Archives For January 2010

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Kobe has inspired a lot of Lakers fans. Not as much with his exploits (although those don’t hurt) but more with his work ethic. His passion for perfection. His will. Fans know he is not perfect, but that is simply a reminder he doesn’t live on a pedistal to be worshiped — he got where he is with hours alone in the weight room and in the gym — it was desire as much or more than natural gifts. That is what matters. That is what inspires.

Reader Kunal is among those, and he is off to Hollywood today to be at the Nike Basketball Presents Live with Kobe Bryant hosted by George Lopez (along with his father). But that doesn’t mean you have to miss it.

The entire event is streaming live on Facebook, just follow this link.

And, enjoy the stories.

Kunal: A couple of summers ago during the Kobe trade demand fiasco I learned that he would work out at my school’s gym at UCI early in the mornings. Since I had absolutely nothing to do that summer I started going to the gym at daybreak around 6:30 AM hoping I would be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him or something.

In the mornings it was just me and some local firefighters, so I figured if Kobe does come he would come around that time. 5 weeks passed and 3 times he was there but I missed him because those were my break days from the gym.

Just when I was about to give up hope it happened. He walked in through the door with two bodyguards/trainers/randoms and went to the squat rack. My heart stopped, I was literally like 6 feet away from my hero, a guy whose work ethic had influenced me in many facets of life. After a few seconds of being paralyzed I tried to act cool and pretend like I wasn’t looking at him, but I would peek over every minute or so just to see if he was still there. I wanted to talk to him or get him to acknowledge me somehow but I was too afraid of messing up his workout and him giving me the death stare. So I lurked around just watching him lift and do some ab work and balancing drills.

Time passes and he is about to leave, before doing so he busts out a few one armed pull ups. I have no idea what came over me but I decided I was going to do them too. So as he walked away I tried it on the same bar, bad idea. I slipped and fell flat on my behind and knocked over a stand of towels next to me. Kobe looks back and laughs and says “Keep at it” and did the head nod thing. He walked out and I probably laid there for a good 5 minutes because I was giddy that Kobe talked to me, and also sore as heck for falling.

I know it is naive to think in this day in age that athletes are role models but even though they are human and exhibit shades of gray like the rest of us they have the ability to inspire greatness. Kobe does that for me, and his words have motivated me since.

DJ-F.L.A.S.H. I’m from Vancouver but went to high school in Victoria, BC, and if you didn’t know, a guy named Steve Nash made his name in Victoria in a school called St. Michael’s, we’d play in their gym and you’d see all these Nash tributes in the rafters etc., why am I telling you all this? Well, everyone with any basketball knowledge on east coast Canada is a Suns “fan”.

The year Nash won his second MVP (I just call it “Kobe’s magical season”, 81pts, 35 ppg, and the shit that’s about to happen next), in my dorm we’d all watched the Suns-Lakers series together, all 50 macho rugby/hockey/basketball/football players in one living room, and I’d get the dirtiest looks from people when I’d cheer a Lakers basket, although I did have one more Laker fan to cheer with, he wasn’t as outgoing as me so I’d get most of the hate (especially when Kobe baptized Nash with that dunk, they kicked me outta the living room after that, suckers).

So it’s game four, by then I have a cast on my ankle because I’d just fractured it in a rugby game (got hit by two 250lb guys from both sides), the only benefit from not being able to walk for 3 months is that the Suns fans didn’t have the heart to kick me out anymore.

With the Lakers down 2 with less than 10 to play, I basically did the Laker’s commentary, that’s if you replace actual commentary with all profanities, so you can imagine what came out of my mouth when Smush got that steal (people use him like a punch line now, but Laker fans never forget the steal), and Kobe made a floater that would make Tony Parker ashamed of himself.
So OT, jumpball, Walton vs Nash, Luke almost tips it out of bounds but Kobe retrieves it, and I could feel the atmosphere in the whole room change in an instant, it’s like everyone in the room was about to be interrogated by Jack Bauer.

