Monthly Archive for March, 2011

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Lakers 13-1 Since the All-Star Break

Since Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol represented L.A. on February 17-21, the Lakers have won 13 of the 14 games they’ve played, including six on the road and all seven at STAPLES Center, a winning rate of .928.

They’ve done it primarily with excellent defense, allowing 100+ points only twice, both times in overtime games at Portland (106-101) and in the triple OT offensive thriller against Phoenix on Tuesday night (139-137).

With 11 more games to play, L.A. has a chance to improve upon the 30-4 mark established by Phil Jackson’s Lakers in his first season in Los Angeles. That .882 success rate is the highest of Jackson’s tenure:

LAKERS POST ALL-STAR BREAK RECORD:
1999-2000: 30-4, .882
2000-01: 25-10, .714
2001-02: 25-11, .694
2002-03: 26-9, .743
2003-04: 25-7, .781
2005-06: 19-11, .633
2006-07: 12-16, .429
2007-08: 22-8, .733
2008-09: 23-7, .767
2009-10: 16-12, .571
2010-11: 13-1, .928 (11 games to play)

In Jackson’s first five seasons, with Shaquille O’Neal in the middle, L.A.’s win percentage improved notably after the break, and also in 2005-06. But since then, only 2007-08 has seen a better record after the break. In 2008-09 and 2009-10, the Lakers stormed out of the gates, winning 80.8 percent and 75.9 percent of their pre-break games, before falling off to 76.7 and 57.1 percent, respectively, coasting into the playoffs with big leads in the Western Conference.

But this season, L.A. went 38-19 prior to the break (.667), with the San Antonio Spurs (now 57-13) opening a big lead of their own. The one-loss record for the Lakers has them still seven games back in the loss column and 6.5 overall to the Spurs, who lost Tim Duncan for at least a few games due to a sprained ankle just before hitting one of their toughest stretches of the season (@ DEN, @ POR, @ MEM, vs. POR, vs. BOS, @ HOU, vs. PHO, @ ATL).

Even with that schedule, it’s unlikely that the Spurs would lose enough games for L.A. to even have a chance of catching them, since they’d need to drop seven of 12 games with the Lakers running the table just for a tie. But what the Lakers have done with their recent success is pass Dallas (49-21) and catch up to the Eastern Conference leaders like Chicago (51-19), Boston (50-19) and Miami (48-22) in a race for the No. 2 overall seed in the league.

Up next for the Lakers in a light end-of-month schedule is a Friday tilt against the Clippers, as Andrew Bynum returns from a two-game suspension. Then a Sunday hosting of potential first round opponent New Orleans (40-31), and next Thursday’s showdown with Dallas.

Lakers Win 50 Games, Again

With Sunday evening’s victory over Portland, the Lakers hit the 50-win mark — now 51 after Tuesday’s win over Phoenix — for the fourth consecutive season, and 32nd time in their storied franchise history.

The NBA didn’t adopt an 82-game schedule until 1967-68, after which 29 of those 50-plus victory campaigns came.

The percentage of very successful seasons has been just as high under current owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who has seen his team post 50-win seasons 23 times since he took over in 1979-80.

Phil Jackson, meanwhile, has now won at least 50 games in 17 of his 20 seasons as an NBA head coach. Back on March 12 in Dallas, Jackson won his 600th career regular season game as coach of the Lakers, becoming the fifth coach in NBA history to win at least 600 with one franchise, joining Jerry Sloan (1,127 with Utah), Red Auerbach (795 with Boston), Gregg Popovich (793 with San Antonio) and his former coach Red Holzman (613 with New York).

Jackson is the only coach in league history to win better than 70 percent of his games (1,148-480, .705) and currently ranks fifth all-time in regular season victories, as well as first in playoff wins (225) and playoff win percentage (.697).

Lakers – Suns Postgame Numbers

We compiled some of the more interesting numbers from L.A.’s memorable 139-137 victory, the Lakers winning for the 13th time in 14 games out of the All-Star break and fifth time in a row:

226 Combined field goal attempts in the game. The Lakers made 53-of-120 (44.2 percent), the Suns 51-of-106 (48.1 percent).

