Tag Archive for 'Lakers'

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X-Rays Negative on Bryant’s Finger

Just over a minute into Monday’s 105-88 victory over Cleveland, Kobe Bryant tried to swipe the ball away from LeBron James, and ended up with a dislocated ring finger on his (right) shooting hand.

“It was really, really painful,” said Bryant after playing 41 minutes and amassing 20 points, 12 assists and five rebounds. But when asked if he’d miss any time due to the injury, Bryant was quite clear:

“No.”

Indeed, postgame X-rays of the finger were negative, which was both good and perhaps not surprising news since Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti had allowed Bryant to stay in the game.

“If Gary told me to get off the court, I would have,” Bryant explained. “Gary just popped it back into place, and then I was OK. It was just a normal finger.”

Normal looking perhaps, but certainly not feeling.

“I couldn’t get a good feel for my stroke, so I’m going to have to get in the gym a little bit, shoot and adjust my stroke a little bit,” Bryant added.

Kobe will have a full day to do as much prior to Wednesday’s contest against the Clippers, but for tonight, Lakers fans can exhale a sigh of relief.

Lakers – Cavs: Pregame

After facing title contenders like Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, Utah, New Orleans and Houston, the Lakers get a shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers Monday night at STAPLES Center.

To get you ready, Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen – who prepared L.A.’s scouting report on Cleveland – talked about the opponent’s depth, how his squad plans to play LeBron, the addition of point guard Mo Williams and more.

Here’s a link to the video:

FRANK HAMBLEN ON CLEVELAND

The Eagles Coulda Used Kobe

Kobe EaglesWhen Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb tried to bring his Eagles back from a 32-25 deficit during Sunday’s NFC Championship game, little did he know that his best receiving option was driving home from practice in Los Angeles.

“I’d be a wide receiver,” said the 6-6, 205-pound Kobe Bryant. “I’d be a bad (man) too.”

The conversation started when Bryant grew slightly tired of answering the expected questions about his good friend LeBron James after Sunday’s practice, and was instead eager to talk about his favorite football squad, who ended up losing a chance at the Super Bowl.

Go ahead, Kobe…

“No more red zone issue,” he explained. “Just throw it over the top. I’m (Randy) Mossin’ it.”

When you think about it for a second, it’s really not that far-fetched.

Freakishly athleticism: Check.
Great size: Check
Shiftiness: Check
Strength: Check
Savvy: Check
Intelligence: Check
Experience: OK, maybe not
Confidence: Um, yup…

But could he turn routine catches into six points?

“I’ve got that, man, I got all that,” was the response. “I’m physical as (heck).”

Sorry. But what if Lamar Odom’s your QB? He claims he could play at that level, you know…

“If Lamar’s quarterback, I’m not playing,” stated the MVP (of the NBA). “He’d try to run all the time, he ain’t got no arm. His arm ain’t strong enough.”

But really, Kobe. Seriously, could you play in the NFL right now?

“Of course,” he knew (for a fact). “Throw that ball up there, I’ll go get it. Knock my head off … I enjoy it, I love it.”

OK then. We’re not betting against you.

Too bad McNabb didn’t know…

Lakers Preparing for LeBron, Cavs

Best in the East?
Perfect 80 degree weather and the NFC Championship game (see: Kobe’s insistence that his Eagles t-shirt hang from his locker) didn’t keep the Lakers out of the gym on Sunday afternoon, not with LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers coming into town on Monday.

Cleveland is perhaps the last, if not the best, contender for the championship trophy that the L.A. has yet to play. After all, the purple and gold have already seen Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, New Orleans, Utah and Houston (and even Denver and Phoenix).

Why are the 31-7 Cavs so dangerous? The very obvious answer is LeBron’s 27.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.3 blocks and All-First Team defense.

“(James has) made some improvements, in terms of protecting the lane, getting out in passing lanes, but he’s his usual stellar self,” said Kobe Bryant after practice. “I’m a big fan of his … I think he’s terrific.”

Kobe conceded that LeBron’s Olympic experience probably helped spur his defense on this season, and also said that he will “definitely” guard James at times during Monday’s game.

But it’s anything but a one-man team in Cleveland … LeBron’s been boosted by the presence of Mo Williams – a free agent acquisition from Milwaukee – who has taken some of the ball-handling pressure off James, and is a terrific perimeter shooter.

