Monthly Archive for April, 2012

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Lakers Magic No. for 3 Seed: 1

With a dramatic come-from-behind victory in double overtime over Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Lakers trimmed their magic number for clinching the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference to one.

This isn’t the most simple thing of all time, and could change by the day until the season finale on Thursday, so thanks for bearing with us…

If LAL (41-24) wins its final game at Sacramento on Thursday, or if the Clippers (40-24) lose at either Atlanta or New York, the three seed goes to the Purple and Gold, who hold the tiebreaker over the Clips thanks to a 2-1 season series win.

With the win over OKC, the Lakers also clinched – at worst – the No. 4 seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Even with a loss at Sacramento and 2-0 finishes for both the Clippers and Grizzlies (39-25), LAL would match a possible 41-25 Memphis record (the Lakers also own the tiebreaker against the Grizz).

In other words:

- They win at Sacramento
- They lose to Sacramento but the Clippers lose at either Atlanta or New York

- They lose at Sacramento
- The Clippers win at both Atlanta and New York

Memphis can still get the No. 4 seed and push the Clippers to No. 5 by winning its final two games with the Clippers losing both of theirs.

Denver defeated Orlando on Sunday evening to improve to 36-28 on the season, one half game ahead of Dallas (36-29), with two games to play at Oklahoma City and Minnesota. Since the Mavericks own the tiebreaker, they can get the No. 6 seed with a win in their final game at Atlanta and one Nuggets loss. Denver will get the No. 6 seed to face the No. 3 team by going 2-0, or 1-1 should Dallas lose to Atlanta. The Hawks are thus quite important in the Western seedings, as they face both the Clippers and Mavericks to close the season.

San Antonio (47-16) is now 1.5 games up on Oklahoma City (46-18) with three to play thanks in part to their win over LAL on Friday and LAL’s defeat of OKC on Sunday, and can thus clinch the top seed with a single win (vs. POR, @PHO, @GSW) or a Thunder loss (vs. SAC, vs. DEN).

San Antonio owns the tiebreak over the Thunder, as well, so their claiming the top spot is all but assured.

LAL 114, OKC 106: April 22 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Sunday afternoon home contest against Oklahoma City, the final home game of the regular season as the Lakers look to hold off the Clippers for the No. 3 seed, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Thunder: R. Westbrook, T. Sefolosha, K. Durant, S. Ibaka, K. Perkins

7:10 A physical first few minutes found the Lakers up 9-8 after two Metta World Peace free throws, which he made despite getting cracked in the nose by an accidental Serge Ibaka elbow, forcing an official’s time out to stop the bleeding.

2:54 A slow-moving game – which is a good thing for the Lakers – had the two Western powers knotted at 15 after a Gasol alley-oop dunk from Sessions, the first points from either Lakers seven footer, going against perhaps the NBA’s best defensive 4-5 combo in Ibaka and Perkins.

0:00 The Lakers have been making the mistake of leaving shooters to over help either on penetration or just in general in the paint, and here it was World Peace helping off Durant on Collison, leaving one of the NBA’s best shooters with a wide open triple that made it 26-20 Thunder after one.

7:05 With a new rotation we haven’t seen this year including Jordan Hill instead of Josh McRoberts or Troy Murphy alongside Gasol, Sessions, Blake and Barnes, L.A. feel behind by as many as 11 before rallying to cut the deficit to two thanks to a 9-0 run.

1:39 And here’s where the whole game, and perhaps L.A.’s roster leading into the playoffs, changed: Metta World Peace, after a big dunk in traffic, celebrated by pounding his chest and throwing an elbow that caught James Harden directly in the head. Harden went down hard, and a few Thunder teammates ran over in World Peace’s direction towards the other basket, Metta not seeming to recognize what happened. Watching the play in real time from midcourt, Peace did not appear to see that Harden was behind him when swinging the elbow, but the replay looked quite bad, causing a wave of tweets from those suggesting it was intentional. All we know for sure is that MWP got ejected with a flagrant two foul, with word of a possible suspension coming likely in the next few days. The dunk had cut OKC’s lead to one, but two foul shots as a result of the flagrant, and two more from Durant had the Thunder lead up to five at the half.

