Archives For October 2010

Los Angeles Lakers players watch their NBA Championship banner being lowered before their NBA season-opening game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, California October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: It’s not easy to do your best work when you’re emotionally wrought. In most endeavors, sound execution depends on a clear head, steady nerves and just generally having your wits about you. Giddiness and elation can be the enemies of a job well done. As we saw tonight at Staples Center, such are the hazards of having to play a basketball game immediately following a goosebump-worthy ring ceremony. The evening began in stirring fashion, as the Lakers were awarded their mammoth new championship rings by David Stern and a new banner was unveiled in the arena rafters. It was a cool presentation. Each of the players said some kind words about one of their teammates, and Phil Jackson took a moment to salute the dearly departed Josh Powell, Adam Morrison and D.J. Mbenga. (Even the Laker massage therapist got a ring.) A nicer person than I would observe that it’s something fans of every team should get to experience once in their lifetimes. Me, I just want the Lakers to keep repeating it year after year until I’m dead.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Thanks, new guys! With just over three minutes left in the third, the Lakers found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Lamar Odom and Gasol were both on the bench with four fouls, and Ron Artest was soon to join them. They hadn’t scored for nearly four minutes until Steve Blake hit two clutch 3s at the end of the quarter keep the Lakers in it. In the fourth, Matt Barnes energized the crowd with some aggressive play, penetrating and breaking down Houston’s defense, opening up the floor for a Gasol putback. With 9:30 to play, Barnes snagged an Odom miss, then his own after an errant putback. Eventually he worked his way to the line, hitting the free throws that tied the game at 86. Oh, and there was the matter of that game-winner from Blake with 18.8 seconds left, as Bryant penetrated and found the newbie wide open on the right wing. Whether he was actually attempting to pass to Blake or Gasol is an open question, but either way… splash. Then he stuck with Aaron Brooks — he’s fast! — on Houston’s final play, disrupting the shot and sealing the win. They say first impressions are the most important, right? We spent most of last season and into this offseason pumping the virtues of bringing Blake to Los Angeles. Way to make us look smart, Steve!

From Jill Painter, LA Daily News: The Lakers hadn’t even held court for Tuesday’s championship ring ceremony or tipped off their season against the Houston Rockets when they received a bit of good news: The Miami Heat lost their season opener. The Big Three started with a big dud. Meanwhile, the champion Lakers, who sported smiles and tears with their new bling presented before the game, did what championship teams do. They won. The Lakers trailed by 15 points in the first half, but they played solid defense in the second half and used Shannon Brown’s hot shooting touch – 14 points in the fourth quarter – to edge Houston, 112-102. Brown, who usually has fans on their feet with his thunderous dunks, got a standing ovation for making five of six shots during that span and all four of his 3-point attempts. Kobe Bryant buried him in a hug during a timeout.

From ESPN Stats and Information: After trailing 62-51 at halftime, the Lakers kicked it up a notch in the second half to pull out a 112-110 win over the Rockets on Tuesday. It was the Lakers’ third straight season-opening win and their eighth win in their last nine games vs Houston. The Rockets have defeated L.A. just twice since their win over the Lakers on opening night of the 2007-08 season. The Lakers are now 41-22 all-time in season openers, and 14-4 when opening the regular season at home since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. Tuesday’s win leaves Phil Jackson one win away from joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan as the only NBA coaches with at least 1,100 wins.

From J.A. Adande, ESPN: That other team, you know, the two-time champions, started the season as well, Tuesday night, with a low-key ring ceremony consisting of one teammate introducing the next, followed by a victory produced by some low-wattage players. The first step of the Lakers’ title defense, a 112-110 victory over the Rockets, belonged in part to Steve Blake, one of the less spectacular (albeit fully logical) signings of the summer. Blake hit back-to-back 3-pointers that pulled the Lakers from 11 points down to within five in the final minute of the third quarter. Then Blake delivered the two biggest moments of the game, hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining and deterring Aaron Brooks’ game-tying reverse layup attempt on the final play.

From Rahat Huq, Red94: For as much reason as there was to be excited after the first half, there was cause for the same frustration as the game dwindled.  The Rockets came out scorching last night in their season opener, determined to spoil the Lakers’ parade.  The team moved the ball quickly off the boards, imposing a frantic pace, and putting the champs on their heels and out of their comfort zone.  Guards Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks (of Everybody Hates Chris fame) looked intent on thrusting themselves into the debate as league’s best offensive backcourt, unconsciously netting almost 20 apiece in the first two frames, and second year man Chase Budinger chipped in with his usual share of highlights, looking as smooth as ever.  Houston took a double digit lead into the break and all was well in our world until, as it has far too often during the Yao Ming era, everything completely fell apart.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: The last time L.A. took the STAPLES Center floor in a game that counted, they came back from a 13-point second half deficit to beat the Boston Celtics and secure the franchise’s 16th NBA title. Fast forward to Ring Night on Tuesday in a game that meant next to nothing in comparison yet retained some tangible energy, as the Lakers fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half before rallying to secure a 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets. Pau Gasol led all scorers with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 27 points and seven assists, while reserves Steve Blake and Shannon Brown erupted to nail a combined 7-of-7 combined three-pointers in the second half to turn the game on its head.

