Archives For January 2010

Winning Without Kobe

Kurt —  January 18, 2010

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Having Kobe Bryant on your team is why you win most games. Or having a big center like Andrew Bynum in the paint.

But maybe the best sign about the Lakers is that playing a contending team on a night those two big guys had off nights, the Lakers still won. The Lakers made their comeback in the third and fourth quarters with a lineup of Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant (with Luke Walton getting a couple of his minutes), Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Shannon “I can score, too” Brown. It was the Lakers bench that was key to this game. That beat one of the best in the East.

A huge game from Kobe is not the sign of a championship team. You know those are going to be there, that he is going to hit key shots with the game on the line. It is winning without your star that is the sign of a title team.

Zephid added these points in the comments.

-Dwight Howard beasted all over Bynum. When Bynum was guarding Howard 1v1, Howard was just too fast and strong for Bynum to hold off without help, which starting killing our rotations and leaving shooters wide open. It was only when Gasol started guarding Howard that he got bothered a little and started putting up some bad shots (plus the Magic went away from Howard for a good quarter and a half).

First, Bynum had a stomach ailment that slowed him. Also, Bynum’s second foul (a questionable one on Barnes) shook Bynum’s confidence. He was tentative after that, and Howard eats that for lunch. The Lakers had to go to Gasol. And Bynum, long term, needs to be able to play through that.

More Zephid:

-Farmar and Brown played great, as everyone saw. I was scratching my head a little as to why they only played like, 7 minutes in the 1st half, but Fisher also played pretty good in the 1st quarter [Note: He was 3-3 and a +6 in the quarter]. I didn’t like most of Shannon’s shots, but he got into such a rhythm that they just kept falling for him. Same pretty much for Farmar. Their shots don’t look pretty (completely the opposite of Lewis; his shots look perfect every time), and perhaps that’s why they shoot so inconsistently.

-Shannon Brown should have a session with the rest of the guys on how to close out shots. There were three or four times when Brown was the rotating man and had to close out on one of Lewis or Redick or Anderson, and Brown ran full speed at the shooter, and swung with his arm with his body going past the shooter. You could tell that this really bothered Lewis and caused him to brick a couple late threes that could’ve really hurt the Lakers.

Preview & Chat: The Orlando Magic

Kurt —  January 18, 2010

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Records: Lakers 31-9 (1st in West) Magic 26-14 (4th in East)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 108.6 (11th in league), Magic 109 (9th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 101.1 (2nd in league) Magic 103.8 (6th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Magic: Jameer Nelson, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard

Shannon Is Dunking: In case you missed the news this morning, Shannon Brown is in the dunk contest. He will be up against Gerald Wallace, Nate Robinson and DeMar DeRozan (who I think beats out Eric Gordon in the dunk off).

Congrats to Shannon. It will be interesting to watch on Feb. 13 — dunking in game and dunking in an exhibition are two totally different things (well, except for the being able to dunk part of it). The Dunk Contest is a showman’s exhibition, Brown is by nature a little bit reserved. We’ll have to see what he comes up with for the contest.

Magic coming in: I wanted to touch on just a couple things about the issues the Magic are facing.

The Magic’s offense is predicated on the other team needing to double-team Dwight Howard, or dribble penetration — either way it should free up three point shooters or get high percentage looks at the rim. Except that Dwight Howard is taking three less shots per game than he did last year, they are not getting him the ball in the post well enough. Last season Jameer Nelson’s penetration tore up the Lakers in the regular season, but he has not been the same player. So a lot of those penetration chances are going to Vince Carter, who has never been an efficient scorer and is not near the passer Nelson is. When they do get the three, they are not hitting as many — Nelson shot 45% last year, 37% this year, Hedo shot 35% last year, Carter 30% this year, Rashard Lewis is shooting the same percentage but is getting one less attempt per game.

I’ll add that while everyone talks about how much they miss Hedo, they miss Courtney Lee. He played 26 minutes a game in the playoffs and gave them some athleticism and solid play, things they seem to consistently miss now.

These things seem fixable to a degree, but like the Lakers those fixes need to start coming now so that there is something built solidly before the playoffs start.

Magic blogs: We’ve already linked to Orlando Magic Daily today, but you should also check out Orlando Pinstripe Post (the former Third Quarter Collapse), which is a high quality team blog with good writing.

Keys to game: Often, when teams that faced off in the playoffs the year before come together the next season, you get a little bit better brand of basketball. All those hours learning the tendencies of the other team, studying the offense, come back in game situations. And, as Bill Bridges pointed out in the comments:

Play Howard straight-up. Stay on the 3-point shooters and force them to shoot off the dribble as only Carter is dangerous off the dribble.