139 L.A.’s season high in points scored, aided by the three overtimes, of course. Both teams scored 112 in regulation, before L.A. managed 27 to Phoenix’s 25 through the three extra periods.

42 Points scored by Kobe Bryant, a season high, on 15-of-31 shooting. He added 12 boards and nine assists in a near triple-double effort, five of those points coming in the third OT. He took so many big shots it was hard to keep track of how many he made, though his final effort, a pull-up in transition with 14 seconds left in the final OT, sealed the game. It was Bryant’s third 40-point performance of the season, and 107th of his career.

39 Three-pointers made by the Suns in two games at STAPLES Center this year after they hit 22 in November, one short of the NBA record. Of their 17 makes on this night, Steve Nash and Channing Frye hit five each, with four other Suns making up the difference.

29 Season high in points for Lamar Odom, who was terrific for the Lakers in adding 16 rebounds, five assists and a block.

21 L.A.’s biggest lead of the game, attained in the third quarter, before Phoenix bombed away from three to eventually tie the game at 112 to force overtime.

15.3 Shooting percentage on three-pointers for Vince Carter, who made only two of the 13 he attempted.

9 Turnovers for the Lakers, a very low number for a three-overtime game. Phil Jackson cited the late turnovers forced by L.A. as keys to the game, as Phoenix had four in the extra periods.

8 Lamar Odom’s rank in the NBA in the field goal percentage category, helped on by another efficient night of 13-for-22 shooting that was at 11-of-14 after the fourth quarter before he tired in the overtimes, playing a total of 55:13.

Lakers 139, Suns 137: March 22 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening home contest against the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers looking for a fifth straight win, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Suns: S. Nash, V. Carter, G. Hill, C. Frye, R. Lopez

FIRST QUARTER
9:00 After starting 1-for-6, two of their shots being blocked by Pau Gasol, the Suns connected on consecutive hoops with a Channing Frye floater and Vince Carter corner three. The triple came off the exact kind of action L.A.’s coaches have planned against, two defenders committing to a penetrating Steve Nash, leaving Carter open in the corner for the triple.

6:03 Though Robin Lopez starts, Phoenix’s best center, by far, is Marcin Gortat. He checked in early, and promptly converted a dunk and then a layup in transition by beating L.A.’s bigs down the floor, putting the Suns up 18-15. The Polish Hammer, actually, is probably one of the league’s top seven or eight centers (try to think of eight that are better). Furthermore, the Suns have been much better of late with Frye in the line up. They went 1-4 with him out of the line up last week, but had won 8-of-11 with him on the court.

0:00 The Suns played very well in the first, looking like a team fighting for a playoff spot (which they of course are being two games back of Memphis for the eight spot) while scoring 31 points on 50 percent shooting. The Lakers did manage to stick around despite playing just average, going for 27 points behind eight from Gasol and five each from Odom, Bryant and Barnes off the bench.

SECOND QUARTER
6:29 Keeping the Lakers in the game despite continued red hot shooting from the Suns was Odom, who made six of his first eight shots for a game-high 13 points, plus five boards and two dimes. Phoenix, however, was taking advantage of a fast pace against L.A.’s bench to hit 7-of-10 field goals in the second, including its fifth three-pointer, to open an eight-point lead that Odom chipped down to five at 50-45.

3:14 The next stretch of minutes saw improved defensive intensity from L.A., led by an all-over-the-place Artest, which resulted in a 55-52 lead with Gasol and Bryant scoring on the other end. Both teams were shooting 54 percent a moment earlier in a well-played game with only five total turnovers. Artest then hit his second three-pointer to put the Lakers up 58-53, their biggest lead.

0:00 The Lakers got hurt in one category more than any other in the first half, fast break points, as they gave up 19 while scoring only two. Nonetheless, a 6-0 individual scoring run from Bryant allowed the home team to close the half with a 66-60 lead.

THIRD QUARTER
10:00 Building on Bryant’s run to close the half, Gasol, Odom and Bryant scored in succession to open a 72-60 lead over the Suns. Phoenix actually got three good looks at three-pointers, but missed ‘em all. Missing wasn’t in Odom’s vocabulary, as he followed up his 8-of-11 Sunday effort against Portland by making 7-of-9 shots, improving his 53.8 field goal percentage that ranked eighth in the NBA heading into the game.

