Kobe fare against 2011, 32-year-old Kobe?

Too bad we can only speculate. But that Kobe could very easily end up leading both teams in scoring speaks to quite a run of All-Star seasons that Durant suggested could go on for several more years.

Pau Gasol’s All-Star Media Session

With the Lakers losing three consecutive games heading into the All-Star break, several of the questions to both Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol had to do with the perceived struggles of the Lakers.

Both Bryant and Gasol, however, both said that they remained fully confident, saying that the Lakers felt they’d be able to return to the championship level that’s come out at varying points of this regular season and certainly during the past two playoff runs.

Gasol’s response to a question about what was wrong with the Lakers went as follows: “It’s hard to say. I’m not exactly sure why we lose certain games the way we lose them, but we have to make sure we find that focus and that discipline and play to our level of talent, because right now it seems like we are underachieving a little bit.”

He then explained why he thinks his team will be able to turn it on when they need to: “It’s happened before, even during the season, we’ve had runs where we’re struggling and runs where we turn it on and we’re the team that everyone expects us to be, or we expect ourselves to be. I hope that during these last (25) games of the year we turn it up and we get to the level that we need to be in order to be successful.”

Gasol will be making his third straight and fourth overall appearance as a Western Conference All-Star in Sunday’s contest.

Kobe Bryant’s All-Star Media Session

Below is a summary of Kobe Bryant’s media session on Friday afternoon during Western Conference All-Star availability:

- Bryant was asked the first of many times if he could put a finger on L.A.’s struggles during the last week prior to the All-Star break, responding simply that the team addressed it internally and was well aware of what needed to be done.

- On the event: “I don’t think anything will ever be as big or match the size of the Super Bowl, but this is really turning to be a hell of a show. There’s a lot going on.”

- Bryant explained that there is a little bit of trash talking going amongst the players, but mostly it’s just sharing stories from the first half of the season. As for the game, Bryant echoed comments from anyone who’s ever played in the game by saying that the fourth quarter is when things actually pick up like a real game.

- On if L.A.’s recent struggles are fixable: “Yup, absolutely.” Bryant went on to explain that it’s natural for teams to go through struggles, and that his focus remains only upon figuring things out fully prior to the postseason. He described it as such: “That’s the challenge of playing the game … that’s what brings the excitement, not knowing. Even when you’re rolling and playing extremely well, there’s still the unknown of saying, ‘Well, this could slip from us at any given moment at any game in the series.’ We have a better chance at figuring it out than some of the other teams.”

- The questions that he doesn’t want to hear any more: “Why the Lakers (stink), and where Carmelo is going?”

- Bryant eventually started answering the former question about the Lakers struggles by stating, voice thick with sarcasm, that the Lakers had no chance of winning.

On who’s the most underrated player in the NBA: “Pau Gasol. He is. He just is. He’s extremely versatile. He can pass, he can score, he can post, he can face up, he can block shots. In my opinion, he’s the most underrated player.”

Jerry West Celebrated at Statue Unveiling

There aren’t many people who could assemble a group of NBA legends including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Elgin Baylor up on a stage, let alone listen as the best players in basketball history offer effusive praise.

Jerry West is one of those people.

The man that has perhaps meant more to the history of the Lakers both as a Hall of Fame player and, in Johnson’s words, the best executive in NBA history, sat on a stage outside STAPLES Center alongside the aforementioned players — not to mention Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and owner Dr. Jerry Buss, former Lakers coach and Heat executive Pat Riley, NBA Commissioner David Stern, AEG CEO Tim Leiweke, Shaquille O’Neal, Pau Gasol and so on — for the unveiling of a statue in his likeness.

It was a touching ceremony, featuring speeches that universally praised West for his excellence on the court, humility off of it and his trust and loyalty as a friend. One after one, some of basketball’s greatest names strode up to the podium to offer their thoughts about Mr. Clutch:

“I never played the game with anyone who played as hard,” said Baylor, whom West holds in the highest regard. “He carries his heart and soul on his sleeve and he says what he believes. I love Jerry, and this honor that he’s getting is well deserved.”

