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Playoff Podcast: Chocolate Thunder

dawkThe creator of “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam” slam dunk, NBA legend Darryl Dawkins, joined us on Tuesday afternoon for the latest Lakers.com Playoff Podcast.

Dawkins, who will be in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday May 22-23 as the NBA Nation Ambassador, joined us to detail the weekend’s events at Universal City Walk Hollywood, and went on to offer a name for Shannon Brown’s near monster jam on Jason Richardson, to describe his playing days against Magic, Worthy, Kareem and the Showtime Lakers, to talk about meeting Kobe Bryant as a young kid and more.

To listen, click below:

Bryant Makes All-NBA First Team, Gasol Third

The NBA announced on Thursday that Kobe Bryant was selected to the All-NBA First Team for the fifth straight season and eighth time in his career, while teammate Pau Gasol was named to the Third Team.

Kobe finished fourth in the league in scoring (27.0 ppg), and averaged 5.4 assists and 5.0 rebounds in the regular season. He was selected as an All-Star starter for the 12th straight time, and led the Lakers to a Western Conference-best 57-25 record. Tim Duncan is the only active player with more First Team selections (nine), while Shaquille O’Neal also has eight.

Gasol made the third team despite missing 17 games in the regular season due to hamstring strains on respective legs, averaging 18.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.74 blocks while making his second straight and third overall All-Star appearance. The Spaniard tied Carlos Boozer for fifth in the NBA on the glass, eighth in blocked shots and 12th in field goal percentage (53.6 percent).

LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade join Bryant on the First Team, while Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Nowitzki made the Second Team. Gasol is flanked by Tim Duncan, Andrew Bogut, Joe Johnson and Brandon Roy.

For more details on the All-NBA teams, head over to Lakers.com.

Lakers.com Podcast: Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports

marcspearsLongtime NBA writer Marc Spears, currently covering hoops nationally for Yahoo! Sports, joined us on Wednesday afternoon for the latest Lakers.com Playoff Podcast.

Spears shared some of his travel secrets from years on the beat (do not fly in on the day of a game) and mentioned his most underrated NBA cities (Salt Lake City, anybody?), offered some names on his “Favorite Players to Interview” list (like Yao Ming), detailed why he thinks Andrew Bynum could dominate for years (underrated offensive skills) and more.

To listen, just click below.

For more, head over to our Lakers 2010 Playoff Central page, or follow Mike on Twitter on the @LakersReporter account.

Bryant named to 10th All-NBA Defensive Team

60355875The NBA announced on Wednesday morning that Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team for the 8th time in his career and for the fifth straight season.

Bryant, voted to the first team in 2000, ’03, ’04, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09 by the NBA’s head coaches, was also named to the second team twice (2001 and ’02) for a total of 10 times in his 14 seasons.

Despite a terrific individual season on D, L.A. forward and defensive specialist Ron Artest didn’t receive enough points* to make the second team, earning 13 points, one fewer than Oklahoma City’s Thabo Sefolosha (14) for the final spot on the Second Team.
*Two points were given for a first team vote, one for a second team vote.

Lamar Odom received one first team vote, Pau Gasol one second team vote and Bryant 13 first team and eight second team votes (34 points) to round out the total margin for L.A.

To read the full release, CLICK HERE to head over to Lakers.com.

Artest 6th, Bryant 12th in Defensive POY Voting

D072184014.jpgDwight Howard won his second straight Defensive Player of the Year Award on Tuesday morning, as announced by the NBA, while two Lakers – Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant – finished sixth and 12th, respectively.

Artest garnered seven second place votes (three points) and six third place notches (one points) for a total of 29 points, while Bryant garnered one second place vote and six third place nods for nine points.

Here’s the list of those receiving at least seven total points (five for first place, three for second, one for third)

Dwight Howard, 576 (110 first place votes)
Josh Smith, 136
Gerald Wallace, 113
LeBron James, 61
Rajon Rondo, 55
Ron Artest, 29
Andrew Bogut, 23
Thabo Sefolosha, 20
Anderson Varejao, 18
Dwyane Wade, 13
Marcus Camby, 13
Kobe Bryant, 9
Shawn Marion, 8
Tim Duncan, 7

Oklahoma City, Portland or San Antonio?

D071348029.JPGQ: Which 49-31 team will be L.A.’s first round opponent:
A) Oklahoma City
B) Portland
C) San Antonio

Well … we don’t know yet. But we could after Monday night’s games. Here are the respective remaining schedules of OKC, POR and S.A., which take place on Monday and Wednesday:

Thunder: at Portland, Memphis
Blazers: Oklahoma City, Golden State
Spurs: Minnesota, at Dallas

As if turns out, if Portland can beat Oklahoma City at home tonight without Brandon Roy and the Spurs take care of Minnesota at home, L.A. would play the Thunder in Round 1.

That’s the most simple answer.

Such would be the case in part due to tiebreakers, since San Antonio already holds that advantage over the Thunder, and Portland would as well with a victory. In other words, if that Monday scenario holds up, the Blazers and Spurs could both lose their final game even if OKC beat Memphis and steer clear of the Lakers.

