Archives For April 2009

Michigan State vs. UConnESPN was in its infancy, the internet was a sparkle in Al Gore’s eye, the NBA was an afterthought or not thought of at all, and March had yet to go Mad. When March Went Mad by Seth Davis chronicles an important developmental era of basketball, and more specifically how its marketing and hype machine would evolve as seen through the prism of the 1979 Indiana State vs. Michigan State NCAA Final.

Most of us are familiar with Seth Davis from CBS and SI, but here Davis tries his hand at historian and myth maker. Davis lacks the story telling skills necessary to carry this flawed drama (the game itself an anticlimactic one), and it lacks a consistent tension to make this a truly riveting read. But the book is exhaustively researched, and the fact that neither Bird nor Johnson participated in the process allows for many unique viewpoints from several angles of perception of the events that unfolded.

Having the main characters absent would seem like a detriment to the process, but it actually allows for us to meet participants that have long been forgotten. From the coaches, to the role players, to the team managers, these secondary and tertiary characters help Davis mythologize the nexus of the personal rivalry that would translate into a rebirth of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the ’80’s.

College basketball has always been about programs. Modern sports programmers would have to be talked off the ledge if you told them that Michigan State would be paired with Indiana Sate in the final game with nary a Duke or North Carolina around to represent the powers that be. But they would be clicking their heels together in delight at the thought of a mano-a-mano battle between the two best players in the country, one having already been selected in the previous year’s draft by the evil genius of Red Auerbach and another poised to be picked first by the glamor franchise on the West Coast.

It a was time when the college game was a regional phenomenon. But Bird and Magic would usher in the modern age of basketball. They would be the ones who would give a young David Stern no choice but to begin to market personalities and individual stars. They would be the ones whose coat tails ESPN would ride as college basketball would be become the phenomenon that we may be seeing wane in the era of the one and done.

The basketball deities birthed these twins as saviors to bring basketball into the national consciousness. The white kid from French Lick, who is Jimmy Chitwood but with a back story that never would have made into the romanticized world of Hoosiers, and the black kid from Michigan, whose smile and style would have kids across the country regardless of height pining to be point guards making no look passes, cast as foils. Then to place them under the spotlight of the National title game in Salt Lake City, Utah, many fans seeing them for the first time that night, is so storybook, central casting may have deemed it too corny to produce. The anti-climactic game aside, where Michigan State showed they were the better team with Bird laying the proverbial egg, failing to duplicate the performance that had seen the Sycamores go undefeated that season and that still eats at him to this day,

The structure of the novel follows the recruitment of the two players with Bird’s being the more riveting tale. We may connect Magic with Hollywood and Showtime, but it is Bird’s tale that is truly cinematic. He liked to fight. He liked to drink beer. He joked and harassed in a manner that displayed his lack of knowledge or concern with things political or correct. Davis’ depiction of Bird as the prototypical yet complex “hick” is the novel’s strength.

Johnson’s portrayal peels back the layers from the public persona that we dream is inseparable from his private one. In previous tomes writers have failed to give any depth to who Earvin really is. Davis does nice work in allowing the reader to make connections and decide if there really are any chinks to be found in the wildly-adored Teflon Johnson. From a Laker-centric viewpoint, When March Went Mad can be seen as a pre-history of Johnson. Long time fans will find themselves making connections between the collegiate Johnson and the professional one. I found myself especially ruminating on Johnson’s amazing rookie year with the club, showing that the leadership and skill he possessed at Michigan State would translate to the pros better than any imagined.

Davis also plainly yet elegantly fleshes out exactly what made these two players unique on the court. They were innovators and improvisers yet understood the premise of the game at a level that those around them were struggling to keep pace with. Davis takes us through the parallel journeys of two teams previously unrecognized on a national level and their ascent to prominence.

When March Went Mad chronicles an unrepeated “moment in time” that could be called the Coming of Age of basketball in its rise in the American consciousness. The days of “bracketology” and the injection of the information age still on the horizon, one can see where it has come from and can’t help but continue to speculate where it is going.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

Records: Lakers 60-16 (1st in West) Clippers 18-58 (14th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.5 (3rd in league) Clippers 102.9 (30th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 104.6 (6th in league) Clippers 112.2 (27th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Clippers Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Fred Jones, Brian Skinner, Zach Randolph

The Lakers coming in Cleveland has come back to the pack, and with the Lakers just one game back now of having home court throughout the playoffs, the Lakers will be slower to take their foot off the gas and rest Kobe and Gasol.