8:45 The Lakers might have expected the Thunder to rally around the flag after seeing Harden go down, and that they did, their intensity sparking an 8-2 run that pushed the lead to 11, matching their biggest in the second quarter. Barnes, who injured his ankle in the first half, was able to return and started the second half in World Peace’s place.

3:06 That wave of momentum from the Thunder continued throughout the period, Durant getting to the line again to make it 70-55, reaching 21 points. Since the MWP ejection, the mojo had just shifted completely, OKC operating at full throttle. Kobe seemed to be still searching for his game legs in his second one back since missing seven contests due to his shin injury, making only 3 of 14 shots towards seven points, with three turnovers.

0:00 The deficit was 16 after three quarters, Kobe/Bynum/Gasol combining for only 26 points on a combined 10 of 36 field goals. Ibaka was everywhere for OKC, going for 18 points, 12 boards and four blocks to lead the Thunder, who were of course without Harden due to that blow to the head.

7:15 L.A. tried to find some life, cutting the lead to 11 after Gasol’s hoop, but Fisher stepped into a three off an offensive board to push it back to 14, the road still looking long and hard on this Sunday.

3:18 The Lakers weren’t dead just yet, using two big three-pointers from Steve Blake to cut the Thunder lead down to just five. Coming back to potentially haunt the Lakers, however, was their free throw shooting, as they made only 18 of 30. Moments later, after Kobe dove full on into the courtside seats to save a possession (almost taking out Denzel and Flea), Ebanks cleared an offensive board, but missed another FT, his one cutting the lead to four.

1:21 Black Mamba. With 1:21 and then 52 seconds to play, Bryant nailed two massive top of the key three-pointers. The first was a running, one-legger to beat the shot clock, the second a pull-up over Sefolosha to put the Lakers suddenly up two points. Amazing to watch…

0:00 But it didn’t quite produce a win, as Westbrook drove full speed into the paint to get two free throws on consecutive trips, the latter two tying the game at 91. Bryant missed a tough shot on the other end, and Durant wasn’t close on a three at the buzzer, meaning: overtime.

1:40 Gasol and Bryant opened the OT with long jumpers from the perimeter, OKC continuing to struggle from the perimeter with Durant missing again, but Westbrook forced his way into the paint to score four more points, his layup tying things up at 97.

0:02.3 Mike Brown stayed with the group that got him there – Blake, Kobe, Ebanks, Hill and Gasol – and it was Ebanks contesting Durant’s final attempt, Durant’s dribble going off Ebanks’ foot, which got Westbrook a buzzer-beating chance off the inbounds pass that he missed. Double OT.

3:55 Gasol’s deep two preceded back to back three-pointers from Blake (with Westbrook flying at him) and Durant (to answer Blake). Durant had been only 9 of 30 from the field before hitting that shot, tying it up at 102.

1:54 Bryant nailed a Dirk-like fadeaway J to give the Lakers a two-point edge, but Durant answered less than a minute later to tie things up at 1:05, the NBA’s top two scorers trying to find the final edge … and Kobe struck next, nailing another tough shot, then converting two free throws in transition to put the Lakers up 108-104 with about 36 seconds left. Making two consecutive huge plays on defense was Ebanks, twice getting his hands in passing lanes, the second one resulting in his two foul shots on the other end (both makes) to put L.A. up 110-104 with 24 seconds left, all but sealing it.