“He’s a big help, a legitimate scoring threat,” said Kobe of Williams. “He’s a person you have to identify, and we played him last year when he was in Milwaukee and he gave us fits.”

Throw in some other smooth shooters like Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Booby Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic, plus three bigs who play good defense – Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao – and your squad’s looking strong to quite strong.

On Monday, however, the Cavs will be without two starters: Ilgauskas, who’s been on the shelf with a bad ankle, and West, who broke his wrist against Chicago last week.

Walton Goes Through Full Practice, But Won’t Start
Luke Walton completed his first full practice since missing the last eight games due to his foot injury.

“You can run all day but until you’ve actually played defense, switched, gone over screens and rebounded, it’s not the same,” said Walton. “It felt great, it didn’t hurt at all.”

Though Walton was very effective against Cleveland last season, Phil Jackson will continue to start Vladimir Radmanovic.

“Last year, I thought Luke did a really good job on (James) when he played him,” said Jackson. “(But) he’s still feeling his way a little bit.”

Sasha Finds Shooting Touch
Phil Jackson liked what he saw from Sasha Vujacic at Sunday’s practice: “He was shooting the ball (well) and looks like he’s back in rhythm,” explained the coach.

“I’m glad he said that,” said Vujacic. “It’s definitely good to be back … I’m feeling good. (The Lakers training staff) has been huge in getting me ready to play, and I’m 100 percent right now.”

With Vujacic and Walton both feeling much better, L.A. finally has 13 players healthy, and is waiting only on Farmar to boast its full complement of players.

Lakers 103, Magic 109: Postgame

Jameer NelsonJust two days after suffering a last-second loss in San Antonio, the Lakers again fell victim to an opponent’s last-minute heroics as Jameer Nelson’s second three-pointer in the final 1:26 ultimately spelled L.A.’s doom on Friday night at STAPLES Center.

Kobe Bryant had a chance to tie the game on a terrific look from three with 10.1 seconds left on the clock, but rimmed out for the ninth time in 12 fourth quarter shots, putting a damper on his 15th career triple-double.

“I had a great look, great, great look and it just didn’t want to stay down for me,” explained Bryant, who finished with 28 points, 13 boards and 11 assists.

In a crazy, fast-paced fourth quarter, the lead changed 15 times and the Magic canned 5-of-8 threes that proved deadly. Lamar Odom had a terrific game off the bench with 17 points and nine rebounds – 10 and five of which were in the fourth quarter – but he did miss 3-of-5 free throws in the fourth. The Magic countered with 25 points and 20 boards from Dwight Howard and 28 points with eight dimes from the playing-like-an-All-Star Nelson.

Yet as a team, after holding Orlando to 44 points in the first half, the Lakers allowed 65 in the second, due in part simply to a more energetic Magic squad and perhaps to some tired legs resulting from seven tough games in 11 days, all of which were closely contested.

Let’s review: After a close loss to the Hornets on Jan. 6, L.A. came from behind to beat Golden State on the road; two days later they got a final seconds jumper from Bryant to beat Indiana; Then came a tip in from Andrew Bynum to beat Miami last Sunday; Next a last-minute three again from Kobe to beat the Rockets in Houston on Tuesday, which preceded a last-second loss at San Antonio the next night; and finally came Friday night’s loss to the Magic.

As such, a banged up and weary Lakers team went 4-3 against some of the league’s better competition, and retained the best record in the Western Conference by 4.5 games over the second place Denver Nuggets.

Mercifully, L.A. has two days before its next game against Eastern Conference leading Cleveland, who come to Los Angeles for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day special on Monday.

A few numbers:

0
Fastbreak points for the Lakers, compared with 10 for the Magic.

Also the number of points for Sasha Vujacic in 13 minutes in his first game since missing the Texas trip.

3
Rebounds for Andrew Bynum, who had just four combined boards in L.A.’s two games in Texas.

5
Three-pointers dropped by the Magic in the fourth quarter after they’d made just 7-of-20 in the first three quarters. Jameer Nelson was a perfect 3-of-3 in the fourth, including the two last minute and change daggers, and finished with 15 final-quarter points.

5
Threes hit by Vladimir Radmanovic in the first three quarters for 15 points.

14
Orlando’s rebounding edge (54-40), signified most loudly by Howard’s 20 boards to Bynum’s three. Pau Gasol managed nine window cleans, while Bryant had a season-high 13, in part due to Orlando’s long-range shooting.