But Phil Jackson may not want to rest Gasol, like all of us have been calling for. Gatinho brought this up in the comments and used a Phil Jackson quote after the last game to make his point.

“But he knows he has to step it up and he’s done a terrific job of playing the kind of minutes that are really a compliment to him, to be able to take care of his body and compete at this level.”

This Phil Jackson quote confirms suspicions I have had as to why he’s playing Pau such heavy minutes. I think Phil believes (And we all saw it) that Pau’s conditioning was a factor in the playoffs last year. He ’s playing him so many minutes to keep him in good condition. I don’t know what kind of worker he is off the court, but a lot of “burn” will put you into a shape that conditioning can’t. So what to us may be perceived as borderline abuse , Jackson sees as a tangible means to toughen/strengthen Pau up for the playoff run, which as Kurt frequently mentions, allows for plenty of rest between games once they begin.

Also, I was at the last game (working for the other place) and was down on the floor watching Andrew Bynum work out before the game. He is moving pretty well, laterally and pivoting on his foot. He was working on plays out of the triangle, and he put away one dunk. On Saturday he apparently ran some 5 on 5. All in all, we should be optimistic. Understand that he is not explosive again yet, he is still recovering, but he is getting there and looks pretty good.

The Clippers Coming In: The Clippers are in the second game of a back-to-back, having played in Denver last night. And they are depleted. Missing in action last night was Marcus Camby (ankle), Mardy Collins (foot), Ricky Davis (knee), Al Thornton (foot), and Chris Kaman (flu),

Off the court, the Clippers are a mess. Looking for a GM to be the boss of the coach that ran the last GM off, that has disaster written all over it.

But in spite of that, on the court there are some pieces that can work. And the rash of injuries to the Clippers stars this year has brought forward a couple young talents that have jumped forward. DeAndre Jordan can leap out of the building and has moments of brilliance.

When I saw the Clippers a month ago, the guy who impressed me with his speed and effort (in contrast to Davis) was Mike Taylor. He is a guy out of the D-League last year who has made the most of his chance. I asked . Kevin Arnovitz (he of Clipperblog and TrueHoop network) his thoughts on Taylor and where he needs to improve to take the next step.

He’s a rabbit. Devastating in transition. Aggressive, lightning quick, can cut through defenses with ease, and has the springs to finish at the rim. Also has a very nice floater, if he needs to pull up.

Though he’s had a torrid streak of late, his jumper isn’t consistent. In the halfcourt, his playmaking abilities are limited — but he’s shown signs of improvement, even in the last three weeks. He’s starting to make passes and find shooters much more effectively than he did earlier in the season before he went out with a hand injury.

Add that to Al Thorton and Eric Gordon and there are some young guys the Clippers can really start to make part of the future. If the GM wants to.

Keys To The Game: One of the first things Phil Jackson said in his post-game press conference is that he told the team that they cannot let up in the next two games, against the Clippers and Sacramento. These are teams that will get up for the game and have some athletes — look past them and they will jump up and bite you. Ask Cleveland about looking past Washington.

Zach Randolph will be “covering” Pau Gasol. Anyone who has watched Randolph play defense knows why that is in quotes. Denver manhandled the Clippers in the paint last night and the Lakers should be able to do the same. (Remember last meeting with the Clips Bynum dropped 42 on them.) The Lakers should be able to get offensive boards and putbacks. They Clips do not have anyone who can cover Odom.

That said, smart defense and help is needed on Randolph, who is a great low-block scorer. The Lakers need to throw a variety of looks at him, and more importantly deny entry passes and force other Clippers to beat them.

In general you want these Clippers to be jump shooters, but not catch and shoots off drive and kicks. Bottom line, when the Clippers get penetration, they become a lot more dangerous. And that is in part due to the fact they have guys who can hit the three. Such as Steve Novak. Do not leave him at the three point line. He is shooting 48.9% from there in the last 10 games. Eric Gordon and Baron Davis also are shooting well from three lately, the Lakers need to try to force more midrange and not give up a lot of open threes.

More Banging with Mbenga, please. He earned the minutes. It should be noted that Phil has been a little less about the steady rotation and more about going with the guys getting it done in that game lately. Play well, Jordan and Sasha, and you get more minutes. That simple.

Where you can watch: 6:30 start here in Los Angeles, the game is on Fox Sports with the Lakers guys or KTLA 5 with Lawler and the Clippers guys.