The Lakers have the luxury with Bynum, and Gasol behind him, of single covering Howard and really making him work at both ends of the floor. Plus, bringing in DJ Mbenga for a little hack-a-Howard can work for a stretch, also.

Carter was supposed to provide the ability to create shots off the dribble — particularly late in the shot clock — that the Magic lacked last year. The problem is, Carter’s true shooting percentage is down to 50.2%, well below the league average. He is shooting just 44% when he gets to the rim, 41% from 16 feet out to the arc, then 30% from three. While he can create off the dribble he is not finishing well enough to boost the team’s offense.

The Lakers cannot let Jameer Nelson get going. They also need to defend the pick-and-roll as Orlando likes to run that with Howard setting the screen (so he can roll and get deep position) or Lewis (for the pop). The Lakers have seen it all before, they know how to defend it, they just need to bring the focus this game.

Where you can watch: 7:30 p.m. start on TNT nationally, and ESPN 710 radio here in LA.

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The Orlando Magic are currently the four seed in the East, with a 26-14 record. Not bad, but they are 4-6 in their last 10. If you watch the games, right now they are not the same team that made it to the Finals last year — you can make a good case for starting White Chocolate in front of Jameer Nelson right now. Seriously. What is going on in Orlando?

I asked Philip Rossman-Reich of the TrueHoop Network Blog Orlando Magic Daily to explain what is happening:

A lot has happened to the Magic since the Lakers danced off the Amway Arena floor with the Larry O’Brien trophy. Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee are gone, Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson (and Brandon Bass and Jason Williams and Matt Barnes, plus the return of a “healthy” Jameer Nelson) are in. On paper this looks like it would be a huge upgrade as Orlando has sorely missed a go-to scorer since the days of Tracy McGrady. Not only that, but the team is much much deeper and easily goes 10 players into their rotation.

But things are not quite so happy in the Magic kingdom. Orlando had to weather the storm of some early injuries that went with Rashard Lewis’ 10-game suspension to start the season. Things worked then. But as players have had to be integrated back into the lineup and new combinations are playing together, something seems off. It is hard to put a finger on what exactly is wrong with the team. A lot of times the effort is simply not there to go out and win games. It is like the team expects to hit the floor and win basketball games. And I think we all know that is not how things work in the NBA.

There has been a lot of pressure put on this team. Nothing lower than a championship would be an acceptable outcome. This is really the first time a lot of these players have faced that kind of pressure and scrutiny on a day-to-day basis and I think it is wearing on them more than they would like to admit.

It certainly is not an excuse, but really thinking this is maybe the third year in the franchise’s history (1995 and 1996 being the other two) that a title was a realistic expectation. Last year caught everyone by surprise as the team flew under the radar and had to prove themselves as they played the disrespect card. No one is disrespecting the Magic this year and everyone is giving their best shot to them.

This has been made more difficult by the shuffling lineups Stan Van Gundy has had to use. The Magic have had their top four guys in the lineup a total of 12 times this season. That is 12 of 40 games! With two new starters and a bunch of new guys coming off the bench, that transition has not been easy. It is made worse by the fact everyone is shooting and performing much worse than last year. Vince Carter is having the worst shooting year of his career. Jameer Nelson, who is still working his way back from tearing his meniscus and missing 16 games, has regressed to the mean after his all star season last year. And Rashard Lewis is still fitting his way into the offense with Carter dominating the ball more than Turkoglu did.

That does not even get into Dwight Howard, who still struggles to get his teammates to get him the ball and is still a 50-50 chance at the line.

These problems are vexing everyone — fans, coaches and the players themselves. 26-14 is certainly not a bad record. Orlando is still within striking distance at the top of the Eastern Conference and despite all the turmoil, I think a lot of people still expect them to break through. But the lack of energy and offensive inconsistency from this team has been really disconcerting and has led to a very puzzling first half of the season.

Joel Meyers Catchphrases

Kurt —  January 17, 2010

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Short-corner three. Points off Turnovers. There are countless others.

Lakers television play-by-play broadcaster Joel Meyers has plenty of catch phrases he falls back on. So, as was done with Mark Jackson last playoffs, we’re going to create Joel Meyers Bingo.

But I want your suggestions — what are your favorite Meyers phases? What needs to be in the center square? Post them in the comments and we’ll have something up later in the week. Have fun with it.

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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.