Bang! Game winner! Then came my first “defying laws of physics/medicine moment”, ’cause I swear to god I jumped like 40 inches (with the cast on my ankle) to chest bump the only other Laker fan in the room, and we both almost fell on our asses, but we couldn’t stop screaming.

It turns out that one ankle injury led to several back and hip injuries and basically ended my basketball career during my first season with the University of Toronto varsity team, (although I don’t think the chest bump did anything because I jumped off the opposite foot), but whenever I get down on myself for not being able to play anymore, I’d think of that Kobe moment and the biggest smirk will show up on my face, people on the subway look at me like I’m crazy but all I could hear is “final seconds, Bryant for the win, BAAAAAAAAAAANG!!!”

Isolate: Its august 22nd 2007 I’m back home from college for my brother’s wedding two days later. I’m one of 5 brothers and all of us have been Lakers fans for as long as we can remember and in turn HUGE Kobe fans because we’re all fairly young and don’t remember much before the mid to early ‘90’s. It was during the summer which means no Lakers games, so we were up late watching one of the FIBA America tournament games that were held in Las Vegas. When out of nowhere I scrapped all of my plans for my brothers Bachelor party and decided we were all going to pile into a car and drive the 4ish hours to Vegas to see Kobe in person at the game the next night. So the next morning we all piled into the car and headed to Vegas. We never told him exactly what we were doing, just that we were going to Vegas. (You could only imagine what he was thinking). Then when we pulled up the Thomas and Mac center on the UNLV campus he realized what was going on and started jumping up and down like a kid in a candy shop. We walk in and our tickets put us 12 rows behind the U.S.A. bench, close enough to actually hear Kobe, Lebron, Melo, Wade and everyone else talking. It just so happened to be Kobe’s birthday and when he got to the free-throw line for his first FT I looked at my brothers and we all started singing “Happy Birthday” as loud as we could, by the time we actually said “Happy birthday dear Kobe” everyone in the crowd had joined in, when we finished he looked up and winked at us. We’re all between 18-25 and we were all as giddy as kids. Best bachelor party ever!

Brian Q: I got my Bachelor’s degree last summer. It goes without saying that I had a roller-coaster of emotions going through me, between the exultation that I was going to complete something my parents couldn’t, and the jitters that come with upcoming post-grad life. I knew the were years of hard work put into school, and the ups and down with following the Lakers all the time, were coming to a head.

At the same time that our Lakers were making their run in the WC and NBA Finals, I was finishing off classes. With all the talk of Kobe’s incensed determination, I tried using that same fuel to cap off the best quarter grades I had since I started college. To top it all off, the Lakers played Game 5 the same day as my family’s graduation party (for me and other cousins that graduated). All of us were gathered at the TV, and when Kobe started jumping around in the wane of the 4th, it was like we both grew up, broke past that barrier of the past 4, 5 years, and got our degrees. Sharing that moment, even through a TV screen, will be a memory I carry forever.

Jodial: I’ve taken my wife to see the Lakers at Staples twice. The first time was in the spring of 2001, an afternoon game against the Knicks which the Knicks won by a point or two – I remember Fisher missed a shot at the buzzer. Kobe got hurt in the first quarter of that game and left without scoring a point – he went on to miss a bunch of games after that (this was while the team was struggling before they got it together and steamrolled the league in the playoffs).

The second time I took my wife to a Laker game was January 2006, against Toronto. You probably remember what Kobe did in that game. We were sitting about 10 rows back, even with the free throw line in front of the visitors’ bench, watching Kobe drop 55 on the Raptors in the second half from just a few feet away. Still the most amazing athletic performance I’ve ever seen. 0, 81. I tell my wife, “Kobe averages 40 when you go to a game.”