From Mike Truddell, Basket Blog: Eighteen years ago, two 12-year-old kids from Queens, New York, met for the first time, paired on the same basketball team due to their already-advanced talents. Back then, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest could only dream to one day, somehow, be standing side by side as NBA Champions. But that, of course, is exactly what happened on Tuesday evening at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. Among the most poignant moments during a pregame ring ceremony in which each of the nine returning Lakers from the 2010 championship team took turns introducing one another was when Odom gave Artest his ring.

From Johnny Luddenn, Yahoo! Sports: Be ready, Kobe Bryant old Steve Blake. His championship coronation nearly doused in defeat, Bryant walked out of the huddle late Tuesday and welcomed his new teammate to the Los Angeles Lakers with a simple, two-word order. A couple minutes later, Bryant rifled a pass behind him and into the waiting hands of Blake, positioned perfectly a step behind the 3-point line. Blake elevated and coolly buried the shot. With less than 19 seconds left, it was the difference in the Lakers’ 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets. On a night he toasted his fifth championship and began his hunt for a sixth, Kobe put his fortune in the hands of a teammate with whom he’d never played a meaningful game. This was no ordinary assist, and Blake knew it. “It was big of him,” Blake said, smiling, “to trust someone new on the court.”

From Kenny Masenda, Ed The Sports Fan: With the season starting up again, a majority of the folks I know cannot be more excited to see what’s in store. Some are waiting to see the new-look Heat, while others are eagerly anticipating the Lakers’ quest for a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance and a three-peat. There are some people who want to see if the grumpy old men in Boston can get back to the Finals, and others want to see if Orlando has something to say about them getting there. There are others who are excited to see how the Thunder will do, how the Mavs will look, if the Clippers can make a run for the post-season, if John Wall can bring some excitement to Chocolate City, and even more.

Los Angeles Lakers Ron Artest (L) and Pau Gasol of Spain compare the NBA Championship rings they received before their NBA season-opening game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

On the night the Lakers raised banner #16 and received their championship rings they also scrapped out a hard fought victory over the Houston Rockets, winning 112-110 to kick of the season in style.  An emotional night that started with each player introducing the next in the ring presentation ceremony ended with those same players rejoicing in victory and celebrating a win.

But, for most of the night, it didn’t look like the Lakers would get this game.  Starting 1-0 just didn’t seem possible.  And considering the gravity of the night and the high that the players were on from reveling in last season’s accomplishment, I don’t blame them.

For most of the night, the Lakers just couldn’t keep up with the rejuvenated Rockets.  With Yao Ming back in the fold anchoring the paint, noted Laker damager Aaron Brooks zipping his way around the court, and a finally healthy Kevin Martin flashing his high efficiency offensive game, the Lakers looked toast.  The Rockets were controlling the paint on defense, pushing the ball down the Lakers’ throat on offense, and nailing jumpers that struck like stakes in the hearts of a silenced Staples Center crowd.  Even in the Rockets’ half court sets, the Lakers looked a step slow and mentally out of it as they were repeatedly beat by the brilliant back cuts of Rick Adelman’s Princeton Offense.

But despite the Rockets controlling the game and consistently keeping the Lakers at arms length, the boys in the home gold jerseys hung tight.  Whenever Houston looked like they might pull away for good, the Lakers would make a slight push and keep the deficit hovering at 11 points.  Mostly on the back of Pau Gasol’s grind it out offensive game (11-23 from the field for 29 points) and Kobe’s playmaking skill (7 assists, 1 turnover), the Lakers showed just enough fight to ensure that the Rockets couldn’t go away and hide and turn the game into the one sided affair that we all witnessed in the matinee match up between the new look Heat and still hungry Celtics.  Both Pau and Kobe showed their poise and grit as they battled through nights of inconsistency to still put up the numbers that have made them multiple time all-stars and back to back champions.

But, despite those numbers, they were really the role players tonight.  Because even though those guys – the Lakers’ superstars – did their jobs, it was the bench players that really stepped up and performed big.  It was the reserves that hit the big shots and turned the deficit into a lead.  It was the back ups that generated the energy that would spark the crowd and generate the wave of emotion that the team would ride to victory.

Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Shannon Brown truly were the killer B’s from the Lakers bench.  Starting in the latter part of the third quarter, these guys started to turn the tide and tilt this game on its head.  Whether it was Blake hitting back to back threes, Barnes hitting the glass and filling the lane on the fast break, or Shannon side stepping defenders on his way to hoop and sinking jumpers when hanging around the perimeter, it all just worked for the Lakers 2nd unit.  The team may have trailed by 5 to start the 4th quarter, but by the clock showed 7:43 left in the game, the reserves turned that deficit into a 6 point lead by tightening up the defense, forcing turnovers and missed shots, and taking the ball the other way to punish the Rockets for their mistakes.  At one point, the three B’s scored 11 out of 15 points for the Lakers to create a lead that the Lakers would carry into the final minutes.  I really can’t say enough about these guys.  Shannon, especially, showed that he’s indeed ready for this season.  He showed a balance and consistency on his jumper that was missing last season and played a much more controlled game than he has at any point during his Laker career.  This falls in line with with what he showed in the preseason, but it was really good to see it carry over to the games that really count.