0:00 What a game. On Kobe’s willpower, the Lakers came all the way back from a game that seemed long ago dead, getting six straight free throws in the final minute to seal the deal at 114-106. With the win, L.A. clinched at worst the No. 4 seed, and can get the No. 3 seed with either a win at Sacramento or a Clippers loss in any of their final three games. Kobe had 26 points, eight dimes and six boards, Gasol 20, 14 and 9, Jordan Hill 14 points and 15 boards and Steve Blake 13 points, five boards and three assists. We’ll see you next time.

LAL Magic Number for No. 3 Seed: 2

With the Lakers currently holding a .5 game lead over the Clippers for the Pacific Division title and No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, any combination of two Lakers wins or Clippers losses will do the job for the Purple and Gold.

LAL (40-26) finishes its regular season schedule with a home game at Oklahoma City (Sunday) and road game at Sacramento (Thursday), while the Clippers (39-26) face New Orleans at home before traveling to Atlanta and New York.

Should the teams end up with the same record, the Lakers will get the nod, as they defeated the Clippers 2-1 in the season series and therefore own the tiebreaker.

The scenarios:

- If the Clippers go 3-0, LAL must go 2-0 to clinch the No. 3 seed
- If the Clippers go 2-1, LAL can go 1-1 to clinch the No. 3 seed
- If the Clippers go 1-2, LAL can go 0-2 to win the Pacific*
- If the Clippers go 0-3, LAL automatically finishes ahead of LAC
*Stay tuned for how Memphis could sneak into the No. 3 seed.

It’s not out of the question for Memphis to leap ahead of the Lakers or the Clippers, however, as the 39-25 Grizzlies have two very winnable home games left against Cleveland and Orlando. That said, both the Lakers and Clippers have the tiebreaker over Memphis, so the Grizz would need the Lakers to lose both games while winning out, and the Clippers to lose two of three to move up.

In short: should the Lakers win one game and the Clippers win two, Memphis stays locked into the No. 5 seed.

Mavs/Nuggets Battle for No. 6 Seed
Whichever team clinches the No. 3 seed will face either Dallas (36-29) or Denver (35-28). Phoenix and Utah have no chance of grabbing the No. 6 seed, because even if the Mavericks lose their final game to match 30 losses of the Suns and Jazz, Dallas owns the tiebreaker over each. Alternatively, if Denver wins out and Dallas loses its final game, the Nuggets would have two fewer losses than Phoenix or Utah. Here are the remaining schedules in the push for the No. 6 slot:

Dallas: @ATL
Denver: ORL, @OKC, @MIN

Atlanta is essentially locked into the No. 5 seed with home court over Boston; the Celtics are the No. 4 having won the Atlantic Division, but have two more losses than Atlanta after their reserve-laden squad lost to Atlanta last night. In other words, the Hawks may not share the motivation of the Mavs in that final game.

If the Mavs do win in Atlanta, Denver would still have to go 3-0, since Dallas owns the tiebreak between the two. If Dallas should lose again, Denver can go 2-1. The Lakers could influence these proceedings as well, because if they beat OKC on Sunday, the Thunder have less incentive in their home game against Denver, since San Antonio will have a big edge for the top seed.

Should be fun … stay tuned!

LAL 97, SAS 121: April 20 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening road contest at San Antonio, the Lakers welcoming Kobe Bryant back after seven missed games for the rubber match with the Spurs, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Spurs: T. Parker, D. Green, K. Leonard, T. Duncan, T. Splitter

11:25 Well, that didn’t take long. On L.A’s first offensive possession, Bryant finished a pretty Gasol pass with a layup at the rim, plus the foul, to get L.A. off on the right foot. Player development coach Phil Handy told me that Bryant looked “100 percent” to him all week, and he’d know, because Handy played 1-on-1 games with Bryant and put Kobe through extensive workouts. He said Bryant scored on 17 of 30 possessions, despite almost constant fouls from Handy (Kobe likes to be played physically as he would be in games).

0:41.2 For the second time in about a minute, the Spurs corralled a 50-50 ball that should have been L.A.’s, and converted a field goal, maintaining the great shooting that had them at 68.2 percent by quarter’s end (15 of 22).