Bree: I have been a Lakers fan my whole life. You know when your little, you like whatever your parents like. Well thank goodness my dads a Lakers fan! Anyways, I would try to watch every game I had access to, so one year, my dad surprised me with Lakers tickets when they came to play the Jazz in Utah. I was so freaking excited to see them and my favorite player Kobe! I asked my dad if we can drive around downtown Salt Lake looking for their hotel and get maybe an autograph or just see him up close. So we found out where they stayed, so when their bus arrived for shoot around, my dad told me to go sit casually in the lobby and maybe see if I can get my jersey signed without any notice from the hotel staff kicking me out. So I was sitting waiting all chill, and all of a sudden Lakers players were coming out of the elevators one by one. Still felt calm but had huge knots in my stomached. Then Shaq came out and I’m like he really is a big dude! But then when I turned my head back to the elevator, Kobe was walking with a team official going over something. I totally froze and couldn’t speak! I was able to stand and I just had my jersey in my hand. And all of a sudden, he stopped and came over to me and said, “would you like me to sign that for ya?” I still couldn’t say anything! So he smiled and took the jersey and signed it. I started to cry like a baby and he looked at me and put his arm around me and padded my back and said, “it’s ok, have a good one!” with a smile and went towards the bus. So then I was able to walk out of the hotel with my jersey in my hand to show my dad and hopefully contain my emotions after my amazing experience. My dad was so happy for me.

Rafael: One day me and my family went to Disneyland and as I walked out of a ride with my daughter I bumped into to Kobe. I was wearing my Laker jacket and he said I had a nice jacket and went his way. This was a really cool moment and just seeing Kobe tower over me was awesome.

Michelle: I grew up watching Kobe and the Lakers. I mean I had the first shoes designed for Kobe, the crazy 8’s. I would think wearing those shoes would give me the talent on the court just like Kobe. I was probably 9 at the time. There are so many memories dealing with Kobe, it’s hard to choose.

It was the 2000 WCF Game 7 against the Portland Trailblazers. That day I had to go to a wedding reception at a restaurant and I was pretty bummed that I was going to miss the game. I mean come on it was Game 7! I’m walking to the restaurant with my family and my cousin stops me and goes “{don’t worry, we brought our mini TV, we just have to get a table with a plug.” We go in there, plug the TV watch the whole game. We had literally the bride and groom and about 50 people including the waiters surrounding the table watching the game. They literally gave me the mic to hold against the speakers so everyone could hear and mind you the TV was so small yet everyone was around it. Then it happens, Kobe does a cross over on Pippen, goes down the middle, and throws an ally-oop to Shaq and the whole room is yelling and screaming. Everyone’s in good cheers, hugging everyone, and the energy was just amazing. Seriously the guests at the reception were hugging the waiters.

Whenever I see that clip of the infamous Kobe-to-Shaq, I think of where I was at and I get a mental picture of everyone’s face when we saw that play. I look at Kobe now and see how much he’s grown to be the best in the league and I’m glad I was able to witness the greatness in the making throughout the years.

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Records: Lakers 30-9 (1st in West) Clippers 17-20 (12th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108 (11th in league), Clippers 104.8 (23rd in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.5 (2nd in league) Clippers 107.1 (18th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Clippers: Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby, DeAndre Jordan

Gasol Returns: For the first time in a long time, the Lakers will have everyone ready to go tonight. (Notice I didn’t say healthy, what with Artest’s foot and Kobe’s finger and Sasha’s brain.)

The question is this: Do the Lakers build on a good team performance in Dallas, or do they relax because Kobe and Pau are back. The Lakers got one of their best games of the season from Odom and Artest — who were aggressive from minute one — and Andrew Bynum, who has been a more focused rebounder and picking his spots better on offense. He has been passing out of the double team better. Does Bynum lose focus with Gasol in the lineup, or is he maturing?

The Clippers Coming In: Since the news came down that Blake Griffin was not going to return this season, the Clippers have lost two in a row. (That is a terrible break, by the way, this is a very good player and a good young man. You hate to see it happen, but with his work ethic I believe he will bounce back next season and remind everyone why he was the number one pick.) Tough stretch as they get the Lakers tonight and the Cavaliers tomorrow.