But despite this Herculean effort by the reserves, Houston was not going to quit on this game just because the Lakers showed their championship mettle.  The Rox battled every inch of the way and settled down in the closing minutes to really make this contest close.  As the two point final margin showed, Houston didn’t fold when the Lakers pushed their lead up to as many as 8 points.

In the last 5 minutes, fueled by the aforementioned back court combo of Brooks and Martin, the Rockets battled back to take a one point lead with 53 seconds left.  At that point, Pau Gasol grabbed a loose ball off a fumbled Kobe dribble and buried a 10 foot jumper to put the Lakers up by one.  On the next possession, Luis Scola executed a nice scoop to put the his team back up by 1.  The very next time down the court, with the Lakers trailing by that single digit, Steve Blake showed why so many fans are high on him as a player that could potentially unseat Derek Fisher as the PG that closes out games.  When driving left on a high P&R with Pau, Kobe zipped a pass to Blake and the newcomer calmly nailed a three pointer to put the Lakers up by two.  On the ensuing Rockets possession, Blake would once again play hero as he played good defense on the Rocket’s last gasp off an offensive play, contesting Aaron Brooks’ lay in attempt – altering it enough so Odom could come over and get the block that secured the win.

Just a great, great finish to a glorious night for the Lakers.  When things looked bleak, this team battled back and claimed a victory that they probably had no business taking.  And they take home some jewelry too.  The emotional high that we all thought would have peaked 10 minutes before tip off, actually got topped when the clock showed triple zeros.  What a night.

A couple of other notes on this game:

*Odom continued his strong play from the preseason in this first regular season game.  LO had 14 points and 10 rebounds and made several key plays in a 2nd quarter push that kept this game close.  He shot 7-10 from the field and played strong defense for most of the night.

*It’s a good thing that Odom played as well as he did because the players tasked with backing him up did not.  Theo Ratliff played 16 minutes and was a -4 on the night.  While he played decent defense and was reasonably active on the glass, he was non-existent on offense and didn’t look that comfortable navigating the low block.  This is mostly to be expected, but in the preseason, he did show a bit more life on that side of the ball and on evenings where LO (or Pau) is in foul trouble, we will need more.  Derrick Caracter also saw his first action of the season and looked a bit overwhelmed.  This is also to be expected as the rookie has likely never been in a game environment like the one he saw on Tuesday.  But, he did miss a bunny right at the hoop and in his two minutes had 1 foul and put up a -8 for his trouble.

*As bad as the Lakers defense was in the first half, they were equally as impressive in the second 24 minutes.  In the final two frames the Lakers got their hands into passing lanes and deflected passes, effectively double teamed Yao, and showed much better awareness on the variety of cuts that the Rockets employ in their half court sets.  I was impressed with the turnaround that the Lakers showed because based off their first half results, I didn’t think they had it in them.

*Kobe is not quite himself, but he’s still got that sense of the moment.  With the Rockets cutting the lead to 2 points with only 1:45 to play, Kobe drove hard to his right hand, took contact from Shane Battier, and finished a lay up plus the foul.  His three point play wouldn’t hold up to Houston’s late run, but that’s beside the point.  Kobe again proved that in tight moments he can summon the strength to make the play.  When he’s completely healthy and has the rhythm back to his game, he’s going to be the same Kobe that we’ve seen the past three seasons.

Live Chat: Opening Night

Darius Soriano —  October 26, 2010

Laker's Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 block a shot by Rocket Luis Scola #4 in the third quarter as the Lakers beat the Rockets 89-70 during game seven of a Western Conference semi-final playoff basketball game between the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Sunday May 17, 2009 in Los Angeles Photo via Newscom

Our long, long wait is over.  Basketball is back, opening night is here, and the Lakers are headlining the night as they face off against the Rockets.  Banner #16 will be raised and big diamonds will be passed out to all the players as a reminder of what last year’s team accomplished and as a reinforcement for what this year’s team chases.  The quest for a third straight title begins tonight and I’m absolutely giddy.

So as those long term goals are crystallized with all the pregame pageantry, the short term goal is to get a win tonight to start the season off on the right foot.  And in order to accomplish that, the Lakers must come out of the gate firing on all cylinders and maintain their focus on what can be, admittedly, a pretty distracting night.  I have a feeling, though, that the Rockets are just the team to keep the Lakers’ attention tonight.  They are one of the few teams that have played the Lakers tough in the past three seasons regardless of the make up of their roster and tonight they bring in a fully healthy team for the first time in what seems like ages.  If the Lakers are to get the win tonight, it will take a great effort and strong execution.

And it starts on defense.  The Rockets will have Yao Ming back in the line up and so things must start with him.  Regardless of his minutes restriction, Yao is the focal point of the Rockets offense and slowing Houston down on that side of the ball means containing their great Center.  First and foremost that means testing the limits for how recovered Yao is and what type of shape he’s in.  This entails battling him for position, racing with him in the open court, and challenging his every motion around the floor.  By making the big man work the Lakers get to test Yao’s endurance (never one of his strongest traits) and see how much polish he has in his first game action in well over a year.  As usual, Yao’s favorite spot is the left low block where he has a great turn around jumper to the baseline, a turn and face jumper, or a very good strong drive to the middle with is dominant hand.  As mentioned, the key is to push him out on the floor to make him have to initiate his moves from 16-18 feet in order to minimize his effectiveness.