0:00 With that hot Spurs start, L.A. couldn’t be that upset about trailing by only seven, with Bynum’s buzzer-beating shot in the paint giving him 10 points in a 32-25 deficit. Having five free throws to S.A.’s was helpful, as well.

10:00 It was a great start to the second quarter for the Lakers, who capped a 9-0 run with Steve Blake’s open three on the wing, tying things up at 32. With Bryant’s return, Mike Brown can again play World Peace and Barnes with the second unit, which has been especially effective on defense with the length/tenacity of those two wings.

5:49 A pretty driving layup from Parker, so great in the game at L.A. (14 of 20 FG’s for 29 points with 13 assists) tied the game at 39, L.A.’s second group continuing to look good as Bryant rested on the bench. Kobe returned out of a time out, having taken four first quarter shots towards five points with a rebound. His presence helped Bynum have more room, though, as San Antonio was hesitant to leave Kobe for double teams.

1:43 The Spurs reeled off a 10-0 run, including two more triples (5 of 6 in the game) to open an 8-point lead, reclaiming the momentum L.A.’s second unit had created, as Bryant had yet to find a rhythm (1 of 5 after making his first at the rim) and Sessions was really struggling with just two points and no assists. However, a World Peace three and two Gasol free throws cut the margin to five (56-51) at the half, the Lakers still hanging tough.

8:00 Perhaps the biggest difference between L.A.’s big win at San Antonio last week and the Tuesday loss/tonight’s game has been Bynum’s lack of impact on the glass. Of course, the Spurs barely missing shots left few defensive boards to be had in the first place, but Bynum had no offensive rebounds on Tuesday and only one in this one, with the Spurs really focusing to put a body (or often two) on him.

3:58 A 14-4 Spurs run created a huge hole for a Lakers team that had battled to stay close despite continued red hot shooting for San Antonio, up to 63 percent in the game, their lead at 16.

0:00 Can’t emphasize enough how hot San Antonio continued to stay from the field. They made 13 of 17 shots before finally rimming out on a late three, scoring 35 points to L.A.’s 21 in the quarter to blow the game wide open, leading 91-73. Ginobili was the star of the quarter, scoring 10 of his 20 points, while Parker reached a 20-point, 10-assist double-double and Duncan looked like hologram 2003 Timmy, making 10 of 15 shots for 21 points and eight boards. The only upside from the third for L.A. was that Kobe found his rhythm, making five of six shots from all over the court to reach 18 points.

9:00 Ginobili continued his impressive individual game with a nasty bullet pass for a Splitter layup, his seventh assist in 25 minutes plus 20 points and six boards. Certainly earned his Subway Sub of the Game from Stu Lantz on KCAL 9.

6:00 This one was well over by the midway point, allowing Brown to pull Bynum and Bryant (30 minutes), Gasol (29) and World Peace (30), with Sessions staying in as his minutes were limited by early foul trouble trying to defend Parker. The Spurs led by as many as 25, despite L.A. taking that three-point lead early in the third quarter, putting things well on ice.

2:33 With the Spurs up 21, matching their final margin in the road win at L.A. on Tuesday, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock were the final two subs to enter. McRoberts hit a three and Goudelock a floater, but San Antonio continued to hit as they had all game, finishing at 61 percent to finish off a 121-97 victory, L.A.’s biggest loss of the season. L.A. has just two games left, trying to hold onto the No. 3 seed, starting with Sunday’s home contest against Oklahoma City. See you there.

World Peace Rising

With Kobe Bryant’s imminent return
on Friday at San Antonio, the minutes and shot dispersal of L.A.’s perimeter players that have stepped up in his absence will change … just not too much, Bryant hopes, particularly in the case of Metta World Peace.

We’ll get to MWP’s jump in production shortly, but even generally speaking, Bryant explained that he doesn’t want his teammates to play any differently than they did in his absence, so impressed was he with their performance in going 5-2.