“I don’t know anyone who has dedicated more to this game,” offered Stern.

“If Jerry West hadn’t played basketball for the Lakers, would the Forum have been built?” wondered Kupchak, who said the same for STAPLES Center had West not built the teams of the Showtime and Kobe-Shaq eras.

“Jerry West’s name is synonymous with basketball in the world,” revealed Dr. Buss. “His courage was really inspirational to everybody. To this day Jerry remains, most importantly of all, my friend.”

“Here’s a guy whose statue should have been out there before mine,” said Magic. “We all really, really, truly love you. Congratulations.”

“He taught me about what greatness was,” said Riley, crediting West with giving him his start as a coach but first knew him as a teammate. “I could see this pressure and will to perform night in and night old.”

Russell, always an admirer of West’s even while defeating him year after year in the NBA Finals, went so far as to change the green shirt he had on in the morning to blue, so as not to bring the Celtics color into West’s ceremony. Russell even revealed that he had always wanted to be a Laker, since his hero growing up, George Mikan of Minneapolis Lakers fame, suggested as much when the two met while Russell was in high school.

Kareem spoke fondly of the time in 1961 when he and West first met, and marveled at the time that had gone by.

Finally, West came up to address the large gathering, with fans chanting “Jerry! Jerry!” in the background. West, always humble and never easily accepting of praise as his own harshest critic, admitted to being a bit uncomfortable in receiving so much praise. But he was also extremely thankful.

“This will be a night I’ll never forget,” he said, calling his sons and wife up onto the stage. “Thank you for making this a very special evening by attending … To think of a little boy who had a chance to live his dreams and maybe succeed them: it’s very special.”

Perhaps Dr. Buss best summed up the night.

“How many people have a statue named after them?” concluded L.A.’s owner. “One in a million? Well, Jerry is certainly one of those.”

Lakers 99, Cavs 104: Feb. 16 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon road contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the final of a seven-game road trip, 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, Gasol and Bynum
Cavs: M. Williams, A. Parker, C. Eyenga, A. Jamison, J.J. Hickson

12:00 I asked Phil Jackson how important matching Cleveland’s energy would be, given how jacked up they’d be to avenge the 55-point embarrassment in L.A. on Jan. 11, and just to be playing the defending champs at home in front of a crowd looking for something to feel really good about. He said it wasn’t so much about energy, actually: “They are more athletic than we are as a basketball team, so it’s not about athleticism, it’s about how to control the game without having the athleticism of this youthful team they have. We just have to play with knowledge and ability to do what we have to do best, which is get the ball inside, don’t come down and take long shots and wait until offense happens, and (make) them do the things they have to do to stop our inside game, and then take advantage of it.”

6:37 The Cavs, naturally, expected the Lakers to try and pound it inside as Phil hoped, and early on were effective at stopping easy looks by flooding the paint and double-teaming both Bynum and Gasol. Halfway through the period, however, the Lakers’ patience paid off in back-to-back hoops for Gasol, tying the game at 11.

0:00 Kobe missed the final five minute and change after picking up his second personal foul, plus a technical for arguing to boot, and while the Lakers stuck to their game plan, a slew of uncharacteristic inside misses from Gasol (4-for-9) and Bynum (0-for-5) led to Cavs run outs (10 fast break points), and a 29-19 advantage after one. In fact, other than Gasol, the Lakers made only 2-of-15 shots in the period, the Spaniard accounting for 14 points and eight boards himself.

8:30 Gasol hadn’t stopped yet, climbing to 18 points with 10 rebounds while cutting Cleveland’s lead from what had been 10 points down to three at 34-31. He did much of his damage at the foul line, sinking all eight attempts.

3:02 When Gasol went out, the Lakers slipped once again, Bynum missing twice more to go to 0-for-7 in the game, Bryant missing two field goals to fall to 3-for-8 and Shannon Brown throwing a few bricks to fall to 1-for-5. Brown, in particular, had struggled considerably from the field in L.A.’s last three games, shooting a total of only 24 percent including his 3-for-11 at Orlando and 2-for-9 at Charlotte. The team was shooting 35.9 percent with nine turnovers, yet trailed by only one at 41-40.