18
Combined missed free throws from both teams. Howard was the biggest culprit with seven misses, while Odom missed four for the Lakers.

39.8
L.A.’s shooting percentage for the game, due in part to a 9-for-26 (34.6 percent) clip in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant was 10-of-26.

Mbenga Pushing For Education in Congo

DJ MbengaYou haven’t heard much from D.J. Mbenga this season, as he’s buried behind Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom on L.A.’s bench.

But take a few moments to speak with him, and you immediately realize that he has a great deal to say, and not just about basketball.

Mbenga, who was born in Congo but forced to grow up in Belgium due to political circumstances in his home country, has an insatiable desire for learning, and spends much of his free time keeping up with the latest world news, particularly the largely dire situation in Congo. Indeed, when I stroll by Mbenga’s locker before most games, it’s not that night’s opponent but the latest news around which our conversations center, even if just for a minute.

Accordingly, prior to Tuesday night’s game in Houston, we began to talk about Congo since Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo is actually from the same town as D.J., and has served as Mbenga’s big brother since Mbenga came into the league. Mutombo’s done amazing things for his people in Africa, including putting a widely-reported $16 million of his own money to build a hospital.

And while Mbenga is extremely proud of Mutombo and will always look up to him, his focus is education.

“We’re trying to educate these people and especially these young kids,” Mbenga explained. “Even one dollar is a lot for someone over there, so that’s why we do everything we can … Education is very important. When you educate, you save the world.”

As such, Mbenga has actually set up a foundation – The Mbenga Foundation – specifically designed to help children in Africa, which you can link to below:

MBENGA FOUNDATION: Caring and Sharing

Here’s the audio from our conversation in Houston, in which Mbenga details the need for education in Congo and talks specifically about what he’s doing to extend a helping hand to his country.

Lakers 111, Spurs 112: Postgame

No one thought the Texas two-step through Houston and San Antonio was going to be easy, particularly with L.A.’s collection of injuries and the back-to-back situation.

How ’bout the opposite?

After the Lakers pulled out a final-seconds victory on Kobe Bryant’s three-point bomb against the Rockets on Tuesday, a worn-down Lakers team battled the Spurs to another final-second contest that was played so well it could have served as game seven of the Western Conference Finals.

Now, if I told you that Bryant turned Mamba again and dropped another contested triple with 12.0 seconds left to put L.A. up by two, would you be surprised?

Nope. Not at all.

But after that hammer, which capped a gutty run from 11-points down with 8:05 to play, the opponents struck back viciously. Not only did former Wizards castoff Roger Mason Jr. nail a deep jumper to tie the game with 10.5 seconds left, but he drew a foul and converted the free throw as Derek Fisher* went for the steal. In essence, Mason Jr. backed into Fisher, who was already behind him, drew the contact and went up with his 17-footer. Bucket.
*Fisher had left the game in the fourth quarter with a minor groin injury, and will be re-evaluated in L.A. … As if the Lakers can afford to lose another guard.

Suffice it to say that nobody in the AT&T Center was ready to celebrate (well, OK, maybe a few [all] of the screaming rubes couldn’t contain themselves), not with 10 seconds left and a Mamba lurking…

But after getting the ball on the wing, the Spurs quickly and aggressively brought a double-team towards Bryant, who consented to pass to a wide-open Trevor Ariza at the top of the key. Seeing a lane to the hoop, Ariza took one dribble and appeared to either slip or be tripped with less then a second on the clock. Free throws?

Nope. Traveling. Game over.

Alas, after eeking out final-minutes wins against Indiana, Miami and Houston in succession, the Lakers finally wound up on the wrong end of the final score in, again, an absolutely fantastic regular season game.

Both teams shot nearly 60 percent throughout the game (finishing at near the 57 percent mark, respectively) and got huge performances from several players: L.A. was led by 29 points and 10 assists from Bryant, 39 combined points from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on 14-of-25 from the field, and a great fourth quarter from subs Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom and Josh Powell. The Spurs countered with a near triple-double from Duncan (20, 10 and eight), 27 points off the pine from Manu Ginobili and 38 combined points from guards Tony Parker and Mason Jr.

The game was chalk full of game-changing shots, such as Ginobili’s triple that buzzer-beat the third quarter, three straight jumpers from Powell during L.A.’s 11-2 fourth quarter run to claim the lead, and the back-to-back cold-blooded J’s from Kobe and Mason Jr.