“It’s been good to see how much guys have progressed, doing things they would ordinarily not try to do,” he said after the team’s Wednesday win at Golden State. “When I’m not out there, you have to do other things. You have to experiment with your game. They had a great deal of success with it.”

Bryant’s replacement in the starting line up, Devin Ebanks, averaged 25 minutes, 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds on 6.3 field goal attempts in doing precisely what was asked of him. Since Bryant averages 38.5 minutes per game, the 25 per from Ebanks left 13.5 additional minutes to disperse mostly between World Peace and Matt Barnes. With Kobe’s 28.1 points per game on 23 field goal attempts a night out of the line up, both wings filled the void by upping their production, with MWP carrying much of the burden:

World Peace: 36.4 minutes, 16.3 points, 12.7 field goal attempts
Barnes: 27.6 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 7.8 FGA’s

World Peace: 25.8 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 6.5 FGA’s
Barnes: 22.3 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 5.9 FGA’s

Can L.A. get that sustained production and aggressive nature from World Peace once Bryant returns as the primary perimeter focus?

Bryant thinks so.

In his much-celebrated role as positive/extremely well-dressed assistant coach, Kobe surely noticed how effective World Peace has been, and has acknowledged how much more dangerous the Lakers are when MWP plays with that edge on offense.

In fairness, the rise of World Peace didn’t come out of nowhere; it didn’t start when Kobe went out. In fact, World Peace upped his shooting from 34 percent before the All-Star break to 43 percent since, and dropped 23 points on 8 of 13 FG’s in the game before Kobe went out. Indeed, MWP’s play has steadily improved as the season has worn on, due in no small part to his body getting in increasingly better shape after an injury-plagued offseason that made it difficult for him to train as he normally would.

“Even with Kobe returning, Metta will be more aggressive since he’s continued to get into better shape,” said Lakers player development coach Phil Handy. “I don’t see that changing over the rest of the season. Metta’s goal was to be in tip-top shape by the time the playoffs started, and that’s exactly what he’s done.”

The increase in minutes and field goal attempts has helped all the more, and not just physically.

“We’ve just been finding out a lot of things about ourselves,” Peace explained. “I had to do this when I was in Sacramento with Kevin Martin and John Salmons. I had to sit out some games sometimes. I was scoring a lot but I didn’t see what other guys could do and I wasn’t giving other guys the opportunity.

“Then I realized that these guys could really play and then that grew confidence in guys. It’s the same situation. (Kobe is) seeing something.”

With that said, no one’s more excited than World Peace for No. 24′s return.

“I can’t wait to have Kobe back, I just can’t wait,” he said. “I’ll be so happy to have him back and get him back in shape. I came here to play with Kobe. I know what type of player Kobe is and I want to win some rings and that’s why I came to Los Angeles. I can’t wait until he’s back.”

On Friday, Peace will get his wish, and if MWP plays like he’s been playing, so will Bryant.

Kobe Bryant Set to Return

Kobe Bryant is ready to put his No. 24 jersey back on.

After seven missed games due to tenosynovitis of the shin dating back to April 7, Bryant told reporters following L.A.’s win at Golden State that he’d play at San Antonio on Friday.

“Why not?” he said in the tunnel outside the visitor’s locker room. “I’m good.”

So good, in fact, that he came out of an intense pregame workout that included running and jumping at full speed with no pain. He said that, if needed, he could play all 48 minutes against the Spurs.

In the meantime, Bryant has appreciated what his teammates have done to win five of the seven Kobe-less contests, including Wednesday’s 99-87 victory featuring Pau Gasol’s 22-11-11 triple-double.

“It’s been good to see how much guys have progressed, doing things they would ordinarily not try to do,” he said. “When I’m not out there, you have to do other things. You have to experiment with your game. They had a great deal of success with it.”