8:19 Odom kept going, forcing more entries here, nailing a three-pointer and then a tough and-1 through traffic to improve to 9-of-11 from the field for 21 points, a game high. In the process, L.A. opened a 17-point lead, taking full control of the game.

4:34 L.A.’s lead ballooned to as many as 21 points when Bryant hit back-to-back three-pointers (to reach 12 points in the quarter), but Phil Jackson didn’t like where the tempo was going as Nash answered with consecutive threes of his own, and Fisher took a triple early in the shot clock. Phil called time out with the lead down to 15 points, and drew up a play to get Gasol a left-handed hook inside that set the lead at 91-74.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 139, Suns 137: March 22 Running Diary’

Silver Lining in Bynum’s Suspension?

Following Monday’s practice, Phil Jackson revealed a silver lining in the two-game suspension of Andrew Bynum:

He knows it’s to his advantage at some level to have an opportunity to work on his leg strength and get some things done that perhaps game-by-game where he had to go on and play rather than stop and do some strengthening things and things that can help his game out. I think in the long run, it might help him.

Emotionally, Jackson said, was another story.

“Emotionally it’s hard to take, being away from the team. He was here this morning, obviously but at game time he can’t be at the arena, so that’s difficult. Especially watching a (close) game like (Sunday) night. He’s frustrated.”

Lakers – Blazers Postgame Numbers

We compiled some of the more interesting numbers from L.A.’s 84-80 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, the Lakers winning for the 12th time in 13 games out of the All-Star break and fourth time in a row:

5 Straight shots made by the home team to finish the game, including three from Kobe Bryant and two from Derek Fisher. Portland, meanwhile, made only 1-of-8 to close the game. Phil Jackson cited improved awareness, energy and the forcing of turnovers as keys to the fourth quarter defense.

6 Turnovers forced by the Lakers in the fourth quarter, resulting in eight points at the other end, four of which came during a critical stretch in the final minutes as both Bryant and Fisher stole the ball and converted layups at the other end. “When it comes down the stretch, I’m comfortable just making the play,” said Fisher. “It’s not always going to be make a shot, but even defensively, just being in the right spot at the right time you get a steal, which then allows you to go down and make a shot.” His shot with 10 seconds left sealed the game, after his steal with two minutes left put L.A. up for the first time in the second half.

9 Blazers players who grabbed at least two rebounds, helping Portland out-board L.A. by 10 at 45-35.

9 The biggest lead for both teams at varying points of the action, though the lead changed hands only twice. The Lakers led by seven points after the first quarter, but Portland rallied to lead by four at the half and after three quarters. L.A. reclaimed the lead for good on Fisher’s transition layup with 1:56 on the clock.

17.6 L.A.’s shooting percentage from the three-point line, as only 3-of-17 went down. Bryant hit two of his seven attempts, while Ron Artest was 0-for-3, Shannon Brown 0-for-2 and Steve Blake and Fisher both 0-for-1. Matt Barnes added the other make on three attempts.

27.8 Portland’s shooting percentage in the fourth quarter on 5-of-18 from the field, which Phil Jackson said was in part due to a strong defensive start from sub Matt Barnes in the final period. Portland shot just 38.6 percent for the game as a result.

73 Lamar Odom’s shooting percentage on 8-of-11 field goals in an outstanding all-around game. He scored 16 points with 11 rebounds and a game-high six assists, plus two steals in 41 minutes of action. Portland assistant coach Bob Ociepka echoed comments from Minnesota assistant J.B. Bickerstaff that Odom was by far the most difficult sub (starting for Bynum in this one) for whom to prepare in the NBA.

Lakers 84, Blazers 80: March 20 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday evening home contest against Minnesota, the Lakers looking to win a fourth straight game, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom* and Gasol
Blazers: A. Miller, W. Matthews, N. Batum, G. Wallace, L. Aldridge
*Lamar Odom started in place of Andrew Bynum, who drew a two-game suspension for a flagrant foul in L.A.’s March 18 win over Minnesota.