Baron Davis has been as good as any guard in basketball the last two weeks. His shooting has been good (not great) but he is using his quickness to really set up teammates, and the results is him averaging 18 points and almost 10 assists (9.9) per game over he last 10. He killed the Lakers coming off a high-elbow screen from a big last game, the Lakers are going to need to stop that tonight.

Reading up on the Clippers: Two great Clippers blogs out there: Kevin at Clipperblog (and his team of guys) just continue to amaze, while Steve and the guys at Clips Nation continue to put up great post after great post.

Keys to game: No Kaman tonight, but that means the far more athletic DeAndre Jordan will be on Bynum and it will be interesting to see how he deals with it. The Clippers, with Camby at the four, are one of the few teams who can match up decently lengthwise with the Lakers up front. However, the Lakers are far more skilled and should attack.

The Clippers killed the Lakers last game with a double high post (big at each elbow) where Davis could choose his side for the pick-and-roll. The Lakers bigs need to step out and defend the penetration but keep an eye on their man (Camby can both pop off the pick and take the midrange shot, while Jordan’s athleticism makes him a tough roll to cover). The Lakers almost never helped the helper in that game, they need to tonight.

The other thing the Clippers did great last game was run on the Lakers, who almost never got back in transition defense. The Lakers need to rebound, and they need to run back on defense and stop the easy transition points. Making some shots would help that, too.

Where you can watch: 7:30 p.m. start on Fox Sports here in Los Angeles and ESPN 710 radio.

Let Shannon Dunk!

Kurt —  January 15, 2010

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Chris Litmann of The Baseline — the NBA blog at the Sporting News — was up early this morning surfing the Nike Basketball blog and noticed they may have leaked some news:

Shannon Brown is in the dunk contest. Apparently.

If you follow the link (you may need to get a Nike basketball ID) you’ll see the rules for the Shannon Brown iD Slam Dunk Contest — basically to help design a pair of shoes for Brown to wear during the dunk contest. Using some Sherlock Holmes-like deductive reasoning, one could assume that there is no need for a shoe design contest if Brown were not in the dunk contest itself.

This is not the NBA itself saying “It Is On” but Nike tends to be in the know. So….

Let Shannon Dunk!

Can Anyone In the West Challenge?

Kurt —  January 14, 2010

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Watching the Lakers play the best of their non-Gasol games last night, the question going through my head became: Can any of the teams in the West really challenge the Lakers? Can any of them keep the Lakers out of the Finals? (Of course, we are assuming a relatively healthy Lakers team in the playoffs, serious injuries change the equation for any team.)

Right now, I don’t think so. Denver and San Antonio could push the Lakers pretty hard, but I’m not sure they have all the pieces to beat them through seven games. But with the trading deadline approaching in a month, will one of the contenders in the West make a move?

Let’s take a look at the West, the teams and what they could do (helped in great part by Kevin Pelton’s fantastic post on sellers and buyers at Basketball Prospectus):

San Antonio: To me, this is the second best team in the Western Conference, something I expected before the season but took a while to blend and build this season. (Of course, seemingly every year we write the Spurs off early while they aim to peak late.) I look at it this way: The Lakers are outscoring their opponents by 6.5 points per 100 possessions this season — San Antonio is at 7.1 (nobody else in the West is close to those spreads). Injuries and schedule factor into that simple number, but the fact is the Lakers and Spurs have started to distance themselves from the rest of the West.

The Spurs have clearly made a commitment to go for it now, this is a small market team over the tax line and not backing away. If they could get another quality player on the wing (especially defensive minded) or more depth for the front line (to help them bang on the Lakers big front line) they may jump at it. And they have the expiring contracts to do it: Matt Bonner, Michael Finley and Roger Mason are all expiring deals. While that would cut into the Spurs depth, they might make a move for the right key player.