Bryant mentioned Metta World Peace, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake individually picking their games up on the perimeter in his absence, and said he hopes each will continue to be aggressive when he returns to the floor.

Kobe will have three games (at San Antonio, vs. Oklahoma City and at Sacramento) to find his rhythm heading into the postseason, which worries him not even a little.

“I’m good,” he repeated, with a somewhat sly grin. He knows that the 12 days of rest didn’t just help his shin heal, but the rest of his body. He knows that only Kevin Love and Luol Deng averaged more than his 38.5 minutes per game, and this in his 16th NBA season.

Bryant does hold a narrow lead over Kevin Durant for the scoring title, with 28.1 per night compared to Durant’s 27.8, and while you think he’d like to come out on top of that race, the only thing that’s really on his mind is chasing a sixth championship.

Starting on Friday.

***UPDATE*** – Kobe will indeed start against San Antonio, which he confirmed after the team’s Friday shootaround. He felt no pain after his complete workout prior to Wednesday’s game and is ready to go full speed.

LAL 99, GSW 87: April 18 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening road contest at Golden State, the Lakers looking to bounce back from a home loss to San Antonio, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Ebanks*, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Warriors: C. Jenkins, K. Thompson, D. Wright, J. Tyler, M. Gladness
*For the seventh straight game, L.A. would play without Kobe Bryant (shin), but the Warriors injury situation was even more dire: no Steph Curry, David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Richard Jefferson or Andris Biedrins, meaning that four rookies would start (all but Wright).

5:32 L.A. opened up by scoring with relative ease in the paint, scoring 10 of 15 points inside, but the defense wasn’t quite as inspired, allowing 15 points to the Warriors in an early tie game.

0:00 The lead was six after one quarter, L.A. shooting an impressive 60 percent but allowing 50 percent field goals to Golden State. Bynum was the big story, as he rolled off 13 straight points for the Lakers to reach 17 in the game, scoring easily inside on 7 of 8 field goals and 3 of 3 free throws. World Peace added seven points of his own and Gasol six in the period.

6:00 The Lakers pushed the lead up to 17 behind a strong second unit performance, a 47-30 margin coming thanks in part to triples from Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, and excellent all-around play from Gasol.

2:39 Golden State responded with an 11-1 run with L.A. missing some easy shots, and Sessions converting only one of four straight free throws, giving us a 48-39 margin with a few to go in the second. L.A. had controlled the half, but was starting to play with fire.

0:00 The lead was trimmed still further when Richard Jefferson hit a jumper, cutting it to six, though two more Bynum free throws (five of five in the half) combined with his 9 of 11 field goals to give him 23 points, and the Lakers a 56-48 lead at the break. The Warriors weren’t boasting many guys with offensive firepower, but all nine guys that played scored at least one field goal in a solid team effort.

10:38 L.A.’s coaches stressed “maintaining focus” coming out of the halftime tunnel, none too pleased with the Lakers getting their 17-point lead cut in half, and we saw better play out of the gate, with World Peace and Bynum notching field goals before 3 of 4 free throws from Ebanks and Gasol (2 of 2), pushing the lead up to 63-48.

4:54 The lead was at 16 as Gasol neared a triple-double, totaling 16 points, eight assists and seven boards, and Bynum had 29 points on an uber efficient 11 of 13 field goals plus seven of seven foul shots. The defense had improved from the second quarter, as well, as L.A. tried to prevent yet another close game.

0:00 A 28-19 edge in the third provided a cushy 17-point lead heading into the final quarter, with L.A. controlling tempo quite well and continuing to pound the ball inside, 12 minutes more to go to stay a half game ahead of the Clips in the race for the No. 3 seed.

10:03 Gasol was real close to a triple-double in the first three quarters, so with one assist and one rebound in the first two minutes of the fourth, he had his fifth career TD, dominating the Warriors from all over the court. He’d finally check out after 36 minutes at the 5:24 mark, with 22 points, 11 boards and 11 rebounds, his team up 23 points.