The other key weapon for the Rockets is Kevin Martin.  The perpetual motion man is back healthy to start this campaign and slowing down his well rounded offensive game will be a must for whichever Lakers’ defender matches up with him.  I expect Ron Artest to get the first shot at Martin, with Barnes and Kobe also taking turns on the slender shooting guard.  The key to slowing him down, though, will be chasing him around the litany of screens that he’ll use to get open and then being disciplined in closing out so as to not give up too many uncontested jumpers.  All while still being able to guard against his forays into the paint where he loves to draw fouls.  No one said it would be easy.

Offensively, the Lakers must use their advantages where they exist.  And while that typically lies with Kobe Bryant, that’s not the case with #24 not yet 100%.  And when you combine Kobe not yet all the way healthy with the Rockets throwing out Shane Battier and crew to slow him down, the Lakers may want to explore other options.  So, I hope to see the team go into Pau early and often.  Gasol has a quickness advantage against Yao and can work on him from either the high post or short wing in isolation situations by facing up and shooting his jumper or driving by him if Yao plays too closely.  Plus, Pau’s passing acumen is well documented, so he will create easy shots for his mates if the Rockets get too aggressive with double teams or if they shade defenders in his direction. 

The other player that I hope gets involved early is Ron Artest.  Ron has had a very good pre-season and his jumper looks better than it did at any point last season.  When you couple that with his better understanding of the offense, I think Ron can have a successful night by being aggressive on both the wing and in the post against either Kevin Martin or Shane Battier.  I especially think Ron can be effective on the block when Yao is out and the Rockets either play Brad Miller or Chuck Hayes at back up Center.  Neither of these players are shot blockers so Ron will not have to worry about weak side defenders crashing down on him when he seals his man.  If the Lakers can successfully move the ball from the wing to the top of the key when Ron is in the post, he should be plenty of chances to finish right at the front of the rim against defenders that can’t match his physicality.

Moving off the individual match ups and on the team level, two factors will be critical tonight if the Lakers want to start the season one and oh.  First is containing dribble penetration.  I have not yet mentioned Aaron Brooks, but he’s a player that has given the Lakers fits over the past few seasons.  As we’ve discussed many times in the past, though, slowing a player like Brooks is a shared responsibility and does not just fall on the shoulders of Fisher and/or Blake.  The Lakers big men must sprint back in transition and show/recover on the pick and roll in order to cut down driving lanes.  Fisher and Blake must also guide Brooks to where the help is and give him different looks coming off screens in order to disrupt his rhythm when coming off picks.  The second key to the game is controlling the pace.  I’ve mentioned Brooks, but the Lakers should try to give the Rockets some of their own medicine by pushing the ball back at them and making their big men run.  Neither Yao or Scola (or back up big Miller) have good wheels, whereas Odom and Gasol do.  Tonight would be an excellent game for Odom to be aggressive changing ends after securing defensive rebounds by pushing the ball and looking for running mates.  If Pau gets out and runs, he could send Yao to the bench winded, in foul trouble (or both) and the Lakers go back to having the size AND speed advantage that they held over the Rockets last season.

All that said, this game is more about just getting the win.  As I mentioned earlier, tonight is one of the best nights of the year (opening night) especially for a Lakers fan.  Watching the banner go up and seeing the faces of the players as they collect their rings will be special.  So, set your DVR’s and cherish this moment.  Only one franchise is doing what the Lakers are tonight, so enjoy it.

For The Rockets Perspective:  Go check out the excellent Rockets site Red94 or the always solid The Dream Shake.

Where you can watch:  7:30PM start in the West on TNT (which, I hope starts on time).  Also listen live on ESPN Radio 710am.  UPDATE – To be safe, I’d tune in around 7pm to see if you can catch the rign ceremony.


From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: A week ago, after an 82-74 preseason loss to the Jazz at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Kobe Bryant unburdened his knees, the right one still recovering from offseason surgery, of their standard postgame ice wrap and wandered to his locker and the assembled media. He was, as he almost always is, the last Laker in the room, thanks to a lengthy postgame regimen designed to keep his 32-year old body from reading its odometer. He had clanked 11 of 13 attempts, continuing a trend of awful shooting lines through the first six exhibitions. These are not things a five-time champion and two-time Finals MVP worries about.

From Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston: Paul Pierce was out to lunch at Johnny Rockets in his native Los Angeles this past summer when he noticed a young man come in, buy a burger, and do a double-take when he spotted the Celtics star. Instead of approaching Pierce, the teenager quickly dashed out of the restaurant. Pierce wasn’t sure why the kid was in such a hurry — until he returned about 10 minutes later. “He came back with the biggest Lakers flag I’ve ever seen,” Pierce said. “Asked me to sign it. I snatched that thing from him and threw it [across the room].”