However, if the Thunder happen to beat Portland, throw all that out of the window, because the Lakers won’t know whom they’ll play until the last day of the regular season on Wednesday.

Any of the three teams that wins its final two games will of course be safe from No. 8, but not all three could lose their final two since Portland and OKC go head-to-head. Here’s a look at some other options:

60000698How the Thunder would be No. 8
- Lose at Portland with San Antonio winning one of two games.

How the Blazers would be No. 8
- Lose vs. OKC and win against Golden State if San Antonio wins both of its games.

How the Spurs would be No. 8
- Beat Minnesota but lose at Dallas (who could be fighting for the No. 2 seed) with OKC beating Portland and Memphis (Portland has the tiebreaker over San Antonio so they’d only need to win one of two games should San Antonio drop one of two games).

In other words: who knows. We’ll just have to wait until the OKC – MEM, POR – G.S. and S.A. – DAL games shake out, then take a look at the tiebreak rules below.

NBA.COM TIEBREAK RULES
If all three teams split their two remaining games to finish at 50-32, the below rules would come into play:

a. Two Teams Tied b. More Than Two Teams Tied
(1) Better winning percentage in games against each other. (1) Better winning percentage in all games among the tied teams.
(2) Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if tied teams are in same division). (2) Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if all tied teams are in the same division).
(3) Better winning percentage against teams in own conference. (3) Better winning percentage against teams in own conference.
(4) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position). (4) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position).
(5) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in opposite conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position). (5) Better net result of total points scored less total points allowed against all opponents (“point differential”).
(6) Better net result of total points scored less total points allowed against all opponents (“point differential”).

Race For Second Place

59329474With L.A.’s loss in New Orleans on Monday night, the task of catching Cleveland for the NBA’s best regular season record grew increasingly difficult, if even possible.

The Cavs hold a four-game lead over the Lakers with eight to play for each, putting the magic number for Cleveland (a combination of Lakers losses and Cavs wins) at four. Meanwhile, L.A.’s lead over Orlando for the second-best overall record is at two games, the Lakers also holding a five-game edge over Dallas out West:

League Standings
1) Cleveland (58-16), 0.0 Games back
2) L.A. Lakers (54-20), 4.0
3) Orlando (52-22), 6.0
4) Dallas (49-25), 9.0

Last season, the Cavs edged out the Lakers for home court advantage throughout the playoffs by one game (66 wins to 65), while L.A. had a 6-game edge on Orlando. That ended up being the key, since the Magic handled Cleveland 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, even without point guard Jameer Nelson. This season, Orlando added Vince Carter, Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes, while Cleveland acquired Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison.

While the Lakers have certainly proven an ability to win in Orlando after the 4-1 Finals series that saw two straight road wins clinch the franchise’s 15th title, holding home court is of course preferable. Here are the remaining eight games for both teams:

L.A. Lakers Final 8: @ Atlanta, Utah, San Antonio, @ Denver, @ Minnesota, Portland, Sacramento, @ L.A. Clippers

Orlando Magic Final 8: @ Dallas, @ San Antonio, Memphis, Washington, New York, @ Cleveland, @ Indiana, Philadelphia

Playoff Picture (March 29)

59919545As the 2009-10 regular season draws to a close, the playoff picture in the West remains nearly as difficult to predict as the NCAA Tournament has been this March (you didn’t have Butler and Michigan State in your Final Four, did you?).

Perhaps the only thing that appears a sure thing for the Lakers is that they’ve more than likely locked up the No. 1 seed thanks to a 6.0 game lead on second place Dallas and 6.5 game edge on both Denver and Utah with just nine games to play. In fact, L.A. would need to lose at least six of their nine games to join Dallas with 25 losses and give the Mavs a chance at going undefeated.

It’s just as likely that Memphis (38-25) doesn’t catch San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Portland, all of whom are 9.5 games back of L.A., for the final playoff spot, so these appear to be the eight teams in the mix.

Western Conference Playoff Standings (Team, Record, Percentage, Games Back)
1) L.A. Lakers (54-19, .740, 0.0)
2) Dallas (48-25, .658, 6.0)
3) Denver (48-26, .649, 6.5)
4) Utah (48-26, .649, 6.5)
5) Phoenix (48-26, .649, 7.0)
6) San Antonio (48-28, .611, 9.5)
7) Oklahoma City (44-28, .608, 9.5)
8) Portland (45-29, .649, 9.5)

As you can tell, L.A. could realistically play … well … anybody in the first round. The final three teams do (Spurs, Thunder, Blazers) appear the most likely, while OKC and S.A. have far more difficult schedules than does Portland.

Spurs: @ Nets, Houston, Orlando, @ Lakers, @ Sacramento, @ Phoenix, Memphis, @ Denver, Minnesota, @ Dallas
Note: Four really tough road games isn’t ideal for Gregg Popovich and Co., but the Spurs did just smack the Celtics around in Boston.

Thunder: @ Philly, @ Boston, @ Dallas, Minnesota, @ Utah, Denver, Phoenix, @ Golden State, @ Portland, Memphis
Note: Aside from Minny, even their home games are tough, with Denver, Phoenix and Memphis heading into OKC to face a team making its first playoff push.