4:19 Your crew for the final five minutes: Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Devin Ebanks, Troy Murphy and Josh McRoberts. And it was Morris notching the team’s 34th assist of the evening on a pass to a cutting Ebanks, surpassing 33 notched at Portland on March 23.

0:00 The Warriors scored the final nine points with L.A.’s subs in to make it look better than it was, a final score of 99-87 in a game L.A. led by as many as 23. Gasol’s triple-double was the highlight, while Bynum scored 30+ points yet again, in efficient fashion (12 of 14 and 7 for 7).

L.A.’s next one should be fun, a road tilt at San Antonio that not only serves as the rubber match for the season series and affects playoff positioning, but comes with the expectation that Kobe Bryant will return after a seven-game absence. We’ll see you there.

Bryant to Miss 7th Straight Game

Kobe Bryant is unlikely to play in L.A.’s Wednesday evening contest at Golden State, which will be the seventh consecutive contest he’s missed due to tenosynovitis of the shin.

The Lakers have had mixed results with Bryant out, going 4-2 thanks to an impressive four-game winning streak (@ NOH, @ SAS, vs. DEN. vs. DAL) but suffering the team’s two biggest losses of the season at the front and back ends, losing at Phoenix by 20 on April 7 and by 21 to San Antonio on Tuesday evening.

“He always makes a difference,” said head coach Mike Brown after the Spurs game. “Whether you win or lose, his presence is always felt. He’s a guy that can feel or understand tempo; he may or may not say anything to our guys, but the way he helps control it is he may run to the block and ask for it and get the guys to settle down. It calms everybody down.”

Bryant has continued to improve while trying to get back onto the court, walking and shooting with no pain, with running and jumping sans pain being next on head athletic trainer Gary Vitti’s checklist for No. 24′s return.

“He’s done some on-court stuff,” said Brown. “We’re still taking it day by day … there’s a lot of progress that is being made, which is good.”

Brown explained that Bryant’s feel for the game is “so great,” that he’s not too concerned about bringing him back into the fold, whether it’s two games or four games before the playoffs start. And while the Lakers would like to secure the No. 3 seed, which they hold by a half game (plus the tiebreaker) over the Clippers, making sure Bryant is healthy upon returning is the greater priority.

“If (finishing ahead of the Clippers) was our goal, then we’d be trying to rush Kobe back, but the reality of it is, whether we finish first, second, third, fourth, fifth, it doesn’t matter,” said Brown. “I feel like this team is confident enough and good enough to win on anybody’s floor. Now we’re not going to relinquish anything that we have control over. If it happens that we slide down, then we slide down. We’ll play anybody wherever, whenever.”

Bryant’s next chance to play will come at San Antonio on Friday evening.

***UPDATE***: Bryant went through full speed drills several hours prior to Wednesday’s game at Golden State, and responded pain free to running and jumping, which was the next step in his process towards a return. Bryant will be re-evaluated on Thursday to ensure that he continues to feel good before a decision is made about his playing on Friday.

LAL 91, SAS 112: April 17 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening home contest against San Antonio, the Lakers looking for a fifth straight victory without Kobe Bryant, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Sessions, Ebanks, World Peace, Gasol and Bynum
Spurs: T. Parker, D. Green, K. Leonard, T. Duncan, T. Splitter*
*Looking to better match up with the Lakers, Gregg Popovich started Brazilian Tiago Splitter instead of DeJuan Blair, going from 6-7 to 6-11.

9:16 The Lakers’ defense started very strong, allowing only a Parker jumper in the first four minutes while forcing three turnovers, while making 4 of 6 shots on the other end to take an early 8-2 lead. However, Tony Parker responded with consecutive jumpers that already gave him more field goals (3) than he managed against the Lakers in LAL’s win last week at San Antonio (2 for 12).