Ron Artest of the Houston Rockets
Records: Lakers 59-16 (1st in the West) Rockets 48-27 (4th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.8 (3rd in league) Rockets 108.2 (14th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (6th in league) Rockets 104.0 (4th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Rockets Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest, Moneyball Battier, Luis Scola, Yao Ming

The Lakers coming in: If you believe that Kobe is greater than LeBron, why not wear it on your chest with pride? (You have to love Free Darko. Just have to.)

We’ve talked a lot about it in the comments, but if you haven’t seen al the news that Bynum is likely going to be back a couple games before the playoffs, here is your link.

The Lakers have had the Rockets number this year, winning all three games, the last one in Houston to stop the Rockets 12-game winning streak, and the Lakers did it without Odom (who was suspended). The Rockets, as they should be, are a team that the Lakers see as a potential threat and they have been focused for their meetings with them this season. And the focused Lakers can beat anybody anywhere.

In the fourth quarter of the three games against the Rockets, Kobe is 12 of 19 with 37 points.

Finally if you want to think about something else for a while, what would it look like if the Lakers played baseball? Sure, Kobe is your closer. The only question is, what song does he enter the game to?

The Rockets Coming In: Just some fun trivia to start — when was the last time the Rockets won a first round series, and who did they beat?

If the Rockets want to win another first-round series, they need to get focused now — they currently would face a very tough out in Portland in the first round, and they are just half-a-game ahead of them in the standings. If Portland had home court it would be a brutal first round for the Rockets. The problem for the Rockets is, look at some of their closing games: Lakers, Blazers, Magic, Hornets and Mavericks. For the Rockets, the playoffs start now.

Tonight we’re going to get a heavy dose of “will Artest taunt Kobe again” talk, but we know Artest is smart enough not to piss in Kobe’s Wheaties again. This blog’s resident Rockets fan Stephen has thoughts on that and more:

For the Rockets Coach Adelman has been downplaying Artest/Kobe, going so far as to claim Artest is going to be defending Lamar.

The Rockets are making an increased effort to get Yao the ball. Yao is very good when he makes a quick move, when he starts crouching and dribbling, a turnover invariably follows.

The team just finished a stretch where they played 1 game in 7 days and they had several days of intense practice so expect some crisper cuts and more attempted passes. The Rockets are still at the see-think-act stage, instead of the react automatically stage that teams that have been together all year reach.

The Rockets biggest weaknesses are the lack of a rebounding monster, a closer and mental discipline. Against good teams these too often lead to losses.

Their PGs are very young and can get blistering hot and then do the dumbest things.

Ron will bull-rush into the lane w/no idea of what he’s doing, hoping for a bail-out foul. Then he can nail a 3 just when the team needs it-and he is deadly from the 3 when his feet are set.

Scola is vastly underutilized and will hustle and pound you all game long.

Wafer has started to regain his confidence.

Barry is getting more minutes and settles the second unit down. Landry being out has really hurt Rockets’ depth.

Keys To The Game: In the last meeting, the Lakers forced 23 Houston turnovers (and had just 12) and that was a big key to the win. The Rocket young guards can make poor decisions, as can Yao if you get him to hesitate and think.

Pau Gasol had a great game on Yao last meeting, particularly doing well on the defensive end in the second half. The Rockets offense flows through Yao, to disrupt it you need to both pressure the ball and make the entry pass hard, and not let Yao get deep position. The Lakers did those things in the second half of the last meeting.

A few more thoughts from Stephen:

This time around Battier will probably stay on Kobe the whole game, with Artest guarding him when Shane’s out. One side effect will be Artest will be guarding Ariza/Walton, limiting their open looks, but leaving them the opportunity for quick drives as Ron has lost a step.

For the Rockets, Yao needs to be fed often and he has to be decisive. The second unit needs to run, and run some more, and in half-court attack the basket. If the Rocket second unit outplays the Lakers’, the Laker starters will see alot of time and hopefully-for Rocket fans-this will result in dead legs in crunch time.

The Lakers need to harass Yao and stay in the passing lanes. Stay focused, run the offense. The starting 5 should run every chance they get as there is a speed advantage everywhere except PG. The bench has to be competitive.

Where you can watch: 7:30 start on ESPN and Fox Sports West. For those wanting to watch online, follow this link when the game starts to the ESPN 360 broadcast.

Rest Assured?