Trail Blazers: NY Knicks, @ Denver, @ Sacramento, @ L.A. Clippers, Dallas, @ L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, Golden State
Note: With how tough OKC’s schedule is, that second-to-last game in Portland could be the Trail Blazer’s chance to stick the Thunder in the eight spot for good.

Stay tuned over the next two weeks as things fall into place; of course, the Lakers may not know whom they’ll see until the final day of the regular season on April 14.

Ginobili’s EuroStep

60000698During L.A.’s impressive 92-83 victory in San Antonio on Wednesday night, we were reminded of something we’ve known for years: watching Manu Ginobili play basketball is fun.

The Argentinean-bred All-Star has a style that’s really unlike that of any other NBA player, and his most notable move is the “EuroStep.” Let’s try a rough description in words: an extra change of direction where one steps in one direction with one foot and the other with the opposite foot to culminate a dribble move to the basket once the ball has already been picked up (you can watch by CLICKING HERE). That work? Kind of?

Before the game, I asked Phil Jackson if the EuroStep could be taught to other players or if it was a more instinctive move, noting how good Ginobili is at executing it. Here’s what Jackson had to say:

There is a certain kind of a move that was brought by the European players to the NBA and that’s picking the dribble up and taking the extra step, and they don’t count that as a step (for a travel). A lot of European players* have really done a great job with it and Ginobili is probably the best because he can change directions on his drive with the ball off the floor in his hands. Kobe has messed around with it. We’ve had a number of guys mess around with it and try to get after it, but (Ginobili) is the best.

*Obviously, Jackson’s aware that Ginobili is from Argentina, but he played professional ball in Italy, where he was a star.

Makes sense. We also had a chance to speak with Ginobili about it before the game, after he got through a series of shooting drills, to clarify:

MT: How did your version of the EuroStep start?
Ginobili: I really don’t know when it started. But I know that nobody taught it to me. I found it naturally while trying to get to the rim. It just happened.

MT: Phil Jackson said that you were the best in the league at it, but it seems like more and more players are trying to add it to their game. Who else do you notice specifically:
Ginobili: I think Dwyane Wade has an unbelievable one because of his strength. He is able to go up after it, which is not easy. I usually go to the sides, but he can go to the side and up. The thing is, I usually don’t have to the strength to go up after (the hop).

MT: Kind of like on a triple jump, it gets harder with each step?
Ginobili: Yes, something like that. Wade is impressive because of his athletic ability. That’s the one I see.

MT: Your teammate Tony Parker has a nice Euro step too, right? Did you teach him?
Ginobili: Tony does it great. I didn’t teach him, but he developed it (in San Antonio). But he doesn’t have that extra (burst), he does it with speed.

MT: Jordan Farmar told me that he’ll sometimes get called for a travel when doing it and sometimes not. Do you ever consider it a travel?
Ginobili: I don’t know, I don’t even think about it. I’ve gotten called a few times, but it’s not something that’s going to affect the way I do it because I don’t think I travel. The times I get called, it’s not even close.

After the EuroStep convo, we snuck a question in about whether or not L.A. was to Ginobili the clear favorite in the West:

Ginobili: Yes. The most steady, the deepest. Dallas and Denver have had great seasons, but you’ll see them have (bad) losses. I think the Lakers are the best in terms of talent, size, and athleticism. But you can get one on the road and anything can happen … they can be beaten, but they’ve been the best. At this point, we’re not there yet. We’ve been so up and down.

Our next chance to see Ginobili’s EuroStep comes on April 4 at STAPLES Center.

Lakers Among League Leaders

59660853With LA’s unusual four-day break from games, we took a look at how some Lakers rank individually amongst the league leaders.

4th
Kobe Bryant’s rank in scoring, with 28.0 points per game.

6th
Andrew Bynum’s rank in field goal percentage with his solid 56.8 percent average.

7th
Pau Gasol’s rank in rebounding with 11.1 per game, though he has yet to qualify for the official leader board due to his 17 missed games.

10th
Bryant’s rank in minutes per game with a 38.6 average that he thinks will go down a bit leading into the playoffs (citing the 17 games missed by Gasol as increasing his early-season average).

Also, Gasol’s rank in blocked shots with his 1.82 per game, up from just 1.0 last season.

11th
Bryant’s rank in steals with his 1.67 per game.

12th
Lamar Odom’s rank on the glass with his 10.1 corralled per game.

17th
Bynum’s rank in blocked shots with his 1.47 swats per game.

19th
Gasol’s rank in field goal percentage with his 52.0 percent average, more impressive considering the amount of outside shots he takes in addition to his low post moves.

25th
Bryant’s league rank in assists, as his 4.6 dimes per game lead the Lakers, Gasol and Odom tied for second with 3.5 per game.

26th
Bynum’s rank in rebounding with 8.2 per game, an impressive number still considering the boards snatched away by Gasol and Odom.

29th
Artest’s rank in three-point shooting with his 39.2% from distance, tops on the team.