And that was only the second half. Needless to say, these two teams will see one another again.

Your numbers:

57.0
Shooting percentage for both teams in an extremely well-executed game.

56
Points in the paint for L.A., behind a terrific offensive effort from Bynum (9-of-15, 18 points) and Gasol (10-of-14, 21 points), despite San Antonio’s sound low-post defense.

27
Points off the bench from Manu Ginobili in easily his best game of the season. Ginobili hit four threes and had 19 of his points in the first half, plus three steals and three boards.

19
Three-pointers hit in the game as both teams shot at least 50 percent from three.

11
Free throw attempts by the Lakers, who had a really tough time getting calls throughout the evening. Most concerning to Phil Jackson was what may have been a trip on Ariza that wasn’t called in the final seconds, though road teams rarely get the benefit of the doubt in those types of situations.

6
Key points during L.A.’s 11-2 run to take the lead in the fourth quarter from reserve Josh Powell, all jumpers of the pick-and-pop variety.

5
Straight jumpers canned by Gasol in his 14-point first quarter to get the Lakers off on the right foot offensively.

2
Assists away from a triple-double for Tim Duncan, who put up 20 points and 10 rebounds with his eight dimes.

And finally…

1,000,000,000*
Sun Yue’s stat line for the second-straight night, putting him soundly in club trillion. To get into that exclusive club, one must play at least one minute, and not appear anywhere else on the stat sheet (points, field goal attempts, fouls, etc.), thus producing a 1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0 on the box score. Or, 2-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0, as was the case in Houston.
*Editor’s Note: Oh no!!! Sun came up with a steal that I missed at the time (a great play, which led to an Ariza layup), eliminating him from Club Trillion contention in San Antonio. Sorry, Sun, but at least you made it in Houston.

Lakers – Spurs Pregame

Odom Ready to Play
When asked how his knee responded to Tuesday evening’s win in Houston, Lamar Odom likened himself to Humpty Dumpy … You know, the whole fall-down-and-get-back-up-again thing.

Odom’s said he’s feeling “all right,” and will indeed face off against the Spurs (as expected), which is a good thing because Odom was terrific in the Western Conference Finals last season. He averaged nearly 13 points, 10 boards, three assists and over a block in L.A.’s 4-1 series win.

He’s particularly important in the matchup because the Spurs will occasionally go small with Duncan in the middle and Bruce Bowen or Kurt Thomas at the four, when Odom’s defensive versatility becomes a big factor.

Phil Jackson Pregame
A few bullet points from Phil’s pregame chat:

  • On the toughest thing about the Spurs: “One of the best things San Antonio does is coming out in the third quarter and having a really tremendous burst of energy … We have to be prepared for that.”
  • Jackson explained that the Spurs are still running the same things as they always have under Gregg Popovich, but that they probably shoot more threes.
  • Jackson didn’t take a reporter’s bait to go critical on Andrew Bynum, instead suggesting that he did “fine” against the Rockets last night despite foul trouble and just one rebound. Read into that as you will.
  • The Spurs really spread out the floor, Jackson said, meaning the Lakers may have to match their lineup.
  • Phil’s been impressed with Josh Powell’s ability, though at the same time, the Lakers did recognize Powell’s skill when they signed him.
  • Sasha Vujacic is still hurting back in Los Angeles, though his back spasms are dissipating.

  • Yao Looks Towards Sun

    Sun Yue Yao MingPrior to L.A.’s thrilling victory in Houston (get some, Kobe), we spent a few minutes asking Rockets center Yao Ming about his Chinese National Team cohort Sun Yue.

    Yao, ever gracious in conducting daily interviews not only with a full complement of Chinese journalists (there were nine or ten in Houston’s locker room) in his native language, but also a separate round for American reporters,* talked about knowing Sun since 2005, his raw talent, the difference between Yao/Yi Jianlian and Sun as well as the young point guard’s opportunity considering L.A.’s injuries.
    *Much like the equally gracious Pau Gasol, in fact, it you trade Chinese for Spanish.

    Here’s the audio:

    Perhaps the best part of Yao’s response came when I asked him about how Sun is off the court:

    “Look at my face, I’m already telling you,” said Yao while sporting a broad, beaming grin. “He’s very outgoing. He has a lot of friends on the National Team, no matter if (it’s) the young guys or the old guys. Overall, he’s a nice kid.”