Denver: They are physical, have a great home court, and pushed the Lakers hard last year. However, they are essentially the same team as last year and they know they don’t match up with the Lakers in the post for seven games.

Denver has not been quiet about it — they want to add another big. All they have to do it is a $3.7 million trade exception if they don’t want to cut into the core of their roster (and they don’t). Can they add a big for depth — even a loaner — for that price?

Dallas: They see themselves as close — they do have the second best record in the West — but serious questions remain if they could get out of the second round of the playoffs, let alone their match up issues with the Lakers. Last night was just another piece of evidence that the Lakers have their number.

The piece they have to dangle is the contract of Eric Dampier — he is owed the rest of $10 million this year and has a voidable $13 million for next year. Would somebody trade for him for the rest of this year, giving up something of quality, as opposed to doing it next summer (the contract becomes voidable July 1)? Dallas will try.

Houston: They are a scrappy, fighting team of role players that will make whomever they face in the playoffs work hard, but likely they cannot win. Certainly not beyond a first-round upset.

Unless they turn Tracy McGrady’s deal into an actual star player. I can’t see good reasons for Toronto to trade Bosh to them, for example, but Houston would love it. And if they can pull off the steal, suddenly this does become a very dangerous team. What they lack is the go-to guy at the end of the clock and the end of games. With that guy they are a threat.

Preview & Chat: The Dallas Mavericks

Kurt —  January 13, 2010

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Records: Lakers 29-9 (1st in West) Mavericks 25-12 (2nd in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 107.8 (T for 13th in league), Mavericks 107.8 (T for 13th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.3 (1st in league) Mavericks 104.6 (11th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Mavericks: Jason Kidd, Jose Juan Barea, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Drew Gooden

Want To Meet Kobe? Check out the contest we launched today.

Lakers injury update: Can I save time by just listing the people who are healthy?

Okay, here goes (I will update this closer to the game): Gasol is not playing but likely will on Friday. Kobe is playing although if you or I were in this much pain we’d stay in bed. Ron Artest’s finger and foot are hurting and is a game time decision. Sasha’s hamstring has him a game time decision. Adam Morrison may or may not be healthy enough to go tonight.

I would not be shocked if Phil asked Stu Latntz if he could play 10 minutes tonight.

Update to the Injury Update: From Phil pregame: Kobe will “give it go” after getting treatment all day. Artest is getting his finger taped up and will play. Sasha and Morrison also can play tonight, and Walton feels good enough the day after his first action to play even more minutes tonight.
Mavericks blogs: Very smart Mavs blog at The Two Man Game. And this is the only team where the owner has a blog, of course.

Keys to game: Last meeting, Gasol went out early with a hamstring issue and the bench stepped up big time. Bynum dominated Gooden, Sasha was hitting shots (as were Brown and Farmar), and most importantly the Lakers just ran the offense fantastically. They got good looks and buried shots from the midrange (like the Spurs last night) and they shot 58% from three. It was one of LA’s best games of the season. But also Dallas was the tired and banged-up team on the road; this time it is a sore Lakers team on the second night of a back-to-back. This game will look different.

The Lakers have an advantage inside with Drew, and they need to exploit it. This was something they did very well in the blowout win — Bynum got the ball in good position then took advantage. When the double came he recognized it and made the correct pass out (and, as mentioned, the Lakers knocked those shots down). The Mavericks will run a zone and the Lakers need to exploit the soft middle of it and not just launch jumpers over the top. The Lakers need to play like they did last meeting, especially with Dampier supposed to be out. More Bynum does not mean more isolation, run the offense and move without the ball.

The Lakers need to make Dirk work for his points — he is the best pure shooting big ever to play the game, so he is going to get some. The key is to make him work hard for them, and challenge him on the other end of the floor to wear him out.