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Magic Johnson: 13. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West: 14. Kobe Bryant: 15. Shortly after the newest championship banner is unveiled Tuesday night at Staples Center, Bryant will stretch out that knee, secure protection over that finger and say the little prayer he does when the spotlight goes off him just long enough to do so. He will begin his 15th NBA season, all with the Lakers. No one has been a Laker longer.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The lights will go off. Another banner will be placed in Staples Center. And every member of the Lakers’ staff will receive their championship ring from last season’s successful playoff run. The rings will symbolize various championship totals among various Lakers. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson will have to figure out where to put his 11th ring, since all his 10 others fit two full hands of fingers. Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher will complete one hand with their fifth ring. Lakers forwards Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, center Andrew Bynum and guards Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic still have enough room on one hand with their two rings. Ron Artest will temporarily see his before raffling it off to raise proceeds for mental health charities. And then there’s newcomers, such as Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, who will stand as outsiders but no doubt view the ceremony as something they hope repeats next season.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: With Kobe Bryant continuing rehab on his surgically repaired right knee, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he remains flexible on how much he’ll play him during the team’s season opener Tuesday against Houston. “We’ll see how it goes,” Jackson said Monday after practice at the team’s facility in El Segundo. “I just talked to him, and he said he’s comfortable playing over 30 minutes. We’ll see how it goes in the course of a game.” Bryant didn’t speak to reporters after Monday’s practice, but he described his knee as “good” after Sunday’s practice and replied “sure” with a hint of sarcasm when asked if he could play 40 minutes.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: Before the Lakers take the STAPLES Center floor to open the 2010-11 regular season against Houston, the nine remaining players from last season’s championship-winning roster will line up one by one to receive their rings. Special to all, of course, even those exceptional two (Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher) who already have four rings apiece in their closets. But it’s the first ring for Ron Artest, a driving force throughout his first season as a Laker after coming over from Houston as a free agent in a virtual trade for Trevor Ariza. Artest chose to stay in the locker room on Ring Night 2009 while Bryant, Lamar Odom and others claimed their championship rings last October, trying to envision himself in that role in 2010. Funny how things work out.

From Matt Moore, CBS Sports: There’s a level of excellence demanded of this team, and it starts and stops with Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant. That mindset — the professional, hyper-achieving without sacrificing the mind concept — is what permeates. It makes the team disciplined and proficient, and it makes most of its players terrified of the day when they slip up in front of the bosses. You will not fail, because Bryant and Jackson will not allow you to fail.  The Triangle really isn’t the right fit for most of this team. That’s not only pretty certain, it’s painfully obvious. Shannon Brown, when released from the shackles, looks like a dynamic, powerful, well-intentioned guard. Within its confines, he’s like an ADD kid trying to sit through The English Patient . Lamar Odom? Everything he does is largely outside of the triangular box, filling in the gaps and playing loose within the margins.

Lastly, two of my favorite hoops bloggers, Matt Moore and Rob Mahoney (you can find them all over the internets), have started a project titled Voice Of The Floor. From their website:

Voice on the Floor is an audio magazine, featuring two elements: in-depth interviews conducted primarily by Matt Moore and spoken-word essays, performed by both Rob Mahoney and the wonderfully talented people we’ve encountered in our time out here in the Wild, Wild West.

Today, they have an interview up with ESPNLA’s Dave McMenamin. Make sure you check them out.

2010-11 Season Preview

Darius Soriano —  October 25, 2010

Our wait is nearly over.  Tomorrow night the Lakers begin their pursuit of a third consecutive championship.  There is no better time to be a fan of the Lakers and in a league that has reshaped itself in the hopes of dethroning the champions, this season promises to be as exciting as any we’ve seen in the past 20 years.  But with the dawn of a new campaign upon us, there are questions to be asked and thoughts on this group to be hashed out.  And with that, we present our season preview.  Rather than give a standard preview of the team overall, we took the approach of looking for answers to questions that interest us.  So without further ado, here were some of the pressing topics on the mind of me, Phillip, and Jeff as we look at the 2010-11 season.

The Starters Rule, But What About The Bench?

For several seasons now the Lakers have been a top heavy team.  With Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, and last season’s addition of Artest, a roster was created that, on paper, is one of the best assembled since Jordan’s Bulls.  And with this much talent, it’s easy to see why Lakers’ units that used any combination of 3 or more of these players generated excellent plus/minus numbers.  Regardless of who the opposition throws out there, they’re going to struggle to contain that group.  But, even with the dominance of these players, the Lakers still didn’t play to their capacity as a team.  And while some of that was injury based and even more of it was due to complacency, the reason for not playing better was due to the lack of consistent production from the bench.

The Lakers look to change that this season.  With the additions of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, the Lakers have filled in the cracks the reserves showed last season.  Plus, these two players fit right in with the style of play that the starters exhibit.  Some may argue that this isn’t the best formula – the argument says that by having a running bench the Lakers change the tempo and that difference throws off the opponent – but I don’t buy that.  Last season I wrote that I was hoping for the bench to play more like the starters because that consistency from unit to unit would mean better execution, and thus better results.  Well, this season, we’re surely going to get that duplication from the reserves.  And what I thought would occur last season will be delayed and deployed during this one.  The Lakers bench will be slightly less effective version of the starting group and with that will come what we haven’t seen in nearly 2 full seasons – a bench that can control the game, hold or extend leads, cut into deficits, and limit the starter’s minutes.  As we’ve seen this preseason, the presence of savvy veterans that play smart, tough basketball will be a welcome addition to a team that has had to push its starters too long in games that should have been more easily won.  Second units around the league will no longer have the opportunity to bait the reserve guards into long jumpers early in the shot clock or careless drives to the hoop.  In fact, they’ll see the opposite – steady, consistent play with a focus on execution. 