0:00 The Cavs managed to add four points back onto that lead with an 8-0 run to close the half, all the points coming in the final 1:21 of the period off L.A.’s 11th T.O. and a few poor shots. The Lakers were their own worst enemies, allowing the Cavs 15 fast break points off plays like the ones that closed the half, and could have been happy enough to be down only five.

6:44 Well, whatever halftime adjustments the Lakers attempted to make did not render anything positive on the scoreboard, as even after Gasol made his 11th and 12th free throws (without a miss) of the game to reach 24 points with 14 rebounds, LAL still found themselves down by 10 points a minute later after a Christian Eyenga jumper and defensive three seconds free throw.

1:10 The Lakers got their spark from Shannon Brown, who overcame a tough fall directly on his hip to hit a free throw, then convert a steal into a layup that preceded a Bryant three that pulled L.A. — once down 12 — to within one. The Cavs did snap the run with a fierce baseline dunk from Christian Eyenga, enough to give them a 74-71 lead into the final quarter.

9:56 Bynum couldn’t have been having a much worse night, missing again in the lane to fall to just 1-for-11 from the field, and following up by drawing a technical foul by holding onto Hollins’ arm for too long after a personal foul. He did manage to respond with a two-handed and-1 dunk on the other end, however, missing the free throw with Cleveland up 77-75.

6:16 With Bynum, Odom and Bryant a combined 9-for-34 from the field, the Lakers were getting bailed out by not just Gasol (only two field goal attempts in the second half) but Derek Fisher, who hit a corner three to reach a season-high 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting, this one tying the game at 82. But moments later, Anthony Parker made consecutive jumpers, the second a three, to put Cleveland back up five.

1:46 It was Fisher again giving the Lakers a last gasp by hitting a corner three to bring L.A. within seven after Cleveland had gone up 12 moments earlier.

0:22.4 A crazy last few minutes continued as the Lakers cut Cleveland’s lead all the way down to two points, this time as Gasol followed Bryant’s miss with a layup to make it 99-97. The Spaniard was up to 30 points and 20 rebounds at that point in a ridiculous stat line. The Lakers, however, couldn’t complete the improbable comeback, as the Cavs made 10-of-12 free throws down the stretch to hold onto a 104-99 win. After a 4-0 start to the road trip, the Lakers lost for the third straight time heading into the All-Star break to fall to 38-19 on the season.

99 Consecutive games in which the Lakers had not lost by 20 points, snapped by Charlotte the game before. They trailed at most by 12 against the Cavaliers in this one.

50 Combined points (30) and rebounds (20) for Pau Gasol in a fantastic individual effort. He was the lone bright spot outside of Derek Fisher, who went for a season-high 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting, including three three-pointers.

19 Turnovers for the Lakers, resulting in 23 Cavs points.

14 Straight free throws made for Gasol without single miss, upping his free throw percentage on the season from 81.3 percent to 82.0 percent.

10 Combined points for Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, who both may have had their worst individual performances of the season. Bynum made 2-of-12 free field goals, and Odom 1-of-5.

2/16 Injury Update: Theo Ratliff

Prior to the final game of L.A.’s seven-game road trip, Phil Jackson offered an update on Theo Ratliff’s ailing left knee, upon which he had arthroscopic surgery back on Nov. 16.

“I think (Ratliff) had a conversation with Dr. (James) Andrews in Alabama,” said Jackson. “We talked a little bit about it before we left (on the current trip). Based on that conversation, we decided that he should stay behind and start over on rehab, basically.”

Jackson mentioned that Ratliff had one “minor set back” that became an irritant to his knee, and more diagnostics resulted. In short, the Lakers are not expecting Ratliff on the court any time soon.

“We have to monitor it very closely if he’s going to play at all,” Jackson concluded.