It’s about pick-and-roll defense with the Mavs, they love it. They tend to run this from the wing (the guard gets the ball freed up off another screen) and their bigs can both roll or pop out. The Lakers need to disrupt the guard getting the ball and the bigs need to show out then recover.

The Lakers need to rebound well tonight, and they need to take care of the ball. What really gets the Dallas offense going is turnovers and the chance to get easy buckets in transition. Kidd isn’t young but he is still one of the best at running the break in the game. The Lakers have to limit those chances. Also, no team in the NBA loves the PUJIT like the Mavs, you have to watch for it.

Where you can watch: 5:30 p.m. start on KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles, and of course ESPN 710 radio.

Want to Meet Kobe?

Kurt —  January 13, 2010

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This Saturday, Kobe is doing an interactive fan event at The Montalbán in Hollywood (where there is a Nike store), promoting his new Nike Zoom Kobe V shoes, but also just talking hoops. George Lopez is the host and moderator. It’s a rare public event for Kobe, and you can’t just show up and get into this, you need an invite.

And we’ve got one, for some lucky fan. You and a guest can go, what I want to hear is your best Kobe story. We’re not talking just if you met the man, it could be anything. Getting the chance to see him play. Something that happened at a bar while you watched him play. Anything Kobe related.

Friday morning I’ll post the winner and some honorable mentions (make sure you fill in the email line if you want to win). We’d love to hear all your stories, but if you can’t make it to a 2 p.m. event this Saturday in Hollywood say so, I want to make sure the winner and a guest can attend.

Have fun with this. It should be interesting

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Let’s start with the injury status: Kobe Bryant said after the game he was “pretty sure” he would play Wednesday in Dallas, although he was still shifting around in pain. This is Kobe, so as long as he can walk, you can expect him to play (plus he always does well against Dallas).

Ron Artest sprained a finger against the Spurs and is now doubtful for tonight.

Phil Jackson took a little jab at Gasol saying whether or not he played Wednesday would be up to Gasol. The little “Kobe’s playing why aren’t you?” dig. Those kind of mind games don’t really work on Gasol, who is probably more aware of his body than most players (remember his mom is a doctor in Spain) and will return on his own schedule. As he should: Losses in January may not be fun but what matters is him playing in May and June.

Due to work commitments I am late watching this game so I’ll turn the breakdown over to Zephid:

I really thought the bench came out in the 4th and did a good job getting us back into the game. The fact that we couldn’t finish probably stems from not having Kobe or Gasol available. Wasn’t a great game by any stretch, but these are signs of improvement. Also liked Luke Walton’s return; he really made the offense flow and actually had a couple of great defensive plays. Quick notes…

1.) Great duel between Duncan and Bynum. Bynum did well in the 2nd half, but Duncan really had his way with Bynum on offense, scoring in a plethora of little running hooks and fallaway jumpers. In contrast, Bynum really just overpowered Duncan on a lot of plays. Really if Bynum could just get a little more body control in the post, he could’ve made a number of the shots that just rimmed out.

2.) Luke Walton did something that nobody else did this game: cut off a passing lane. When the Spurs run their sets, they go for dribble penetration first, then pass to their release man. A number of times, the pass to the release man was either no-look or a very dangerous pass to begin with; the Lakers were just giving up so much ground on penetration that no one was covering the passing lanes. When Walton finally did cover the passing lane, he basically received a pass from the offensive player.

3.) We primarily got killed on defense with the Spurs PNR and passing to the release man, and with the Spurs off-ball movement. Back-door cuts with off-ball screens really hurt our guards and Artest, who didn’t really seem prepared for a lot of the Spurs schemes. However, most of these I think would be remedied during a 7 game playoff series, so I’m not so worried about the easy baskets.

4.) We came back in the game when we locked down on defense, and when we finally got some movement on offense. Either Andrew got the ball on the post with some cuts off of him (Stu Lantz made a good point about Luke Walton’s dive to the basket opening up space for Bynum to operate), or we moved the ball around the perimeter until we either got dribble penetration or a wide-open jump shot (like the one Walton hit).