Another Leader Is Here

The addition of Steve Blake–a starting caliber point guard–should help stabilize one of the Lakers’ long-term problem areas heading into the 2010-2011 season. Incumbent starter Derek Fisher’s 43% shooting from the field (50% from beyond the arc) in eight preseason games was actually an improvement over his shooting figures from last season, though you can’t really place too much stock in anything this time of year. For most of 2009-2010, the veteran guard’s shooting was anemic at best, yet Derek still managed to come up with a bevy of clutch baskets come playoff time. With newcomer Blake quickly picking up the offense during L.A.’s eight preseason games, talk has begun anew in Lakers Land about how long it will take him to replace Derek in the starting lineup. It’s not as if Fisher’s job is in jeopardy; regardless of who begins the game on the bench, expect each to play around 21-25 minutes per game. If anything, Blake’s steady play should provide some much-needed relief for Fish, which will help keep him fresh for when the Lakers need him most in April, June and May. Aerial acrobatics and streaky shooting aside, Steve Blake is everything former backup one Jordan Farmar was not—reliable, selfless and most importantly, consistent. He’s not a player who’s going to dazzle you night in and night out, but instead one that knows his role intimately and rarely plays outside of his abilities. He is also a dramatically better shooter than his 39% preseason shooting would lead you to believe. Though Blake will likely see ample playing time with the starters too, his savvy veteran presence should go a long way toward grounding what is shaping up to be the Lakers’ deepest bench since the 2007-2008 season.  


Closing Out Games

When one thinks of the last few minutes of a Lakers game, Kobe Bryant instantly comes to mind. The guy is absolutely brilliant in end-of-game situations. However, we’re not concerned with Kobe right now, but more concerned with who should compliment Pau Gasol in the frontcourt. Should Lamar Odom close out games, or should it be Andrew Bynum. Now, this isn’t exactly the most pressing question to be asked at this point in the season considering Andrew Bynum isn’t seeing any game time any time soon, but as the season progresses, this becomes an important issue.

I’ve always felt that a Bryant-Odom-Gasol gives the Lakers the best possible offensive trio because of the way Odom and Gasol work together from 17-feet and closer. Post passing is at a premium in this league, and the Odom-to-Gasol or the Gasol-to-Odom connections are as good as you’re going to see. However, having Andrew Bynum out on the floor is going to help Gasol out on the defensive end. The NBA is currently in a transition from trying to bring in players to run the run-and-gun offense that has been so popular the last 5-6 years and following the Lakers model of size and length.

Take a look at teams like Portland (Marcus Camby, Fabricio Oberto, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla and LaMarcus Aldridge), Dallas (Brendan Haywood, Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki and Brian Cardinal), San Antonio (Antonio McDyess, Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan and DeJuan Blair), Houston (Yao Ming, Brad Miller, Jordan Hill, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Jared Jeffries), Orlando (Dwight Howard, Marcin Gortat, Rashard Lewis, Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass), and of course, Boston (Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis) have considerable size, and all of these teams are just following the Lakers model.

It isn’t going to be easy leaving Odom out to close games every night with Andrew Bynum sitting. Gasol is much more effective at the power forward position, and he only gets to move to that spot with Bynum (or, to a lesser extent, Theo Ratliff) on the floor. I do believe that Odom will get a lot of close-out minutes, but Bynum has to get the lion’s share, especially as we get closer to the playoffs. Not only because of the increased size across the board, but because it’s time for Bynum to start taking his game to another level.


You Remember Our Motto, Right?

From our earliest days of youth basketball, we learn that “defense wins games, free throws win championships.” For the Lakers, it’s the other way around. In Game 7 of the NBA Finals the Lakers were awful from the free throw line (67.6 percent), but only allowed 79 points. This season, the Lakers are going to have to do much of the same. The offense is going to come and go, but defense is a matter of effort.

This season, the Lakers defensive philosophy will continue as it did last season – they’ll overly aggressive on the perimeter, funnel penetrators to the bigs, close out on three point shooters and foul as little as possible. With the addition of Matt Barnes, the Lakers hope to not lose a beat on that end of the floor when either Kobe or Ron Artest take a breather. Barnes, as you’ll remember from his days of defending Kobe, is another physical perimeter defender who fears no offensive player. Much like Artest, he takes pride in shutting down the opposition’s best perimeter scorer. Considering how well Bryant and Artest played together, I see Barnes fitting right in, and even improving a defense that finished fourth in defensive efficiency rating a season ago.