5:15 The Spurs continued to make jump shots, Parker hitting again and rookie Kawhi Leonard dropping a patented San Antonio corner three to give the Spurs their first lead at 15-13, which Gasol tied moments later with a long two-point jumper. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich explained before the game (among other things) why Gasol’s ability to shoot makes it so tough on defenses.

0:00 The Spurs played much more like the Spurs than they did in their home game against L.A., scoring 27 points on 12 of 21 field goals (57.1 percent), but they still had no answer for Bynum (not that anyone has of late), the center scoring 13 points on 6 of 9 field goals to put L.A. up 28-27 after one. P.S.: celeb watch included Jack, Denzel, Justin Bieber and Salma Hayek.

6:44 Gasol continued his excellent all-around play in Bryant’s absence by spurring a 6-0 run to tie the game at 37 all by himself, hitting two jumpers, swatting Duncan’s shot and finding Steve Blake for a jumper, his fourth assist to go with five boards and eight points.

3:00 The wheels came off rather suddenly for L.A., who inexplicably turned the ball over on five of six trips down the floor, the Spurs scoring every time, rolling off an 16-0 run to take a 57-41 lead. San Antonio did pick up its defensive pressure, but the turnovers were largely unforced, varying from overthrown passes to mishandled passes and everything in between. By halftime, the score was 63-47, only because Sessions got a buzzer-beating layup to fall when San Antonio finally missed a shot.

0:00 During those final six minutes, the Lakers allowed the Spurs to hit 11 consecutive shots, the transition defense terrible after so many turnovers. They seemed almost confused at what was going on, having really controlled each of their four consecutive wins since Bryant’s been out, and didn’t respond to San Antonio’s pressure in the least. Parker led the way with 19 points on 9 of 13 field goals.
Continue reading ‘LAL 91, SAS 112: April 17 Running Diary’

Opposing Coach View: Gregg Popovich

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held his usual pregame presser prior to the Lakers’ Tuesday evening tilt against San Antonio, producing enough interesting comments to relay:

- Popovich opened by answering a question about whether or not his three best players (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) would play, given the fact that the Spurs are in a back-to-back-to-back, though all three played limited minutes in a Monday win: “Everyone’s available and ready to go … they were available and ready to go last time we played, and we got humiliated, so I figure we better at least have them all.”

- When asked about how much Duncan gets his coaching on, the question regarding how active Kobe Bryant has been in recent games, Pop quipped: “Duncan doesn’t let me say a word most of the time. He’s been a thorn in my side for 15 years, and I don’t know how much longer I can take it.” How does Popovich deal with it? “I’m a hell of a guy.”

- Several questions followed about his philosophy on sitting guys, which basically comes down to taking the long view. He’s more interested in health than seeding: “You don’t want to win the battle and lose the war.”

- On the emergence of Andrew Bynum: “He looks like a totally different player to me. He looks so much more confident … he almost has a sign on his head like, ‘I’ve arrived.’ He’s confident in knowing what he can do, and the team knows what he can do, so you see him down low – it’s a great inside-out team. We used to play inside-out to that degree when Timmy was younger for obvious reasons, and Bynum is showing that there’s a reason they’re throwing him the ball down there so much. He’s done a great job.”

- On how that brings Gasol out to the perimeter more: “It just makes them that much more difficult to guard. He’s gone from the 5 position in some ways to the shooting 4 to some degree – not totally like a Matt Bonner – but he’s versatile. He can get it on the post or he can be that 4 man that spreads the court, so it makes them really, really dangerous and difficult to guard.”

- On what Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw have added to the Spurs: “Stephen adds an edge. He’s a player that’s been here before, knows our team and our system and is real close to Timmy, Manu and Tony. I like his grit, his edge. It’s something we can use on our club. And Boris is one of those high intelligence, IQ guys. He understands the game really well and can help in a lot of different ways. It adds to the overall sense of the team.