    Lakers – Rockets Running Diary

    Kobe BryantAs always, feel free to refresh your browser for live updates throughout the game … On second thought, I guess they wouldn’t technically be “live” updates since you have to press refresh. But whatever.

    Previous Lakers – Rockets Running Diary/Postgame
    Lakers – Rockets Running Diary 11-09-2008
    Lakers 111, Rockets 82: Postgame

    Inactives
    Lakers: Jordan Farmar, Luke Walton
    Rockets: Ron Artest, Tracy McGrady, Joey Dorsey

    Pregame Notes
    1) Lamar Odom will play. That’s certainly the most important note.
    2) Tracy McGrady’s on the shelf for a few weeks, and even held a pregame press conference to talk about how he’s been playing hurt all year but didn’t want to come off the court. His health is certainly paramount to their playoff chances.
    3) Yao Ming gave me his take on Sun Yue both as a player and a person, and I’ll have a story on that tomorrow.
    4) D.J. Mbenga spent some time with me to talk about his relationship with fellow Congo native Dikembe Mutombo, whom he looks up to as a brother, and about their collective charitable work back in Africa. Mbenga’s primary focus is education, which I’ll also put something together about for tomorrrow.
    5) Finally, two on-the-court points:
    A) L.A. might be best served pounding the ball to Bynum and Gasol and letting the two seven-footers carry them offensively, since Bryant and Fisher might have to exert a good deal of effort in the absence of, basically, any other guards. Plus, Bynum’s had consecutive 20-point games, and Gasol’s due for a good offensive outing after struggling on Sunday.
    B) Watch out for Aaron Brooks, Houston’s jet-quick backup point guard who gave L.A. fits even with Farmar and Vujacic in the lineup.

    Starters
    Lakers: Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
    Rockets: Rafer Alston, Von Wafer (yup, that Von Wafer), Shane Battier, Luis Scola and Yao Ming

    First Quarter
    0:00 The Rockets were introduced with Biggy’s “Hypnotize” in the background, which I think should count for at least a point. Josh Powell would say “Bet” to that. However, since Houston’s mascot is a fuzzy grey bear (huh?), we’ll take the point away. What’s wrong with a Rocket?

    10:35 Skip To My Lou’s triple gave the Rockets an early 7-2 lead. Tell me you watched the original And-1 Mix Tape … Alston was dirtier than a booger-picking third grader’s fingers.

    6:08 L.A.’s best offensive player in the first six minutes? Vladimir Radmanovic, with seven points (including a triple). Vladi also grabbed four boards to build on his best game in a long time in Sunday’s win over Miami.

    5:19 Former Lakers second-round draft pick Von Wafer drills a triple to give Houston a 20-11 lead as the Rockets shot an on-fire 9-of-12 (75 percent) to start the game.

    3:47 Kobe’s deep jumper capped a quick 6-0 run to bring L.A. within three, despite L.A.’s poor shooting (6-of-14).

    1:52 There’s Lamar Odom. We’ll see how he looks… Also checking in was Trevor Ariza, who did nothing against the Heat thanks in part to foul trouble on Sunday.

    1:20 Odom took Scola to the hole on his first touch and missed, but Ariza was there for a put-back that made it 24-23 Rockets. One play is surely too early to judge, but Odom’s not moving gingerly or anything of the sort (I just judged I guess … whatever).

    1:02 Let’s take this timeout opportunity to let Ty Nowell know that Houston does carry Dr. Pepper in its media room (not to mention Strawberry Fanta). Nowell’s always complaining that STAPLES has been consistently putting out root beer instead of Dr. Pepper.

    50.5 L.A. takes its first lead on a Bryant jumper.

    0:01 After Skip scored in the paint to put Houston back up 26-25, Bryant missed a jumper at the buzzer.

    What Lakers fans shouldn’t like about the quarter is that Bynum struggled to 1-of-5 shooting with Yao’s length bothering him a bit (he even missed an alley-oop), though Pau was 2-of-3 and grabbed four boards. As a team, the Lakers shot 50 percent thanks to a better final six minutes, though Houston got through the quarter shooting 57 percent, led by Wafer’s nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. Well … he did can that corner three to beat Boston last week, so we’ll give him some credit. He’s also charged with guarding Bryant in the second quarter with Battier resting, which should be fun.
    Continue reading ‘Lakers – Rockets Running Diary’