I expect to see a lot more of their usage of the strong size zone this year. The Lakers like to force the ball handler to one side of the floor and have their big men step into help side. Because of their length, skip passes become difficult, penetration lanes become less plentiful and three point shots are harder to get off. In fact, teams shot worse from behind the arch against the Lakers than they did against any other team in the NBA. If they’re not in their strong size zone, they’re straight up man-to-man. Because of the Artest-Barnes-Bryant trio, they have the personnel to match up with any backcourt while having the size up front with the Gasol-Bynum-Odom trio to give any big man problems. What I’m trying to say is, if this defense plays the way it should, it’s a defense that will win them another championship.


It’s A Long Season, Stay Patient

I could write a doctorial thesis on how the marathon of an NBA season is often over valued when judging what teams will have post-season success.  This isn’t to say that the regular season means nothing – that’d be a dumb thing to say – but I am saying that you must look at more than simple wins and losses or even point differential when coming to any conclusions about the 82 game campaign each team embarks on.

Last season showed that more than anything else, the regular season is important as a bridge to the playoffs.  Both the Lakers and Boston showed that regular season success, while important, is only one part of the preparation for a long post-season run.  Health is just as important.  Developing chemistry and establishing roles for the players is key.  Building momentum can come in the form of a winning streak, but it can also come in the form of having everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction as a like-minded unit.  Once that occurs, if all things fall into place, the ultimate prize will be within reach. 

I bring all this up because this season will be filled with peaks and valleys.  Like every other season that we’ve observed as followers of this team, there will be moments where hope is low and where the frustration spawned from suspect results will dominate the mind.  Do not succumb easily to these feelings of doubt.  The NBA title will not be decided on Christmas Day or on the Grammy Road Trip.  These are just steps in the process and must be separated out from the larger goal at hand.  Enjoy the journey and understand, again, that it is a long one.  Championships aren’t won in a single game during the regular season, but over the long haul the lessons learned from the cumulative will prepare the players (and the fans) for the bigger prize.


Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant gestures against Barcelona during NBA Europe Live basketball game at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona October 7, 2010. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook (with video):  The Los Angeles Lakers seem to be one of the only teams that can run the triangle offense successfully.  The triangle is an interesting set because there seems to be two basic motions, and then that’s it.  There is a lot of freelancing off of these two motions, as players are simply asked to maintain the principles of the triangle.  A system like this really relies on the players being able to play every spot on the court, understanding spacing principles, and most importantly, being able to read defenses.

From Mike Trudell, Mercifully for all those eagerly awaiting the commencement of L.A.’s quest for a three-peat, Sunday marked the second-to-last practice into Tuesday’s season opener against Houston. We’ve put together comprehensive individual player breakdowns in our Season Preview now up on the website, but Sunday’s session in El Segundo was primarily about injury updates: Kobe Bryant responded well to a preseason-high 34 minutes in Friday’s win over Golden State, and doesn’t consider the right knee upon which he had offseason surgery an issue heading into Ring Night. He simply called his knee “good” after practice and left it at that.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: The respective right knees of Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum have understandably been the two items of most keen interest leading into the 2010-11 Lakers season, and while Bryant’s set to start in Tuesday’s season opener, it’ll be a few more weeks yet for Bynum. The recent news on L.A.’s 22-year-old center has been primarily positive, however, as Bynum shared with us in a quick state-of-his-knee address prior to Friday’s preseason game in Ontario. “Everything is going well with the knee, he said. “I started doing a lot more cardio stuff, lifting legs, getting back into shape. When I come back, I want to be ready to go, so I’m working really hard to get there.

From Mark Stein, My man J.A. Adande has been trotting out a good line about the Lakers: Kobe Bryant’s knee will have a far greater impact on L.A.’s ability to win another championship than all the concerns about Ron Artest’s state of mind this time last year. But the defending champs, as always, are accorded the deserved honor of starting the new season atop’s weekly NBA Power Rankings, no matter how panicky Lakerland dwellars might be about the wear and tear Kobe’s limbs have absorbed over the past 15 years and the corresponding annual fretting about Andrew Bynum’s health.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: With the curtain set to go up on the Los Angeles Lakers’ season on Tuesday, the team was assured Sunday that it won’t have an understudy manning the sidelines. Lakers head coach Phil Jackson returned to practice after missing the team’s final two preseason games Thursday and Friday with flu-like symptoms. Assistant coach Brian Shaw filled in during his absence, guiding the Lakers to two wins against the Golden State Warriors. The rest of the team seems to be following its coach’s example when it comes to speedy recoveries. Lakers center Andrew Bynum is progressing quicker than expected as he rehabilitates his right knee, which was operated on in late July. Bynum ran on the treadmill Sunday with his full body weight on the knee, graduating from an altered gravity machine that he had been using to ease himself back into playing condition.