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Records: Lakers 29-8 (1st in West) Spurs 22-13 (5th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.2 (12th in league), Spurs 111.3 (4th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 100.9 (1st in league) Spurs 104.4 (10th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum
Spurs: Tony Parker, Keith Bogans, Richard Jefferson, Tim Duncan, DeJuan “who needs an ACL” Blair

Lakers Tonight: Pau Gasol is a no go again tonight, although he is on the trip. I don’t know if he will play tomorrow or is just along so he can check out Dealey Plaza tomorrow. UPDATE: Phil Jackson said pregame Gasol is likely for Friday against the Clippers.

UPDATE #2: Luke Walton has been activated and may play a little tonight. Adam Morrison is out with a sore throat so Walton may get his minutes.

The Spurs Coming In: The Spurs started the season slowly, 9-9, and they just looked old and slow. But since then they have gone 13-4 and have started to look like the elite team everyone expected them to be prior to the season.

What is different about this Spurs team is that they are a very good offensive team with a pretty good defense — the opposite of how they were built for so many years. Tim Duncan is at the heart of the improved offense: While his points per game is the same as always (20) he is doing it on fewer shots. The key is his 10-15 foot shots are falling at a 52% clip, when he had never shot better than 46% from there before. Of course, he continues to rebound well, pass and do everything else well, too.

The other key for the Spurs is that the core trio is healthy. Tony Parker continues to slash to the rim and Manu Ginobili brings an all-around game. We’ve all seen them do it for years. What makes this interesting is this is a deeper Spurs team — every player getting significant minutes not named McDyess is shooting better than the league average true shooting percentage. Richard Jefferson has been solid (not spectacular), giving the Spurs needed athleticism, and DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonnner have played well along the font line.

For the veteran Spurs team, I’m not sure this game has great significance. But for their fans there seems to be some: They are not convinced this team is a contender. Beating the Lakers, even a slumping Lakers without their second best player, could give the fan base confidence.

Spurs blogs: They have a couple of good ones: 48 Minutes of Hell and Pounding the Rock (which has been consistently great for years). You should check out both.

Keys to game: There are no secrets here. These are the two best franchises of the last decade and neither Popovich or Jackson have really changed what they do in terms of Xs and Os. This is really a matter of execution.

For the Lakers, that has to start with stopping penetration. Parker and Ginobili are two of the best off the high screen in the game and the Lakers need to play this well for a change — the bigs need to come out and not let those two just turn the corner and go. What may be more troubling in Parker doesn’t really need a pick to get by anyone in the league, his quickness and hesitation move will do it. Fisher needs to bring the energy he did against Brandon Jennings, and the Lakers bigs need to be ready and rotate. Farmar has to bring smart play off the bench.

The Kobe/Manu matchup is going to be fun to watch tonight. Manu is a good, pesky defender and Kobe has shot 31.8% over his last four games — can Kobe find his shot or keep himself in check tonight?. Kobe will bring the energy on the defensive end tonight, he can’t play free safety off Manu (who is shooting 38.2% from three, so you have to follow him out to the line).

Duncan is Duncan, he is going to get his. I just love watching play against other teams. The key for Odom and Bynum (both likely will get time on him) is not to let him go off, not to let him carry them. He can hit the midrange shot so you have to come out on him, you can’t sag back.

One advantage the Lakers have is the undersized Blair trying to slow Bynum (they could put Duncan on Bynum, but then Odom has an advantage). Blair is strong and has played well, but he is an undersized rookie, nor is he quick enough to handle Odom. The Lakers need to go at him and get their points inside out. When the doubles come the Lakers need to knock down the open shot off the pass.

First game of a tough road back to back. The easiest of those games to win is the first one, the Lakers need to go after it tonight.

Where you can watch: 5:30 p.m. start on KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles, NBATV has the game nationally, and of course ESPN 710 radio.