Darius Soriano —  April 2, 2009

As the team prepares for another deep playoff run, there are two major issues that are on the minds of every fan.  First, are the Lakers playing well enough right now for that deep run?  In recent weeks the team has not played anywhere near it’s best basketball.  The bench is a shadow of the group that many pundits and fans hailed as the league’s best second unit.  Plus, the starters have looked disjointed – not running the offense with precision and not playing the level of defense you would expect from the NBA’s sixth ranked team in defensive efficiency.  Overall, the team is playing uninspired for major stretches of every game.  Which leads us to the second concern – are the Lakers going to rest it’s best players to gear up for the pursuit of that elusive championship?  Every fan can tell that this team is not only a bit bored, but it’s tired.  When Kobe, maybe the best conditioned athlete in the league, is shooting flat jumpers (even by his standards) and lacking explosion to finish around the basket you know that the entire team could use some time away from the game to rest weary legs.

But how will the team remedy these issues?  First and foremost is for the team to start playing better.  Personally, I was encouraged by the last eight to ten minutes of the Bucks game.  The offense looked more fluid as players moved with more purpose and got the types of looks that I wanted them to take.  The defense also elevated another notch as Kobe denied passes to Jefferson, rotations were sharper, and Farmar did a good job of staying in front of his man.  And while the competition was not the stiffest, with many matchups in our favor, it was nice to see us put together a good stretch against any opponent.  Add the fact that the team was at the end of a seven game road trip and playing it’s fifth game in seven nights and I’m even happier about the performance.  The team showed it’s resiliency.  And that’s a trait that they’ll definitely need to play well in May and June.  

But what about some rest for the weary?  As I pointed out, Kobe looks tired.  Gasol’s minutes are through the roof.  And even though Fish has actually played less lately, he’s also our oldest player and has already had a month long stretch of games this season where he was consistently playing thirty five plus minutes nightly.  Is Phil going to idle down the team to recharge their batteries before the playoffs?  Answers may be coming soon.  Phil has said that a major goal for this team is to reach the sixty win plateau.  This is classic Phil as he has always motivated with carrots and with sticks.  He will call you out in the media or make some snide remark about what a player is or isn’t doing, but he’ll also set goals for his team and drive them to reach it.  Earlier in the year when we had our six game road trip, Phil commented that how we performed on that trip would go a long way in determining whether or not the Lakers win the whole thing.  Did he say that because it was the truth or did he say it because he knew that he could motivate his guys to play their best against some of the league’s best teams?  Whatever his reasons, it worked and the Lakers did play some of their best ball.  He could easily be using this same tactic (with the drive for sixty wins) to motivate his players to play well coming down the stretch.  And when the team reaches that goal, I do  think we’ll see minutes reduced and a sharper focus on the little things that will help win games come playoff time.   If anything, Phil is a master at setting up people to succeed and I don’t see him firing all his bullets in the regular season when he knows that he’s got a great chance to win a title with this team this season.

A major piece to this puzzle is the guy with the bunny on his shoulders.  Andrew Bynum is the player that can not only help raise our level of play offensively and defensively, but also provide some much needed rest for the entire team.  He can be this teams stimulus package, providing an anchor in the middle and giving aid to our tired players through a trickle down effect of shored up rotations and better bench play.  And based off recent reports, he continues to progress and will return before season’s end.  Rest assured, there are answers to the issues we are seeing.  Some home cooking and the return of our injured big man should help our level of play.  That same big man and reaching a stated goal should assure rest for some of our tired players.  There are seven games left in the first season before the second one begins.  And while we may not look ready for the part right now, I see that changing very soon.


Records: Lakers 58-16 (1st in West) Bucks 32-43 (tied for 10th in the East, 3.5 games out of the playoffs)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 112.9 (3rd in league) Bucks 106.4 (23rd in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.0 (6th in league) Bucks 107.7 (15th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Bucks: Ramon Sessions, Charlie Bell, Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva, Dan Gadzuric

The Lakers Coming in: It has been frustrating, at a time that the Lakers should be gearing up and looking like a team serious about the playoffs, they continue to look like a team that is tired and bored. And the bench has lost all confidence.

Since the Lakers are pretty much locked in the number two overall spot (ahead of Boston/Orlando but behind Cleveland), it is time to try to get guys some rest. And at the top of that list is Kobe Bryant — Phil needs to sit him. Kobe hates that. Fans who pay money to see him hate that. But, as Reed said yesterday, his legs are tired and it is affecting his shot.