FIRST QUARTER
10:00 Thanks to Lamar Odom, the Lakers may be the team in the NBA that would be affected the least by the loss of a player of Andrew Bynum’s level, which they’d have a chance to show against a Portland team starting a small line up with wing Gerald Wallace at the four. L.A. had Artest check Wallace, and Odom guard Nic Batum, with Pau Gasol matching up with LaMarcus Aldridge. Gasol got the better of everybody early, scoring the first two field goals plus three boards in a game where his box score was sure to stand out.

4:41 Odom’s tip in of a transition miss capped a 6-0 run for the Lakers, opening an 18-10 in the early goings. Portland Coach Nate McMillan had subbed Marcus Camby into the game, turning Portland from small to big with Aldridge at the four, which they’d need after the Lakers scored 12 of their points in the paint.

0:00 Overall, it was a solid first quarter for L.A., which got seven points on 3-of-5 shooting from a moving-fine-on-his-sore-ankle Bryant, six points with six boards from Gasol and four points apiece from Odom, Artest and Fisher in a balanced effort. The Blazers don’t score much inside compared to most teams, and rank 22nd overall in both points and field goal percentage, so Bynum’s absence isn’t felt quite as much even as Portland managed to match L.A.’s 10 rebounds and score only two fewer paint points.

SECOND QUARTER
8:30 It was quickly apparent where the Lakers missed Bynum, however, when Portland went on a 6-0 run with rookie Derrick Caracter playing the minutes usually filled by Bynum, committing two fouls with a charging turnover. Gasol was resting on the bench, but had to come back in after a time out to try and get things going the other way again.

2:23 Bryant’s three-pointer followed a Gasol dunk to open a six-point lead for the Lakers, the starters regaining control that had been taken away as Portland’s bench outplayed that of L.A. …

0:26.0 … But that was the final Lakers’ basket of the half, while Portland pulled off a 10-0 burst behind two three-pointers from Batum (19 points to lead all scorers). In that final stanza, the Lakers had three layups blocked at the rim, and another wide-open look at the rim from Odom simply miss. A poor stretch for the home team, to be sure.

THIRD QUARTER
9:30 Add five points onto that 10-0 run to close the second for Portland, the Lakers unable to buy a bucket as Gasol missed a short floater in the paint that made L.A. 0-for-5 in the third, allowing a 53-44 Blazers lead that only five minutes and change earlier had been a six-point Lakers advantage. Artest finally stopped the bleeding by making two free throws.

4:29 It had been a quiet night for Bryant, who’d scored just 10 points on 4-of-12 field goals with two assists before getting two free throws to fall. At times, he moved well, as when loading up for a baseline dunk before the two resulting foul shots, but his lateral movement appeared to be at least a bit restricted by his sore left ankle. With Bryant not 100 percent, Bynum out of the story and the Blazers playing well, L.A. found itself facing a 61-52 deficit.

0:00 What a way to end the quarter for Matt Barnes, who banked home a double-clutch buzzer beater from half court to cut Portland’s lead to 66-62 at the break. The Lakers rolled off a 10-5 run to close the quarter, including a 7-0 burst after Bryant went to the bench, to get right back in the mix.

FOURTH QUARTER
6:40 L.A. had again cut Portland’s lead down to two, but a Rudy Fernandez three and 1-of-2 Camby free throws pushed it back up to six halfway through the final quarter. The Fernandez triple had come off Portland’s 15th offensive board of the contest as the Blazers continued to control the glass, with 40 boards to L.A.’s 31 at that point.

2:20 The biggest play of the game to that point came from Bryant, who picked Miller’s pocket on D before receiving Fisher’s return pass under the rim for an uncontested dunk, tying the score at 76. Odom had been critical to the comeback, No. 7 making 8-of-11 shots in the game to get to 16 points, plus 11 boards and six assists.

0:00 As it had so many times, the final two minutes belonged to Bryant, who nailed an extremely tough leaner over Aldridge to put the Lakers up two, then an impossibly difficult fadeaway on the baseline over Brandon Roy to give the Lakers an 82-77 lead with 32 seconds to play. Portland had a quick answer with Batum’s fourth three of the game, but it was then Fisher’s turn to step up, and he did by pulling up for an elbow jumper to put the Lakers up 84-80 with 10 seconds to play. Game over, win streak at four, and 12-of-13 wins out of the All-Star break, this one clinching the Pacific Division for the 22nd time.