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: With Andrew Bynum probably coming back around Thanksgiving, many eyes have shifted toward the return timetable for another player. A healthy one. Kobe Bryant played seven of the Lakers’ eight exhibition games but averaged only 12.6 points and, of greater concern, shot a gruesome 28.2%, making only 24 of 85 shots overall, five of 29 from three-point range (17.2%). Bryant, of course, said everything was fine with his surgically repaired right knee and didn’t blink when a reporter asked whether he could play 40 minutes in the season opener Tuesday against Houston. “Sure,” he said Sunday, typically tight-lipped about his physical status. He offered little else on the subject of his knee. “It’s good,” he said when asked about it again.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: The bar has been raised for Pau Gasol — by Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and assistant Brian Shaw. They want him to be more of a force for the Lakers when the regular season starts Tuesday night at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets. Jackson and Shaw maintained that Gasol has to be The Man for perhaps the first month of the season because, as Shaw said, “We’re kind of limping going into the season.” They want to see more from Gasol in the regular season than what he displayed during the exhibition season, when Jackson lamented once during training camp that the All-Star has “been on vacation.” Shaw, who was in charge of the Lakers the last two exhibition games because Jackson was home with flu symptoms, didn’t shy away from critiquing Gasol.

From Mark Heisler, LA Times: The West isn’t a Lakers lake, as it was in the ’80s when they reached eight NBA Finals, beating five Western finalists, 32-7.Nor is it the land of titans it was in 2000-2002, when the Lakers won three titles while finishing No. 2 in the conference to San Antonio in 2001 … and No. 2 in the Pacific Division to Sacramento in 2002 when the Kings and Spurs were 1-2 in the West. Injury issues and all, the Lakers are favored to come out of the Western draw for the fourth season in a row over … whomever. No new rival at the Lakers’ level has emerged, although the young Oklahoma City Thunder has its own ideas about that. Athletic as the Thunder is, with Jeff Green, who’s 24, the only starter over 22 and a willowy front line, their future may not be quite yet.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson stayed at home, with flu-like symptoms keeping him in bed. But he still felt healthy enough and interested enough to catch on tape the Lakers’ last two preseason games — a 120-99 victory in San Diego on Thursday over Golden State followed by a 105-102 overtime win in Ontario on Friday over the same opponent. He liked that the Lakers had won handily Thursday but argued “they were lucky to win the game” in their preseason finale. Jackson lamented the injuries that kept Lamar Odom (sore left thumb, tight back, beat up nose), Theo Ratliff (swollen left knee) out of the lineup Friday and Luke Walton (aggravated right hamstring) back onto the sidelines after playing only four minutes. But he expressed relief that Odom and Ratliff will likely play in the Lakers’ season opener Tuesday night at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets, while indicating that Walton will remain sidelined for an undetermined amount of time.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Lakers forward Ron Artest remained in the locker room as the team took the floor. The Lakers were about to receive their 2008-09 championship rings just before their season opener last fall, and Artest believed he wasn’t deserving to observe the events. He played for the Houston Rockets the previous season and had taken on the Lakers in the playoffs. Viewing the ceremony would bring up hurtful memories about a Houston season fallen short. And he wanted the awkward separation to serve as motivation for eventually partaking in a ring ceremony.

From Elliot Teaford, LA Daily News: Finally, the Lakers are counting the days. They watched Andrew Bynum run on a treadmill Sunday, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson came as close as anyone to naming a specific date for the 7-foot center’s return to the active roster. Jackson said he was thinking Thanksgiving would be a “reasonable” date for Bynum to rejoin the starting lineup. It means Bynum could be sidelined for at least 15 games after undergoing offseason surgery on his right knee. Bynum had a procedure July 28 to clean up damaged cartilage.


UPDATE:  In the final installment of our league wide previews that were organized by Celtics Blog, we offer up the Southwest Division.  Enjoy:

Grizzlies:  Straight Outta Vancouver | 3 Shades of Blue | SBN Recap

HornetsAt the Hive | Hornets247 SBN Recap

MavericksMavsMoneyball The Two Man Game

RocketsThe Dream Shake | SBN Recap

SpursPounding the Rock | Project Spurs | SBN Recap

All Previews at SBNation

Fantasy Hoops With FB&G

Darius Soriano —  October 24, 2010

Yeah, you read that title right.  Forum Blue & Gold has started a fantasy basketball league and you can be part of it.  Sadly, not all of you, but if you’re reading this now, click this link and see if you were one of the first 15 people to join my 16 team league.  You’ll need the league ID (108833) and the password (showtime) but after that, you should be able to create a team and join the league.  (As an aside, I chose 16 teams because anything bigger than that wouldn’t leave many free agents to choose from which makes for a less fun league.  If I need to expand the league or create a 2nd one, I’m open to that, but we’ll see if any of that is necessary based of the response.)

Mind you, you’ll be playing for second place as I refuse to allow any of you to beat me.  Since I’m the commish, I’ll just keep changing the settings to ensure my victory (I kid, I kid – well, kind of).  Anyways, click the link and have some fun with us during the season.  Every once and a while I’ll post our standings and the winner will have some bragging rights (and maybe a prize that I haven’t yet thought of).


Update: Out of demand, I have created a second league.  I’ve already filled some of the spots with people that expressed interest in the comments, but there are still a handful of spots left.  They’re open to whoever gets in there first.  Here is the link again.  You’ll need the League ID: 113274 and the Password: popcornmachine.  The draft will be a live draft, Wednesday at noon.  If you can’t make the draft, just set your rankings and your picks will be chosen by the fantasy machine (which is a great team name, by the way).


UPDATE #2: There are still a few spots open in the original league formed. Some folks dropped out and you can replace them.  Here is the link.  All you need is the ID: 114819 and password: showtime.