TRad pulled this together in the comments — Kobe’s recent games:

Phi 5/15
GSW 9/25
@Chi 10/25
@OKC 6/18
@Det 10/18 (the only game above 40%)
@NJN 5/19
@Atl 7/19
@Char 11/28

For those of you scoring at home, that’s 37.7% in his last 8 games. Kobe’s shot has gone flat, and that is not because of his hand, which has been injured all season when he was shooting well. It’s his legs.

Right now, what matters is getting the Lakers ready for the playoffs, and that means getting Kobe and Gasol a few breaks. A few games off.

The bad performances the last two games were on offense, the one area of the Lakers game that will bounce back the quickest. This is a great offensive team. It just needs a little rest and then the mojo will come back. It may be partway through the first round of the playoffs, but it will come back.

One more thing — resting the starters means more play for Farmar, Sasha and the bench. That, fans, is going to be frustrating as well if recent play is any indication. But that is the price for resting the starters, so be prepared to pay it.

The Bucks Coming in: It’s been a tough year for Bucks, who are now playing out the string. They are without Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd, which is to say they are without their offense.

Richard Jefferson has started the downside of his career, with everything seeming to slip a little this year, but he is still capable of a big game. Like the 29 and 10 he dropped on the Nets the other night.

Ramon Sessions will have Lakers fans saying “that is what we want in a backup PG” as he has some skills and tends to make good decisions in transition. Charlie Villanueva can make plays.

All in all, not a bad supporting cast. Just missing the stars. Which is why they are 3-7 in their last 10 and a few games out of the playoffs. With Redd or Bogut, they’d be in.

Keys to game Last meeting it was the Lakers starters who just crushed the Bucks, and the bench did its part and held the lead. That was against a Bucks team with Redd (who was plagued with foul trouble, however). The Lakers need to sit on Jefferson (your man, Ariza) because without him they have few halfcourt options left. The other half-court plays involve Sessions driving and trying to kick. You can’t leave Bell at the three-point line, he’s the one Buck left who can drain it.

The other key is not to let Sessions and company get out and run. The Nets got crushed by the Bucks because they turned the ball over and did not get back in transition. (Well, that and the Nets have really packed it in mentally.) The Lakers need to take care of the ball, take away the easy baskets.

On offense — attack the basket. The Bucks foul more than any team in the NBA, and in the last meeting the Lakers did drive and get fouled, and that’s why they were up by 20 going into the fourth. But, tired legs at the end of a road trip tends to mean pull up jumpers — that can’t happen. Get the ball inside to Gasol, don’t settle and get to the basket. Do and the Lakers can win this easily.

The Lakers should control the paint. Should.

Often the final game of a road trip is one you can write off, but after the last two games the Lakers cannot do that. They need the win here, they need a little confidence boost before a potential playoff foe in Houston on Friday. This is a winnable game, if the Lakers brought their heads with them.

Where you can watch: 5 pm start out West, on KCAL 9.

NBA: MAR 5 Mavericks at Hornets
Saying “If you can’t beat them, join them,” the very public owner of the Dallas Mavericks has purchased a majority share of the Los Angeles Lakers from Dr. Jerry Buss.

Cuban made the announcement via Twitter.

While the final price was not made public, it is believed to be well more than the $584 million that Forbes estimated the Lakers franchise was worth. Cuban said he was glad to overpay — that it was worth it just to see David Stern’s face when he has to hand him the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“He dodged that bullet a couple years ago that he had the refs call a foul on my guys (the Mavericks) for even looking at Dwyane Wade,” Cuban said. “Let’s see him stop me now.”

If Cuban cannot win the title with the Lakers this year, he has promised to make lopsided trades that would bring Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and other key Mavericks over to the Lakers to form an unbeatable Überteam that would not only win a title but would also obliterate the current single season wins record.

Traditionally, this would be blocked by Stern, but Cuban says he has photos of the Commissioner “going all Marv Albert” and those will keep him quiet.

When reached for a reaction, Phil Jackson asked if Cuban had any daughters.

Officials from AEG, which owns 30% of the Lakers, could not be reached for comment as they were off buying another soccer team.

When told of the news at practice, Jordan Farmar missed an uncontested jumper. Apparently the news had no affect on him or his game of late.

Buss denied rumors that he was forced to make the sale to cover poker losses to Phil Hellmuth. He hinted the money may more likely be used to put out a hit on the loudmouthed poker player.