Lakers Without Bynum for Blazers, Suns

In coming two games against the smallish Portland Trail Blazers (Sunday) and Phoenix Suns (Tuesday), L.A.’s biggest player will not be on the court.

Center Andrew Bynum was suspended for two games for committing a flagrant two foul against Minnesota’s Michael Beasley halfway through the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Wolves. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak fielded the call from the NBA, and relayed the suspension to Bynum and Phil Jackson.

“I thought two games was excessive, but who knows,” said Jackson after the team’s Sunday shootaround.

The Lakers, of course, have a lot of experience playing with Pau Gasol at the five and Lamar Odom at the four, positions Jackson said they’ll be comfortable playing in Bynum’s absence. Odom will spend some time on the perimeter as well.

Assistant coach Chuck Person said the Lakers will likely have Ron Artest guard Portland’s Gerald Wallace, whom the Blazers have been starting at power forward in a small line up of late, with LaMarcus Aldridge playing in the post. Portland thus brings center Marcus Camby off the bench, who may have started were Bynum in the line up for Los Angeles. Bynum was quiet in his lone game against Portland on Feb. 23, scoring six points with four boards, though his defensive presence was key in deterring action around the rim.

Phoenix starts shooting big man Channing Frye and the four and Robin Lopez at the five, though backup Marcin Gortat gets the majority of minutes inside. Bynum appeared in only one of L.A.’s three games against Phoenix this season, scoring 14 points with seven boards in a Jan. 5 road victory, and was out (knee) during a home loss in November and road win in October.

Could having a few days without games at least help Bynum rest his usually sore knees?

“We’ll put a spin on it that it’s a positive for us,” concluded Jackson.

Bryant Vows to Play Through Pain

Kobe Bryant tends to use injuries for motivation, crafting ways to play through various ailments, as he did on Friday evening against Minnesota with a sore left ankle.

But in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s 106-98 win, Bryant took a hit to the jaw from the head of Martell Webster, his neck snapping backwards from the contact.

He made it through the rest of the game, scoring 18 points with a team-high five assists, but took nearly an hour after the contest to work on the neck and ankle before emerging to speak with reporters.

“My jaw is fine,” he said. “It was just that my neck snapped back. My neck is pretty stiff right now.”

Bryant was anything but pleased with his situation in the locker room, wearing a frown as he described how angry he was to be unable to turn his head. Yet, of course, he said he wouldn’t be missing any game action.

“I’ll be ready for sure, I promise you that,” Bryant said of Sunday’s game against Portland. “I’ll be more than ready.”

Lakers – Wolves Postgame Numbers

We kept track of some of the more interesting numbers in L.A.’s 106-98 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Lakers winning for the 11th time in 12 games out of the All-Star break:

35 Shooting percentage for Kobe Bryant, bothered by a sore left ankle that he rolled last Saturday at Dallas. “I thought his timing was off,” said Phil Jackson. “His shooting was off. But his effort was good.” Jackson added that he didn’t think Bryant would miss any time, as usual, even if he’s clearly not at 100 percent. After the game, Bryant said his neck was also really hurting him (he’d banged heads with Minnesota’s Martell Webster), but he guaranteed he’d play on Sunday against Portland.

27 Career high in points reached by Timberwolves rookie Wes Johnson, who made 11-of-21 field goals to lead all scorers.

25 Points for Pau Gasol on an efficient 12-of-17 shooting line, plus five boards and a game-high four blocked shots. “Pau kind of carried us, kept us going,” said Jackson.

17 Offensive rebounds for the Wolves, which helped them stay in the game from the onset.

16 Turnovers for the Lakers, off of which Minnesota scored 22 points. L.A. managed only nine points off Minnesota’s 17 turnovers.

15 Straight wins for the Lakers over the Wolves.

1 Ejection in a game that randomly turned intense in the fourth quarter, as Andrew Bynum got tossed for a flagrant two foul of Michael Beasley. Whether or not a suspension

0.5 Games needed by L.A. to clinch the Pacific Division. Either a Lakers win or Suns loss would do the trick.